Saturday, 1 November 2014

Sensory Saturday in South India

Today is our first day off in this magnificent country and the lovely team of programmers graciously gave up their Saturday to show us some local sights and spend the day with us. The day didn't have the best start, as before they even got to picking us up, they had a puncture and were over an hour late, with us clueless as to when they might arrive. However, that wasn't going to spoil our trip and I must say that I have had a thoroughly incredible day, with an array of differing sights, smells and sounds. So I thought maybe the easiest way to sum up and process my thoughts on today would be to go through sense by sense, here goes:

See
  • Mamallapuram, an archaeological sight of ancient temples and sculptures - those that aren't already submerged below the sea that is. These are incredible works of art, many are huge structures carved out of a single piece of stone, with up to 50+ images of different figures/characters/gods. I struggled to know how to correctly respond to seeing these though. On the one hand I want to be respectful and I am genuinely in the culture and history. Yet on the other hand I believe it is completely futile to worship gods carved by human hands, more so than that I believe it massively offends and upsets my Lord, the one true and living God (although I understand that's controversial to say). 
  • My life flash before my eyes! I'm still yet to get used to the roads and traffic here. Drivers don't really use lanes, if there is a gap wide enough (or nearly wide enough) to get through, then that's good enough, often with nail-biting, gasp-inducing moments. Also, at any moment, anything could appear in the road; maybe a car pulling out, a tuk tuk, a pedestrian (crossing roads here normally is impossible, so you just have to step out and make a stop sign with your hand and hope!), or maybe even a cow or goat (or 6!) I had the fortunate position of sitting in the middle, in my head I named this 'the death seat' as it had no seat belt, but easiest access to fly through the windscreen - which fortunately didn't happen today, just.

Hear
  • Our driver laugh. I'd been concerned during the week that this man who'd been driving us each day, to work or dinner or shopping, might just feel like our servant and that we're not grateful to him, especially in those time where he has had to wait in the car rather than join us.. As his English is limited and he has tended to be wearing a grumpy face, communication has not flowed freely. However, today he joined us at Mamallapuram, and we began to share in facial expressions and occasional English words. He also had lunch at the same hotel as us (although I felt really uncomfortable when I realised that he had come back from parking and was sat at a separate table). Then, best of all, our last stop of the day was a boat ride on Muttukadu, which would not in a million years pass a Health and Safety inspection, and probably wasn't the preference of one of our water-shy team. But these two factors meant that our driver roared with laughter (as did the rest of us) and it felt like a real team-bonding moment!
  • Begging. Up until now, within the city of Chennai, although it may not look like our Western idea of developed, I don't think we've seen the kind of poverty I was expecting. I haven't seen anyone begging, people are dressed smartly, everyone seems to be employed in some kind of activity - though I'm aware many will be much less lucrative than others. But literally the second we stepped out of the car today at the first site, we were approached for money. Sometimes they were selling things, sometimes purely begging. Again, I don't know what the right response to this is. My default British response is just to say no, shake my head and move on. Perhaps this is sensible/streetwise, perhaps this is mean/lacking compassion, perhaps both. But I want to engage in life here with both my head and my heart, and I think I'm still working out how to do that.

Smell
  • Cardamon, sandalwood, jasmine and a million other delicious spices! Whenever we get out of the lift in the hotel, or wander down a corridor, or walk outside with street food being sold, or enter a restaurant, we are hit by blends of fragrances that somehow always go together incredibly. Everywhere you go is a feast and a symphony for the nose!
  • Poverty. It's an aroma exactly as I remember smelling during my time in Malawi. It's kind of a mix of sweat, urine, animals and heat. Yet it is not unbearable to breathe in, which may be a reflection of our terrible human capacity to tolerate poverty and social injustice. This is a challenge, but at the same time it increases my affections for these people.

Touch
  • Rain. Can you believe it? Nearly 5000 miles from Wales and still not catching rays! Fortunately it was just showers and not the day-long downpours that were predicted. They were also well-timed to happen mainly while we were inside or driving. Rain here isn't like rain I'm used to though as well, it doesn't make you feel any colder! It also doesn't really clear the air, the air has been 'thick' or 'close' our whole time here, it's kind of like being in the bathroom straight after a hot shower.
  • The Bay of Bengal! I've seen it every day from my hotel window but today was the first time we actually had chance to dip our toes in. Clare and myself and Vikram (one of our programming team) all stood on the water's edge, as the high tide, wind and big waves made it dangerous to venture any further in. Vikram's assessment of the water was 'cold', but I can tell you as someone who loves to swim in the sea in the UK, this was nowhere near cold! Somehow, standing in a 'new sea' makes me so excited too! It just highlights how far away I am, yet still connected to home. It's kind of like bumping into a much cherished and respected friend who I've already experienced so much with and grown to know so well.

Taste
  • Real Coconut. This was a really special moment, just after visiting the first site, we all stopped and had a coconut. First they chop the top of and you drink the water through a straw, and when that's all gone you hand it back, then they cut it open and you can eat the white flesh inside. I'm not sure what exactly it tasted like, certainly not like dried coconut or coconut milk that I'm used to, and though I didn't instantly love it, I think I could grow to. I also enjoyed this moment because the programmers bought one for each of us, but also one for the local guy who was guiding us around, with broken but enthusiastic English. This just epitomises the Indian hospitality, it wasn't necessarily grand but it was incredibly gracious.
  • Some random sweet thing that I don't remember the name of! Before I came, I knew that I would enjoy all the savoury food because of the flavours and spices, but I am a massive sweet tooth and I don't think I'd ever seen let alone tasted a genuine Indian dessert/cake/sweet. It turns out, with a little explanation of what to try and what to expect, these are also delicious. Today's treat was ball shaped, kind of beige inside but dark chocolate-coloured outside, and it was the texture of marzipan but the taste of a doughnut. There were differing opinions of whether it was made from wheat or rice or milk so I don't really know on that count, but I can tell you that it was very enjoyable and far superior to any of the Western desserts that were on offer.

Hope that's given you a sense, literally, of life here.
As always, all thoughts appreciated.

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

First impressions

So you may or may not know, that I am currently in India. In fact, I am currently sitting at the mahogany and mother of pearl writing desk in my beautiful hotel bedroom, quite unable to believe that this is actually happening to me. Not long ago, maybe about 6 weeks, during a very busy and stressful time at work, the opportunity arose to come out here and support the new programming team in our Chennai office, and I grabbed the chance for a change of scenery, pace and focus. So on Sunday, I left rainy Swansea for hot and humid India courtesy of PRA Health Sciences! There is already so much for my brain to process, so I thought I'd share some initial thoughts with the ethereal blogosphere.

Stuff that matters here:

  • Hospitaility - I have literally never been treated with so much courtesy and respect. I genuinely feel like an aristocrat, with servants who cannot do enough for me - from the hotel staff, to our driver, to the really cute coffee/cleaning lady who gets upset if we don't use the 'best washroom'.
  • Quality slogans - my favourite so far is a KFJ Jewellery bilboard, 'For God's most beautiful creation, women.' Subtlety not necessary.
  • Beeping your horn every other second.
  • Filter Coffee - who knew? Turns out this part of India is famous for coffee not tea, they drink it piping hot with chicory and sugar in a 'tumbler and dabara' which you have to keep passing the coffee between to cool it down. It's seriously good.
  • Local food - so far everything that I've had recommended has been delicious, particular favourite being the Appam we had for lunch.


Stuff that doesn't matter here:
  • Helmets - There are way more motorbikes/mopeds than cars, but barely any helmets, and often three or even four people on one bike, possibly sitting sideways on!
  • Spacial awareness - a lack of space or the presence of an oncoming vehicle/pedestrian/goat is no reason to slow down here.
  • Taking any notice of a beeping horn.
  • Staring at white people - outside of the hotels, I haven't seen any other white people, consequently we get a lot of stares from fascinated locals. Tonight a stranger even stood next to us as we were having a photo, took a picture on their phone then walked off without a word.
  • Juxtaposition of luxury and poverty - this is definitely the hardest bit to get my head around and to know a 'right and proper' response to. I'm working on it, but not there yet.
I'll keep you posted as I get more thoughts! If you have any experiences of your own, or any thoughts for me, I'd love to hear from you :)

Peace and love,
BT x

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Deserving

Just a quick thought tonight. You often hear, or read on social media, phrases like, "Such a hard day, think I deserve this glass of wine" or "Kicked butt in the gym tonight, definitely deserve this MaccyD's!" or maybe "I've been such a good girl all this year, hope Santa brings me the presents I deserve". It struck me earlier, do we really mean or realise what we're saying? Don't get me wrong, I enjoy lovely food and drink and presents, but I'm pretty sure I wouldn't have to look very far to find someone who'd worked just as hard, yet was struggling to cover even the essentials, let alone any added extras. And what exactly am I claiming to have done to deserve such a treat? The Bible says that even our good deeds, or righteous acts, are like 'filthy rags' (Isaiah 64:6), tainted by motives and weakness, and though I don't like to admit it, it's true that even at it's best, my heart struggles to align itself with God's perfect love.

Ooh what a cheery post?! Well, actually, yes. If I don't deserve good things, that must mean that any good thing I have is a gift - no terms and conditions because I could never meet them. They are a gift from a loving and gracious Father. God, who is altogether holy and worthy of my devotion, is not stacking up my sins or noting down all the times I'm not devoted (which would be in the high 90%s for sure), but rather is putting his effort into making himself known and making a way for me to know him. To the extent that he even set aside all the glory he deserved and lived a life of poverty until he suffered the most total and heartbreaking separation that has ever been, when Jesus died on the cross and cried "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:36/Mark 15:34).

So I'm going to try and make a change, when I experience those 'treat' moments, or I'm enjoying something lovely, I'll be saying "Such a hard day, but I don't deserve this." I thank God for being so generous, and hopefully his kindness will be my motivation to reflect his love better.

*Disclaimer, there are some pretty big questions around the issue of possessions and their uneven distribution. I don't have the space or the ability to discuss that fully here. I do, however, trust that even in our broken world, God's grace is not-discriminative and the inequality should be my motivation to take responsibility for sharing the gifts I've been given, not motivation to blame God, who is universally generous and loving.

You don't. It's a gift.

Sunday, 20 July 2014

Joy

Yesterday, I got a tad emotional. You see, my Mum is slowly doing her best to move any clutter from her house to my house, so the other week she very subtly put a bunch of stuff in the boot of my car when she thought I wasn't looking, to bring back to Swansea with me. I'd left this in my car for about a week but yesterday I got round to actually looking inside and putting some stuff away. It was more interesting than I first expected, as I thought it only contained files of Maths lecture notes (not exactly bedtime reading), but it turned out to also hold 'memory boxes' from each year I was at university. These are box files where I keep together all the things that I had up on my walls, any nice post I received, clippings of inspiration/humour and a whole host of bizarre things I'd picked up over the year (glow sticks that have lost their glow, bits of string, party poppers, etc.)

You may be thinking, "Wasn't the title of this post 'Joy'? Does this have anything to do with joy?" I'll tell you now. So I started reading through the many letters people had written to me (I'd forgotten how much I used to communicate by mail, must start again) or words of encouragement given to me. I was struck by the overwhelming feature of people describing me as full of joy, or always smiling, or even 'radiating' the joy of knowing Christ. Over and over, this seemed to be the standout characteristic people associated with me. Now that is really lovely, but I got to thinking, "Would people still describe me as being chiefly characterized by the joy of knowing Jesus?" and I suspect not. I don't know why the lustre has gone, and it's not that I don't love Jesus anymore, or that He's any less good today than a few years ago, just maybe the 'ministry of enthusiasm' that I once exercised so regularly, has taken a bit of a backseat. And so I cried, quite a lot, I want the thought of Jesus to fill me with joy and for that to show in my life, to be distinctive, but I feel I've been letting other stuff bog me down and looking to the wrong things to make me happy.

So this morning, being Sunday, I prayed that God would restore my joy through something at church. Does God still answer prayers today? Let's see; we dwelt upon how beautiful he is in this morning's worship, we were reminded in the preaching of His grace, and of the identity, purpose and hope that it gives us, two young people stepped out in faith and publicly shared their testimony and got baptised, a third young person sang a beautiful song about being a child of God, I spent most of the afternoon in the company of friends from church (and laughing a LOT), I got to chat to a few people I didn't know before who are also new to church and last but not least I was massively encouraged by a word from one of our Pastors about God not being finished with me yet and having much more in store (words from the old hymn, 'Ponder anew, what the Almighty can do'). Yes God answers prayers, yes knowing God brings me great joy, yes God speaks into my life, yes the truth of the Gospel is as powerful today as ever and yes I have much to look forward to as I look ahead in my life with Jesus.

Joy. Bucketloads of it. Thanks God.

Friday, 11 July 2014

Plodding

I don't know about you, but my life certainly seems to be defined by seasons. Last winter I found pretty tough, as I was adjusting to life in a new place and didn't know many people, so often felt pretty lonely and daunted. Then the spring came, and lots of things started to happen that made me feel more settled, more in tune with God and I went through a kind of spiritual growth spurt. There were so many little discoveries and opportunities and joys, new friendships made, old friendships strengthened. Maybe my glasses are a little rose-tinted now but I feel like I was so aware of the impact of the Gospel on my life through what God was teaching me, that talking about Jesus just felt so natural and so exciting.

But it's the summer now, and it seems to be more of a plod kind of a season. I'm really struggling to engage with God and his Word, I feel maybe a bit numb to all this good news and so I'm much less inclined to share it now. I sort of know a couple of the reasons why, but right now I feel pretty reluctant to take those things to Jesus, even though I know full well his hands are big enough to take them off me. The trouble is, 1 Samuel 16:7 "People judge by the outward appearance but God looks at the heart" is wonderful news, but it's also scary. I know that if I turn to Jesus, I become vulnerable, I can't hide my struggles or my insecurities from his the way I can from the world because he see right into my heart. So consequently, I've just been living 'normally', just carrying on with the day to day things I need to do. I'm not desperately sad, I'm not massively rebelling, I'm not gathering heavy burdens, I'm just not laying them down either.

But today, on my walk to work, I thought this: maybe it's ok. Maybe God never promised a permanent state of happiness and ecstacy, and maybe he never expected it from me either. Maybe God's not looking for me to be a superhero who'll carry his church for him. I believe in a God who is patient, who never changes, who is much bigger than me, who is always compassionate, who is always slow to anger, who promised to never leave me, and most of all, who has broken the chains of sin and defeated death. None of this, not one smidgen, is dependent on me, my mood or my behaviour. And since I have accepted his wonderful gift of life, the only thing he asks of me, is to know him and enjoy him - and even that is not a condition, but rather a recommendation, because like I said, he sees my heart, so he knows what is best for me.

So the plan is, keep plodding, but remember who I'm plodding with, and enjoy him as I go.


Friday, 18 April 2014

Good Friday

So today is Good Friday, and today really has been good. It has had surprises and challenges and joys.


I started the day by asking friends on Facebook what Good Friday meant to them and had a mixture of interesting responses, so maybe here I can repay the favour and share what it means to me. Prepare for a mish mash of different, probably disconnected, thoughts and anecdotes.



I've been reading the Gospel of John in the lead up to Easter and have been really struck by the closeness and incredible love shared between Jesus and the Father. Jesus talks about his dad, like aaaalllll the time; how alike they are, how he listens to his Father, how good his Dad is, how he does the will of the Father, what it means to know God the Father, how they are literally found in one another, I could go on and on. Therefore, how much more heartbreaking is the cross, where they are totally separated as Jesus is foresaken by the Father. It's not like God isn't that fussed on his son so he just ditches him or forgets about him or leaves him to get on with the work on his own. No, the Father loves Jesus deeper than even the most amazing earthly parent and they are closer than even the 'twinniest' of twins. Yet, and here's the astounding bit, they are both willing to undergo this incredible heartache in order to make many sons. No man or woman would ever be perfect enough to have the kind of relationship with God that Jesus enjoyed, so Jesus willingly took on all our imperfections and all their painful consequences on the cross, and gives us instead his beauty and perfection and love, so that the Father can look upon us with the kind of love He has shown to Jesus since the dawn of time. One Son given, to make many sons.


Ok, next thought! This morning I went to church for the Good Friday service, and there was some great music and reading and preaching. I really loved one particular illustration the speaker used. He talked about a friend of his who was in a long queue at B&Q on a hot day, buying some bright green paint. The heat caused his hands to get clammy and slippery until he dropped the tin of paint. The lid burst off, the luminous paint went all over the floor, over other customers, over himself and over the displays next to the till!. The friend was in a right pickle with little idea of how to fix the mess, so he leant down, took a small tissue out of his pocket and started to attempt to wipe the mess away, but of course it couldn't even make a dent. Just then, the manager comes over and taps him on the shoulder, filling this friend with anxiety about what he might say. But then the manager surprises him and says, 'Leave it, we'll clean it up and you don't need to pay for the paint'. The friend is dumbstruck at the mercy shown by the manager and filled with gratitude and relief. This is exactly like us, we have a made a mess with our wrong thoughts words and acts, both for ourselves and for those around us, bigger than we could ever dream to clean up with our tiny 'tissues' of good deeds. But God, the one who we owe our debt and our penance to, shows mercy in not making us pay the price, and grace in fixing the problem for us.



Next! At the end of the service, we were all hanging round chatting and somebody mentioned that a bunch of people were going for lunch/ice cream and I was so tempted to go, even though I didn't really want to eat and knew I'd planned on a day at home, but the idea of being with people rather than on my own sounded lovely. I'm really not very good at spending time alone and pack out my diary most of the time to avoid this, but something told me today I should hang out just me and Jesus. It was really sunny, so I decided to go for a walk up Kilvey Hill which is just behind my house. When I got to the top, I read out loud John's gospel from the point where I'd got to, up to the point of Jesus' death. It was definitely the right thing to do as it gave my head the space to reflect on stuff that's been going on recently, but more importantly on what Jesus did on Good Friday. I couldn't stop thinking about the emotional side of the events for him; deserted by his friends, mocked by people who didn't even know him, accused of things he was totally innocent of, separated from the one he was closest to. He must have felt scared, lonely, victimised, let down, humiliated, hated, misunderstood and a whole cocktail of other emotional pain. I know a lot of people struggle to see how there can be a good God when there is so much pain in the world, but I find it incredible and comforting that the God I believe in stepped right into the pain and knows every hurt we feel and more.

At the top!

Excited to see how God might use me here
Also while I was up there, I had chance to look down on the area I live in and I prayed for the people in my road, for the people my church had delivered Easter Service invitations to, for the people my house group gave Easter eggs to on Wednesday (long story, maybe for another time). I prayed that God would give me a deep love for these people and opportunities to get to know them properly and that he'd be preparing and changing hearts to know and love him back. God has a funny way of reminding us when we've forgotten that he really does answer prayers, as when I got back and was baking hot cross buns for the neighbours I've invited over tomorrow, my doorbell rang. It was the lady diagonally opposite apologising that she wouldn't be able to come but she was touched by the invite and had brought me some flowers to say thank you. We talked for a while and then she invited me in for a cup of tea and to meet her family. We chatted for nearly an hour, it was so lovely and now I'm really excited and encouraged about how God could use me in this place, as I really felt led to live here but had yet to see much indication why, now a few pieces of the jigsaw seem to be coming together.

Praying for where we delivered invitations and eggs.

So that's my Good Friday. One Son given to make many sons. God lovingly fixing the mess I've made for myself. Jesus completely understanding and going through every hardship I might ever endure. And the privelege of having a God who listens to my prayers and gives me the joy of seeing and being the answers.

I see why they call it Good.

These look pretty good too?

Thursday, 10 April 2014

'Thank God for' Friday

I am so blessed to have lots of great friends and several who I would consider very close. But it is an extra special blessing to have someone who definitively holds the label, 'best friend'; someone who can have me incapacitated with laughter but will also meet me in my tears, someone who knows my many mistakes but always sees the best in me, someone who I know would get up at ridiculous o'clock in the morning and travel for hours in order to be there for me when it's important. And so today, I am publicly saying:

Thank God for...Clare Williams <3

The two of us were acquaintances for quite a while before we were friends, and friends for quite a while before we were best friends, but we have been best friends now for a long time. We met in school, but we didn't know each other that well, as we weren't in any classes together, only choir. As we progressed through school, all us music geeks became good friends, spending all our spare time singing songs from the shows and putting together arrangements, compositions and performances. Then something changed the summer we were finishing our A levels, quite suddenly and inexplicably, and my friendship with Clare intensified and took on a marvellous new dimension.

Since then, we have shared road trips, adventures, holidays, highs, lows, nights out, many phone calls, a lot of cheesecake and about a gazillion in jokes! It's tough to pick out any favourite things that we have shared but I think the top two would have to be 1 - the scrapbook, and 2 - our first holiday in Italy. The scrapbook is joint owned and contributed to, it documents many shared experiences and quirks. The idea being that one person keeps the scrapbook for a while and when inspired, adds a page then sends it to the other person, or if we do something special together, we jointly do a page with things we collected from whatever we did. It is incredible now to flick through and look back on so much we've shared and been through, both together and individually. Our holiday in Italy was while we were both students and on a very tight budget, we went to Rome, Florence, Rimini and Venice, staying in Youth Hostels and travelling on an InterRail pass. It was a massive journey of wonder and discovery that I can't even begin to describe (although fortunately we've got a scrapbook for that too!)

So what would I like to thank God for about Clare? I am so grateful that He has given me a friend who in so many ways is completely different to me and yet in many others we are totally in tune. Clare is the passion where I am the ration, she dreams big where I live here and now, she sees the beauty and poetry in things that I approach purely practically, she is the Soprano to my Alto. I think she is amazing because she feels everything 100%, she gives her heart to things, and in doing so allows herself to become vulnerable and sometimes hurt, but selflessly she would rather that than see a need go unmet. She is one of those people who not only gets big ideas, but implements them and makes things happen. She challenges me to do things I would never dare (like walk to Spain!) and to make ambitions realities. She has more perseverance than anyone I've ever met. She is my perfect Articulate partner - I know for a fact that if I said the word 'Railway', she would undoubtedly guess the correct word was 'Golf'! 

There are many things we both love - baking, swimming in the sea, singing, dancing to name but a few - but ultimately, I am most blessed that we both love Jesus. We come from very different traditions in how we relate to Him, but learning about why and how Clare approaches her faith, only makes me love and appreciate our amazing God even more. She brings out things which point me to aspects of God's character I may not have considered before, she shows me different ways and places that I can meet with God in my daily life. She encourages me to find ways to show the love of Jesus in all situations. In short, she inspires me immensely, and my life would not be the same without her. 

So, Father God, thank you so much for my wonderful best friend and sister in Christ, Clare.

Love you loads Clarebear! x x x

Sunday, 23 February 2014

Loved and Accepted.

My blog posts tend to be about thoughts I've had or things I've done, but this one is going in a slightly different direction because I'm going to write about stuff going on in my heart, not just in my head. Feeling a bit nervous about this as I don't really have any idea who reads this blog (if anyone) and it's not like me to be that 'out there' with my inner workings. But here goes...

I've started attending a Discipleship Explored course at my church, in which we're going through the book of Philippians. This is a letter written by a missionary called Paul, who traveled around Europe sharing the message of Jesus with communities, to a church in Philippi, whilst he is in prison in Rome (essentially on death row) for his work in the name of Jesus. In the passage we looked at this week, Paul talks about the many things going against him at the time, and yet how he can be glad and full of joy because these things are working together to spread the Good News of Jesus. This all builds up to a well known and frequently quoted verse,
"For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain." Philippians chapter 1 verse 21.
For starters, I find this verse quite difficult to get my head around in literary terms, it's incredibly concise and I would even describe it as poetic. Seeing as I wouldn't consider myself a very wordy person - I fall over my sentences and either struggle to get to the point or am extremely blunt - my usual response to this verse is something like, 'Quick, move on, too difficult.' However, moving on wasn't really an option at Discipleship Explored, we were encouraged to think together through what this meant for Paul and what it may or may not mean to us.

I think (although I am no theologian so please do not consider this definitive), that Paul had experienced such love, grace, transformation, power, mercy, joy and much more, from and through Jesus, that he was filled with love for him and gained a single-mindedness of devotion to Christ as a response. To Paul, life and Christ were synonymous. Life was all from Jesus and for Jesus, the one and only thing that he absolutely could not live without. Yet, he was also 100% assured that when he would eventually face death, that would bring him nearer to Christ for eternity and so dying was not a fear but a gain.

Pretty challenging stuff.

Then we were encouraged to think through, honestly, how we thought our friends and family would fill in the blank about us, "For to me, to live is ...". After that, we thought about how we would personally finish off the sentence.And this is where I have to begin exposing my heart, the many answers I had to this question were pretty shallow and all led to the same conclusion. Every time I tried to finish that sentence, it went something like, 'For to me, to live is - to have people around me, for them to think I'm funny/attractive/kind/hard-working/clever/have good taste/talented, to be busy, to look nice and have a nice looking house'. The bottom line of all of these things, I desire to be loved, and accepted.

That doesn't sound so bad, right? Actually, I think maybe it does, and here's why. In purely human terms, I know that I do already have many people who genuinely love and accept me, so why do I still crave it? The fact that this desire manifests itself so often shows that I am not satisfied even when it is fulfilled. Such an insatiable need as love and acceptance can never be fully met if I look for in other people, as we are all broken, weak and finite. Furthermore, it is futile for me to put so much energy into achieving the love and acceptance of anyone but God Himself, when He who is perfect, and completely capable of satisfying my thirst, has already done everything necessary to show me that He loves and accepts me exactly as I am. Jesus Christ who is fully God, became fully human and lived a life of extreme love, graciousness and sacrifice, which should have meant He was worthy of total adoration and glory, yet instead He made Himself nothing and took the death of a common criminal, the death I deserve for my rebellion against God. In doing so, simply by trusting in Him I do not experience the separation from God I deserve. Instead, when He rose on the third day it showed the metaphorical cheque was cleared, and His payment earned me the total love and acceptance from the Father which belonged to Jesus. 

So I feel challenged in all my many moments of weakness, to look in the right direction to remember I could not be more loved and accepted, and to stop investing so much energy in those things which will never quench my thirst. I fully recognise that this is not an easy task, but maybe as I slowly grasp it, I will be able to echo Paul's sentiments:

For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.

Saturday, 1 February 2014

Going solo.

Hello little blogosphere, once again I begin a post with apologies for it being aaaaages since I last wrote. I've had lots of thoughts for potential posts in the meantime, just haven't got round to nailing them down into words. However, I was very inspired last week so I really wanted to write about it.

For my birthday, my parents bought me tickets to go and see an orchestral concert at St David's Hall in Cardiff and I am so grateful as it was mind-blowingly amazing! There were three very different pieces, each beautiful in its own way but the one which totally bowled me over was Rachmaninoff,  Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini.

I'm a big believer that God doesn't only reveal Himself in 'spiritual things' but rather He is the fountain of all good things, and so when we enjoy good things, we can meet Him in new ways and see His truth revealed. But I'm no theologian, so if you want more detail, check out this fantastic series of talks by the amazing Mike Reeves.

I suppose I might get to the point now! The Rachmaninoff piece is for orchestra with a piano soloist, and the guy who played last week was incredible. His fingers seemed to fly over the keys and the piano came alive with joy, excitement, tenderness, franticness and just about every emotion imaginable. I'm sure the orchestra was fantastic, but I was totally fixated on the piano and the guy playing it and any beautiful sound they made just seemed to make his solo all the more stunning. And that is what really hit me, right between the eyes, it struck a chord deep down in my soul. That is what my life is designed to be like.

Are you scratching your head? I'll unpick my thoughts a little bit! So often, I live my life like I'm the soloist, I take centre stage, I want all eyes on me and think what is most important for me, is most important full stop. But actually, being a Christian, means that God has given me the honour of being part of His backing group. He is the virtuoso, He makes the music resound, His melody is the one the world needs to hear. If some member of the orchestra decided to stand up and have their own moment to shine, it would have sounded ridiculous and they knew it! Their joy, is to be a member of the body, the orchestra, creating harmonies and counterpoint that make people sit up and pay attention to the pianist. So it is with my life, I am blessed to be a part of the worldwide church, and together, we have the opportunity to point people to the true soloist that is Christ Jesus, playing his music of love for the lost, sins forgiven and freedom to live life to the full.

Want to join the orchestra with me?

P.S: If you have a spare 25 minutes, check out a recording of the piece, such as this one. Or better still, if you have a spare evening go along to a concert with a soloist, totally worth it!