Skis and a Volcano

I guess if you’ve heard the news this morning, you’ll know the main story is Michael Schumacher and his skiing accident.  Of course I wish Michael well and pray there’s no serious brain damage.  Pray for his teenaged daughter and son too, who are very young to be dealing with something like this.  It was sad to hear that Michael had lesions on his brain, but God is a God of miracles, who can bring something good out of this awful accident.


Another story on the news today (though not getting nearly as much coverage) is of a volcano erupting in eastern El Salvador, and of thousands having to flee their homes.  I don’t know what your first thoughts are when you hear that, but I know El Salvador is one of the countries where Compassion works, so I’m bearing it in mind as a possible place to sponsor in the future.  Inevitably, my thoughts then went to Compassion-children in El Salvador who are waiting for sponsorship right now.  The one to jump out at me was Kevin.  Born on Christmas Day 2001, he would have just had his 12th birthday.  Kevin’s in a single-parent family and helps his mother at home as well as going to school.  I’m sure it must be a difficult life for him and a sponsor’s love and care would mean a lot.  Will you be that sponsor?


If you’re too late to sponsor Kevin, you can do the same as I did – go on the website and search by country to find all the children in El Salvador.

Never Too Late

I’ve just been reading about Anna – someone who saw Jesus when He was a baby.  There are just three verses in the Bible devoted to her, and here’s what I saw in them.

Let’s think about the Jews for a minute.  They’re waiting for their Messiah (literally God’s anointed One) to be a Deliverer for them.  So, if you’d been waiting all your life for this Messiah, praying to God and going without food sometimes – if waiting for Him was the purpose of your life, when you actually got to see Him, wouldn’t that just be the pinnacle of everything you’d hoped for and dreamed of – the very best moment of your life, the one all those other moments had been leading to?  Not surprising that Anna thanked God and spoke about Jesus (Luke 2:38).

But here’s the thing about Anna:  She was very old.  I’m not really sure how old she was.  The translation I read says she had been married for seven years and then was a widow for eighty-four (Luke 2:36-37).  People married young in those days, so if she married at fourteen, that would put her at a hundred and five.  Another translation says she was a widow until she was eighty-four (Luke 2:37).

Whether she was eighty-four or a hundred and five doesn’t really matter.  The point is, she saw the baby Jesus when she was very old.  The pinnacle of her ministry, the very best part, came when she was over eighty – perhaps over a hundred!  Wow!  It’s never too late to serve God, and don’t be surprised if the best part is yet to come.

My friend Becky has also written a post about Anna this month, if you’d like to read it.


I don’t think Jill over at Compassion Family will be snoozing after her Christmas dinner; she’ll have eyes glued to her computer-screen, because she’s asked all of her readers to list the top 10 posts from our blogs for her to read over the holidays!  How do you choose?  In my case, I chose my favourite from each month (although to make it 10, we have to miss out a couple).


Very occasionally, something on the news grabs me and I get all political, like in January with my post about the European Court.


In March I was thinking about Easter, and the importance of not just hearing the Easter story but acting on it.


25 April every year is World Malaria Day.  2013 saw me advocating for Compassion and having some fun pretending to be a mosquito.


On 10 April, the Welsh Outpouring began in Cwmbran, and having wanted to get there for about a month, in May I went to one of the meetings.


In July, I thought back a few years to 2005.  I told you about George who inspired me and the album he’s released.


There was a moment in August, during the worship-time at church, when I was reminded that Jesus prays for me.


September was Compassion Blog Month.  I love to blog for Compassion, so Blog Month 2013 was a great privilege.  I think I enjoyed writing my ‘Story behind the child’ posts the most, but as I have to pick one, I’ll pick Allan (because that’s my dad’s name).


October was a busy month of blogging with my first-ever 31-Days series – 31 Days of Song.  I always really appreciate when you leave your comments to encourage me and others.  The song with the most was Steven Curtis Chapman’s “Fingerprints of God”.


Sue has been a wonderful asset to my blog with her new ideas, and she’s introduced me to the Daily Post.  In November I used one of their prompts to say what I’d cure and why.


And in the run-up to Christmas this month, I’ve focused on some of the characters in the Christmas story, like yesterday’s post about Joseph.


So there you have it:  My top 10.  I hope you enjoy them, either for the first time or all over again, and thank you for reading.  If you’re a blogger, what are your top 10 posts from this year?

Our Calling

This is part 4 of the Christmas story.  If you’ve missed any, you can read the rest here.


One main character I haven’t written about yet is Joseph.  Mary told him about the pregnancy and he was distraught.  The obvious conclusion was that she’d been with another man, which would have caused a real scandal.  Joseph cared deeply about Mary’s reputation.  Being legally bound to her, he considered divorcing her quietly, presumably to allow her to marry the father of her child, but an angel visited him in a dream and explained things.  “Joseph, descendant of David, don’t be afraid to take Mary as your wife, because the baby in her is from the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 1:20).  Joseph received direction from God in several dreams, and as my pastor pointed out, God also provided the means for him to follow these instructions.  The Magi came with gold, frankincense and myrrh when, unbeknown to Joseph, he was just about to take his family to Egypt for quite some time and would have needed those gifts to finance their trip.

The Christmas song that’s touched me most this year is “Joseph’s Song” by Michael Card.  It’s a prayer that Joseph might have prayed:

“Father, show me where I fit into this plan of Yours;

“How can a man be father to the Son of God?

“LORD, for all my life I’ve been a simple carpenter;

“How can I raise a King, how can I raise a King?”

I’m certain we aren’t all called to father the Son of God, but at times, our callings will overwhelm us all, and what’s overwhelming to one person will seem small and insignificant to someone else.  We can’t rely on other people to get us through when we’re weak and seem to have reached the end of ourselves, but there is One we can rely on.  “I can do all things through Christ, because He gives me strength” (Philippians 4:13).  Sometimes He puts other people in our lives to share our problems and help us, but when those people aren’t there, He always is.

Has the run-up to this Christmas week left you sapped of strength?  It’s not too late to ask God for refreshment.  “But the people who trust the Lord will become strong again.  They will rise up as an eagle in the sky; they will run and not need rest; they will walk and not become tired” (Isaiah 40:31).

Story of a Storyteller

Her name was quite a mouthful, Julia Esther Mary.  She was born in Abbercynon, South Wales, to strict Victorian parents – the second-youngest of ten children.  “Props off!” their mother would say as they ate, to keep elbows off the table.  After chapel on a Sunday morning, they would visit their auntie Jane.  Julia’s mother would say:  “It’s raining” in Welsh.  Then Jane would wipe the coal-dust off the wooden stool with her apron, and say (again in Welsh):  “Sit down over there.”


Julia’s sister (Gladys) worked here, and she followed suit when she was fourteen, as a servant-girl to two elderly ladies.  “They were church people,” she would tell us matter-of-factly – not disparaging of the church, but she certainly didn’t like them very much.  “If I had spare time, do you know what they used to tell me to do?  Go and get the dead pansies out of the garden.”  They worked her unnecessarily hard, and she was so homesick for Wales that when her sister (Rene) visited and saw how unhappy she was, she took her home.


Her eldest sister (Delly) ‘Had her hair off about it’.  She thought she should “Work for herself and get some clothes on her back”.


So, when Gladys saw an advert for an assistant cook at the boys’ college, Julia tried again.  She was clumsy in the kitchen and once when she dropped a plate, the cook told her:  “When you have a home of your own, Julia, you won’t be so fond of breaking things.”  She worked there, at another school for boys, and for a doctor and his family.


A favourite story she told over and over again was of when she and her friend Phyllis were maids at the school.  Boys threw wet sponges at them from the cubicles where they were washing, and when the matron wasn’t around, they would pelt them back.


Whilst in service, she courted a Mr Davis (whether Arthur or Alfred we’re not sure).  She told us:  “He held my hand and said, ‘We can’t continue this, because I’m a bit of a fan of the usherette at the cinema’.”  Dumped for free cinema-tickets!  But, she said:  “I only ever had one man.”


She met her husband, Roland John, and they married in 1935.  Rowland was their first child.  When she was expecting him, she visited the wife of the doctor she’d worked for, who was just recovering from an operation.  When the telephone rang, she told Julia to look through the window while she took the call, explaining later that she had lost a few toes and didn’t want the shock of seeing it to affect the baby.


Allan came along next, just before her husband had to go out to war.  A problem with his feet meant he couldn’t march on the front line, so he worked in customs in the Middle East.  Meanwhile, civilians tried to make a living as best they could.  Some would rent rooms to soldiers who wanted one-night stands, but Julia wouldn’t be a party to that, until one day she was caught out.  Somebody said they were only in town for a while and could he and his wife stay the night.  Without a second thought she agreed, and was shocked to find them gone and money on the bedside table next morning.  The temptation was to keep this from her husband, but her mother encouraged her:  “Tell that boy the truth.”  When she did, he was furious with her, just as she had expected!


Julia loved to sing and was good at it.  Another favourite story was of a neighbour of hers, and his comment that he thought her singing was the wireless!  She was sad to be turned down for a place in the local operatic society because she couldn’t read music.


After the war, they had a third son, Richard.  This is the song that got him his name.  Since there was a twelve-year gap between him and his eldest brother, the next generation started coming along when Richard was ten.  His first niece was more like a sister.


Julia loved spending time with her grandchildren, particularly when they were small and she could make up stories for them, like the one about the boy who dropped his Easter egg.  He just went to the shop and bought another!  There was no dramatic ending; no getting there and finding they’d just sold the last one … and on Easter morning his sister giving him some of hers (that’s how I would have told it).


Julia lost her husband in September 1982, and her son Richard sadly in June 2005.  She spent the last year-and-a-half of her life in a nursing-home.  She had a commode by her chair, and you can imagine the smell when it hadn’t been emptied.  If you were there and the bedroom-door was open, all you heard was the strangulated sound of the buzzer, as someone along the corridor tried to ring for help.  I wish she hadn’t had to go through that, but still it was a great privilege to visit.  She’d never been one for hugs and ‘I-love-you’s earlier in her life, but at the end of my visits, I’d give her a hug and she’d say:  “You’re lovely”, and I would say:  “So are you.”

* * *

My nan’s been gone 3 years today, and I wanted the world to hear some of her stories.  She’s very much-missed, but she sang “Jesus Loves Me” in those last few months (a chorus she learnt at four years old), and I know if she trusted in His love, we’ll meet again one day.

Suffering for His Art

God makes it very clear in His Word that we shouldn’t give up on meeting together, and even on our worst church-days, there’s a reason why we’re there.  Either He’s got something for us or we’ve got some way we can bless someone else, like last Sunday when I sang on the worship-team and couldn’t access the words to the songs.  Lots had tonnes of verses and there were at least 3 I didn’t know very well.  Being in the congregation and unsure of the words is one thing, but when you’re supposedly leading other people …  I felt ill-equipped for what I had to do, and upset not to be able to give my best to the Lord because of it.


Then along came my friend Temarra.  She had asked the pastor whether she could speak for a few minutes, and she talked about how we’re God’s masterpiece (Ephesians 2:10).  It was just the reminder I needed that God cherishes us:  No, He doesn’t get a kick out of making us look stupid but, as Temarra said, He wants us on display for His glory.  She talked about her days as a primary school teacher, when children couldn’t wait to show her their pictures and if she stuck them on the wall, they knew they were really precious.  I knew that’s what I’d take away from church last Sunday.  In my opinion, there was no way I should have been upfront, but God wanted me on display.


This stayed in my mind as we went into a time of communion.  “Thank You for Temarra’s words and the blessing she is,” I silently prayed, and then – ‘oops.  It’s communion; we’re supposed to be remembering Jesus.  “Thank You for putting me on display; You died to put me on display” – what a thought.  That really is an artist suffering for His art.


Today’s Daily Post made me think.  If you were the supreme ruler of the universe, describe in detail a festival that would be celebrated in your honour.

Of course, I don’t seek to be the supreme ruler of the universe, but what if I was?  What if I showed such great courage that I was commemorated even after my death, with festivals the day I was born and the day I died?  Say I died out at sea.  The festival the day of my death would be a little solemn.  Sarah’s Day.  Shops would close, and people would decorate their houses with blue material, little stick-on shellfish or starfish and lots of paper boats.  People would eat dark chocolate boats and drink black coffee in boat-shaped mugs, to remember the bitter suffering I went through.  They would march through the streets to brass bands, singing and speaking about my death, but strangely, there would be no misery on their faces:  Because although solemn, it would at the same time be celebrating my legacy.

But as the years passed, new generations would come along – generations who hadn’t been influenced by my leadership.  They would sweeten their coffee drinks and mix the dark chocolate with milk or white; maybe throw in some raisins or marshmallows.  Shops and workplaces would stay open, with others spending the day in their lavishly-decorated houses.  Of those who did line the streets to march, even fewer would know the words to the songs by heart.  “Sarah’s Day?  Who was she anyway?  We’ll just call it Sea Day.”

* * *

Does this remind you of anything?  I heard somewhere that Good Friday was originally God’s Friday, commemorating the suffering the Son of God went through for us, but how many will listen now as Christians take to the streets each year to give the world a reminder?  Some even sound their horns, impatiently herding us to one side so they can leave the supermarket car-park.  If you were the supreme ruler of the universe, is that how you’d want to be remembered?

Our Conquering

Over the Sundays of Advent this year, we’re thinking about the Christmas story.  This is part 3, and you can read parts 1 and 2 here.


Three months after Mary visited Elizabeth, John was born, and Zechariah got his voice back.  Picture that house in those first few months – baby John crying at the top of his lungs, Dad shouting and praising and laughing, Mum sleepless and probably wondering where that peace and quiet went!


And six months later, it was time for another birth.  People took commitment very seriously in those days and once you were promised to someone in marriage, you were virtually part of their family, so Mary had gone to Bethlehem with Joseph.  It was Joseph’s hometown and they needed to register for the census, which the government was taking.  All those years ago, Micah the prophet had talked about Bethlehem being the birthplace of the Messiah (Micah 5:2-4).  Now here they were in Bethlehem, when the time came for Mary’s baby to be born.  That must have filled her with wonder all over again.


The news was told to some shepherds outside the town.  If you can imagine a class system, shepherds would be the lowest of the low, and yet the angel of the LORD appeared to them.  “Do not be afraid,” he said.  “I am bringing you good news that will be a great joy to all the people” (Luke 2:10).


Soon a whole company joined the angel and the sky was filled with praises to God!  Then the angels left the shepherds to spring into action, but what would have happened if they’d all looked up at the sky, laughed nervously, shook their heads and said:  “Can it be true?  What would a Saviour want with scum like us?  We’re not sure about this; let’s not go to Bethlehem”?  If they’d let fear stop them, what a miserable night it would have been – no hurrying to Bethlehem; no finding Jesus in the manger; no glorifying and praising God; no bubbling over with joy and telling everyone they came into contact with …  Just another night watching their sheep.  As the years went on, the encounter with the angels might just have seemed like a distant dream.


Have you had good news lately that you’re afraid to accept?  In every area of our life, we’ve got to conquer fear before we can live in faith.  If you’ve had good news, can I encourage you to embrace it?  To celebrate it?  To live it?