I don’t know about you, but I always find New Year a bit strange. Whether it’s a fireworks display, a party, or even just a quiet night in, watching Jules Holland on TV, inevitably, the big moment comes…
The countdown… For those of us in the UK, the arrival of the New Year is usually marked by the familiar sound of Big Ben chiming – and with each resounding BONG, we find ourselves joining in the chant – “ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, one….”
And then, with great gusto, we’re off! Pulling those strings on our party-poppers and shouting HAPPY NEW YEAR!
And to the sound of Auld Lang Syne, off we go, kissing and hugging everyone – & I mean EVERYONE – (even people we hardly know) and wishing them a Happy New Year.
And there’s that weird sense of anticipation… In one moment, in a single second, we’ve collectively crossed over a threshold. There are so many analogies, aren’t there? A blank page. A new chapter. A brand new book! A fresh start. A clean slate. Ring out the old, ring in the new.
Resolutions are made.
This is the year I’m going to: ______________________ (you fill in the blank!)
And there’s that feeling, isn’t there? Things really ought to be different. Yesterday is gone. A line is firmly drawn under last year. Now, things can only get better.
And then quick as a flash, magazines start to appear, with their New Year slogans:
New Year, New Start!
Ten steps to a brand new you!
New Year Detox – A Diet you can finally stick to!
It sounds good, doesn’t it? Inspiring. But…deep down inside, there’s this underlying sense of reality. Nothing significant has actually changed. You look in the mirror. Same face. Same need to face the day. The washing up needs doing. That old pile of ironing…yep. It’s still there.
Special as it is, Jan 1st is just another day. You don’t wake up any different. In reality, you’re just the same old you.
And by about January 17th, usually once you’ve broken your resolve and stuffed your face with the remnants of a box of chocolates you forgot you had, it can all feel like a bit of a let-down. It’s just the same old, same old.
BUT, dear Reader Friends, there is good news!
It beautifully dawned on me yesterday whilst I was driving. I had my worship playlist on in the car. And all of a sudden as I was pondering what the New Year might have in store…I heard these words:
Your mercies are new, over and over,
Your mercies are new, over and over,
As surely as the morning comes, You’re faithful!
I’ll sing of Your love, over and over,
I’ll sing of Your love, over and over,
I’ll sing with every setting sun,
(Over and Over, by Chris McClarney, from the 2018 album, ‘Breakthrough’)
This is what the word of God says:
The steadfast love of the Lord NEVER CEASES,
His mercies NEVER COME TO AN END
They are NEW EVERY MORNING,
Great is Thy Faithfulness!
With the dawning of every day, regardless of whether it’s 1st January, or 25th April, or 7th September…each and every day that I live and breathe, I’m given a fresh start. A gift! A brand new day, with new mercies to be found. Not yesterday’s leftovers. Nope. God’s mercies are new every morning. Oh sweet truth!
I might start the new year with good intentions…only to fail. But my God, He never fails. He never grows weary. His steadfast love never ceases. His mercies don’t run out of puff. They are always fresh, always new. Never failing, never ceasing. And with every setting sun, if I’m intentional enough to count my blessings, I’ll be able to say, “Great is Thy faithfulness!”
“I’m sure it’s in here somewhere,” Nan muttered, reaching for her spectacles, before attempting to prise open a battered old biscuit-tin lid. Katie didn’t know whether to step in or let Nan soldier on. Although Nan’s arthritic hands gave away the fact that she had recently reached the ripe old age of eighty-three, her mind was still razor sharp. Katie always loved listening to Nan’s stories, even though she’d heard them over and over again.
The biscuit tin, which had once been full of Christmas Shortbread, was covered in tartan and festive flowers. Katie couldn’t quite place the era. She eyed Nan fondly, taking in her features; her white hair, cut into a short, modern style, and the slenderness of her frame. The biscuit tin looked dated, but somehow, Nan never did. Nan had always been such a stylish lady. Katie couldn’t think of many women in their eighties, who still wore jeans, apart from that Mary Berry, who did the cooking on TV. Today, Nan was elegantly dressed in a beige cashmere-look jumper. Tied at her neck was a gold, sequinned scarf, which brought warmth to her face and made her blue eyes, although furrowed with lines, appear vivid and bright.
Inside the old biscuit tin was an assortment of letters, cards, and photographs, along with many other odds and ends.
“I used to call this my Memory Box” chuckled Nan. “I put all my keepsakes inside it – you know theatre tickets, letters, that sort of thing. Haven’t opened it in years! It’s probably a load of old tat!”
As Nan rummaged through the old tin, Katie fell into a poignant silence. This assortment of forgotten items, each and every photograph or keepsake, told a story; the story of Nan’s life, which in turn, was a part of Katie’s own.
At twenty-two, the majority of Katie’s life still lay ahead of her. But lately, she’d been feeling a bit stuck in a rut. After leaving college, Katie had ended up taking a job in the City, as an office Junior, at the Insurance firm her Uncle David worked for. Just over three years later, she was still there, filing, typing, taking minutes at board meetings, making coffee and ordering stationery supplies. There was nothing particularly wrong about it. The salary wasn’t bad. Katie had a wardrobe full of nice clothes. She was saving up towards a deposit for a flat, and she had her own car. She caught the 8:08 train to Paddington every morning, and arrived home again at 6:32. It was familiar. It was safe. But sometimes, Katie wondered if she ought to have followed her heart, and done that Teaching Degree she’d looked into.
“Here it is!” said Nan, finally laying hands on what she had been searching for: An old black and white photograph of herself as a young woman.
“See? I told you! You look just like me!”
Katie gasped. She could definitely see the strong family likeness. It was astonishing how much nan resembled her father across the eyes. Nan’s shoulder length hair, much darker in those days, was set in elegant, pin-tucks and waves. She wore a dress with a perky little collar, cinched in dramatically at the waist, and high-heeled shoes, showing off her shapely legs.
“I was about twenty here”, Nan recalled, with a faraway look in her eyes.
“Nan, you looked like a film star!” Katie said, drinking in the glamour and femininity of the era.
“Oh, go on!” laughed Nan. “But I was rather slim, wasn’t I?”
“A million dollars! You must have had all the boys chasing you!”
Nan’s face lit up. “I had a few admirers. But I only ever had eyes for your Grandpa George. Oh how I miss that man!” She sighed. “This was a few months before we started courting.”
Courting. Katie couldn’t help smiling at Nan’s old-fashioned expression.
“How did you meet again?” Katie asked.
“Oh, it was a chance encounter” Nan recalled. “I was working at the dress-makers, you know, on the sewing machines. One day I was sent to the post office on an errand. Your Grandpa was standing behind me in the queue. He was the most handsome man I’d ever clapped eyes on! We started talking and he asked me where I worked. Well, that evening, he was waiting for me at the gates! Turns out he’d been waiting there for over an hour! And from that day onwards, he waited for me every single day – come rain or shine.
Katie sighed. How romantic!
“How old were you when you got married, nan?”
“I’d just turned twenty-one. I was a baby, really. But we were head over heels.”
Katie thought about her own life. There were no signs of anything remotely close to marriage on the horizon for her. In fact, Katie seemed to possess quite a talent for falling for the wrong type of guy. Katie and her best friend Sarah had once spent a hilarious evening coming up with nick-names for a few of Katie’s biggest dating disasters. There was vain Wayne followed by Lying Lee. Oh, and not forgetting, two-timing Tim, of course!
It would be so nice, for once in her life, to find the type of guy that would wait at the gates – do something truly romantic- for her. Katie sighed. She wondered if men like Grandpa George even existed anymore?
Joe Hart’s face flashed momentarily into Katie’s mind. But she batted the thought away as quickly as it had immerged. Don’t be so ridiculous.
Nan spoke very calmly, as she poured another cup of tea, as though she could see into the depths of Katie’s soul. “So, any young men on the scene for you, dear?
Katie shook her head, a little too quickly, before biting into one of nan’s famous home-made rock cakes. Chance would be a fine thing. “I’m afraid not, Nan. I still haven’t met the right one.”
Nan eyed Katie over the rim of her spectacles as though she were examining a candidate at an interview. “Hmm, you can’t fool an old fool like me! There’s someone on your mind, I can tell.”
Katie sighed, admitting defeat. “Well, there was this guy…Oh it’s ridiculous. I met him on my way home from work a few weeks ago…but, let’s just say it was definitely a chance encounter!”
Nan seemed unperturbed. “Well, what’s his name?”
“His name was Joe. Joseph Hart. It was just before Christmas. My train was cancelled. I had high heels on and my feet were killing me – so I found this cute little coffee shop. I sat down and started reading my book. I was miles away, when suddenly, this guy started talking to me. Turns out he was reading the same book! We got chatting, and he ended up buying me another Caramel Latte.”
“Oh?” said Nan, clinking her china teacup onto its matching saucer. “And what happened after that?”
Katie wriggled in her seat. “Well, it was all going great, until I found out he lives in Devon. He’d come to London for the weekend – to visit his cousin. We chatted for a while, but then he had to dash off for his train. So we quickly tore a napkin in half and scribbled down our phone numbers. And that was that. But, he’s probably lost my number, and well, Devon’s not exactly round the corner, is it?
“Not exactly,” repeated Nan. “But I’m pretty sure they have a university there. Maybe you should look into doing that Teaching Degree.”
Katie smiled. Nan was so wonderfully black and white. In her mind, it was simple: Boy meets girl. Boy waits for girl at the gates. Boy and girl fall in love, get married and live happily ever after. But unfortunately, it was no longer the 1950’s. Life just wasn’t that simple anymore.
“You never know, Nan. Katie sighed. “He might just surprise me!”
“Well, of course he will!” said Nan with a twinkle in her eye. “He’d be a fool to let you slip away!”
The surprise came a few days later. Katie was clearing out her wardrobe when her phone rang.
“Hello?” she said, not recognising the number.
There was a slight pause.
“Are you doing anything this evening?”
It took Katie a few moments to remember where she’d heard that West Country lilt. It was Joe Hart!
With her heart pounding like the clappers, Katie managed to reply in a composed manner. “Err, nope. No plans whatsoever. Why?”
“Cos, I just wondered if you fancied another one of those Caramel Lattes? It’s Joe. Joseph Hart. The guy from the coffee shop? Do you remember me?
Katie caught her breath. Are you kidding? “Hi Joe. Yes, of course, I remember you.”
“Well. I thought I’d pay my cousin another visit, you know, hit the January sales and all that.” His voice lowered slightly. “Actually, I hate shopping. But it seemed like a good excuse to see you again.”
Wait, was he in London now? Had he really come all this way, for her?
Katie’s heart did a flip. “Where abouts are you exactly?”
“I’m at that coffee shop. I’m just getting to that last chapter of the book. Have you read it yet?”
“Yep. I finished it last night. I don’t want to spoil anything, but it’s a good ending.”
“Ok. Well, I’ll be waiting here for you.”
“I’m on my way!” Katie grinned.
Practically flying down the stairs and grabbing for her coat and scarf, Katie’s mum stopped her by the front door. “Ooh you look nice, love. Where are you flying off to?”
Katie smiled. “I’m going to meet a friend for coffee.”
Mum smiled. “Well, have fun! Oh, and before you go, I was just about to throw this out, but it’s such a nice tin, I wondered if you could make use of it?”
Katie couldn’t help but smile when she caught sight of the empty biscuit tin that her mum was holding in her hands. Christmas Shortbread.
“As a matter of fact, that might just come in handy.”
Katie rummaged around in her coat pockets for her gloves and quite by chance, pulled out the napkin that had Joe Hart’s telephone number scrawled across it.
Instinctively, before leaving the house, Katie opened the biscuit tin lid, and placed the napkin inside.
Alison Jennings put the car into reverse, and began inching her way out of the tight parking space her seven-seater had occupied since around 10:30 that morning. It was at times like this that Ali wished she had a smaller car!
It was just gone quarter to three, almost time to collect her four and five year old from school. The time had whizzed, and Ali hadn’t bought nearly as many Christmas presents as she’d hoped. She still hadn’t got anything for her parents, two of her brothers-in-law, her teenage son, or her husband, Nick! She’d definitely have to go out again next week.
Ali drove down a ramp and followed the exit signs round to the right, where she was immediately met with a queue of traffic, waiting to exit the multi-story. Car-horns were hooting all over the place. Silly people…What’s the point of hooting? There was nothing else to do but wait. Ironically, a carol sprang to mind that her dad used to sing. What were the words again? Peace on earth…and angels singing… or something like that. What a joke!
Ali exhaled sharply as she checked the time on the dash. 2:54pm. She had to be at school by quarter past three. Inwardly, she scolded herself for not having left sooner. The shops had been packed and school-run time was notoriously busy. Ali contemplated texting someone. Perhaps one of the other school-mums wouldn’t mind grabbing her kids and waiting with them until she arrived? She edged forward, noticing the speed at which the cars were moving. She decided not to bother anyone else. With any luck she might just make it, but it would be a close call.
Just over half an hour later, Ali had collected the kids, and she was now bundling them back in the car. Ali seemed to spend most of her life, standing in the rain, strapping kids in and out of car seats lately. Boy did she need a cup of tea! A little way down the road, Ali’s heart sank as she remembered they were almost out of milk. She wondered if she ought to send Danny, her teenage son down the road to get some? But by now, it was pelting down with rain. And he’d probably moan and protest after a long day at secondary school. Then Ali thought about dinner. She wasn’t even sure if there was anything much to eat in the fridge. Plus, it was the last day of term tomorrow, and she really ought to buy the teachers a box of biscuits or something. There was no way round it. She’d have to make a stop on the way home.
Saturday 21st December
The alarm went off at 6:15 am. Ali trudged downstairs, bleary-eyed in the darkness. In robot-fashion, she turned on the heating, fed the cat, and made two cups of tea, wondering if Nick had even remembered. They needed to be at the butcher’s by seven o’clock that morning to collect the Turkey. Carrying two mugs of tea up the stairs, she peered into the kids’ bedroom. Her two little sleepy-heads were absolutely out for the count. Blotto! They would definitely not appreciate being dragged out of bed, in the dark, on the first morning of their Christmas holidays. Ali had been awake since 5:15 going over and over the ever growing list of vegetables, condiments, drinks, desserts and other groceries she still needed to buy. She made a mental note not to forget the cranberry sauce. Or the brandy cream. And the extra roll of Selo-tape. Oh and she’d better buy some cheese. Uncle Pete loved his cheese. Some of Nick’s family were coming over for dinner tomorrow evening. What on earth could she cook? A Beef Casserole might be best. If she prepped it early enough, she could set the oven timer to come on while they were that at that blasted Christingle Service that her neighbour was dragging her along to. Ali wondered if she could wriggle out of it somehow. But the kids were desperate to go. And surprisingly, Nick was keen too. He used to go to Carols every year as a child. Ali hadn’t set foot in a church for years. Her head was spinning. She needed to write a list. What time did the supermarket open, she wondered? Would the vegetables even keep until Christmas Day? She hoped they hadn’t sold out of Red Cabbages.
Sunday 22nd December
With the beef casserole prepped and in the oven, Ali turned her attention to wrapping presents! The kids were happy watching ‘The Grinch’ in the front room with Nick, and so Ali had the dining room table all to herself.
Ali had to admit, she’d been a bit of a ‘Grinch’ herself, that morning. It all started, when Danny, her teenage son, had started moaning about the fact that he’d run out of clean socks and pants! The cheek of it! He’d been lying in bed all morning, while she’d been up with the lark, cleaning the bathroom and trying to make the house look presentable. Then, when Henry, her four year old, had accidentally tipped over his glass of juice at lunch-time, Ali had felt like she was going to spontaneously combust!
Ali put on a Christmas album, “Christmas With The Crooners,” opened a packet of mince pies and poured herself a glass of sherry. Perhaps that would get her back in the festive spirit! Tomorrow, she’d take an early train into London to finish her Christmas shopping, and with any luck, she might even get to sit down and watch a movie on Christmas Eve – providing she’d made the trifle and wrapped up the last of the Christmas presents.
Ali smiled wryly as an Andy Williams Classic began playing…”It’s the most wonderful time of the year…!”
Wonderful? Christmas was just one big stress!
Ali inhaled. She wondered how long she could carry on living life at this pace. She glanced at the clock. She only had an hour or so before they needed to leave for the Christingle. She hadn’t even chosen the kids’ outfits yet. Why, oh why had she agreed to go?
The Church was packed with jolly looking visitors, of all ages. Ali was somewhat taken aback. She’d immediately envisaged a cold, echoing, austere looking building, filled with elderly folk. But the church hall was brightly painted, cosily decked out with garlands of Ivy and Mistletoe. Sparkling fairy lights were wrapped around the pillars, and a magnificent Christmas Tree, covered in red baubles and ribbons made a Festive focal point at the front of the hall.
Ali felt a little out of place as the sound of the first Christmas Carol filled the air. The people sang with such gusto, and such happy faces, it made her feel a little self-conscious. Ali kept her eyes glued on the words printed on her song-sheet.
Hark, the Herald Angels sing,
Glory to the newborn King,
Peace on earth and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled…
It was that song again… Her dad’s favourite Christmas hymn! She studied the words, and joined in the jubilant singing:
Hail the heaven-born Prince of Peace,
Hail the Sun of Righteousness,
Light and life to all He brings,
Risen with healing in His wings,
Mild, He lays His glory by,
Born that man no more may die,
Born to raise the sons of earth,
Born to give them second birth,
Hark the herald angels sing,
Glory to the newborn King.
A strange longing filled Ali’s soul. She felt tears prick at the corners of her eyes. Light. Life. Peace. Healing. Second birth. These words seemed to stir something, right within the very core of her being, even though she had no idea what any of them meant.
And then all of sudden, as oranges and candles, dried fruits and red ribbons were handed out to all the children, the Minister began to explain.
The orange represented the world.
The ribbon, God’s love wrapped around it, red because of Christ’s redeeming blood, shed on the cross of Calvary.
The dried fruits and sweets, symbols of mankind – God’s creation.
And finally, the lit candle, representing Jesus, the light of the World, bringing hope to the people living in darkness.
As Ali stood, watching her children listening intently, their faces softly aglow with candle-lit wonder, she felt her husband gently squeeze her hand. A strange feeling began to wash over her. What was it, Peace? Joy? Did Nick feel it too? She closed her eyes for a moment, and as the first chords of the final hymn began to resound, she exhaled, letting all the stress of the past few weeks, leave her for a moment. And for the first time in a very long time, she suddenly knew what – or rather who – Christmas was really all about.
Ali had such a lump in her throat as they sang the final hymn.
Come and behold Him, born the King of angels,
O come let us adore Him.
Christ the Lord!
As they exited the church hall, they passed the Minister who was handing out leaflets at the door. To her amazement, Ali grabbed one. She couldn’t quite explain how she was feeling, but inwardly she knew that something had changed, and she needed to find out more.
“So, did you enjoy it?” her neighbour asked cautiously, as they walked out into the darkness. Ali thought about how desperately she’d NOT wanted to come and all that she would have missed if she hadn’t.
Spontaneously, she threw her arms around her friend. “I did! I really did. You’ve no idea how much I needed that. Thank you so much for inviting me!”
And as they drove home in the darkness, the kids strangely quiet in the back of the car, Ali glanced up at the Christmas Lights shining overhead in the high Street. She smiled as she noticed them, as if for the first time. There were stars and angels everywhere she looked! Glory to the Newborn King, she hummed quietly under her breath.
Boxing Day leftovers would simply not be complete in our house, without a goodly portion of Mum’s Red Cabbage.
This is one of those wonderful old family recipes, that has added that special touch to the Christmas table, for as long as I can remember. It pairs beautifully with Turkey and all the trimmings, particularly Chipolatas or Sausage-meat stuffing. It’s not a difficult dish to make AT ALL. But it does take a bit of time to do it right.
It’s so worth it though. I always make mine in advance, normally on Christmas Eve, whilst listening to my favourite Christmas Album, of course…. (It’s A Wonderful Christmas, by Michael W Smith, in case you were wondering).
It can then be cooled and refrigerated in an airtight container overnight. And then on Christmas day, it can be whipped out, and really easily reheated on the hob.
1. Start by finely slicing 1 red cabbage.
2. Melt 2oz butter in a large lidded pan. Add in the sliced cabbage, plus 1-2 finely chopped dessert apples (I used Pink Lady)
3. Saute the cabbage and apple in the butter for 25-30 mins, moving continuously, until the cabbage has softened.
Now, this may sound laborious, but it’s THE single-most important instruction. Cabbage, being a rather fibrous vegetable, takes a while to soften, and it will turn a horrible murky colour if it catches and browns.
Follow this step, and in turn you will be rewarded with a dish that is gloriously vibrant in colour. The apples will turn a gorgeous pink, infused with the colour of the cabbage, and the dish will end up glossy and sumptuous.
4. Add in 1/4 pint of beef stock, 1 generous tablespoon of Golden Syrup and 2 fl oz of Vinegar (I used Balsamic, but Red or White Wine Vinegar work well too). Stir everything well, bring to the boil, then cover and simmer for 40 mins. Check and stir every 10 mins or so.
Tangy, sweet , and slightly al dente – this dish is the perfect accompaniment to all that rich Christmas Meat. It goes brilliantly well with sliced Ham!
So if you’re in the supermarket, and you spy a Red Cabbage hanging around, grab one and give this dish a try. It might become a festive favourite in your family too!
This is a really simple family meal that always goes down a treat! It’s got the tastiest sauce – the kids lick their plates!
I call it Somerset Chicken, due to its killer ingredient, which gives it a very moreish sweet flavour – Apple Cider!
Here’s the instructions:
Gently stir fry some chopped chicken, plus one small onion in some olive oil. (I used Chicken Thigh fillets, as they tend to be very flavoursome and succulent, plus some leftover Roast Chicken I needed to use up). Season generously.
2. Add some flour (approx 1 heaped tbsp) to act as a thickener for the sauce, which is made from cider and stock.
3. Add half a pint of Dry Cider and half pint of chicken stock, plus some dried Rosemary or Thyme. Stir well. Season again.
That’s the prep done – couldn’t be simpler!
Sometimes I jazz things up by adding some bacon lardons at stage 1 – this works really well as the salty bacon offsets the sweet cider beautifully – just use less seasoning, to avoid things getting too salty!
4. Cook for 1 1/2 hours in a crock pot or lidded casserole dish at 180 degrees. Check half way through to ensure sauce has not reduced too much. Add a little more water if needed.
My mum taught me how to prepare these leeks – they’re brilliant! Really tasty, and a great accompaniment to so many dishes, particularly chicken dishes, or Sausage n Mash!
Gently saute 2 chopped leeks in 1 tbsp butter. Season.
When leeks are soft and glossy, add approx 30ml boiling water, just enough to shallowly cover bottom of pan.
Add a few handfuls of Frozen Peas. If you like, add a little Rosemary or Tarragon. Bring to boil, then turn down low and simmer in a lidded frying pan for 5-6 minutes with lid partly ajar to allow excess liquid to reduce.
Serve both dishes with some creamy, mashed potato.
Super satisfying, especially with a glass of leftover cider!
I am older than you – a whole generation apart. It may seem to you like I was born in a different era, and that I don’t understand what you’re going through.
But in many ways I’ve walked in your shoes. Like you, I’ve grown from infant to child. From child to teen. From teen to young woman – filled with hope and aspirations for my future.
The world has changed for sure. But in the end, the human heart doesn’t change that much. Not really. At the end of the day, we all need the same things. Love. Significance. Purpose.
I’ve walked further along life’s road than you…and experienced some of the things that I know you dream of… Bride. Wife. Mother.
I’ve cried my way down the aisle (yes, I’ve always been a crier!) I’ve carried four utter miracles within my womb – including a set of very wriggly twins!
I’ve cried tears of bewildered joy as I’ve held each precious gift in my arms, knowing that me and your father’s lives would never be the same again and wondering how it was possible to ever love someone quite that fiercely.
I thank God for these precious, God-given experiences – my cup truly runs over! Life is full of these changing seasons. It has its mountain top moments, and also it’s valleys. But all these experiences, every single one, is a part of the beautiful, tapestry of life.
But if I could stop, for just one moment, look over my shoulder, and give you some wisdom for your journey, even though it may be different to mine…..what would I say?
There are some things that I’ve learned over the years (often the hard way) that I would love to pass on to you. And so without further ado, I’m creating a series of posts, entitled, ‘For My Daughters’…(but of course, Samuel – my precious & only son, and the rest of you, dear readers, are all invited too!)
And here’s the first thing:
You are fearfully and wonderfully made
As sisters you might be alike – yet each one of you is totally unique. Each human being has their own specific genetic code. 26 pairs of Chromosomes paired up in a completely different permutation, meaning that you are a one-of-a-kind work of art! Interestingly, every human being on the planet shares 99.9 per cent of the same DNA. It’s that 0.1 per cent difference that determines your hair and eye colour, the shape of your face, your height, your natural abilities etc. I don’t know how this kind of thing is calculated, but they say that if your DNA was somehow unravelled, it would stretch to the sun! All the way to the heavens!
Embrace who you are! Don’t try and be someone else. This world will try and sell you the lie that your value as a woman is wrapped up in the way you look. Don’t waste time comparing yourself to someone you’ve seen on Social Media, or wishing you were just that little bit thinner here, or a little bit fuller there. Don’t try to be someone else. You can’t be. Because, praise God, you’re you! You’re a miracle! You are not some random, computer-generated, pot-luck type of person. Look!
For You formed my inward parts;
You wove me in my mother’s womb.
I will give thanks to You,
For I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
Wonderful are Your works,
And my soul knows it very well.
My frame was not hidden from You,
When I was made in secret,
And skilfully wrought in the depths of the earth;
Your eyes have seen my unformed substance;
And in Your book were all written the days that were ordained for me,
When as yet there was not one of them.
Psalm 139: 13-16
The words of this Psalm are completely staggering. Even though I carried each one of you within my womb, I couldn’t see much of what was going on as you were forming and growing. But God was there! He saw it all. He was involved. He formed your inward parts! He wove you together. You were skilfully wrought. His eyes were upon you even when you were still unformed.
And all your days were already ordained! God is the author of your life! He is writing your story. He’s not standing afar off! No. He’s intimately involved and acquainted with all your ways. Remember, you are precious; unique; significant; loved. Loved to the uttermost by a wonderful heavenly Father.
I love a good game of Spot the difference, don’t you?…
Have a good look at these two sets of pictures. They are both photos of the tomato plants that I’m currently trying to grow.
Now tell me…what’s the difference?
That’s the difference! Set one is a photo of my tomato plants when I got back from my holiday a few weeks back. (What a sad and sorrowful sight!)
Set two is a photo of my tomato plants the following morning, after a great big, refreshing drink of water.
It’s remarkable, isn’t it?!
I don’t think I’ve ever come across plants that are quite as thirsty as these. If you forget to water them for a single day, they literally droop and wilt and look all but dead.
But give them a good old glug of water, and half an hour later, they completely revive!
Have you ever been thirsty? Have you ever experienced that dryness in your mouth and throat, that feeling of agitation, of desperation, where all you can think about is water?
The trouble is, just like my tomato plants, one drink of water is not enough. We need to keep drinking in order to survive.
The Woman at the Well
Jesus had an interesting chat with a woman at a well once. They were talking about water. I guess when you’re standing at a well, water is a fairly obvious thing to talk about. In fact, Jesus dares to ask the woman to draw him some water.
According to the gospel of John, this rather surprises the woman:
You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink? (For Jews and Samaritans do not associate with one another).
Jesus answers her:
If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked Him and He would have given you living water.”
Ok, what is Jesus doing here? He’s gone from talking about H2O – literal, physical water- to something entirely spiritual.
The conversation twists and turns like this for a while, with the Samaritan woman still not really seeing, not really perceiving.
Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again. But whoever drinks the water that I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become to them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
Through a series of further interchanges, Jesus lovingly draws this woman out. It’s as if He sees right into the depths of her heart and reveals all the emptiness within. This woman has been desperately thirsty. She’s been searching for years and years – desperately yearning – for a love that lasts – that really satisfies. Jesus sends the bucket right deep down into the depths of her soul. Why? Not to make her feel ashamed. But because He knows her lack. He really, truly sees her. He rightly discerns that she’s had five husbands. And that she’s not married to her current lover. This woman cannot seem to find what she’s looking for. She cannot seem to quench her thirst. She’s placing all her hope in human relationships, going from husband to husband, lover to lover – looking for true love and happiness, where it just can’t be found. It’s like she’s got this desperate, insatiable thirst.
Whoever drinks this water will be thirsty again…
Are you thirsty today? Are you searching down an empty well?
Money. Sex. Relationships. Fame and popularity. Success. Likes on Social Media. Drugs. Booze. Possessions. Houses. Careers. Ambitions fulfilled. Children. Family. Clothes. Holidays.
All of these things can fill a void temporarily. But the trouble is, they won’t bring lasting satisfaction.
Don’t get me wrong, some of these things aren’t BAD in themselves. Some of these things are gifts from God, meant to be enjoyed. But the point is, sometimes we focus on the gift, forgetting that the most beautiful thing about a gift, is the giver.
There is nothing on earth that can fill the God-shaped void within each one of us. These things may momentarily quench something within our souls. But they will always, always leave us thirsting for more.
The good news is, God wants to give us His LIVING WATER – What’s Living Water? The type of water that fully satisfies. The type of drink that puts an end to all our searching. We will never find lasting satisfaction in the temporal, in the carnal, in the things we spend our time and money acquring, the things we try to hopelessly keep stuffing into the empty places.
Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters, and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labour for that which does not satisfy? Listen diligently to me and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food.
At last, the Samaritan woman finds it! She finds the living Water as she talks with Jesus at the well. She comes to understand that HE is the living water – He is the end of all our thirsting. When we meet Jesus, and fully understand who He is, and the gift of salvation that He brings, we will never thirst again. Rivers of LIVING WATER will flow from our inner most being. If you’re thirsty today, then the following invitation, from Jesus, is for you…
‘If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’
Blessed are they who keep my ways. Heed instruction and be wise –
Once there were two builder guys,
One was foolish, one was wise.
Built their houses by the shore,
Bang, Tap, Hammer, Saw!
Both their houses looked so grand,
One on rock, the other sand,
Who’s been foolish, can you tell?
Who’s built badly, who’s built well?
Trees are swaying, skies are grey,
Who knew it would rain today?!
Run inside, shut the door,
Looks like it’s about to pour
Thunder cracks – what a din!
A sudden storm is rolling in,
Rain is falling, waters rise,
Now we’ll see which man was wise.
The storm keeps raging all day long,
And the house on the rock keeps standing strong,
But creak, wobble, crash, bang, SPLAT!
The house on the sand has fallen flat!
A Story Jesus Told…
Therefore, everyone who hears these words of Mine and actson them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house, and yet it did not fall, for it had been founded on the rock.
Everyone who hears these words of Mine and does not act on them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. The rain fell, and the floods came and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and it fell – and great was its fall!
Which kind of man did Jesus say was wise?
Everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts upon them…
Which kind of man did Jesus say was foolish?
Everyone who hears these words of Mine and does not act upon them…
Both of these guys HEARD. Both of these men built houses – that’s pretty clever, right?
But only one of them built on the right foundation. Only one of these houses was founded on the rock.
Hearing God’s word is not enough to make us wise. We need to obey, if we want our lives to be founded upon the rock.
When the storms came…
It wasn’t until the storms came, that we found out which man had built wisely.
When the storms of life come – our foundations will be tested. Is your life founded on the rock of Jesus Christ, on His death and resurrection, and on His free gift of righteousness? Or are you trying to build on your own foundation?
Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life…
Anxiety. It’s a killer.
Anxiety is a thief that steals away your peace and robs you of your joy.
The Greek word for anxious (merimnao) used in this passage, has a somewhat surprising meaning. It means ‘a part – as opposed to the whole.’
The inference is that when we’re anxious, we’re divided, we’re pulled apart, in opposite directions. In other words, we go to pieces. We’re just all over the place.
Gosh, I can definitely relate to this. Can you?
As a mother of four, I am constantly tempted to worry and fret and get anxious about all manner of things. What if this, or what if that….and…what on earth is the answer?
Look at the birds of the air, they neither sow, nor reap, nor gather into barns, yet your Heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?
Consider the lillies of the field, how they grow. They neither toil, nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon, in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.
The word consider here means to thouroughly understand, to learn a lesson from.
Jesus is inviting us to look around and learn a profound lesson here. He deliberately chooses the birds of the air and the lillies of the field (wild, grassland flowers) Why? Because they’re everywhere! They’re all around us as a constant, daily reminder.
Okay…so am I missing something? How do common old garden birds and meadow flowers teach me not to worry?
To understand the lesson, we need to read the passage as a whole.
Look at the birds of the air, they neither sow, nor reap nor gather into barns and yet your Heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lillies of the field, how they grow, they neither toil, nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory, was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore, do not be anxious saying, “what shall we eat, or what shall we drink, or what shall we wear?” For the Gentiles seek after all these things and Your Heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things will be added to you. Therefore, do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.
Matthew 6: 26-34
Five Lessons to Learn…
Sow. Reap. Gather. Toil. Spin. Notice, all these words involve labour. They involve effort. The word toil in particular denotes the kind of laborious work that makes us exhausted, both bodily and mentally. As human beings, we tend to focus on the wrong things. We spend our energies on earthly, fleeting treasures. We feel our lives would be so much better if we only had x, y or z. We’re constantly craving the bigger, the better. The next new thing. Being overly anxious about food, clothes, provisions and such like is EXHAUSTING. We’re not meant to live like this. The birds don’t. The lillies don’t. WHY? Because God takes care of them. The birds of the air and the lillies of the field rely solely on the GOODNESS of their Heavenly Father.
Anxiety doesn’t add – it takes away. Who by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? Anxiety steals the life from us. It makes us sick. It stops us from enjoying the moment. It chains us up and keeps us from really living. From the moment we are born, til the moment we take our last breath, our lives are in God’s hands. Worrying doesn’t change a jot. It’s just a huge waste of time.
The phrase: “O you of little faith” occurs five times in the New Testament. Each and every time, Jesus is rebuking the problem of FAILING TO HEAR HIS VOICE. In other words, failing to believe and act on what He says. Anxiety stems from a lack of faith. It’s failing to believe how VALUABLE we are to God (so much more than the birds of the air). It’s failing to believe that ETERNAL things are of much more value than earthly things. It’s failing to believe that we have a Heavenly Father who KNOWS our every need and will provide it at the right time…and so on.
For the Gentiles seek after all these things and Your Heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things will be added to you. Therefore do not be axious for tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself, sufficient for the day is it’s own trouble.
Matthew 6: 32-34
Jesus gets right to the heart of the matter here. If we get our priorities right, then most of our anxiety will simply disappear! Interestingly, He uses two different words for ‘seek‘ here. In the first case, talking about the Gentiles, the word seek means: to clamour after, to wish for, to crave. It speaks of spending our energies on material things, fleeting treasures, vain, empty things that don’t provide real lasting satisfaction. In the second case, where Jesus instructs us to SEEK FIRST THE KINGDOM OF GOD AND HIS RIGHTEOUSNESS, it’s a different kind of seeking altogether. It means: to search for, to require, to seek by inquiring, to search out a matter. It’s about KNOWING, FINDING OUT, LAYING HOLD OF. It’s going after God, and laying hold of all that He promises. It’s about the eternal.
And all these things will be added to you – the inference here is one piece at a time. God gives us our DAILY bread. This instruction is so helpful. Stop worrying about tomorrow. It’s not even here yet. Just take one day at a time. God’s grace is sufficient for the here and now. If you’re worrying about tomorrow, you’ve gone beyond where Jesus would lead you. Come back to today, to the here and now! See, that feels so much better! We’re called to live moment by moment.
I really hope this study blesses and encourages you as much as it did me! The word of God does us so much good.
Recently, my daughter Emily has discovered one of my favourite childhood books, The Secret Garden, by Frances Hodgson Burnett. It’s a beautiful story about a long forgotten garden, and the lives of the characters who discover it, gradually being restored.
In the following extract, the main character, Mary, (with the help of a friendly Robin) finally gets into the the secret garden, which has been locked up for ten years.
Mary’s heart began to thump and her hands to shake a little in her delight and excitement. The robin kept singing and twittering away and tilting his head on one side, as if he were as excited as she was. What was this under her hands which was square and made of iron which her fingers found a hole in? It was the lock of the door that had been closed ten years, and she put her hand in her pocket, drew out the key, and found it fitted the keyhole. She put the key in and turned it. It took two hands to do it, but it did turn.
And then she took a long breath and looked behind her up the long walk to see if anyone was coming. No one was coming. No one ever did come, it seemed, and she took another long breath, because she could not help it, and she held back the swinging curtain of ivy and pushed back the door, which opened slowly – slowly.
Then she slipped through it, and shut it behind her, and stood with her back against it, looking about her and breathing quite fast with excitement, and wonder, and delight.
She was standing inside the secret garden.
The Robin Who Showed the Way, Chapter 8 – The Secret Garden, Frances Hodgson Burnett
A Place of Delight
Right at the start God placed mankind in a garden. Have you ever wondered why?
The Lord God planted a garden toward the east, in Eden; and there He placed the man whom He had formed. Out of the ground the Lord God caused to grow every tree that is pleasing to the sight, and good for food.
Whether or not you like gardening, I’m sure everyone of us would agree that spending time in a well-tended garden can have an extremely restorative effect on the soul.
From the above verse, we learn that God not only planted trees and greenery to give us nourishing food, but also as a visual feast for the eye to behold! Scientists have discovered that green is the most restful colour for the human eye to gaze upon. And God made an abundance of it! What an amazingly kind and generous Father!
Many biblical scholars talk about Eden being a place where Adam and Eve walked and talked with the Lord, in perfect intimacy and without any shame. The name Eden itself, means delight!
We all know of course, the sad story of the fall. Of how this amazing openness and trust between God and man was stolen by Satan, the father of lies.
We hear about how God drove Adam and Eve out of the garden, and placed the cherubim and the flaming sword to guard the way back to garden.
We also know, that right at the start, in midst of the garden, stood the tree of life! The good news is, that even before the foundation of the world, even before mankind sinned, Jesus, the lamb of God, was slain on the tree to restore us to right relationship with the Father!
Open the gates – The King of Glory is Coming In!
When you become a Christian and surrender your life to Jesus, it’s a bit like giving Him the keys to a locked-up garden! The King of glory comes to take up residence within us! In comes the Master Gardener to do His incredible, transformative, work in the garden of our hearts.
I have a very small garden – it’s about 55 feet long. When we moved into our house, ten years ago, it was literally a terraced lawn, flanked by two small strips of sun-baked earth. It had not plant, nor flower, nor anything remotely beautiful about it. The only thing it did have, was a ton of weeds, and a ton of potential!
My mum has always had a love for gardening – I learned from watching her over the years, that if you want to sit in a nice garden, you’ve got to roll up your sleeves and get digging! And so I began…
Turning over the soil was hard graft. Removing all the stones and stubborn weeds was painstakingly laborious. The groundwork was probably 80-90 percent of the job. And it’s an ongoing task!
Ten years later, after much trial and error, weeding and digging, procrastinating and persevering, I now have a place where I can sit on a warm summer’s evening and enjoy the colour that each season brings, plus the occasional visit from a robin or a blue-tit. It is my delight. Not because it is yet perfect, but because it’s come on such a long way!
When you go and visit a beautiful garden, it’s so easy to miss the hours of work that have gone into it. What we don’t see, are the unseen hands and feet that have spent hours and hours digging and weeding and pruning and mowing. The garden, in many ways, is just the outward display. But it’s the unseen effort, that has taken place, perhaps whilst the garden was closed, probably in the early hours of the morning, when nobody was watching that has made all the difference.
Aren’t our lives a bit like this?
Much of the fruit that we display in our lives, is formed
and fashioned in the secret place. It’s
the times when we’re alone with Jesus, often in the early hours, when nobody is
watching, when God’s handiwork is really done.
The Secret Place
“But when you pray, go into your room and close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”
Today, I believe God is calling us afresh, through the rusty gate, down the path, and into the garden – to the secret place. He longs to meet with each one of us on a daily basis. To walk and talk with us in the cool of the day. Today, if you listen carefully, I believe that you might just hear Him calling you.
Will you trust me? Will you yield to Me and allow Me to have My way in your life? Will you allow Me to root out the stubborn sins that spoil and choke growth? Will you seek after me with all your heart, and spend time with Me in the secret place when nobody is watching.
I know exactly what kind of garden I want you to be. I have a unique design and plan for each one of you. I want your life to reflect My beauty and My glory. I want you to carry My fragrance and to become a place that others can come to for rest and refreshment.
Today I stand at the door and knock – will you open the door of your heart?
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