Loving angels instead …

Being a Gabriel (by marriage), I nowadays just confirm my surname over the phone or in person by saying, ‘You know, like the Angel at Christmas …’  Not everyone does know, but most smile at least.

I like angels. A lot.  The other day, I bought one of my friends (you know who you are!) a stained-glass angel similar to this one to hang next to her window.

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My avatar is an angel too.  A musical one who also happens to like blue and red (although personally I’m a string rather than a wind / brass player!)

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I don’t believe in angels in any fuzzy or superstitious way (I don’t believe for instance that my own stained-glass angel is my ‘guardian angel’ or that it protects me in any way … it’s just glass and wire, albeit very pretty glass and wire!)  But I do believe in angels …

Years ago, my mum and I were shopping in our local town.  It was after my dad had died, so I must have been about 13 or 14.  She didn’t drive, so we’d come in on the bus.

Anyway, we were in one of the chiller aisles (buying I can’t remember what – it was over a quarter of a century ago!) and my mum had left her handbag unattended in the top of her trolley (one reason I cringe when I see ladies doing the same now – PLEASE don’t!) She turned away for one minute to get something and when she turned back, the bag was gone. Stolen.  We looked everywhere in case we could see someone with her bag, but they (whoever they were) would have been long gone.

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We now had a trolley full of shopping but no means to pay for it. Embarrassing enough … we had to wheel it to the checkout and explain discreetly to the manager, who kindly asked his staff to check bins outside in case the thief had jettisoned the bag at least in one of them.  However, more pressingly, we had no means to get home as no bag= no purse, and no purse = no bus fare home.  We considered going to the local police station and asking them to get us home, as fortunately my mum had our keys in her pocket.

I can vividly remember standing outside the supermarket in the dusk, wondering what we were going to do, when a man approached us.  He asked my mum, ‘Have you had your handbag stolen?’  She replied that she had and he held out some money – a note – enough to get us home.

The thing was, we had told no-one apart from the manager and we hadn’t made a big deal about it (like I said, it was embarrassing, as if we were trying to get away with something) so it was unlikely that anyone in the shop would have known our predicament.  I did fleetingly wonder if it was the thief, but why would they risk the (slight) chance that they would be recognised and why would they give us back money in any case?  So how did he know?

I wish I could say I looked into his eyes and could describe them in some other-worldly way: an icy, ethereal blue, for instance.  I can’t.  All I know is that I am convinced I met an angel that day.  Either that, or God told someone going about their everyday business: ‘Go and give that woman and slightly grumpy teenager some money as they don’t have any to get home’ – and they obeyed Him.  Either way.  I’m not sure it matters which.

And that’s my point.  My angel is a reminder to me of God’s presence with me, always, whether He sent an angel that day or whether He sent a person to be an angel (messenger of God) for us.

‘Angel’ or ‘angels’ are mentioned a number of times in the Bible (290 and 96 times respectively, having just searched!), normally when someone is in need, like Hagar, or God needs to get an urgent message to someone, like Gideon or Mary.  We are also told in Hebrews 13 verse 2:  Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.’ (NIV version.)

I do believe in angels as a real spiritual phenomenon, whether physically manifested or not.  However, closer to home and more in our every day experience (!), we often talk about kind people being an ‘angel’, helping us, supporting us, encouraging us. So this year, in 2015, can we be angels for each other?  You never know, we may be ‘loving angels instead’!

God bless you this coming year.

Frances x

 

 

Picture Credits:

Pic 1: Courtesy of E-bay!

Pic 2: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edward_Burne-Jones

Pic 3: http://100wickedwords.wordpress.com/2013/05/page/2/

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Sticky Note to God 12.29.14

A good reminder as we set out into a new year …

CHRISTian poetry ~ by deborah ann

Sticky Note To God 12.29.14

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Living in the valley, not up on the mountain top

I am a teacher.  There … I’ve said it.  And as much as this job may frustrate me at times (being my own ‘thorn in my flesh’ as Paul describes in 2 Corinthians 12 v 7), it is something I cannot escape, even if I wished to.

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And believe me, I’ve tried. Time out at home.  Children’s work at church.  Short sojourn in the world of Special Needs.  I’ve tried them all, and yet teaching keeps drawing me back. Why?  I guess it’s because I see it as a God-given vocation, my own ‘calling.’  Doesn’t mean that I’m good at it all the time, certainly not as good as I want to be (but I am something of a perfectionist, so my own hardest task-master) nor that I never make mistakes.  But it is something I feel God has given me to do, so do it I must.

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And when it is good, it is OH SO GOOD.  Teaching, on a good day, cannot be beaten in terms of job satisfaction.  Teaching, on a good day, grafting at the chalk face, is sublime.  Not just the Christmas cards from kids who, it seems, I have imparted something of worth to, nor the present from the girl whose case I have been on all year and who (rightly) takes that as my caring about her.  Because I do.  I really do.  I think teachers have the most kids of anybody in society, because every year there is a new batch that we take on and nurture through til the time they leave us.  As they should.

And yet sometimes I feel it is seen as not quite ‘holy’ enough.  Well-meaning people who seem to suggest that if I were working in children’s work in church, for instance … I would be working ‘for the Lord’.  But I am. Right down here in the valley, not on the mountain top.  Why is there this (false, in my view) division between ‘church’ work and ‘secular’ work?

transfiguration
When Peter, James and John went up on the mountain-side with Jesus and witnessed his transfiguration, where ‘His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light’ and ‘ a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!” ‘ (Matthew 17 verses 2 and 5 respectively), Peter jumps in with a suggestion.  Feet first as usual.  I love Peter as I can relate so clearly to him!  (Such good intentions, such a good heart, seemed such a good thing to say at the time ….!)

When he suggested that they should build ‘shelters’ for Jesus, Moses and Elijah (who had also appeared), the suggestion is not taken up.  On the contrary, a footnote in both Mark and Luke’s version seems to say that he was misguided to say this. Luke 9 v 33 says ‘(He did not know what he was saying.)’  But why? Surely being up on the mountain top is a glorious, inspiring, over all spiritual experience?  Definitely.  But I get the impression that Jesus didn’t want them to stay up on the mountain top, but to get back to the valley, to the people that needed them.

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Listening recently to a gorgeous and truly inspirational colleague who was leaving my school, he reminded those present that we are ‘teachers of children first and foremost’ and only after that teachers of our subject.  I agree wholeheartedly.  And while I know that many teachers go into the profession with a more humanist sense of vocation, for me, can there be anything more truly ‘holy’ than being a role model for young minds, guiding their journeys and supporting them along the way?   These are the ‘lambs’ or ‘sheep’ that God has given me to ‘feed’ or ‘take care of’ (John 21) not in any soppy, ‘fluffy slippers’ sense (fluffy I ain’t!) but in a very real way.

I’m not putting down ‘church’ ministry.  Not in the slightest.  But life does not exist only in churches, and God is not expecting us to hide away in church life, being faintly apologetic about our faith when we go out and about in the world outside.  Especially not when our societies have so much need – whether that be those in financial need, families that are broken or those who are lonely and just need someone to listen.

So what role does church play in supporting both ‘Christian’ and ‘secular’ vocation? Church too often becomes a place that drains rather than replenishes. And after spending time labouring in the vineyard, so to speak, I need my ‘still waters’ and ‘green pastures’ (Psalm 23.)  I need to be fed in turn, so I have something left to give out rather than running on empty. Value me for ME, not for the ‘slot’ I can fill!  Ask how I’m doing (and I can work out if you really want to know, or are just being polite!)

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Churches should never be such ‘busy’ places (rotas, routines, regulations!) that they forget that their congregations are made up of people.  Just people – with all their frailties, imperfections and needs. And they / we / I need to pray for discernment in meeting those needs.  Personally, I don’t need someone to come up with an alternative employment solution (however well-intended); I do need someone to pray for God’s strength for me to be able to do the job He’s given me.  There are lovely people in my church who support me – for that I’m incredibly grateful. Not by doing anything earth-shattering, just ‘helping out.’  Just listening while I vent, so I am able to pick myself up and get back down into the valley!

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Picture credits:

Pic 1: http://www.educationquizzes.com/blog-for-parents/2013/08/six-teaching-techniques/

Pic 2: http://classroomtales.com/2010/05/29/no-hands-up-please/

Pic 3: http://onegraydot.com/transfiguration-of-christ-illustrationartwork/

Pic 4: https://ellenlandreth.wordpress.com/tag/mountain-top-experience/

Pic 5: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hope_Valley,_Derbyshire

Pic 6: http://www.wellstreetchurch.org.uk/church-life/pastoral-care/

Pic 7: http://nexttriptourism.com/lauterbrunnen-valley-tourism-switzerland/

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Work in progress!

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As a child I was always fascinated by watching glass-blowing. The whole process of seeing the glass being heated in the fire until it was glowing, incandescent, a thing of dangerous beauty. And then seeing it being changed, shaped, transformed by a skilled craftsman, blowing it and turning it until it became what it was intended to be.

You can see where I’m going here, right? 🙂

But it’s only recently that I thought about actually being that glass: it’s not a comfortable process; it hurts at times! Again and again it is placed in the fire until it is soft enough to change – malleable – then and only then can the inner beauty of the material come out.

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I went to our local music festival recently and one of the activities on offer was a huge banner with ‘Peace, Hope and Love’ blanked out with tape.  Children (and big children of all ages!) were invited to throw paint-filled balloons at this so it was covered with a mass of chaotic and messy colour – then the tape was peeled off to reveal the words in contrast. You get the idea. (See below for an example revealing a cross!)  Well, one of my friends remarked on the irony of ‘peace, hope and love’ emerging from the act of something been thrown at it!  But I thought to myself, isn’t that just what life is like?  Life can and very often does throw things at us – and I believe God uses those events to change and shape us for our good and the good of those around us.

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I thought of the story of Stephen Sutton – a young lad diagnosed with terminal cancer at the age of 15 and who lost his battle earlier this year at the age of just 19.  See stephensstory.co.uk for the full story, and especially watch the video on the home page.

It wasn’t just the fact that he set himself the target of raising £100,000 for teenage cancer and ended up raising over £4 million … it was the lad himself.  In the midst of that situation he found a wealth of positivity and a determination to inspire – and inspire he did! An incredibly sad story in many ways, and I can’t imagine what he – or his family – went through over that time – but the over-riding image the world has of him is of the infamous ‘thumbs-up’ and a message that whatever you are going through, you need to live life to the full, not for what you can get but for the difference you can make. An inner beauty brought into stark relief by the pain and suffering he was going through.

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Coming to the end of a school year is a bit like that – but on a far smaller and less life-changing scale – a time for looking back and reflecting on what has been really tough at times – the sleep lost, the tears shed, the worries about what on earth I’m doing, day to day – but also on how far I’ve come (by the grace of God.)  My journey hasn’t been anything like Stephen’s – and not like any number of people’s journeys.  But it has been transformative.  Looking back, I can see how I’ve grown – in patience (still working on that one), in dealing with difficult situations, in perseverence especially.

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Of course, the material undergoing heating and shaping (whether it be glass,clay, or precious metal) has no choice – but we do.  We can either fight against the process of being changed, bemoan our lot, rail against the injustice of it all to God, our creator (who I’m pretty sure knows what He’s doing!) – or we can try to see the pattern in it all, see the rough edges being knocked off, see the way in which we we’re being reformed – or re-formed – into a thing of beauty. 

As 1 Peter 1 v 6-7 puts it (in the NIV):  

In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed.

We are works in progress – not made yet – but on our way!

Bible passage from: https://www.biblegateway.com/

Picture Credits:

Pics 1 + 2: https://everythingneat.wordpress.com/tag/glass-blowing/; Pic. 3: http://www.pinterest.com/RaquelMorales5/art/; Pic. 4: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-27408818; Pic. 5: https://poetrybydeborahann.wordpress.com/tag/refined/

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Happy Our Father’s Day!

For Father’s day – time to revisit.

Walking the talk

Father’s Day is coming up in England, as shown by the plethora of mugs, whisky bottles and Darth Vader t-shirts cramming the shelves of our supermarkets.

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Cue the cutesy cards, those making fun of their aged parent – and the mixed feelings about fatherhood.  For those who’ve grown up with a close relationship with their fathers, this is all well and good – for others, tinged with sadness or worse, resentment.

My father died when I was 12. At that age I was too young to really comprehend the reality – or the finality – of that.  Before that, to a great extent not to any fault of his own, I wasn’t close to my dad.  He belonged to a different age – when parents didn’t lavish attention on their children – when he perhaps hadn’t had this lavished on him, so what model did he have by which to…

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It’s my anniversary!

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It’s been one year since I started this blog … and in that time, what have I learnt?

  • That the best blog posts, the ones that flow from my fingers so to speak, are the ones straight from the heart.
  • That I am often, if not always, in as much need of my blog content as anyone who may be reading it! Humility is a good virtue – but not one that I should (or can, a lot of the time) be proud of possessing!
  • That if one person is blessed by what I write, that makes God happy (I think).  And making God happy makes me happy!
  • That there is a whole WORLD of people out there with their own gleaned wisdom, unique insights and heart-felt encouragement (for all of these things, I thank you, my lovely fellow bloggers!)

God bless,

Frances x

 

Picture credit: http://www.imgion.com/img/anniversary/page/31/

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I Asked God

Not much more needs to be said!

Morning Story and Dilbert

Morning Story and Dilbert Vintage Dilbert
May 20, 2000

I asked God to take away my pride. And God said “No”.
He said it was not for him to take away, but for me to give it up.
I asked God to make my handicapped child whole. And God said “No”.
He said her spirit was whole, her body was only temporary.

I asked God to grant me patience. And God said “No”.
He said patience is a by-product of tribulations. It isn’t granted, it is earned.
I asked God to give me happiness. And God said “No”.
He said he gives me blessings, happiness is up to me.

I asked God to spare me pain. And God said “No”.
He said suffering draws you apart from worldly cares and brings you closer to me.
I asked God to make my spirit grow. And God said “No”.
He said I must grow on my…

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