Count Your Blessings #11 – Prayer

Summer in My Garden

Tuesday in our church is prayer day. That doesn’t mean we pray all day, but it does mean that we set times aside throughout the day to pray. Personally I’m a morning prayer and join with a number of others at about 7:00 on some weeks. I say ‘about’ because this morning I slept in so didn’t make it until about 7:15.

Prayer for a Christian isn’t about sitting down and going through a ritual. It’s about a conversation between us and God. It’s about communing with God. As such I don’t just pray on Tuesday at 7:00, I pray at all sorts of times, most days.

I also try to dedicate times specifically to prayer during week. There is a catch-phrase for these times in Christian circles – “the quiet time”. When I first became a Christian (when I was 17) I soon got into the routine of ‘quiet times’. I’m not sure who suggested that they were a good idea but someone did and it worked – for a while. But over time they became stale and dry and definitely a ritual rather than a conversation. Rather than being a time of communing they became I time of guilt and regret. I soldiered on for a while, but eventually they became so dry that even the ritual fell away.

From time to time I would listen to preachers who would say that I should be making time for God. In a sense they were right, and I knew it, but I didn’t want to go back to the stale ritual. All those preachers managed to do was to build guilt. But God is much greater than any regret or guilt.

Over the last 12 months or so God has been showing me that I don’t need to feel any guilt and that the ritual of a ‘quiet time’ is as deadly as no ‘quiet time’ at all. What God wants is relationship and I am free to find that relationship in any way. The key message in this being ‘free’. There wasn’t a formula or a process; it was about relationship in freedom.

Since God has written that on my heart I don’t have ‘quiet times’; I have times of intimacy. I may be quiet, but I may not. What I don’t have it ritual; I am learning to find freedom. Since starting to move in freedom I have discovered that prayer is a blessing.

Count Your Blessings #10 – Peace

Meadow Flower

Sometimes I become grateful for things in strange ways. Today was definitely one of those days.

I am in Amsterdam, away from my family, and today a set of bombs have been triggered by a terrorist group in London killing over 30 people. This isn’t the first time that something dramatic has happened when I have been away from home. I was away from my family on September 11th, that time I was visiting a customer.

I can’t truly say why the thought of bombs in London got me thinking about war and conflict, but it did. It got me thinking that I was very fortunate to live in a country which hasn’t seen a major conflict for a very long time. I thank my grandfather’s generation that I have never had to go to war, something that almost every generation of British young men has had to do before me. I also thank those young men and women who daily expend their energies keeping it that way. Today’s event have highlighted what a tremendous job they do in a world which is not free from war and conflict.

I’m not here in Amsterdam looking forward to death on the battlefield and my family isn’t living in fear of nightly bombings. For that I am very grateful.

Events like today’s should make us realise how precious our peace and or freedom are, and make us value them even more highly.

Count Your Blessings #9 – Creativity

Stone Wall

I love being creative.

I know that for some people it can be both a blessing and a curse. They get the urge to create something and it overtakes and overpowers them. I’m not one of those people thankfully. I love being creative, but my creative urges are easily pleased.

As I grow older the thing I have come to realise is that being creative is definitely a state of mind.

There are times when my job connects with my creativity and I love it. There is no logic to when this is though.

There are times when simple house jobs connect too. If only this could be all of the time.

There are times when writing a blog is easy because the creativity just flows.

There are times when my creative side is pricked by doing some exercise. Unfortunately for my waistline this isn’t that often.

There are other times when I go out for a walk with a camera and my whole being changes. I feel like a child capturing a butterfly and gazing at the vastness of all creation.

Sue and I try to take a couple of days each year when we get away and spend time in quiet. Sometimes this is to an organised retreat, sometimes it is with some like-minded friends. in these times God pricks my creativity as a way of deepening our relationship.

For me that is what creativity is all about, it’s about deepening relationships. My relationship with myself, my relationship with God, my relationship with Sue, my relationship with Jonathan and Emily, my relationship with all humanity.

Count Your Blessings #8 – Paddling pools

Water

Today is a rare day in my particular part of the world. It’s sunny and it’s warm. Lancashire is not renowned for either of these two things, though partly it’s an impression we like to give in order to keep the numbers down.

Because this weather is generally unexpected we all react to it by going a little crazy. We also feel it is necessary to fit everything into a single day that people in warmer climates know they can spread across the whole summer.

In warmer climates people have water fixed into their gardens as a permanent feature. For those of us in Lancashire spending money on such extravagance seems like a pointless activity . We have a much better more cost effective mechanism for enjoying water in the sun, we use a paddling pool. In our case a paddling pool is simply an inflatable puddle, not much bigger than the average car tyre. The great thing is that size doesn’t matter; it still manages to delight half a dozen primary school children.>

As a parent it is a real blessing to see your children having fun, being children. Seeing a face light up when it’s been covered by a splash of water gives a completely different perspective on the world. Hearing children revelling in doing the same thing over and over again makes us adults want to regain that type of joy.

Count Your Blessings #7 – Freedom to be alone

Local bench

My life is busy and full and active. I have a family. I have a job which requires me to communicate with people all day every day. I am not an overly gregarious person so can find all of this interaction quite waring. So it’s a real blessing to be in a relationship which allows me the freedom to be alone.

Times of solitude bring refreshment and renewal. If I am feeling wounded or tired; I’m not likely to want to go out and party. I’m far more likely to want a quite place. For me the garden is often this place, but not always.

Some of my best times of solitude are spent out walking. Most mornings I try to take a walk in the local woods, normally solitary, apart from the odd dog walker or two.

I can start a time of solitude in many different ways, angry, drained, hurt, tired, but nearly always finish feeling calmer and uplifted.

As a Christian I regularly meet with God in those times. I don’t necessarily start thinking that I need to get with God, it’s what happens.

Count Your Blessings #6 – We have a Garden

Lavender

One of things that looked like a bit of a daunting task when we moved into our current house was the back garden. As is the tradition in the UK that new houses have a landscaped (cheaply) front garden, but a back garden that is a complete mess. They don’t even clean out all of the detritus that results from the building process. All that happens is that it gets flatten and covered over with a thin veneer of top soil. Stick your spade in anywhere and you’ll come up with a brick, or a lump of concrete, or some piping and enough nails to rebuild your house. They don’t even put up a fence between you and your neighbours, that’s left to a simple piece of wood marking the boundary.

Tree FernLike many people who move into a new house, the cost of moving wiped us out financially. In that situation the garden always goes to the bottom of the list. That is, apart from the fencing, but that’s only because it’s in your contract to get it resolved within the first few weeks. After a couple of years catching up financially and doing the interior of the house we finally got around to the back garden a couple of years ago. We had wanted to do it ourselves, but in the end we paid someone to do the landscaping so that we could enjoy the planting. Like all gardens it’s taken a little while to get established, but this year it has become a real pleasure.

PatioGardens are great at encouraging you to look at the overall plan and at the same time looking at the smallest detail. The way that a fern unravels and extends is fabulous. The growth rate of a vine is phenomenal.

At one level the garden is just a collection of billions and trillions of atoms. At another level it’s a puzzle of interrelated cells that even the most powerful computer couldn’t describe. At another level it’s a collection of leaves and branches and flowers. Each of these levels makes our garden interesting, even fascinating, and each of them contributes to the knowledge that this is our place of tranquility, of creativity, of refreshing, of play, of relationship, of fellowship.

The garden is especially a place of play for the children. Our latest edition is a trampoline and the kids would bounce all day every day if their schedule or the English weather would let them. Having children in a garden just extends it’s appeal as a place of family and togetherness.

FlowersThe other thing about a Garden is that it doesn’t just appeal to one sense, or even two, it gets to every one of them. We deliberately chose plants that contributed scents and taste. This year we have extended that a bit by integrating food producing plants with the other ‘pretty’ plants. A bit like the approach they used to take in the old cottage gardens, but in a more modern way. So hopefully, later in the year, we will be eating the garden too.

Having a garden is a blessing that we could so easily overlook, but spend any time out there and I am soon reminded of the abundant generosity of God. It’s not about us begging it to produce – it just produces, and often it produces far more than we expected.

Hebrews 12:15 Make sure no one gets left out of God’s generosity. Keep a sharp eye out for weeds of bitter discontent. A thistle or two gone to seed can ruin a whole garden in no time.

Count Your Blessings #5

Books

I can read – brilliant.

When I was at school reading was a complete pain the rear as far as I was concerned. I only passed my O-level English on my third attempt and it really got me down. I didn’t read the classics or anything like that as a child.

But, somehow, through it all I learnt to read.

As I got older a change came in my life where I not only learnt to read I actually started to enjoy it. This was a work of God.

What’s more, when I started to enjoy reading, God put me in a place with a couple of individuals who loved to read also (Vince and Martin). Their reading was completely different to mine and yet we enjoyed each others reading, they even changed my reading.

I’ve just finished reading The Shadow in the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon a book which I wouldn’t have gone anywhere near when I was 18 but now I love. But I’m also reading The Life You’ve Always Wanted by John Ortberg which is a completely different book. There is now a stack of books in my study which is getting to big for the shelves but I can’t bare to get rid of them because each one of them has spoken to me in some way. In a sense, each one of them is a part of me. Every one of them from The Darwin Awards III to The Second Reformation.

In recent years I’ve also rediscovered great picture books to. I could sit for hours and just take in the wonder of the Waters of Cumbria.

I know that it is such a blessing to be given both the ability and the resources.

Count Your Blessings #4 – Family Days Out

IMG_1876I love family days out. This one was with our usual family friend – Dave Brown. Dave was my Best Man and has been an integrated part of our family for nearly 20 years. Dave is 10 years older than Sue and I, but we share so much it makes absolutely no difference.

This family day was a walk around Tarn Hows, but starting from the Ambleside to Coniston road so we walked up the waterfalls to the Tarn. You just can’t beat the Lake District on a nice sunny day after rain, when the trees are green and the waterfalls are full. It’s beautiful (just look at the pictures). What's this tree doing here?

We are so fortunate to be so close to somewhere so beautiful. The strange thing was, it was actually made more beautiful by the damage caused by the storms over the winter. The Lake District lost over 500,000 trees apparently. The way the trees were laid out in the Tarn was dramatic. And of course it gave Jonathan (and me) something to climb on and go discovering. There is something deep in the human spirit that drives us to discover; sometimes that discovery goes smaller and smaller, and sometimes it goes bigger and bigger. As I get older I find that I will either do one or the other.IMG_1895

I’ve been setting myself a little test to make sure I take it all in. When we go out for a walk I try to make sure that I take as many small pictures as big ones. Get into the beauty of that little flower, or leaf, or insect, and at the same time realise how huge that sky is and how tall that tree is. Jonathan and Emily are naturals at this; one second they can be telling you about the shape of a cloud and the next showing you a newt in the water that they’ve just discovered. Emily even noticed that the ‘dust’ on the edge of the Tarn wasn’t dust at all – it was thousands of dead insects with their wings glistening in the sunlight.IMG_1885

The discovery hadn’t finished there though; we even managed to round the day off by discovering a little Italian Restaurant down a little alleyway in Bowness-on-Windermere (of all places).

I love days of discovery.

Count Your Blessings #3

Somewhere above Garstang

Friday evening was another fun one. In the Chastney household Friday’s are normally quite bitty with Jonathan and Emily in and out to dancing and Ignition (youth club at church) so Sue and I spend much of the evening being a taxi. This week though, there wasn’t any Ignition and Emily’s dancing finishes reasonably early. So this week we decided to have a bit of an adventure, break free and do something different. We are the type of people who revel in the simple things of life, so for us our adventure was to drive North of Preston to a little village called Scorton. In Scorton the little village shop is normally open quite late and serves home made Ice Cream. They really are fabulous. And the nice thing about Scorton is that it’s right on the edge of the Trough of Bowland where you can get some fabulous views of Morecombe Bay and the Lake District.

So we all pile into the car and go, take the 15 minute drive up to Scorton, arrive in the village centre, but oh dear, no, the village shop is shut. what are we going to do, we are all psyched up for a nice ice cream and the shop is shut. Well we couldn’t go without an ice cream could we. So we jump back into the car and continue North towards Lancaster. Eventually we find a little shop that is open and buy or long waited for ice cream. It wasn’t as good as the ones at Scorton but it was nice all the same. But what to do about a walk.

Well the nice thing about Lancaster is that it has a fabulous park for walking in, Williamson Park. It’s right on the top of a hill and has all sorts of places to discover. So off we set. We met friends from Garstang Free Methodist Church doing orienteering and chuckled a little at the ladies at a wedding reception who were struggling to walk in very high stilleto heals across some cobbles between the memorial and the toilets.

After a little while we discovered a rope swing. Brilliant. Being the master of the household it was my job to try it out first, safe enough. And then off Jonathan went, he’s a Scout so has seen it all before. And then it came to be Emily’s turn. Emily is a really plucky kid, but couldn’t hang onto the bar because the place where her hands needed to be was all sharp, but she was desperate, so what do we do. I thought about changing the stick that you hang on, but there didn’t seem a very sensible way of doing that. How about covering it up with a jumper or something, but again that didn’t work to well either. Eventually we hit on the idea that Emily could ride the rope swing on my back. It worked a treat. She got the buzz of riding the rope swing, and I got the buzz of riding it with her.

After all that excitement we were hungry again (not really but it’s a good excuse). Almost at the entrance to the park there is a little Chip Shop which was still open. So with a couple of bags of chips in hand we set off into the Trough of Bowland and find a fabulous place to park, with the wind blowing, young lambs in the field and a glorious view across Morecombe Bay.

For us, that is what adventure is all about; making memories that last a lifetime.

Count Your Blessings #2

Jonathan on Spiral Stair Case

last night Jonathan and I went out for a little bit of a walk. I had been away early for a day trip down to Aldershot (on a plane thankfully) and needed to get a bit of fresh air. Sue was out leading a Network course and Emily was at the music festival, leaving Jonathan and myself. Of course we couldn’t leave straight away because there are always a few little jobs to do aren’t there. But having finished them we jumped into the car and drove up onto the Longridge Fells, hopefully to watch the sunset. Unfortunately we had to leave before it really got going because we need to be back in time for Emily.

In the car on the way back I put on a Cold Play CD (of all things) and the two of us sang along. It was great. me and my boy singing along together. It was a real time of bonding. It wasn’t all gushey, it was just two people who love each other doing something together. Jonathan is such a great kid.

Count Your Blessings #1

Emily (and Waterfall)

This week has been the Preston Schools Music Festival; Emily has had a part as a dancer – dressing up as a space-man. We went as a family on Wednesday nights. Emily was buzzing. She had this huge smile across here face and it was all she could do to not burst out giggling. The evening is held in the Guild Hall across three nights so he has been performing in front of several thousand people. They definitely got the best gig of the night dancing to a jazzed up version of the Star Wars them with everyone clapping along.

Priceless is the only word to describe an occasion like that. May even be one to bring up at some future suitably embarrassing occasion.

I love my kids they are great.

(Sorry, no pictures, we weren’t allowed)