Blessings Top 20 for 2010

It’s that time of the year when television seems to be jammed full of Top Something of Anything type shows, So here’s my Top 20 Blessings for 2010:

  1. Blessings #146 – New Era
  2. Blessings #153 – Fresh Raspberries
  3. Blessings #157 – Broken Perceptions
  4. Blessings #150 – Heaven’s Spotlights
  5. Count Your Blessings #144 – McVitie’s Chocolate Digestives
  6. Blessings #155 – A Walk in the Woods
  7. Count Your Blessings #128 – Walking hand-in-hand with my children
  8. Blessings #147 – Pictures of the Past
  9. Blessings #156 – Crossing the Chasm of Inadequacy
  10. Blessings #154 – The Dance of Nature
  11. Blessings #151 – Colourful Community Recipe
  12. Blessings #148 – Reading the Ancient Stories
  13. Blessings #149 – Revisited Laughter
  14. Blessings #152 – New Growth after a Pruning
  15. Count Your Blessings #138 – Buttercups and Dandelions
  16. Count Your Blessings #129 – Gratitude
  17. Count Your Blessings #26 – Laughter
  18. Blessings #145 – Tree Skeletons
  19. Count Your Blessings #137 – Wednesday Evening Adventures
  20. Count Your Blessings #126 – Grace

It’s nice to see the newer ones on there, but also to see how far back they go, #29 – Laughter was written back in 2005!

Blessings #157 – Broken Perceptions

This weekend we ventured out to one of the local small towns. We had no particular reason for being there other than the fact that we were avoiding Preston town centre for various reasons.

Windermere in the mistIt was a cold day, one of those when you don’t really want to be mooching around meandering from shop to shop. It was a day when we should really have be in mission mode moving from store to store in order with a purpose.

As we didn’t really have a mission for being there we defaulted to a combination of the two – mooching at a pace, as if we had a mission.

After exploring the delights of a couple of the local stores and quickly glancing through the price of property in the selection of estate agents we spotted a cafe hidden away down the side of a hotel. The hotel was looking a bit tired, but the cafe looked, at a distance, as if it might have some promise.

As we got nearer to the cafe my heart sank as I saw the tables inside and got an initial impression of the decor inside. But the desire to get out of the cold was stronger than the desire to find a really nice cafe. I entered the cafe with a clear perception of the experience that I was going to receive, and it wasn’t a great one.

My perception was completely wrong and within a few short seconds the prejudices that I had built up were shattered by a delightful cup of locally roasted coffee and a home made scone with real butter and fruity jam.

Having had my perceptions shattered I looked around and realised that this cafe had been crafted out of the platform of a now absent railway platform giving it a real character.

Jesus regularly broke peoples perceptions.

They wanted him to fit into the little box that they had decided he should fit into, but he wasn’t going to have any of it.

Rulers and authorities wanted him to conform, but he wasn’t going to fit into their parameters, he had his own definition.

People still want to put Jesus into a box and make him fit their parameters – but even today Jesus is having none of it.

Blessings #156 – Crossing the Chasm of Inadequacy

Sometimes these posts come quickly as if my brain has suddenly gone into download mode – I’ve been working on this one since April 2010.

After 7 months I hope it’s well matured.

PathIn the spring Sue and I, along with some friends, went on a quiet day at Scargill House. This lovely place of retreat is near to the picturesque Yorkshire Dales village of Kettlewell.

Sometimes we do quiet days on our own, but on other occasions it’s good to join a lead quiet day where someone brings thoughts and reflections for the rest of us to contemplate. This time we were very privileged to have Adrian and Bridget Plass leading.

One of the thoughts from the day has been with me since that points. It was a challenge to be obedient:

Are you willing to be obedient by crossing the chasm of inadequacy because that’s where adventure lies.

I have a strong urge to be in control of situations and for people to think the best of me. If I feel inadequate in a situations I’m very uncomfortable, part of my drivenness is a need to avoid situations where I feel inadequate.

At the same time I have, for years, had a sense that God has been calling me to do some public speaking. Something that made me feel thoroughly inadequate. As you might imagine I wasn’t exactly pursuing this calling with much vigour.

Thankfully, God is patient.

I do a reasonable amount of presenting with my job, but this isn’t public speaking. Presenting is different, because over the years I have made sure that I am the expert in any situation where I might be speaking. There’s no chance of me feeling inadequate – a make sure of it. The problem for me with public speaking, particularly in a church context, is that there’s always someone who is more expert than you are.

The very thought of the lack of control required to speak in public made me nervous.

Thankfully, God is a healer.

The challenge to “cross the chasm” came within the context of being the people that God has made us to be, more specifically, for Graham to be the person God has made him to be.

One of my roles at church is to help lead a ministry called Celebrate Recovery. The tagline for Celebrate Recovery is to find freedom from life’s hurt, hang-ups and habits. Starting with my deep seated need for people to always think the best of me I’ve been on a journey of healing. This hasn’t been a quick journey, actually, I suppose it’s taken nearly three years to get me to this point. It’s been a journey of healing; being healed to be more like the person that God made me to be.

So, following the quiet day I took the first step across the chasm and volunteered to be involved in a series of talks about Life’s Healing Choices which is based on the Celebrate Recovery material.

The second step concluded this Sunday when I finished the second of two public speaking engagements.

Thankfully, God is faithful.

I can’t say I wasn’t nervous, but I can say that I wasn’t crippled with nerves.

I can’t say that I didn’t over worry the talks and have some moments when I wondered what on earth I was doing, but I can say that I saw it through.

I can’t even say that I’ve crossed this particular chasm.

Thankfully, God is love and grace.

because that’s where adventure lies.

Blessings #155 – A Walk in the Woods

One of my most favourite places is Borrowdale in Cumbria. As I drive down into Borrowdale from Keswick I always feel like any stress that I am feeling is progressively being lifted from me.

Leaving the wide open expanse of the Derwentwater valley the road enters into a narrow cutting beyond Grange. Following the route of the river Derwent the road twists and turns for a mile or so before it opens out into Borrowdale.

Beautiful Walking in BorrowdaleSurrounded by hills on all sides Borrowdale is like a land that is cut off from the rest of the world – a secret, hidden place,

Some of the valley sides are displaying rocky crags, some are covered in grass and heather, but my favourite are the ones cloaked in ancient woodland.

This isolated place has managed to avoid the imposition of rows upon rows of conifers. It’s steep sides and remoteness have meant that the original broadleaf ecosystem still persists in all its splendour.

On August Bank holiday this year the weather was glorious and we were visiting family in Keswick. Even though we were really there to see family it always seems a shame not to get out into the countryside for at least part of the day. I set out from the busy market town with the view that I would park at the first place I could find. Passing crammed full car parks at Kettlewell and Grange I carried on into Borrowdale. No parking in Longthwaite or Seathhwaite either, so Seatoller it was, but only in the last parking space in the car park.

Heading for the gate at the rear of the car park I took the well trodden path along the river through the woods towards Longthwaite. Here the northern, eastern and southern sides of High Doat is covered with Jonny Wood. High Doat is not a huge hill but the woods like magnificent.

There’s something very special about the way that summer sunlight shines it’s way through a mixed broad leaf wood. The variety of green hew is sometimes breathtaking.

The floor of the wood is visibly alive with flora and fauna of immense variety. The birds might not be too visible but their song makes the presence of many species obvious.

Beautiful Walking in BorrowdaleEvery now and again the trees part to give fabulous framed views of the crags beyond.

After a little way the path and the wood drop down towards the river with elegant vintage trees bowing down to the clear crystal stream as it babbles and bubbles over rock and through crevice.

As I walk along I contemplate the things that these trees have witnessed. It’s a way to put thoughts and worries into perspective.

A wonderful walk and a great blessing.

Blessings #151 – Colourful Community Recipe

I love being part of an extended community that is full of colour and character. Whenever I get full of myself I think about the sparkling rainbows that God has placed in my life and smile. These gems might not be the people that our society regards as stars, or celebrities, but I tell you they are just as sparkling, and just as colourful.

Spring Flowers 2010“Diamonds in the rough” would be a good way of describing them, but there’s more to it than that, these diamonds are becoming sparkling gems before my eyes. I don’t know whether they realise it, but they are changing day by day. Sometimes the refining comes with laughter, at other times it comes with tears, and sometimes it comes in the most peculiar of ways,

Sue and I sometimes sit opposite each other and smile wryly at the events that are unfolding before us. Through this smile we are saying to each other “is it me?” this isn’t an accusation, it’s an affectionate phrase we use when we haven’t a clue what is going on.

The community in which we find ourselves is spiced with a whole set of characters, adding extra ingredients to the recipe of our life. Community is a bit like a recipe, if all of the ingredients were exactly the same then meal times would be quite a dull experience, it’s the variety that makes the meal interesting.

As an example there’s a lady with learning difficulties who has become, in many way, an extension to our family. Life is a complicated thing and she needs help to navigate its pitfalls and landmines, sometimes she falls in and then she needs help negotiating her way out. Some people might regard her as “difficult” but she is special in many, many ways. Listening to her pray is like listening to a  child talk directly to its dad, and while she’s conversing her face shines. She goes somewhere that the rest of us can only dream of. The recipe of our community would be missing something without her.

There are also people of learning who have insights as a result of their knowledge that enrich the life of the rest of us. Their learning doesn’t make them better, it just makes them different. They bring another different ingredient.

I have a friend who is wonderfully practical. He can make and mend things that I look at in puzzlement. Another wonderful ingredient and a different set of colours.

Jesus disciples were a mixed bag of individuals too, some of them were societies misfits and outcasts. Jesus didn’t pick them because they all fit some kind of psychometric test, he looked past the exterior and saw something inside that he was looking for. We’re not told, but I’m also sure that the disciples had different academic ability, they had different occupations, some of them requiring book learning, some requiring practical learning. I’m also sure that they had different physical builds, they were from a single ethnic group, but after that they would have been very different.

We aren’t called to live in pristine uniformity, we are called to be part of a body.

Blessings #149 – Revisited Laughter

There have been times in my life that still today make me laughter, some of them are bizarre, some of the are surreal, but all of them are hilarious to those of us who treasure them.

Even as I think about them now I’m smiling with the humour of the situations.

I’m sure that if I tried to Lucca - Climbing the Towerdescribe them to you they would barely make you smile, but I know that if I retold the tale to the right group of people that I wouldn’t even get to the end of the story before we were all doubled up. Sometimes just the start of the story is enough for the shoulders to start to bounce and the giggles to flow.

I sure that you wouldn’t believe that some of the situations were real, you’d think that I’d made them up. Bizarre is something that seems to follow us around, pouncing out on us when we least expect it.

There’s nothing guilty or malicious about these snickers we are remembering fond situations that we treasure.

A few stories must have been shared hundreds of times and they still reduce us to gibbering gigglers. Sometimes I’m sure that it’s the expectation of the laughter that makes us laugh more than the story itself.

Laughter is such a tonic and I keep these memories stored away like little treasure boxes. Over exposing them would take away their shine so I keep them under wraps ready for the right time and the right place.

One of the most famous passages in the Bible comes from Ecclesiastes 3 and starts like this:

There is a time for everything,
       and a season for every activity under heaven:

This same passage goes on to say:

a time to weep and a time to laugh,
       a time to mourn and a time to dance,

There’s a well known statistic that compares the amount a child laughs (300 times a day) with the amount an adult laughs (15 times a day).  As we get through life we should have more laughter treasures, not less. Perhaps we aren’t very good at looking after them. We need to remember that there is “a time to laugh”.

Blessings #148 – Reading the Ancient Stories

I’m quite an avid reader and normally have something in my hands to read, even if it’s just my BlackBerry. One of the things that I try to do is to make reading the Bible a regular activity in my life.

SunsetThe Bible is still hugely relevant to today’s society. Amongst all of the words and events described, those of Jesus stand out as shining lights.

Over the last 60 days, or so, I’ve been re-reading the Gospels – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Each day as I’ve read I’ve tried to take time to think about what it means – to wrestle with the profound.

In our busy frantic world it’s not always easy to focus our lives on the important things. So rather than try to take in all of the passage that I’ve read, I’ve taken to writing down a single short verse from the text and thinking about that.
Taking just a small morsel gave me something to focus on and I’ve really enjoyed it.

The word “profound” is an over-used word, I find, so it doesn’t really give across the true meaning to describe the words of Jesus as profound, but profound is the best word that I could think of.

Profound:
1.penetrating or entering deeply into subjects of thought or knowledge; having deep insight or understanding.
2.originating in or penetrating to the depths of one’s being.
3.being or going far beneath what is superficial, external, or obvious.
4.of deep meaning; of great and broadly inclusive significance.
5.pervasive or intense; thorough; complete.
6.extending, situated, or originating far down, or far beneath the surface.
7.low.
8.deep.

Through the simplest of parables Jesus strikes through our day-to-day worries and shows us the depths of God’s love and compassion; he cuts away at our pride and demonstrates our utter reliance upon God’s grace towards us; he takes our gaze beyond the hear and now and shows us the source of our hope.

“Suppose one of you had a hundred sheep and lost one. Wouldn’t you leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the lost one until you found it? When found, you can be sure you would put it across your shoulders, rejoicing, and when you got home call in your friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Celebrate with me! I’ve found my lost sheep!’ Count on it—there’s more joy in heaven over one sinner’s rescued life than over ninety-nine good people in no need of rescue.

Luke 15

Jesus questioned provides laser sharp answers that resolve the core question, there’s no messing about with the peripheral issues. Why answer the insignificant when there’s a real deep felt question to answer. But he wasn’t beyond using his answers to demonstrate the utter foolishness of someone’s position.

That’s when the Pharisees plotted a way to trap him into saying something damaging. They sent their disciples, with a few of Herod’s followers mixed in, to ask, “Teacher, we know you have integrity, teach the way of God accurately, are indifferent to popular opinion, and don’t pander to your students. So tell us honestly: Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”

Jesus knew they were up to no good. He said, “Why are you playing these games with me? Why are you trying to trap me? Do you have a coin? Let me see it.” They handed him a silver piece.

“This engraving—who does it look like? And whose name is on it?”

They said, “Caesar.”

“Then give Caesar what is his, and give God what is his.”

The Pharisees were speechless. They went off shaking their heads.

Mathew 22

Through his actions he demonstrates a way of life that I find so counter-cultural that it challenges my actions and my attitudes. Penetrating to the depths of one’s being.

I find that if I get to far removed from these ancient stories I start to wander and to let confusion come in. The words and actions of Jesus break through all of that and demonstrate to me true value and eternal worth.

Blessings #146 – New Era

This week a new era has started in the Chastney household – Jonathan has passed his driving test.

Levens SnowThings are never going to be the same again.

At the start of the week he couldn’t drive and that meant that his options for going places were restricted to places his parents would take him, or public transport.

At the end of the week he has a new freedom – he can drive himself places.

One era has ended and a new one has started. There is no going back to the old era it’s finished.

I know many people who look on change as a scary thing. Each new era brings a new set of concerns and worries. Sometimes those worries are just the fear of the unknown. We can look at situation and imagine the worst-case-scenario. Our brains go wild and conjure up all sorts of terrible outcomes.

A new era is really a sign that we are alive.

Only dead things never change – things that are alive are always changing.

Watching the children move through different era is a sign that they are growing and moving towards adulthood. That’s a wonderful thing. Without it they would remain children forever and that wouldn’t be normal or healthy.

Moving from one era to another era gives us the opportunity to reminisce about the journey that we’ve been on. Much like the experience you get when your mountain climbing, and you stop to look around you, reminiscing lets you realise how far you have come. We can spend so much of our life with our head down looking at the next step, making sure that we don’t trip and fall over. We need times when we stop, look up, and realise that things around us have changed.

We’ve built up experiences in one era and now it’s time to naturally move into the next. Rather than fighting it we should look forward to it and celebrate it.

“Hooray, I’m alive, I’ve moved into something new, something I haven’t experienced before”.

I’ve never had to hand over a set of car keys before and watch a car leave the drive with my son in it on his own. I’m not sure how long it’s going to take for me to get comfortable with that experience, but I know that I will.

I’m not sure how long it will take us to work out the practicality of having three drivers and two cars, but we will.

I’m not sure how long it will be before Jonathan realises how much a car costs to run, but he will.

It’s a new era and it doesn’t quite fit yet, but it will.

And no sooner will this one fit than we will be entering into a new one.

Blessings #145 – Tree Skeletons

I love this time of year when the trees have dropped their leaves and have exposed their skeletons.

Preston SunsetIf you look through my photostream on Flickr you’ll find a multitude of pictures  that either have them as the central feature or use them to frame the scene. I’ve created a set for them just to see how many there are.

I think it’s the intricacy that they expose from trunk to bow from bow to branch and from branch to stick and twig. Each one of them constructed in a unique and fascinating way. In the summer you can only really see the leaves on the outside, while these are also wonderful, there’s something fascinating about seeing the skeleton.

Sometimes I look at a particular tree and  ponder the reason that made a particular branch take the route that it’s taken. Whatever caused it to bend and climb in that particular way? Why did that bow shoot off in that direction?

Levens SnowAt other time I wonder about the people who’ve climbed a particular set of bows. I think about the history that this skeleton has seen. I image which route would be best to scale the heights. Every now and then I decide that it’s time to climb myself.

These skeletons are also the promise of a season yet to come. They may be skeletons now, but soon a story of new life will start to unfold. These woody branches will soon be heavy laden with leaves and even fruit. The birds will become more active and build their nests. Eggs will be laid and chicks fledged. As time goes on, of course they will be returned to there skeletal state.

These trees go through a cycle and they know what to be doing in which season. You don’t see a tree full of leaves in the winter, and a skeletal tree in the summer is a dead tree. The trees seem quite comfortable with this, they aren’t constantly trying to fight the elements like we do. They know the rhythm of the seasons and how to live within it.

For everything there is a season,
     a time for every activity under heaven.

This little video does a wonderful job of showing the cycle of the seasons.

Count Your Blessings #144 – McVitie’s Chocolate Digestives

Just saying the words makes me salivate – McVitie’s Chocolate Digestive. Not just “Chocolate Digestive” but “McVitie’s Chocolate Digestive”.

From Red to WhiteLots of other people do chocolate digestives but there is only one chocolate digestive worthy of the name McVitie’s.

Every super-market that I go into has a generic version of the chocolate digestive, but none of them quite make the grade. They’re just biscuits, there’s something about a McVitie’s Chocolate Digestive that lifts it above the others.

Sitting in my home office look out as the rain gently washes the snow into a grey mush of sludge and ice my heart is warmed by a cup of coffee and a McVitie’s Chocolate Digestive. There is something wonderfully homely about the taste of a McVitie’s Chocolate Digestive. I’ve eaten them all of my life and I suppose that the smell, the taste, even the look of them connects me with periods in my life long since forgotten.

I know that some people regard a dunked chocolate digestive as the pinnacle of culinary excellence, but I’m a purest, if something is delightful on its own, why add to it.

Sue makes a wonderful Bonoffee Pie with chocolate digestives as the base. Wonderful as this is, there’s something in me that feels that this is a waste of perfectly good biscuits.

McVitie’s Chocolate Digestives – a British tradition that we should be proud of and a blessing I am privileged to be able to participate in.

The only problem is – one never seems to be enough.

Count Your Blessings #143 – Delight

This evening turned out to be quite an unusual one for me – I’m home alone. Sue and Emily are out at a church event, and Jonathan is at a party. So I’m here all on my own. Having done a few of the jobs that have been sitting around on the list for a little while I decided that I fancied a walk. It’s cool this evening, but not raining lovely walking weather.

San Francisco Bay in the MistOut came the trusty iPod which contains a broad selection of music, but as soon as I turned it on I knew where I was going. I selected Music, I then selected Artists and scrolled down to Bruce Cockburn – I perfect fit for the occasion. The last job was to put the iPod into random shuffle, put the earphones in and set off.

These are the first words that I heard:

Amid the rumours and the expectations
and all the stories dreamt and lived
Amid the clangour and the dislocation
and things to fear and to forgive

Don’t forget
about delight

Y know what I’m saying to you
Don’t forget
about delight

Y know

Now there’s a thought – “don’t forget about delight”. That got me thinking for the rest of my walk, where do I find delight.

I thought about the feelings of delight that I had on Saturday. We’ve been decorating our lounge for what seems like forever. Over the last two weeks we’ve been getting the finishing touches sorted out ready for Christmas – a new floor, a new TV and a couple of pieces of furniture. We’ve recently ordered the floor and the furniture but the delivery dates were all somewhere between 2 and 4 weeks away. Knowing everything would be ready for Christmas, but only just, we kind of forgot about it all.

Having been told that the floor would take a couple of weeks, less than a week later it was fitted and it looks very nice indeed.

Having had the floor fitted so quickly we ordered the TV on the Friday with a delivery date a week away – it arrived on the very next day.

We’d also ordered the furniture and been told that it would be four week while I was un-boxing the TV, Sue said – “Come on Rhodes, all we need now is the furniture”.

Less than 5 minutes after Sue’s proclamation the phone rang. Jonathan answered it and to our surprise and delight it was the furniture company. They wanted to deliver weeks early on the following Tuesday. The delight on Sue’s face was wonderful.

My normal expectation when ordering things things is that it normally take longer than first estimated, so it was delightful to have it all sorted out in double quick time.

And it’s still delightful to sit here in the lounge now looking around at a freshly finished living space.

I then started wondering what Jesus would delight in, and whether the Bible talks about him being delighted. The truth is, none of the translations actually say that Jesus was delighted. But they do say that God said that he is delighted in Jesus:

"This is my Son, marked by my love, focus of my delight. Listen to him."

Matthew 17

Now that’s a very interesting thought – the focus of God’s delight is Jesus, perhaps the focus of our delight should be the same. If it’s good enough for God, surely it’s good enough for us.

So lets now forget about delight.

Count Your Blessings #142 – Being Home

I’ve been travelling quite a lot recently. Over the last couple of weeks I have slept in nine different beds and that’s not including the night I spent in an economy seat on an overnight flight from Seattle.

Down by the water in BellevueMany people regard staying in a hotel as something glamorous but I’m not one of them. Don’t get me wrong, the hotels I’ve stayed in have been nice, even very nice, but they haven’t been home.

It’s great to have someone come and tidy your room for you, but it’s not home.

Eating in different places and fine restaurants can be really nice, but it’s not home.

Getting to know knew people and experience new places is interesting, but it’s not home.

Having breakfast on the 36th floor of a hotel as the sun rises over San Francisco Bay is a wonderful sight, but it’s not home.

Taking a morning walk along the beach listening to the Pacific Ocean isn’t something I can do in Preston, but Santa Barbara isn’t home.

Home is home.

It’s interesting to see how often Jesus instruction to someone who had been healed or released from bondage was to “go home”.

The man from whom the demons had gone out begged to go with him, but Jesus sent him away, saying, "Return home and tell how much God has done for you." So the man went away and told all over town how much Jesus had done for him.

Luke 8

Jesus knew right away what they were thinking, and said, "Why are you so sceptical? Which is simpler: to say to the paraplegic, ‘Santa BarbaraI forgive your sins,’ or say, ‘Get up, take your stretcher, and start walking’? Well, just so it’s clear that I’m the Son of Man and authorized to do either, or both…" (he looked now at the paraplegic), "Get up. Pick up your stretcher and go home." And the man did it—got up, grabbed his stretcher, and walked out, with everyone there watching him. They rubbed their eyes, incredulous—and then praised God, saying, "We’ve never seen anything like this!"

Mark 2

Where do restored people need to be? They need to be at home. Perhaps there’s a sense in which their restoration wasn’t complete until they were home.

I certainly feel restored now I am home. We all need a place that we can call our own and that is what makes it home. I regard myself as very privileged to have a home that is warm and dry, safe and secure, a place of rest and restoration.