Count Your Blessings #141 – Regression

I have the body that is on the higher side of 40, but in my head I’m still the shorter side of 21, sometimes a lot shorter than 21.

I’m currently working away from home and writing sitting in a hotel room. In a little while I will be going for dinner with a colleague but I’ve just returned from a short walk around the local park. The View from the Pool at Sunset

The park is typical British town park with a wonderful mix of trees, garden, statues, playing fields and streams. I love exploring these town parks, there’s something about them that reverberates with history of the generations of families that have enjoyed them.

One of the first things I did as I entered was to pick up some conkers (Horse Chestnuts). I’ve written about them before (a long time ago now), they are great to hold in your hand. It’s something I did as a child on my way to school.

I decided to go and explore the woods near to a very large statue of the Duke of Wellington sat on his horse. It’s a mixed deciduous wood and the trees are starting to take on their wonderful autumnal colours. Just beyond the statue was a tree with a set of swing ropes hanging down out of it. What else was there to do other than to give them a go, well one of them anyway. It was great fun swinging away in a tree. Again, something I did as a child, although I don’t remember the seat being as painful.

For those of you who’ve just thought that I’m a grown man and shouldn’t be doing such things – I don’t care. Where is the rule book that says that adults need to loose their sense of adventure? Why should I adhere to societies “norms”?

Jesus had a special place for the children, and for those with childlike tendencies:

People brought babies to Jesus, hoping he might touch them. When the disciples saw it, they shooed them off. Jesus called them back. "Let these children alone. Don’t get between them and me. These children are the kingdom’s pride and joy. Mark this: Unless you accept God’s kingdom in the simplicity of a child, you’ll never get in."

Luke 18

Perhaps regressions is the title for this post – perhaps restoration is a better word.

Count Your Blessings #140 – Buying Experiences

The feature in The Guardian magazine this weekend was titled “How To Be Happy Right Now” in one of the articles – “How to feel up in a downturn” – they had this advice for people looking for happiness:

“The advice is straightforward. Remember to be grateful. Spend your money on experiences, not objects. Volunteer. Nurture your relationships. Spend time in nature. Make sure you encounter new people and places. And never assume that you know what will make you happy.”

It’s an interesting list and I was intrigued by the parallels in my own experience and practice.

We’ve recently got back from a glorious Pisa - We Went Up The Tower at Sunsetholiday in Italy where we decided to create some new experiences and to see some new places.

On one particular day we decided to go to Pisa. We didn’t give ourselves a huge amount of time, and set off late in the afternoon after a lazy day by the pool. A few people had said to us that their wasn’t much to see in Pisa. We had nothing to go on so we didn’t plan a day around the place, but wanted to go and see the tower anyway.

With these low expectations we drove into Pisa without a plan following the signs for the Duomo. Seeing the tower and dome get steadily closer we drove past the entrance to the Square of Miracles and pulled into a street opposite paying a couple of Euros to park up for the rest of the evening. We walked down the street and across the road through the archway.

We’d already been surprised earlier in the day by the knowledge that the tower of Pisa didn’t stand on its own and was actually stood in a piazza incorporating the Duomo, Baptistery, Campo Santo and the tower itself.

We also knew that there had been all sorts of engineering work undertaken to secure the tower and rectify some of its lean. We were, therefore, surprised as we walked through the archway to see people stood at the top.

With time going on and the knowledge that the building would only be open for a couple of hours I headed off to the ticket office. The gentleman behind the counter was very helpful and advised me to buy a ticket for the Duomo and the Campo Santo ensuring me that they were the most interesting. There was a sign explaining that a trip to the top of the tower would cost 15 Euros and that they allowed 30 people every 30 minutes. There were loads of people outside and I expected the answer to my next question to be that they were sold out, but I asked it anyway.

“Do you have any room left in the tower today” I said

I was very pleasantly surprised by his answer:

“We have room for four people on the last trip of the day.”

To be honest 15 Euros seemed like a lot of money for the privilege to walk to the top of a tower, 60 Euros for the four of us. But this was an experience that we weren’t likely to repeat, and perhaps not even have the opportunity to do again.

It was a great experience.

Walking up the tower is a strange thing to do because the angle of the building makes it a bit disorientating. Pisa - We Went Up The Tower at SunsetBeing the last of the day does, however, mean that we were at the top as the sun was setting. Watching the shadows grow on the mountains and across Pisa was wonderful. The silhouette of the Duomo with the sun setting behind it was an experience in itself.

We will talk about those experiences for years to come. They make me feel happy every time that I think about them.

Count Your Blessings #139 – Comfortable Routines

One of the privileges that comes with job that I do is that I am able to travel to work on some days in a small jet. It’s not as grand as it might sound, we’re not talking about a fancy private jet, we are talking about a small passenger plane carrying around a hundred people. Blackpool Prom Scuptures at Sunset

I’m actually writing these words from inside that jet on a glorious summer’s day. The "fasten seatbelt sign" is turned off so I’m cleared to type.

We’ve just left a small airport in the south of England, and I’m on my way home. The flight is quite quiet today so I’ve been able to secure my favourite seat – a window seat a little way behind the wings. I love looking out of the window as we travel up the country.

In the winter it’s all of the lights; today it’s a fabulous view of classical English fields in yellow, golden browns and a multitude of greens.

I’ve travelled this route so many times that I know roughly where we are; at the moment we are passing over Stoke noticeable by its football stadium.
In no time at all, if we follow the normal route, we’ll be turning left over the Lancashire moors making our way directly over our house; getting lower all the time until we land.

This evening there is barely a cloud in the sky, where they do linger the shadows beneath make patterns on the ground.

I’ve travelled this way many, many times before; it’s become a comfortable routine. I know roughly what is going to happen from the time I walk through the small door with “Departures” on a sign above through until I get into my car at the other end. The rhythm of it is the same every time. Actually I’ve heard the safety briefing so many times that I have to remind myself that it’s going on and not to talk.

I know other people for whom a flight is a scary prospect because they have never done it before, it fells strange and uncomfortable.

There are times in life when it’s good to dwell in the routines and others when the routine is that last place we should dwell. Today I’m enjoying the routine.

Both of these quotes are true:

The secret of love is seeking variety in your life together, and never letting routine chords dull the melody of your romance

The secret of your future is hidden in your daily routine.

There is a sense in which we need a framework of routine without the bondage of it.

I’ve used this quote before, but I make no apologies for it:

Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace.

Matthew 11

Count Your Blessings #138 – Buttercups and Dandelions

As spring moves into summer here in Lancashire we get two glorious golden shows in the fields and meadows around. Dandilion

First it’s the turn of the Dandelion popping up almost overnight, bursting into bloom for a few days, transforming into balls of seeds that explode into a passing breeze.

The Dandelion is followed by the Buttercup. A different golden glow spreading across the open fields thousands upon thousands of them.

I remember the times as a child when we used to pick the Buttercups and hold them under our chins to see if we loved  butter. We never noticed that the result was always the same. We used to blow the Dandelion heads pretending to tell the time – blow, one o’clock, blow, two o’clock.

Later on the buttercups are joined in the fields by the tall grasses and they dance together in the passing wind. In teams they sway from side to side making patterns in the meadow their heads swaying around like a merry drunk.

Out in the open countryside these bringers of spring and summer colour are gloriously at home and in their place.

In my garden it’s a different matter, here they are not fabulous meadow flowers, here they are weeds.

My garden isn’t a meadow, my garden is my garden. This is not the place for the Dandelion or the Buttercup, but that doesn’t stop them trying. The Dandelion still thinks that the gap between the paving is a good place to grow, the Buttercup feels that same about my lawn. Here they don’t grow to anything like their full potential, here in my garden they are mutants stood on or cut down. They are disfigured by the restrictions that I place upon them, or the environment that they have chosen. The only thing that can be done with them is to cut them out and remove them.

The plants are exactly the same – it’s the place that has changed.

So many times in my own life I’ve been in the wrong place, sometimes physically, but also mentally and spiritually. I’ve been in the place of restriction or the place where I have been cut down. I’ve placed myself in a garden when I should have been in the open fields.

We aren’t plants growing wherever the seed landed, we have the blessing of choice. We can choose where we are going to grow and if we make the wrong choice we can change to another place. Sometimes we need the help of a higher power to move us, but the choice is ours to make.

In some areas of my life I currently feel like I have moved into a place of restriction and I need to do something about it. There’s no point in me sitting here complaining about it I need to do something, I can make the change.

Other areas of my life feel like they were made for me and the remarkable thing is that many of these places are not the places I would have chosen if it weren’t for the lessons that I learnt in the places of constraint. So even in that place there are lessons to be learnt.

The Dandelion and the Buttercup are both wonderful flowers but they need to be in their place, and so do we.

Count Your Blessings #137 – Wednesday Evening Adventures

Most Wednesday evenings Sue runs a ladies event (Revive) at church. That leaves myself, Jonathan and Emily at home; so we’ve decided to make this a time when we go out and have a bit of fun ourselves.

Island HopingOne week we decided to go and check out the new art work on Blackpool Prom, not somewhere I would normally choose, but for a bit of an adventure, why not. It was sunset and we had lots of fun interacting with the different pieces. There’s a slideshow of some of the pictures at the bottom of this post of some of the many pictures that we took. We particularly liked the huge glitter-ball, the setting sun meant that we were able to dance in and out of the reflected sun on the pavement.

Last week it was a wonderful warm spring evening and we called in at Hurst Green, home of the famous Stoneyhurst College and probably the inspiration for some of the places described in Lord of the Rings.

We decided that we would walk up alongside a small stream I think is called Deanbrook.

There are some woods and plenty of places to explore. There’s even a big amphitheatre which was probably once a quarry, but the star attraction has to be Deanbrook itself. The stream makes it’s way down the valley over limestone which has been worn out into pools and small waterfalls; it’s quite idyllic.

It was a shame that it was still April, because on a summer’s evening it would be a great place for a paddle and swim. Jonathan pleaded with me several times to do precisely that; I thought about it, but sometimes there are limits.

On our way back down the stream we decided to take a closer look at one of the pools. The main attraction of this particular pool was that it looked deep and right next to it was a very long stick so we could get a good idea of how deep.

Jonathan bounced across a rock and picked up the stick plunging it deep into the pool to demonstrate that it was well over 6ft deep in the middle. Again he pleaded to go swimming.

My progress was a little more cautious, but resulted in me sliding down the rock and careering out of control towards the pool. I was just preparing myself for the inevitable cold dip when I regained grip right on the edge.

Just as I was regaining my composure Jonathan decided to step across the narrow stream feeding the pool to take a look at it from another side. It was only a short step from one side to the other, but the mossy rocks meant that both his feel lost their footing and propelled him down into the stream.

Much to all of our surprise the stream was very deep at this point and Jonathan sank down all the way up to his outstretched arms. There he hung, with his elongated arms holding head and shoulders above the water, trying to catch his breath while the rest of him was getting used to the idea of being plunged into a pool of cold water.

As a loving caring compassionate parent I took the only action I could and laughed. Emily, however, saw things a little differently and went white at the thought of losing her brother to the elements.

In retrospect Emily’s reaction was probably a bit more appropriate.

So there we are, I’m standing shakily on a slippery rock, Jonathan is acclimatizing himself to the temperature of Lancashire stream water in April and Emily is getting whiter by the second.

After what seamed like an age I managed to regain my composure and reach in to give Jonathan a hand out of his predicament. It was then that Jonathan realised that his (new) mobile phone was in his back pocket and had been subjected to the same experience as himself. Thankfully it dried out over the next couple of days and is now working fine.

Jonathan regained his composure steadily and a few hugs reassured Emily that everything was going to be alright.

Thankfully it wasn’t a long walk back to the car, but you could tell where Jonathan had walked by the trail of wet footprints that followed us.

Oh, and did I tell you, we also played in the park and watch crown-green bowling. It was a wonderful adventure.

I’m writing this on a Wednesday lunchtime, we don’t yet have a plan for this evening, but perhaps something a little less adventurous might be in order, I wonder where the nearest zip wire is?
Created with flickr slideshow.

Count Your Blessings #136 – Bridges

Crackington HavenI’ve written a few times about thoughts that come to me on my morning walk near where I live. It’s not surprising that I get ideas while out walking because that’s one of the reasons that I do it.

Walking and thinking is something that people have done for generations and generations, it’s great way of relieving stress.

Near our house I’m very privileged to have a whole set of walks through fields and woods. There are all sorts of alternatives, all of them out into the countryside.

The options for walking would be very limited though is it wasn’t for the wonderful invention of the bridge.

Our house isn’t far from a four lane section of the M6 motorway, there’s just a thin slither of countryside between the two. There’s a nice path down this slither, but it would become a bit dull if I couldn’t go down the path and along the lane under the thundering traffic and out into the open fields beyond. Then travel a bit further along to the old railway line and back across the wide footbridge, that links it back up to the other side.

Crossthwaite ViewsOn other days I can go through the woods a bit further along and over the footbridge into another set of woods where I’ve seen deer a few times. This footbridge is so narrow that if you look down towards your feet you can feel like you are flying over all of the vehicles as they speed underneath.

Trying to cross the M6 without access to these bridges would be a recipe for suicide, literally.  If it wasn’t for these bridges I would be stuck on my side of the motorway. I would have places to walk, but my options would be so limited.

The bridges enable me to connect to a much broader set of experiences and a whole new set of opportunities.

There is common phrase used about broken relationships: “burning your bridges” which suggests that relationships are a bit like bridges. If bridges open up new opportunities and relationships are like bridges how many relationships do you have that open up new prospects. I count myself as particularly blessed with the number of friends that add so much to who I am.

There’s also another relationship that broadens my perspective in so many ways and that is my relationship with Jesus. Many people see Christianity as something that shrinks peoples options, but a relationship with Jesus does exactly the opposite.

Jesus: “My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life.”

John 10:10

Count Your Blessings #135 – An elevated view

Crossthwaite ViewsThe buildings where my church meets is situated on a triangular plot of land on the edge of Preston.

On one side there is a local road with houses on the other side. On another are the backs of houses. On the third is a main road, East Way, beyond this main road, a few hundred yards away, is the M55 motorway which is elevated above the level of Easy Way. Up there on it’s embankment it obscuring the view of everything beyond.

All in all it doesn’t make for the most inspiring of views. It’s fine if you want to know how many people have been to the Pleasure Beach in Blackpool and are now stuck in the queue trying to get onto the M6. Other than that it’s an ordinary urban view on the edge of a city.

But all of this tarmac and concrete hides a secret.

The church buildings have, until recently, all been on ground level. From down there the secret is completely hidden behind the M55.

A recent set of extension has added a new, two story, part to the side of the building facing north and the M55 embankment. One of the things that the architect wanted to create in this new part of the building was a light and airy space. There are big windows on both the ground and first floor, it’s facing north so they needed to let in as much light as possible.

(A quick aside. If you are not from the UK, you perhaps think that the first floor is on the ground, but here in the UK we call the floor on the ground the “ground floor”. The floor immediately above ground level we call the “first floor”, not the “second floor”, OK?)

Up on the first floor these big windows open up the secret. The elevated position reveal what is hidden beyond. It’s not visible every day, the weather conditions have to be right, but that just adds to the mystery.

Recently I was in a meeting on the first floor and was sat facing the window. It was a crisp clear day, cold, but fine. It was a morning meeting and we started in the dark. As time progressed I looked out of the window to see the sun rising in the sky lighting up the snow capped mountains of the Lake District beyond.

The Lake District was recently voted Britain’s greatest natural wonder. I’m not sure about that, but they are quite impressive all the same, and they are only 30 miles, or so, away.

You wouldn’t know they were there from the ground, up on the first floor the view is glorious. It’s an elevation of only a few feet, but it makes all of the difference.

In the Bible Jesus used to go off and climb mountains when he wanted to be alone with his father. I always thought that this was so that he could be closer to God, because I thought of God as “up there”. Recently I’ve wondered whether he went up into the mountain so he could get a better perspective down, not up.

God, of course, is everywhere and you don’t need to climb high so he can hear you, but looking down on a situation certainly gives you a different view. It gives you a longer view. It gives you a broader view. It gives you an unobstructed view.

(The picture isn’t one taken from the window, it’s one I took while in Keswick on a quiet day, special days)

Count Your Blessings #115 – Man Hugs

Early Morning View from LatriggJust in case you have any false impressions – I’m a man and I’m British.

There are a few things that British men are renowned for one of them is our reserve. American’s have drive, Italian’s have flamboyance, we British have the delights of reserve.

This reserve has a number of impacts upon us, one of them is our ability to give a receive a hug. Shaking hands is fine, because this allows us to point a small part of ourselves outside of our personal space and into the neutral zone between acquaintances. Unfortunately there just isn’t a satisfactory way to give a hug and still maintain personal space. Personal space is very important to us and has to be maintained at all cost.

If you don’t know what personal space is, it’s that space around you which only very special people get to enter without making you feeling uncomfortable.

We British are very particular about our personal space and don’t share it easily.

The problems of reserve become even more complex when it comes to letting another man into your personal space. Don’t get me wrong, we don’t like women in our personal space, but men, that is another category of complexity all together. There are men that I have known for years who I would not let into my personal space, especially work colleagues. Work colleague, what am I saying, that’s unthinkable.

The strange thing is, we actually like a hug. It has been speculated that the reason that the British are so good at creating team games is that they give us a place where we can share personal space without the complexity.

I am very privileged to have a number of male friends with whom I can share a hug without any of the complexity or the need for a team game. They are very welcome inside my personal space, but it’s taken a long time to get to this point.

Not only that, though, there are occasions when the reality of God inside my personal space is almost tangible. The parables of the lost (Lost Sheep, Lost Coin, Lost Son) in the Bible talk about God’s longing to search for and to embrace each of us. This reaches it’s climax in the parable of the lost son as the son is approaching home. Jesus says this:

“When he was still a long way off, his father saw him. His heart pounding, he ran out, embraced him, and kissed him.”

The father is the parable is a picture of God and his longing to come and to embrace us as we turn to him.

For anyone wanting to give a hug today, please remember the correct etiquette:

Count Your Blessings #113 – Scones straight from the oven

The Singing Ringing TreeLast night, after tea (dinner if you are posh) Emily decided that she wanted to try out some baking.

As part of her Food Technology (Domestic Sciences for you older ones) she is going to be baking scones next Monday, but her teacher had suggested that they might like to try the recipe out before they had to do it in the class. So last night she got out out the flour, the sugar, the butter and the milk along with a few raisins and baked.

After a short wait she came through to the lounge with a tray loaded with jam, lemon curd, honey, butter and scones straight from the oven. Scones really do need to be fresh to be at their best, and what could be fresher than scones that are still hot.

It was wonderful to be able to open them up and watch the butter melt into them.

The whole batch only lasted a few minutes.

Later on I was thinking about the humble ingredients that make such a wonderful treat. Flour, butter, sugar, milk – all everyday ingredients, nothing too fancy, nothing startlingly brilliant or exotic. Normal, straightforward, honest ingredients. But, bring them together in the right mix, add some heat and you have a delightful treat. There’s no star player in that list, no all out sure-fire winner, just humble commonplace parts.

I work a lot in different teams both at my employer and at church. The teams that are the best are the ones where the right mix of ordinary, honest people are brought together in the right way. It’s amazing what those teams can produce without a star performer but with ordinary normal people.

Actually, if I’m honest, I hate teams where people think that they are the stars, they really get my back up. I’ve been involved in a few situations in the last few years where the people thought that they were wonderful, awesome, fabulous and all I wanted to do was to bring them down a peg or two. In one situation it got to the point where I could barely stand to be in the room with someone. Emily made two types of scone, some with raisins and some without. It was like these people were saying that they were the raisins and that the rest of the scone wasn’t important. I can tell you this, the plain scones were just as nice as the ones with raisins. It was the warmth and freshness that made them special, not the star ingredient, and the same is true for teams.

I hope Emily decided to bake again soon, have I told you, the scones were lovely.

Count Your Blessings #93 – Frustrations

Tarn HowesI’m writing this post through gritted teeth because I’m writing about something I desperately want to be true.

I want frustrations to be a blessing. I want to be able to look at each frustration as an “opportunity to learn”. I want to be able to look back at frustrating situation and see how I have grown through them.

But most of the time frustrations are just that, frustrations.

Let me give you some examples of what I am talking about:

The other week Sue and I went to do our “Big Shop”. It’s something we do once a month, we take two trollies around one of the local stores and fill up on all of those things that we know we will need and won’t perish, toilet roll, cereal, shampoo, etc. We find it’s a great way of controlling our finances.

We undertake this adventure on pay day, which for me is in the middle of the month.

In December we decided to do this on our own while the children were out doing other things. We’ve done this a few times, we knew how long it would take, and we knew how much time we had, so no problems.

No problems until we arrived at the check-out.

We were lulled into a false sense of security because there were no queue even though it was getting close to Christmas. Unfortunately there didn’t need to be any queues, the check-out assistant made sure that all of our time was taken. Bip…

I don’t know exactly how long she took, but it felt like she was averaging a piece of merchandise every 10 seconds. Bip…

It wasn’t just that she was slow, she also insisted on talking to her colleague on the next check-out who had nothing better to do. Like many people our delightful check-out assistant was completely incapable of bipping and talking at the same time. Bip…

“What are you doing for Christmas Mavis.” Bip…

By this time an explosion was going off in my head, “Does this woman not realise that we are the customer here! We are the ones that pay her wages!” Bip…

“Does she not see that we have two trollies that are FULL!!!” Bip…

Sue huffs to make her feelings felt and receives the look of the daggers, but still she proceeds as a pace that a snail would have found dull. Bip…

“Does this woman thing we enjoy being in this store!” Bip…

The explosion in my head is turning into a volcano. Bip…

“Does this woman think we have nothing better to do!” Bip…

Frustration, frustration, frustration. Bip…

I would love to be able to say that my thoughts were completely different. I’d love to be able to say that I stood there and thought about that ladies life and how terribly boring her job must be. I’d love to be able to say that I had compassion on her and showed it by some random act of kindness.

But no, frustration, frustration, frustration.

Did my frustration impact the check-out assistant – no, not one tiny little bit.

Did my frustration impact me – most definitely. I’ve been carrying it around for weeks, along with all sorts of other frustrations. It’s now January 2007 and I’m still talking about something that happened in a different year.

Frustration says much more about me than the situation. They are only frustration because I choose to allow them to become frustrations.

Frustrations should be a blessing.

I’m tempted to start writing a few “Frustration” posts, taking a situation apart and looking at why something is frustrating and how a different approach would create a different result. I’m worried if I did, though, that I’d spend my life looking for frustrations to write about. I have enough frustrations without going and looking for them. What do you think? Do you think it could be therapeutic?

I’ll finish with some words of Jesus:

“You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.

“You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.

“You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.

“You’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God. He’s food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat.

“You’re blessed when you care. At the moment of being ‘care-full,’ you find yourselves cared for.

“You’re blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.

“You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.

“You’re blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God’s kingdom.

“Not only that—count yourselves blessed every time people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and they are uncomfortable. You can be glad when that happens—give a cheer, even!—for though they don’t like it, I do! And all heaven applauds. And know that you are in good company. My prophets and witnesses have always gotten into this kind of trouble.”

Matthew 5

Count Your Blessings #85 – Safe and Sound

Sudbury HallYesterday morning I was out on one of my regular morning walks listening to a podcast from NCC, it was great. As I got closer to home I looked down at my phone (which was playing my podcast) and saw that there was still 10 minutes to run. I only had a couple of minutes left to walk and there was a nice bench there next to me.

I’ve done this a few times, it’s nice to sit and listen even though it feels a bit strange to be doing it early in the morning with a steady stream of dog walkers passing by.

As I sat there, looking over towards the rising sun (even though it was hidden by a few clouds) a felt a chill blow against my back. It felt as if some huge beast was walking up behind me, then I saw a flash from it’s teeth and heard it roar. It was a huge roar that rumbled around the small valley where I was seated.

I turned to face the beast, it was approaching fast. It flashed its teeth again giving out another mighty roar. I decided that retreat was a better course of action and set off for home.

The beast was in hot pursuit but I managed to make it home before the beast caught me up – safe-and-sound. There was no way it was going to get me now.

Having escaped from the beast I made a coffee and set off for my study for a time of quiet. Before sitting down for quiet I looked out of the window to see what the beast was doing.

Kneeling on the sofa in my study I watched as another flash of lightening cracked across the sky, counting the seconds before the thunder arrived. Another flash, more counting. The rain beat against the window driven forward by the wind of the storm. I was safe-and-sound.

It reminded me of being a young child. The house I was bought up in had a bay-window. In one corner there was a small wooden footstool with a wicker top which my Dad had made as school or college (I forget which). The stool was just the right height for me to sit on comfortably and watch out of the window with only my head showing. I felt like I was watching the world go by, but that no-one could see me. This was a special place, especially when there was a storm outside. I loved to watch the ladies as they walked past with umbrellas out of control. I delighted to see the children as then jumped in the puddles oblivious to their parents desire for them to stay dry. I longed to watch the cars plowing through the small ponds by the side of the road dispersing the water onto any unsuspecting passer by. I was safe-and-sound.

Then I sat down and read, as I regularly do, today’s Psalm. To my amazement today, of all days, was the ultimate safe-and-sound Psalm, Psalm 23:

The Lord is my shepherd;
      I have all that I need.
He lets me rest in green meadows;
      he leads me beside peaceful streams.
He renews my strength.
   He guides me along right paths,
      bringing honour to his name.
Even when I walk
      through the darkest valley,
   I will not be afraid,
      for you are close beside me.
   Your rod and your staff
      protect and comfort me.
You prepare a feast for me
      in the presence of my enemies.
   You honour me by anointing my head with oil.
      My cup overflows with blessings.
Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me
      all the days of my life,
   and I will live in the house of the Lord

I AM safe-and-sound.

Count Your Blessings #44 – Sledging

Beverley Snow

Sledging could be described as bouncing down a bumpy hill on a piece of plastic in the freezing cold. But that description would completely miss the point. Sometimes a purely factual description of something is just not adequate. Here in England we don’t really do winter sports because we don’t really get enough of a winter; especially here near as we are to Lancashire’s West Coast where the Gulf Stream and the Irish Sea keep everything wet and mild.

Every now and then though we do get the opportunity to get out into the snow and to enjoy the delights of the one thing that is for us English the nearest thing we will get to a winter sport in our home country – sledging. Last year (as it now is) while we were visiting family on the East Coast between Christmas and the New Year we were blessed with some truly glorious snow, crisp and fluffy.

Sledging reveals so much about the English psyche. All that is required for sledging is something that resembles a hill, a modicum of snow and something that can be sat up which will preferably slide on the snow. The ability to slide though doesn’t appear to be completely necessary though. Being an inventive nation we can think of all sorts of objects and places that fulfill two of the requirements the thing we struggle with is the snow.

When I was a child a friend had a sledge which was a converted bike; rather than having wheels at the end of the forks it had some metal guttering. It slid fabulously, the problem was stopping. Anyone who has learnt to ride a bike knows how painful it can be to reach a sudden stop on a bicycle; a sudden stop is inevitable when travelling down a hill on snow without any form of brakes.

Beverley Snow

Over the years I have had the pleasure of sliding down various slopes on all sorts of objects, each of which I have called a sledge. Some of them have been wonderfully successful; some less so. The simplest has to be the bivy bag, otherwise known as a long piece of plastic sheeting. This particular object requires you to take a little run and to throw yourself onto the floor belly first hoping to slide forward rather than landing in a heap and going nowhere.

As a child we used to have a metal framed sledge which managed to survive being used by both myself and my older brother; I think my younger sister may have also used it but I’m sure it was only occasionally when we boys were around.

The feeling of sliding out of control down a hill is great. Some people grow up never seeing snow and never getting the opportunity to sledge – I am so blessed.