Eating, drinking and celebrating.

So as I mentioned a few posts back, I went over to the UK to celebrate mum’s 90th birthday. I had a great time.

Of course, I got over anxious about the journey, but it went very smoothly: Friend Cathy took me to Roanne station, for the 10.15 train to Lyon. I then took the express tram to the airport, arriving just after 12.00. My flight was at 17.25!!! Well, I knew I had plenty of time! No need to panic. So, I treated myself to a meal in a restaurant – tapenade and breadsticks, followed by a very nice gratin de raviolis. Washed down by a very nice glass of beer, I was perfectly happy. I spent another hour drawing a zentangle, with a quotation about travelling on it, which I then left for someone to find, and then I went through security. I sat in the departure lounge and drew another zentangle and then strolled in a leisurely manner to the gate. As I didn’t know what time the trains from Manchester airport to Liverpool were, I didn’t panic or have to run. I just made my way to the station, and found there was one leaving in 10 minutes – perfect timing…but I’d’ve been panicking about whether I’d catch it or not if I’d known what time it was! At Liverpool, I picked up a taxi, and got to mum’s at just after 9.00 pm. A long day, but one that actually was less worry-filled than I’d expected.

The following day we did some food shopping, went for a walk, read and chatted. Mum was itching to garden, but the weather wasn’t great.

A view of (part of) mum’s garden

In fact, we got a little damp on our walk, but it didn’t really matter.

I think there’s some water birds on the picture somewhere! These are the flood plains near mum, which are used to regulate water levels. We disturbed a lapwing who did the distraction technique that I’d heard about but never seen. Crying piteously it flew in one direction, low to the ground, trying to lure us away from its baby (which we’d already clocked running around in the long grass) So it didn’t need to panic any more, we walked back along the path, in the direction we’d come from, upon which it stopped calling and flew back to its nest. Fascinating.

In the evening, we went to some of Mum’s friends, who had laid on a birthday meal for her, together with a cake.

Surprise, surprise!

On Friday I went into Liverpool to do a bit of shopping, and to meet up with an old school friend. We had a meal in the Pen Factory bar & brasserie,

and then went to The Everyman theatre, to see Sondheim’s “Sweeny Todd”. while it wouldn’t have been my first choice of Sondheim musical, it was a great performance, which I really enjoyed. Very minimal set, but very effective. It was good to catch up with Tracy too, and to hear her news.

On Saturday, we went out to lunch with mum – this was the “proper” celebration. There was me, my sister & her husband, my brother, one of my nephews, and one of my nieces, with her husband and baby Bill. And mum, of course. We went to Moor Hall, “The Barn” – Moor Hall is a michelin starred restaurant, but The Barn is on the same site, but a less formal experience. Mum felt more comfortable with that – and it was delicious!! I meant to take photos but forgot! I had a duck terrine, with an apple compote, followed by chicken, with a leek and potato layer and wild mushrooms, then a fantastic dessert: a light choux bun, filled with rhubarb and custard, with a blood orange ice cream. Lush!!

This is The Barn

and this is the posh restaurant part

My niece, Rose, her husband, Dave, and Bill the baby

Bill enjoyed his chicken goujons with garlic-and-pesto mayonnaise

When we got home after lunch, we had coffee and cake (my photos were very blurry and not very good.) and then we all felt the need for “a little zizz”!! Afterwards, we sat around the table with a few glasses of wine and reminisced and talked. It was all very sociable.

On Sunday it was mum’s actual birthday: Rose left Bill at home with Dave, and came over from Manchester. We all went to church – possibly the worst sermon ever. I think God or Jesus was mentioned about twice, whereas Cilla Black got several mentions!! Never mind. There was coffee and cake (more cake!) after the service, and everyone wished mum happy birthday.

Here are just some of her cards, arranged around the fireplace.

We went out for a late lunch to the Scarisbrick Arms

where we had another delicious meal…I had a steak with chips, and onion rings and other delicious trimmings! I’d ordered the sirloin, which had a £2.50 extra charge (it was a set price menu) but the waiter came and said that they didn’t have any sirloin left. So I said I’d have to have the rump, which was the same price – “unless”, I said,”I could have the fillet steak (which was £¨4 extra) at the same price as the sirloin – to make up for my disappointment…” Yes, that’s fine, the waiter said!!! And it was lovely.

We got back, and another zizz was in order! The evening was spent reading, and trying to work out how the TV works! Mum has two, one which she uses most frequently, in her kitchen/sitting room, and a larger one in the main sitting room. This one is more complicated and she always forgets which remote to use and how they work. None of us are very technically minded, so it was a bit of a shambles – but we finally managed it!

On Monday Mum and Judy went to buy Judy’s gift for her – a bird table – before Judy set off for home. Mike, mum and I went over to see Rose in Manchester, and had lunch there. Then we went out to a park in the afternoon – Bill enjoyed playing on the play equipment

and seeing the animals, but then got a bit grizzly as he hadn’t had a nap

.

Mike & mum, in the sunshine

A Manchester Bee

So we left a little earlier than planned. Mike cooked us an enjoyable meal of pasta and salmon and asparagus, after which we just relaxed (again!) and watched a bit of TV.

On Tuesday, it was time for the journey home. Mike took me to the airport on his way back home to Yorkshire – I was only 4 hours early for the flight this time!! I did start to worry on the plane about having time to get through the airport to catch the last possible express tram to make sure I caught my train home. I was thinking “Will it take me an hour and a half to get through security? Will I have enough time?” (Yes, honestly, I thought it might take that long to get processed through immigration. Sigh) As it was, it took me all of 15 minutes to disembark, go through seciurity AND get to the tram station! I had plenty of time – in fact, enough time to have a coffee at the train station before catching my train home – where Mr FD was waiting for me.

A lovely trip home, to celebrate a very special Mum.

 

 

 

Alive!

I’d like to introduce you to a song…It’s being very helpful to me, at the moment.

You see, my hormone therapy medication causes panic attacks, increased anxiety and such like, which isn’t much fun. I am taking (more) medication to reduce the anxiety, but I don’t really want to be on a cycle of medication to reduce the effects of the medication, so I’m trying to find other ways to deal with the negativity and anxiety that follow me around.

I watched a BBC documentary recently, where Nadiya Hussain, of Great British Bake Off success, talked about her anxiety disorder. She sought professional help and CBT which has started to help her. My anxiety is nothing like as bad as hers, but she talked about her coping methods, what she does to keep anxiety at bay, how it makes her feel etc. Her therapist encouraged her to say “What’s the worst that can happen?”, to acknowledge the anxiety, rather than to block it out…I’ve not explained it well, I’m afraid, but if you search online, or go to the BBC catch up, you could find the documentary.

At the moment though, I have a song which I listen to which is – for me, at least – uplifting enough to shake me from the grey. Here it is: “Alive” by Big Big Train

Book Review: Rosalind (****)

I am proud to be a Ten Reviews or More reviewer on Net Galley.

Not only that but I’m a Twenty-five Reviews or More reviewer

AND I’m a Top Reviewer, which means 3 or more of my reviews have been added to any NetGalley title details page by a publisher (I bet it wasn’t for any of my 1 star reviews!!)

Anyway…I was sent this e-book, free-of-charge (yay!) by NetGalley, in return for an honest review.So here it is

The Net Galley blurb reads:

“There’s everyone else in the world. And then there is you.”

World-class heart surgeon Dr. Peter Sutter runs his life with the instinctive precision of a master of the universe. But when he leaves the operating room, the only living thing waiting for him is a golden retriever. Then a chance encounter with an enigmatic woman changes everything.

Exploring the depths of Rosalind’s intoxicating body and captivating spirit, Peter quickly falls under her spell. Miraculously, the feeling is mutual.

But fate is waiting just around the corner. And it might be carrying a lead pipe.

Rosalind is a sensual, witty, moving story about the joy of real love, the surprise and delight of unexpected passion, and the transcendent power of human connection.

Pub Date 01 Apr 2019

I really enjoyed this (short) book, and wish it had been longer. Although the way that the two main characters met is a tad on the creepy side, if one can put that to one side and just think of it as “romantic” it makes the story better!

Some reviewers complain about the language used as too complex or complicated. In my opinion it’s nice not to be treated like an idiot! If a world-class surgeon (the narrator) had started using simplistic terminology, it would not have rung true. Perhaps we could have had more character development, but equally, I didn’t feel there were details I was missing: it was, after all, a novella, rather than a novel. Sufficient detail was given to make the characters believable (in my opinion, though not in the opinion of other reviewers!) and likeable (ditto)

The ending hit me like a ton of bricks – unexpected, neatly “twisted” so that even when it came, there was another shock behind it. It also had a definite ring of truth about it. Believe me, I know.

4 stars. No question.

Book Review: Death in the Covenant (3.5 stars)

I am proud to be a Ten Reviews or More reviewer on Net Galley.

Not only that but I’m a Twenty-five Reviews or More reviewer

AND I’m aTop Reviewer, which means 3 or more of my reviews have been added to any NetGalley title details page by a publisher (I bet it wasn’t for any of my 1 star reviews!!)

Anyway…I was sent this e-book, free-of-charge (yay!) by NetGalley, in return for an honest review.So here it is

The Net Galley blurb reads: The growth of the Mormon Church has slowed. Young men are abandoning the Church, leaving their female counterparts unmarried and childless. Now, the Church is about to lose one more member…and it may be due to murder.

Detective Abish “Abbie” Taylor returned to the mountain town of Pleasant View, Utah, hoping for a quiet life. But that hope dissipates like a dream when she wakes to an unsettling phone call. Arriving at the scene of a fatal car accident, she discovers that the victim was one of the most beloved leaders of the Church—and an old family friend.

Abbie is skeptical when her father insists someone murdered his friend, but in an attempt to patch up their relationship, she takes a few days off from her job as the sole detective in the police department, and heads to the Colonia Juárez, a former LDS colony in Mexico. There, she uncovers a plan to “seal” young women to church leaders in temple ceremonies, so the women can give birth and the children can be adopted by Mormon families in the United States. But Abbie knows too well that bringing secrets to light can be deadly. Is that why her father’s friend died?

When she returns to the States, some members of the LDS community certainly don’t seem happy that Abbie knows what she knows. Abbie realizes with a jolt that her investigation could cost her father his job. Who is the murderous mastermind of this secret plot? Is it Port, the Second Counselor to the President of the Church? Bowen, the charismatic Church spokesperson? Does the “accident” victim’s widow know more than she’s told police? Time is running out for Abbie to save her father’s job—and her own life—as dark forces close in, and the outlook for Pleasant View turns decidedly unpleasant.  

Pub Date 13 Aug 2019

I know practically nothing about the Church of LDS, so I found this an interesting read on that account alone – finally, I was left feeling baffled about why anyone should be a Mormon, but then I suppose there are many people who say that about Christians!

The story was a fairly straightforward, reasonably well told mystery: it wasn’t exactly a who-dunnit, but there were murders to solve. I wasn’t really surprised by the ending, but it wasn’t flagged right from the start!  The characters were well described, and believable; I liked the people I was supposed to like, and didn’t find the bad guys too “pantomime villain” like. There was a satisfying feeling of Abbie being pulled in two directions, and feeling the weight of her adolescent faith still on her shoulders; it wasn’t an easy dénoument for her.

Perhaps there had to be a slight suspension of disbelief to credit well-educated young women with making the decisions that they did, but I can understand how a belief system followed from childhood, and involving the entire family, can mean that certain paths seem to be the right way, however illogical it may seem to outsiders.

This is a book wavering between 3.5 and 4 stars for me. It’s not quite as good as others that I’ve given four stars to, but better than some 3.5 star books! I’ll give it 4 stars on Net Galley, as they don’t show “half stars”, and I don’t want to mark it down!

Pleasant View, Utah, the setting for the book.

59 years on…

This is a quick post to say I’m back. I had a great time in Liverpool celebrating my mum’s 90th birthday. I got back yesterday evening, and today I’m back at work!

My brother found this photo of the three of us when we were young:

I was probably between 6 months and a year, making Mike about 3 and a half and Judy about 6.

Mike decided it would be a good idea to try to recreate the picture…So we did.

One of those mad ideas you get…

A Highland Coo for Sarah

During 40 Acts I asked if anyone would like me to draw a piece of Zentangle Inspired Art for them…

Sarah requested a Highland Cow. So a Highland Cow is what she got:

If you would like to see him in more detail, then click on the picture

 

Again, if there’s anyone who’d like a piece of ZIA for themselves – or as a gift – then let me know. It’s always nice to have a specific piece to be doing.

I sent a few postcards to John Grey of “Going Gently” as he was having a competition. Here’s the envelope that I drew – he has a bulldog called Winnie.

 

Good Friday service

Yes, I know that Good Friday and Easter Sunday have passed now, but I thought I’d tell you about the Good Friday service that I led.

I set up the church thus:

for the beginning of the service. A friend made the big cross for another Good Friday service that I led: it stays in the cellar most of the time, but comes out at Easter!

This was the liturgy:

The Last supper – Reading: Mark 14: 12 -26 – Silence

The Reader lays a chalice and loaf at the foot of the cross.

Lord Christ, when you shared your last meal with your disciples, you talked of love, of sharing and of sacrifice. Too often we come to your table unloving, ungracious and concerned about ourselves.

We lay at the foot of the cross the burden of our selfishness.

Lord, take these symbols of your sacrificial meal, of your desire to share yourself with the whole world. Heal us of our selfishness and bring us to a fresh understanding of how you call us to be your servants in the world.

We lay at the foot of the cross the burden of our selfishness.

MUSIC: The Last Supper by Adrian Snell

Jesus is betrayed by Judas – Reading: Mark 14: 32 – 51 Silence

The Reader lays a bag of money at the foot of the cross

Judas betrayed his Master for a bag of silver coins. In his greed for his own gain he gave his Lord to his enemies.

We lay at the foot of the cross the burden of our greed.

Lord, take these symbols of Judas’s greed and betrayal. Heal us of our greed, our desire to always have the best, to always have more. Help us to be aware of how our greed exploits others, how we betray our brothers and sisters  as we reach out to grasp the next thing that we want.

We lay at the foot of the cross the burden of our greed

Peter’s denial – Reading: Matthew 26: 69 – 75 Silence

The Reader lays chains at the foot of the cross.

Peter stood in the courtyard and watched the people condemn you. Afraid of what would happen if he admitted knowing you, instead he denied you. He said he never knew you. He even swore that he had never met you. Instead of bringing your love to the place where he was, he dismissed you.

We lay at the foot of the cross the burden of our fear.

Lord, take these chains, symbols of Peter’s fearful denial. Heal us of our fear; the fear that binds us, the fear leads us to deny that we know you, the fear that prevents us from bringing your light and life to others. Help us to have the strength to bring your love and Good News in all situations that you have placed us in.

We lay at the foot of the cross the burden of our fear.

  Jesus is condemned – Reading: Matthew 27: 11 – 26 Silence

The Reader lays a basin at the foot of the cross.

Pilate washed his hands of you. Swayed by public opinion, he did what he knew was wrong and gave you over to be crucified. He cleared his own conscience by blaming other people. He would not own up to his part in your death.

We lay at the foot of the cross the burden of our guilt – and our acceptance of that guilt

Lord, take this symbol of our willingness to blame others. Dear Christ, too often we are quick to blame other people for the problems of the world, and we do not recognise our own part in those problems. Help us to see how it was as much our voice as the voices of others that condemned you to die; help us to understand that it is our greed, our lack of care, our indifference   that contributes to the oppression of others and the slow destruction of our world. Help us to care.

We lay at the foot of the cross the burden of our guilt – and our acceptance of that guilt

Jesus is mocked by the soldiers  – Reading: Mark 15:16 – 20 Silence

The Reader lays a crown of thorns at the foot of the cross.

The soldiers mocked you, they spat on you, they forced you to wear a crown of thorns, they treated you as something less than human. In their eagerness to make fun of you, they neglected to see that you were as much a person as they were. They were indifferent to your pain and to your suffering.

We lay at the foot of the cross the burden of our indifference.

Lord God, take this symbol of our indifference. Like the soldiers, sometimes we too do not see the humanity of others. We pass by the beggar without seeing his hunger; we buy the clothes with no thought for the sweatshop workers who made them; we see the pain of others but do not question how we can become involved. We avert our eyes and pass by. Heal us of our indifference. Help us to see you in every person in need, help us to ask what we can do. Help us to see humanity.

We lay at the foot of the cross the burden of our indifference.

 MUSIC: AGNUS DEI – Fauré

Jesus is nailed to the cross – Reading: John 19:16 – 24 Silence

The Reader lays a hammer and nails at the foot of the cross.

It is our sins that nailed you to that cross. But it was your love for us that held you there.

We lay at the foot of the cross the burden of our sin.

Christ crucified, take these symbols of your suffering, and our sins.  Forgive us for the times when we take your suffering lightly, unconscious to what it really meant for you to go through this for us. Help us to recognise our part in your death, and to thank you with true humility and gratitude.

We lay at the foot of the cross the burden of our sin.

Jesus dies – Reading: Mark 15: 33 – 37 Silence

The Reader lays candle at the foot of the cross.

We lay at the foot of the cross every burden that is in our heart.

Silence.

MUSIC: At the Foot of the Cross

Reader: The tiny flickering flame of just one candle scatters the deepest darkness.

The reader lights the candle.

Rise up, O flame: By your burning light, show to us beauty, wisdom, truth and love

I think it went well. There was a little lad there with his mum, who can’t have been more than about 6 (the boy, not his mum!!!). I was worried that it might be too long and serious for him, but he was tremendously well behaved. He whispered questions about the different artefacts I was putting down, and he had some colouring to do, but apart from needing to go out once, he was great. His mum explained that they go to the Evangelical church, but there was no Good Friday service, so they came to us. It was a pleasure to have them visit us.

Another visitor asked if she could take the liturgy away with her – I’d provided leaflets with things to meditate on, but not the liturgy shown above. I was happy for her to take it away. If anyone reading this thinks they might wish to use it in the future, feel free. I honestly can’t remember if it’s something I created, or something I “borrowed” from elsewhere

This is the text from the leaflet:

We are gathered here, as the family of God to remember the day that Jesus chose to die for us, to try to understand what this meant for him, and to marvel at the extent of his love for us.

We think of the part we play in crucifying Christ today, and lay our burdens of guilt and sin at the foot of the cross.

The Last supper:         Mark 14: 12 -26

Think how easily you can tear bread: think how easily a person’s body can be hurt and broken.Think how easily wine can be spilled: think how easily a person can be made to bleed.Think how hard it is to undo the damage.

A chalice and bread is laid at the foot of the cross.

MUSIC: The Last Supper by Adrian Snell

Jesus is betrayed by Judas:  Mark 14: 32 – 51

Judas gave a kiss to his Master, and in this way, he delivered Jesus into the hands of his enemies. He betrayed the One who trusted him. How do we betray Jesus in our words and actions, when through self-centredness we turn from those whose needs are entrusted to us?

A bag of money is laid at the foot of the cross.

Peter’s denial:   Matthew 26: 69 – 75

Stay with us, Lord Jesus, we pray, and at those moments when we are most vulnerable, help us to remain firm in faith. With Your help, may we take our stand against all that is wrong and evil in our world, and testify to Your saving and redeeming love.

Chains are laid at the foot of the cross

Jesus is condemned:   Matthew 27: 11 – 26

So many accusing fingers…denouncing, destroying our fellow men… How ready we are to blame others for our own calamities, our failures, our sin… How easily we point the fingers at those who cannot defend themselves…And yet, as we make others suffer, we diminish ourselves. Our threatening hands bind us with new chains…

A basin is laid at the foot of the cross.

Jesus is mocked by the soldiers:      Mark 15:16 – 20

What is that heap of bones, that pathetic pile of rags at the side of our roads? It is a man, as I am a man. Hungry belly, face stained with mud. Many like him cry out…But every humiliation inflicted on any person disfigures us all, because it disfigures the humanity we share.

A crown of thorns is laid at the foot of the cross.

MUSIC: Agnus Dei – from Fauré’s Requiem.

Jesus is nailed to the cross     Reading: John 19:16 – 24

Before we can begin to see the cross as something done for us, we have to see it as something done by us.”  ― John Stott

God, who needs nothing, loves into existence wholly superfluous creatures in order that He may love and perfect them. He creates the universe, already foreseeing – or should we say “seeing”? there are no tenses in God – the buzzing cloud of flies about the cross, the flayed back pressed against the uneven stake, the nails driven through the mesial nerves, the repeated incipient suffocation as the body droops, the repeated torture of back and arms as it is time after time, for breath’s sake, hitched up. If I may dare the biological image, God is a “host” who deliberately creates His own parasites; causes us to be that we may exploit and “take advantage of” Him. Herein is love. This is the diagram of Love Himself, the inventor of all loves.”    ― C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves

A hammer and nails are laid at the foot of the cross.

Jesus dies           Mark 15: 33 – 37

A candle is laid at the foot of the cross.

MUSIC: At the Foot of the Cross by Kathryn Scott

At the foot of the cross
Where grace and suffering meet
You have shown me Your love
Through the judgment You received

And You’ve won my heart
Yes You’ve won my heart
Now I can … Trade these ashes in for beauty
and wear forgiveness like a crown

Coming to kiss the feet of mercy
I lay every burden down
at the foot of the cross

 At the foot of the cross
Where I am made complete
You have given me life
Through the death You bore for me

I’m laying every burden down
I’m laying every burden down

The candle is lit

The tiny flickering flame of just one candle scatters the deepest darkness.

Rise up, O flame: By your burning light, show to us beauty, wisdom, truth and love

As I say, if you think you can use it, then feel free.

It’s been a long road… Today’s sermon.

READING ACTS:9:1 –  18

A Damascus Road conversion – this is a phrase which many people understand as meaning a complete about face, being changed from one point of view to another that is diametrically opposed, a U turn. Even if people don’t know much about St Paul, it is the dramatic turn of events on the Damascus Road that they usually know about. Very little about what went before it, and probably even less about what went on after it. And to be honest, I wonder if some of us are in the same situation – I know that my knowledge of Paul’s life is sadly lacking. I know he went about preaching to a lot of people, and that he was a copious letter writer, and that much of the theology of the Church today is built on his understanding of the revelations of God. But I don’t really know much about him…

Well, it seems that few backgrounds could have better prepared Saul, as he was known before his conversion to Christianity, to be the chief persecutor of the early church. He was born in Tarsus – “no mean city” as he liked to describe it – which was a major Roman city on the coast of Southeast Asia Minor. Tarsus was a centre for the tent making trade and from Acts 18 verse 3 we know that Saul was a tentmaker as well. It says there that he stayed with Aquila and Priscilla, who were tent makers “because he was of the same trade”. Although Saul was well known was a teacher of the Jewish Law, he would have still needed a profession to support himself, as teachers of the Law were not paid for their services; thus he was a tent maker.

However, in Acts 22:3 it tells us that Saul was actually brought up in Jerusalem, studying under Gamaliel, who was the most illustrious and respected rabbis of the day. Perhaps he and his family moved from Tarsus when Paul was young, but his father taught him the rudiments of tent making even then. Whatever it was that brought Saul to Jerusalem, it gave him the opportunity to study Jewish Law under a great teacher. This training prepared Saul to become one of the Pharisees, who were the religious elite of Judaism. He was the kind of pupil every teacher dreams of, zealous, enthusiastic and interested – I bet he always got his homework in on time! So much so that he outstripped his peers in enthusiasm for the traditions and in his zeal for the Law. He had the opportunity to observe the Council and come to know many of its principals and inner workings. He would have been there to watch encounters between the Council and members of the Way, as Christianity was called in its early days, and to be astounded at the blasphemies that were being revealed. And he was there at the stoning of Stephen, which galvanised his commitment to traditional Judaism and set him off on a mission to seek out and destroy as many believers as he could. As Acts 8:3 reports “ As for Saul, he made havoc of the church, entering every house and dragging off men and women, committing them to prison”.

He was then devout, energetic, outspoken, enthusiastic, stubborn, and full of fire for what he saw as God’s way. Perfect to rout out the blaspheming Christians and put them to death. Even more perfect for what God had in mind for him…

Because, as we know, God had great things planned for Saul… But first he had to realise and to understand that what he had seen as great blasphemy – that a man, Jesus of Nazareth, is also the Christ, the Messiah, God in human form come to save the world from its sins and to open the way to a new and different relationship with Jehovah, the God of Abraham – this blasphemy was in fact the Truth. And how on earth was God going to do that? It would need something huge and dramatic to convince Saul of Tarsus. So huge and dramatic was what Saul of Tarsus got.

And that is one of the great things about God – because he knows us all so well, he knows what each of us needs to show us the way. We saw this in the Gospel reading. Having betrayed his Lord three times Peter was no doubt feeling despondent and a failure. So Jesus took him to one side and offered him the chance to reaffirm his love for his Risen Lord. And what I like about this story is the way Jesus gently gets Peter to realise that all the way along, through all of the pain of the crucifixion, Jesus had known of Peter’s love and devotion, that his denial had been a lapse, but that his love for his Master had never faltered. For on the third asking “Do you love me?” Peter answers, “Lord, you know all things. You know that I love you!” You have always known; you know what I need and you meet that need… Jesus gave him what he needed. In our modern world there are some, who like to question and debate, and there are Alpha courses where questions are welcomed and debate is continued; Jesus meets them in their questioning, gently providing answers. For others, sadly, they need to hit rock bottom before they will listen to what God is saying and be able to take his hand; for people like me, brought up in a Christian home, there is a gradual realisation of what God has done, and a quiet handing over of ones life to the Lord; and for yet others, stubborn and convinced that they know where they are going, there is the Damascus Road experience. Which is exactly what Saul got. Whichever way we need to finally convince us, everyone has to, at one point or another, submit to the will of God.

Perhaps the chief irony of Paul’s calling (for we must call him Paul, now he has changed, and had his life turned round) was that he was called to be the “apostle to the Gentiles” We are told in Acts 9:15 that God tells Ananias that Paul “is a chosen vessel to bear my name before Gentiles, Kings and the children of Israel”. The irony of this, and a demonstration of how, if we’re truly honest, we can see God doesn’t always make things easy for his followers, is that Paul had been a Pharisee, the very title meaning “to separate”. Some Pharisees would not even eat with non-Pharisees for fear of being contaminated by food which was not ritually clean. They kept themselves separated from women, from lepers, from Samaritans and especially from Gentiles. So Paul was being asked to make a U turn from all he had been taught, from all that was ingrained in his upbringing, and to mix with Gentiles.

And let’s make no bones about it – he found it hard. He was being asked to do things that were not natural to him – to mix with foreigners, to treat women in the same equal way as men. It took Paul years to re-evaluate his perspectives and to bring them in line with the heart of God for the world. But his character, which God knew and loved, stood him in good stead – his stubbornness meaning that once he realised what God wanted he would have struggled even with himself and his natural tendencies, with his enthusiasm and zeal for God shoring him up in his darkest times. When we become Christians God asks us to change our perspective, he doesn’t ask us to change our characters; he has made us as we are, and loves us. Whether we are shy, hot headed, stubborn, not particularly clever, outgoing – whatever we are, God can use those parts of our characters to his good and glory as long as we are open to him. Just as he used Saul’s character to make Paul, ambassador to the Gentiles, so he can use us to do his will.

But, as I said, this about face wasn’t easy for Saul, he needed time to think, to re-evaluate all that he had done before. It can’t be easy for someone to suddenly revise the entire theological basis on which he’s been living. No-one – least of all Paul – likes to admit that they’ve been wrong. No wonder he needed to spend a lot of time in prayer. And in order to help Paul face what needed changing God sent two things.

First, he gave Paul “time out” – he was made blind for three days, making it a necessity for him to be still and not to move about. All he could do for those three days was to sit and think, and to talk to people. And I think to it was here that Paul may have had his first lesson in humility and in the need to depend on other people. I get the feeling that the old Saul had never depended on others before; he had everything he needed to forge his way in the world, he was self assured and confident. Imagine how difficult it would be for this know-it-all Saul to have to listen and learn from others, which is what he would have to do, as any young Christian learns from those who are more mature in their faith. So he needed to be brought down a peg or two – I don’t suppose God took any pleasure in it, but he knew the necessity. So, in his blindness, Paul learned to depend on others for his food and for every other need, and he had time to sit and think and learn – about himself, about the Way, and about what it was God required of him. He was given time to be able to talk to others.

And this is the second thing that God gave Paul. He gave him a friend. Because, if you think about it, this new Christian wasn’t necessarily going to be welcomed with open arms into the Christian community. He had been heading to Damascus in order to hunt down, arrest and ultimately to kill the Christians who lived there. And suddenly he was claiming to be one of them. Well, was this a trick? Had he really changed? Who was going to be brave enough to find out?

I really admire Ananias. He had no doubt heard that Saul, the scourge of the early Church, was on his way to Damascus; he would have known Saul’s methods, his eagerness to persecute those who followed the Way, and I am sure that Ananias was scared. Maybe he had already prepared himself to be hunted down, arrested, imprisoned and ultimately put to death for his beliefs. And then, as is his way, God asks Ananias to do something that, on first sight, seems utterly ridiculous.

In a vision, God spoke to Ananias, “Go to the street called Straight and inquire at the house of Judas for one Saul of Tarsus”… And basically, Ananias replied,

“You must be joking…I’ve heard what this man does to people – and you want me to go and speak to him…?”

But God replied, “I have great things planned for this man”. And he might also have added, “and you will be the one to start these off.”

Ananias must surely have been terrified, but he went obediently to lay hands on Saul that he might receive the Holy Spirit and to baptise him. And as a result Ananias witnessed the spiritual birth of one of the early church’s greatest spokesmen. He also saw a dramatic demonstration of the truth that God’s grace can overcome anyone’s background.

But what would have happened if Ananias hadn’t trusted God enough? If he had refused to believe that God was asking him to do such a seemingly stupid thing as go and introduce himself to the persecutor of the followers of Jesus? We will never know, as thankfully Ananias was obedient to God. But perhaps it should cause us to pause and think – who might God want us to approach with his message? Who do we harbour doubts about, believing that they will never change, never enter the faith?

If Ananias had not responded to his call from God, perhaps God calling Paul would have been worthless, for he would not have been able to take the next steps towards growing into a charismatic leader and tireless preacher of God’s word. We should wonder, now that God has called us – in whatever way – how can he use us to bring others, however unlikely we might feel they are, into his love?

I know I have read this short piece recently, but I think it bears repeating, especially as we consider Ananias’s faithfulness to God’s call:

There is an old Christian tradition

That God sends each person into this world

With a special message to deliver

With a special song to sing for others

With a special act of love to bestow.

No-one else can speak my message,

Or sing my song

Or offer my act of love.

These are entrusted only to me.

As Ananias was called on to speak the message to Paul, to sing the song of God’s love and to offer his hand of friendship to a man who had once been his enemy, we ask ourselves What is God calling us to do? What is our message, our song, our act of love?

*****

And here’s a rather pleasant country-style song, “The Road to Damascus”

Two cards – one birthday!

It’s coming up to my mum’s 90th birthday! Hard to believe – here are pictures of her when she and my sister visited us in September. We went for several walks of 5 km or more, and mum was fitter than I was!! (Though to be fair, it was only three months after my chemo had finished!!)

I’m going over on Wednesday, and we have a big family lunch on 11th at a restaurant. It’s her birthday on 12th May. I have a picture that I bought in Strasbourg for her present: it was going to be her Christmas present, but sending it became so complicated I decided to keep it for her birthday. It means I can buy a frame too. I’m there for almost a week, which will be lovely – I hope to maybe catch up with an old friend from school while I’m there too.

So today I sat down to make a card. The first one I made was this:

 

I used papers from a papercrafting magazine plus various Noz embellishments. I quite like it, but it’s a bit boring for a 90th birthday card. So I went a bit more OTT and created this one:

It’s a three-fold card (which is a bit difficult to photograph) so it’s already a bit more “special” than the first one. Here it is, standing upright:

and in the second fold there’s another butterfly hidden away:

I think this one is a bit more joyous, and appropriate for such a landmark birthday. What do you think?

May pictures

Not sure what to blog about, but feeling I should write something, I delve back into my photo archives to see what I can find!

MAY 2010 – I used to do more walks when I had time between or after lessons. Here’s a little garden I found on a walk above Royat. Obviously a beautiful day! I really enjoyed these walks…I wonder why I don’t do so many now. Perhaps I’m too busy!

May 2010 was when I held George for the first time – our lovely cuddly George cat. He went missing almost three years ago, and although we have Jasper now, George is still very sadly missed. He was the most placid of cats, loving nothing more than a cuddle.

 

MAY 2011 – For a few years we had a Fete de Cheval here – it was, rather sadly, mostly a place where knackers came to buy old horses which were then taken to the abbatoir. It changed for a couple of years when our friends, who keep a livery stables and breeding stables took over the organisation, but that was too much work for them, so it stopped happening a few years ago. Here however is one of the animals that wasn’t a horse – there were some llamas one year!

MAY 2012 – The plant seller is out…I always buy my balcony plants from the same guy: he comes to the market in May/June but his plants are always good value and I’ve never had any complaints. The balcony is looking very sad at the moment, so I need to get out there and tidy it up. Because I’m working on Thursday mornings now I may have to ask Friend Cathy to buy my plants for me this year!

MAY 2013 –Here are Mr FD and our friend Louis, on the top of Mont Ventoux, having cycled up. I was the designated official photographer, but due to becoming too interested in the market in Bedouin, I very nearly missed their triumph! I drove up the mountain rather too hastily (there were hundreds of cyclists!) and caught up with the two of them no more than 3 km from the summit! Luckily I managed to get one action shot of them both, as well as this one.

!

MAY 2014 – A card made for my friend’s “Christian birthday” – I think it may have been one of my first “Celtic style” crosses, which are now one of my favourite things to draw.

MAY 2015 – I’m looking a bit blown about! This was taken when we went out for the day on our 30th wedding anniversary. We had a picnic and visited Mont Dore in the Auvergne. It was a lovely day out. I think this was taklen around Puy Marie, but I may be making that up!

MAY 2016 – an appropriate picture for today. Why, you may ask… Well, another blogger, Elizabeth, who used to live in France wrote:

In France we have a delightful custom of presenting our friends with a bunch, or even just a stem, of Lilies of the Valley.
It’s a custom that dates back to 1561, when the then King, Charles 1 received some lilies as a lucky charm. Each year he offered a bunch to the ladies of his court. So the tradition grew, and by 20th Century it was well established.
The flowers are given as a symbol of Spring. I think it is the one and only time that something is allowed to be sold without tax applying. Scouts and Guides will be in our town today, raising a little money by selling these beautifully perfumed flowers.
and mine are blooming in the garden, so I shall go and pick a few for our neighbour.
The photo was of some lily-of-the-valley that we’d been given by Michel across the road. Unfortunately they didn’t take, so we don’t have them any more.
MAY 2017 – One of my students was getting married, so I made him this card – very simply done with an embosser, and lots of little flowers cut out of scrap paper with my flower punch. The pearls were a bargain from Noz – of course!!
MAY 2018 – By now I was half way through my chemo, and had lost all my hair. Here I am in patriotic mode for the wedding of Harry and Meghan. I wouldn’t have bothered normally, but we’d been invited to Richard’s to watch the wedding on TV and to partake of lunch. I made a delicious but nt very attractive mlemon-and-elderflower cake
And May 2019? Well, it’s only 1st May. I’m sure there’ll be photos to share later on in the month…