Finding the Unexpected- Look, See, Pray

Seaweed on Aldwick Beach

I never know what I will find on the beach. Low tide is my favourite: as the sea retreats, the sand is sculpted into sinuous shapes by shifting waves. Shellfish leave their mark. Plants of strange forms and unexpected colours are there to admire- like this white “tree” standing out boldly against the sand and sky-painted rivulets.

Some tides bring in rubbish, old tins and perennial plastics. I suppose we might say the flotsam and jetsam of 2021 has largely been junk!

When the opposite happens, though, we have memories of beauty, love, courage, and service.

Concentrating only on the rubbish is unhealthy. Most people have found 2021 hard and hostile, and we’re glad to see the back of it. Whatever your experiences this year, will you try to find one (at least) moment of joy and life to remember- and give thanks God for that?

Looking ahead… no-one is master of tide or weather. But a simple prayer for us all:

“May you find life in unexpected places.”

Keeping our hearts, eyes, and ears open for those special life-affirming moments, we may meet a person, embrace an opportunity, fulfil a hope… and may the God of Hope grant you inner peace and an everlasting love.

There’s a verse in Ecclesiastes Ch. 3 that states “God has put eternity in our hearts.” May the year 2022 bring us hope, peace and joy- and may we find life where we don’t expect it.

A blessed New Year to you.

Go on, Joe – Look, See, Pray

I won’t count the miles. Just the stones that hurt my feet.

How far yet to Bethlehem? Too long for the daylight, for sure. Heat shimmers so the rocks seem to vibrate, to twist, almost to move. Oh for a pitcher of cool water, for food. The bread is dry and I’m out of dates.

Another day, more like three days… Footsore and anxious. What will this journey bring? Angels and women and dreams- what could go wrong? To the House of Bread… my family home, in all its faded glory. David’s day so, so long ago, and now just a pregnant girl and a weary man- can even the Lord do something with that?

It’ll be a quiet birth, no fuss, a room and a midwife, brave Mary keeping her head bowed- but the eyes that saw and the ears that heard cannot forget… no. Never forget.

I wish I could understand Mary’s courage! “Here am I, the Lord’s handservant… let it be to me as you have said….” I was scared at first too. Angels and dreams… we don’t do those, not in my tribe- well, not nowadays. Being a Dad… well, sort of Dad. A bigger challenge than I’ve faced before! Wood can be shaped, and stone can be shifted, but a baby? What if I drop him? If it is a him… Mary seems sure. The angel was pretty clear, but I’m not used to miracles. I guess its the long stony road for me, one step, one day at a time. I can do that. Well, I’ll do my best. Mary deserves no less!

And I’ve always believed,and kept the Law best I can…

I can… I will… do it! The angel said not to be afraid. Nothing about stones in my sandals and walking in this heat, once you hear “baby” nothing else matters. We’ll get there. I sure hope that was Your angel, God, because if the baby arrives before Bethlehem we’re in big trouble!

C’mon Joe, get a grip… one day, one step at at time. WE WILL DO THIS, do You hear me, God?

On we go… to Bethlehem.

I wonder if anyone will remember us? Footsore, anxious, obedient.

Welcome to your new home – Look, See, Pray

Wirksworth, December 1988

That weekend is etched in my memory. As I put out the milk bottles, light powdery snow danced through the rays of the streetlamp. “Oh,” I said boldly, “That won’t lay.” The new pastor-in-town (me) had a lot to learn about Derbyshire!

Saturday morning dawned suspiciously bright throught the new curtains. Shivers chased down our ribs as we emerged, blinking, from under the duvet.

16 inches of snow blessed the road outside. The drifts were deeper. Thick rolls of clingy white stuff turned telephone lines into 2-inch ropes which came crashing down under their own weight, pulling the plug on the phone system. Roads were impassible. Our paperboy didn’t turn up! This was the land of milk and honey newly married Sussex southerners had been been plunged into… what had we done???

Our first church we had been called to serve; it was our first Christmas in ten days. How should I respond to the crisis? Cancel Christmas! Send for the snow ploughs! Where’s Rudolph when you need a reindeer?

Yes, I was a tad over-dramatic. On the Sussex coast, three snowflakes was ALWAYS a cause for a national holiday and the breakdown of all public transport until further notice.

Derbyshire folk were tougher than that. Hardly had I tied my dressing-gown cord when I spied neighbours, “old” people, you know, in their 60s and 70s shovelling snow and clearing footpaths. The existence of a large – think Ben Nevis, no exaggeration – heap of rocksalt & grit in the town should have given me a clue. By Sunday lunchtime pretty much everywhere was clear enough to get about (and these “feeble” ancient folk I’d been so worried about turned up in good cheer for Sunday service, jolly and talking about times when they’d had REAL snow…).

Welcome to our new home.

The Bible has stories of people whom God calls to new places and new tasks. Some struggle, some thrive- and God teaches them faith as they explore their new “home.”

Abram is called from the town-with-no-need-for-a-nickname (Ur) and not actually told where he was going. Jacob picks up more airmiles than he ever expected. Gideon hides in a winepress just before God makes him a general of the army. Jonah gets to tell Nineveh that God is pretty angry- and then the wretched Ninevites turned back to God! Jonah says “I told you so” and sulked in the shade of a plant (that promptly died).

Mary and Joseph get to travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem, have a baby, go to Egypt…

Just think about Jesus. Son of God, leaving glory for a new life as a teeny-weeny blob, then thrust out into a world where loads of people wanted him dead. That’s Christmas.

Aye, lad. Welcome to your new home.”