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Adventures in a red coat

If you wear a red coat be prepared for comments (and jokes and suggestions….)img_5590

I once had a young friend ask me ‘Pauline do you know where my granny is?’. When I said I didn’t think I knew his granny, he said ‘Oh sorry – I thought you were Little Red Riding Hood!’.

In church one day, a deacon came up to me with a letter and said ‘Oh sorry! I thought you were a letter box!’.

And just yesterday afternoon in Belfast city centre, a complete stranger accosted my husband and me in the street saying, ‘I hope you don’t mind – but you’re so cute! I love red coats!’ As he left us, he shouted ‘Happy Christmas! And God bless!’

I don’t think I have ever had an item of clothing which produced so many comments, from the many who have simply admired it to the more jovial comments above.

What is it about a red coat?

Hope for the New Year

On the brink of a new year, I can think of no more hope-instilling truth than this than one from Lamentations 3:

But this I call to mind,
    and therefore I have hope:

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
    his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness.
“The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,
    “therefore I will hope in him.”

The Lord is good to those who wait for him,
    to the soul who seeks him.
It is good that one should wait quietly
    for the salvation of the Lord.

Let’s decide now that in this new year we are going to call to mind the steadfast love of the Lord and look for His mercies which are new each morning. Sometimes they are obvious; sometimes we really need to look for them; but they are always there.

Look for them and your search will be rewarded: The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him.

Happy New Year!

The week after Christmas…

It’s the time between Christmas and New Year. The great build-up to Christmas is over. Weeks – maybe even months – of planning have culminated in two or three days of festivities and, like the Christmas dinner which is consumed so quickly after being prepared so carefully, we are left scratching our heads and wondering what it was all about.

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What do you do with this week, this week of anti-climax, of emptiness and nothingness? Some keep on partying: there are still friends to see and things to do; the week is a flurry of visits and coffee reunions and lunch dates and dinner parties. Others get straight back to work and pick up the threads as if Christmas didn’t happen. For the rest of us, we have the week off and it feels…..empty….as if we are in limbo, caught between what was and what will be.

On the one hand, we enjoy the days without deadlines, with no agenda except what we choose to put there, spontaneously if we want to – personally I think one of the things I enjoy most about this week is not to have the alarm clock shrieking in my ear first thing in the morning and rushing out the door to try to beat the traffic. We can get up later and we can stay up later: and in between we can choose what we do – and do nothing if we want to. Many of us catch up on some rest after a frenetic month of December.

But somewhere in the midst of the ‘doing nothing’ of this week, many of us begin to wonder about what we are leaving behind and what we are heading towards as the new year approaches.

My niece Sharon is a gifted writer and has written a piece over on her blog where she encapsulates this sentiment beautifully: ‘In January I pick a ‘word for a year’ and in December I have to make peace with how that’s worked out for me!’.

Ah, the looking back and the looking forward. How did I do this year? How do I lay the year to rest, come to terms with the failures, celebrate the victories? And how will I enter the new year? Should I choose a word for the year? How can I prepare for a new year? Of course some people still make new year resolutions, while many others have long since decided it’s not worth the effort, for they will be broken before the end of January.

This tension of simultaneously  living in the ‘now’ and the ‘not yet’ is not new. The biblical writer to the Hebrews wrote about it like this:

Each one of these people of faith died not yet having in hand what was promised, but still believing. How did they do it? They saw it way off in the distance, waved their greeting, and accepted the fact that they were transients in this world. People who live this way make it plain that they are looking for their true home. If they were homesick for the old country, they could have gone back any time they wanted. But they were after a far better country than that—heaven country. You can see why God is so proud of them, and has a City waiting for them. Hebrews 11:13-16.

I find it interesting that the writer talks about homesickness and people who are looking for their true home. I think when we feel this tension between what we have already and we don’t have yet, we are experiencing a kind of homesickness. It is a deep aching in our souls for what we do not yet have. It is a longing for home.

We have so much through Christ already. As we have just celebrated at Christmas, Jesus came to earth as a little baby in order to be able to welcome us to his eternal home. But we aren’t there yet. We live in a messy world where there is fear, sickness, war, brokenness and death.

My daughter Gemma is another gifted writer and she has written a blog about this longing for home which she ends by saying:

And so, my prayer this Christmas:
Immanuel, come.
To the lonely, the scattered, the unknown, the waiting, the afraid, the unprotected, the needy, the longing. To us.
Come.

Paul Tripp has shared these words:

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As a friend recently posted on Facebook: Christmas may be over -but God is still present – Immanuel.

Take him with you into the new year.

Time to ponder

A re-post….because I’m pondering again…

Tales from Taughlumny

I think we don’t do enough of it. Pondering. It’s not even a word we use very much. When did you last hear someone say they were pondering something? If you did, it probably meant they were going to take a while to think about something. We don’t like people to take a while to ponder – we like instant answers to our questions. Come to think of it, we don’t like people to take a while to do anything. We like things done now, and we like things done fast. When someone pulls out in front of us on the road, we sigh. When the person in front of us at the checkout spills their change, we moan. When we miss the bus and have to wait for the next one, we shout – inwardly, anyway. So what does pondering mean? The dictionary definition is ‘to consider something deeply…

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Is God for life, or just for Christmas?

We breathe a collective a sigh of relief as the eagerly-anticipated holidays draw to a close, happy that (a) there was enough food for everyone; or (b) the turkey was cooked through; or (c) there were no major family feuds. What we planned for and prepared for is over in a flash and part of us is left wondering what it was all about.photo 1 (1)

If you are left with some sense of longing, a part of you that wonders if it was worth all the energy you spent on it, not to mention the money, an ache that is gnawing away in the background, then you are not alone.

It wasn’t the perfect Christmas – and it never will be, in spite of all the time and money and energy we spend on it. Things go wrong and people break down. Most of our disasters are of the kind which I call First World disasters (like opening an online purchase to discover it was not what you had ordered, or a hair dye which goes wrong, or candle wax spilt on a tablecloth) – all inconvenient at the time but certainly not life-changing or life-threatening.

photo 2It’s more what we do with those inconveniences which matters. Do we allow them to assume such significance in our minds that they affect our relationships with those around us? Do we blame others? And if others were to blame, do we make sure they know it, layering on the guilt as much as we can? Are we more interested in proving that we were not in the wrong than we are in salvaging or strengthening a relationship?

And if we managed to escape the holidays with no tempers frayed, no major mishaps, what are we left with at the end of December? I saw a t-shirt yesterday with the caption ‘364 days till the next sprouts’. Is that how we feel about Christmas – 360-odd days till the next one?

Even if we are left with memories of good times personally, December is drawing to a close with news of global disasters which send chills down our spines: the tragedy of the bin lorry accident in Glasgow, the missing AirAsia Indonesia flight travelling from Indonesia to Singapore, not to speak of accidents and losses of a more local variety but nonetheless tragic.

In view of all of this, what does Christmas leave us with? Nothing more than a warm glow as we remember the twinkling lights and gifts under the tree? A nostalgic wish that it could be Christmas all year long?

If Christmas is only about transient warm fuzzy feelings which evaporate in the cold light of January, then forget it. We need something which is going to stand the test of time – and whatever the New Year holds for each of us. Like the old saying ‘A dog is for life, not just for Christmas’, so it is equally true that we need God to be for life, not just for Christmas. That’s why we need a rigorous faith in a God who gets himself dirty with the mess of our lives – who sent his Son to a dirty, smelly manger which led to a shameful, painful death. Because he came – and died for us, and rose again for us – we can carry that fact beyond Christmas. The fact that Immanuel came that first Christmas means that now we know for sure that God is with us – in the confusion of our lives, in the messiness of our relationships, in the pain and shame which often accompany our days.

So take him with you into the New Year, into the good days and the bad days, the days when it’s easy to believe and the days when it feels like you’re hanging on by your fingernails. Nothing you an do or say will change the fact that he loves you and came at Christmas time because he wants you to be with him forever.photo 4

Time to ponder

I think we don’t do enough of it. Pondering. It’s not even a word we use very much. When did you last hear someone say they were pondering something? If you did, it probably meant they were going to take a while to think about something. We don’t like people to take a while to ponder – we like instant answers to our questions. Come to think of it, we don’t like people to take a while to do anything. We like things done now, and we like things done fast. When someone pulls out in front of us on the road, we sigh. When the person in front of us at the checkout spills their change, we moan. When we miss the bus and have to wait for the next one, we shout – inwardly, anyway. So what does pondering mean? The dictionary definition is ‘to consider something deeply and thoroughly’. Nothing quick or easy about that. That takes time. And effort. Advent is about waiting. We are waiting for Christmas Day, when we celebrate the coming of the baby Jesus into the world. It’s a time of waiting, anticipating, expecting. Of course people are waiting for all kinds of things. Presents, parties, holidays to name but a few. But it can also be a time to pause, to slow down, to think, to ponder.

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The Bible says that Mary the mother of Jesus ‘treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart’ (Luke 2:19, ESV). The Amplified Bible puts it this way: ‘But Mary was keeping within herself all these things (sayings), weighing and pondering them in her heart.’ I like that – pondering and weighing. Mary had a lot to ponder. Her pregnancy had been announced to her by an angel. Then her baby’s birth was heralded by a host of angels. Shepherds came to find the baby – and wise men came to worship him. Mary had a lot to ponder. And so do we. Take time this Advent season to slow down, to ponder.

That’s it over for another year.

It will come and it will go.hyacinths

That’s it over for another year.

So many preparations, so much fuss……and it’s over so quickly.

Where did it go to?

I’m sure you have heard – and maybe uttered or at least thought – some of these phrases in the days since Christmas Day.

It’s true – we put so much effort into the Big Day, whether it’s choosing the right gift for the right person; or wrapping our gifts beautifully; or the endless grocery-shopping; or the grande finale – the Christmas Day dinner. So much thought, so much time, so much energy expended into making Christmas Day memorable. Not to mention people flying all over the world so that they can join their loved ones for the Big Day.

Now and again, in the midst of our preparations and planning, we catch a glimpse of other things which are reminders that real life is going on in the real world from which we are somehow cocooned for a few days in our festive comfort. People are still dying from hunger, victims of human trafficking are still being trafficked, wars are still being fought, death and disease are still our enemies.

And it’s to that real world that we now must somehow return. The Christmas fairytale doesn’t last forever. It’s not happy-ever-after. We must extricate ourselves from the warm comfort of family feasts and return to…..work? debt? illness? or just the routine of real life.

So is that it all over?

It’s only the beginning.

Jesus knew we needed more than a fairy-tale ending. He was born in a smelly manger among the animals. He lived among ordinary people and socialised with questionable people. He died on a cross – a messy death which branded him a criminal. No fairy-tale ending for him.

But his life and his death mean that he understands the messiness of our lives – the disappointments, the hurts, the despair. It means he understands our fears and failures too, our reluctance to face reality, our fear of what life – or death – may hold for us.

Because he lived and died, we can face the future, including Monday morning or the New Year or whatever it is that we fear. We can face our failures too. With Jesus, there is always the possibility of a fresh start, a new beginning. There is always hope.

Now that the poinsettia is almost done and the amaryllis never made it, the bulbs of the hyacinth are bursting with new life – each time I see them, I think of spring and new life and hope.

There is Easter after Christmas. There is hope as one year ends and a new year begins. Whatever your Christmas was like, whatever your year has been like, there is hope as you step into a new year. Step into it with Jesus – he forgives our past, he gets involved in the messiness of our present and he gives hope for our future.

Christmas is only the beginning. Because Jesus came, we have hope.