Tuesday, 25 March 2014

After Much Tribulation Come the Blessings

In a time and age we no longer know much about there lived a man whose name was Job, known by all as good, upright and honourable. He was also wealthy, with huge herds of sheep, camels, oxen and asses. What really brought Job joy were his seven sons and three daughters, for whom he built each a house. His sons and daughters were great friends and would gather at each others houses to have fun and enjoy one another’s company.

One day, whilst his sons and daughters were visiting each other, a messenger came to Job telling him the dreadful news that some robbers had attacked and killed his plowman, taken his oxen and all of his asses.  Whilst he was being informed of this, another messenger came and told him that fire, had come down out of the sky and burned all his sheep. All seven thousand of them!

Job must have been astonished at this bizarre and awful news but imagine his shock when yet another messenger came running to tell him that some Chaldeans had come and taken all his camels too!

            None of these terrible events prepared him though, for the news that the final messenger brought. His seven sons and three daughters had all been killed. A strong wind had shaken the house until it had collapsed around them.

            In the space of one day Job had lost everything. He was in a complete state of shock and grief. When he woke the following morning his whole body covered with sores.  His wife told him that God must have abandoned him, that he should curse God and die. Job sat in the ashes and didn’t want to just die, he wished that he had never been born at all. He had lost all sense of purpose in life and sank into deep despair.

            It wasn’t long before news of Jobs incredible tragedies came to be known to his friends, three of which came to visit him and tried to offer him comfort. But rather than comfort, they became yet another trial. They reprimanded him for having secretly sinned and urged him to confess to them. Job began to wonder, maybe he was being punished, but he couldn’t figure out for what. He began to search for answers to the question, why is this happening to me?

            Job examined his heart and found nothing there that could justify such punishment and treatment from God. In fact, he argued, there are men far worse and ignorant of God who die surrounded by their family, wealth and in great comfort. Sin could not be the reason for all these things happening to him.

            As Job defended himself to his friends he found himself asking deep questions of God, of death and of life. Questions most of us probably ask too when we are going through trying times.

Job’s first question must be the most universal, asked of all people, of all religions, ages, races and situations in life. Why does God allow suffering? How can he be a loving, kind God, if he allows so many bad things to happen? Why does God hate me and love everyone else?

For Job, the answer to this question began with finding the deepest, most immovable part of who he was. In the midst of his trial he found his foundation. He declared ‘Though He slay me, yet will I trust in him…’ Job knew that trials were given to test us. He invited God to prove and test him, he was determine to remain true.

Whenever we are confused and doubts threaten our peace of heart and mind, the starting point to regain that peace is always the same. Nephi taught it when he said. ‘ I know that he loveth his children, nevertheless I do not know the meaning of all things.’

It is not for us to know all things. But the one thing that God does try to tell us over and again, is to believe with our hearts, to simply trust his love. I have learnt from my own experience that when I simply remember that he does love me,  my heart becomes open and ready to be taught. When I have any thoughts other than this, my heart cannot be open, I cannot be taught.

In Jobs account there is no evidence to suggest that Job found any lasting comfort in his knowing this and testifying of it.  His grief and questions continued.

Faced with the prospect of death, Job found himself also asking, what will happen if I do die? Yet again he found spiritual knowledge within him, prepared, ready to answer. He testified to his friends of his belief in the resurrection; ‘though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in the flesh shall I see God.’ Job did not fear death.

It is possible that Job, with everything taken from him and only life left, that he started to re-evaluate his priorities. It is one thing that many trials force us to do. To remember the things that are most important and discard those that demand our attention but do not give lasting happiness.

The next thing Job questioned was God’s justice. He pointed out that there were people who never acknowledge God, worship him or pray to him. They see no profit in doing so and live out their days contentedly, doing no real good and no real bad.

Job knew and recounted that every person shall be rewarded for the life they have lived on this earth and none shall escape in the end. Since Job trusted God and believed in the resurrection, he could also find sense in the eventual meeting out of God’s justice, and his mercy at the last day. He was not deceived by the seeming unfairness of life. God would make it fair on judgement day. Job had the eternal perspective

However, Jobs obedience and the strength of his testimony  did not comfort him. He exclaimed that God was hidden from him. He sought him, but could not find him. God had deserted him. 

Have you ever felt like this? That you were doing all you could that was right and yet still there was not peace. Prayed and not got an answer? I know I have. I felt that I had been obedient, hard working and good, and yet the spirit had completely gone and I couldn’t understand why I felt like I was sinking into a pit of deep despair.

The story in the bible says that Job had to repent before God accepted him. Even though Job was a good and upright man and others called him perfect, the scriptures stated that Job was perfect in his own eyes. He was not perfect in God’s eyes. This has been the same for myself. Job and I, although we knew what was right and did what was right, neither of us were really knew God. I discovered that I wanted to do good because I liked being acknowledged as good, and it flattered my ego to think of myself as such. Job and I needed to be humbled and reminded of exactly who God was, of his power and perfection and our unworthiness.

The fact is that even when we are doing our best we are going to be making a lot of mistakes. Being caught up in good works does not excuse us from the need to repent. In fact it is vital to our efforts that we do listen and repent. We could end up causing as much damage as good.

The poetic language of Elihu, the young man who teaches Job with the spirit, refers to Christ, of there being a ransom paid for us that our souls might be brought back from the pit. In truth there is not one of us that is so good that we do not need the atonement. The very goodness of the righteous can become a liability.

It happened to the Pharisees and Sadducees who were so obedient to the law but failed to recognise the Saviour for who he was. The Saviour cannot save us until we see the peril we are in. The problem with the obedient is that their goodness keeps them from many of the consequences of sin and so don’t feel a need to truly seek him, and come to realise their dependence on Him. Trials, and the humility we need to overcome them, help us see and remember our reliance on Him.

Knowing that tests and trials are to strengthen our faith, doesn’t mean that we automatically HAVE that trust in God. How can we get that trust ? By God proving to US that he is always with us, no matter what. We talk about trials being the test of OUR faith and trust in God, but they are also the creation of our faith and trust. When hard and difficult and challenging times come God asks us to put Him to the test and so discover that He will not let us down. That he WILL keep His promises. He is worthy of our trust.

In our trials we can begin to understand the nature of our Heavenly Father, accept and believe him when he says that he is all knowing, all powerful and will lift us up. When we emerge from a test it is our responsibility to take that reassurance through to the next one, so that we doubt less and conquer a little more. If not, we retake the lesson, and God will keep trying to prove himself to us until we get it.

It would seem that Job learnt this too. His end was greater than his beginning, the Bible records. Blessings DO come after tribulation, but I do not think that the most significant blessings were in the number of camels, sheep, oxen, asses or children Job regained after his trial. The scriptures say that Job SAW God. He came to truly know Him because of his trials. Christ taught… this is LIFE ETERNAL that they might Know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent. Eternal life is the greatest of all the gifts and blessings of God.

In coming to know my Heavenly Father I have realised that God himself has trials to face. Being exalted doesn’t mean you don’t have times of sorrow. After all we, his children, cause him a lot of trouble. Enoch saw him weep for the world before the floods came. Christ wept for Lazarus, just before he rose him from the dead. He suffered for our sins in Gethsemane and on the cross and God the Father felt deep anguish for His Son as he did so. Our God is a God who suffers, and we want to be like him.

            Why then would we want to be as God?

Because God has power over all things, including grief and sorrow. I see God not denying his feelings, but accepting the sorrow and then allowing it to pass. He feels the anguish, but does NOT feel despair. He feels grief, but NOT discouragement, depression or doubt.

He wants us to be like him. Which means that we do not allow ourselves to be a victim to the evil which besets us. We need to sorrow in our hard times without succumbing to the temptation, to doubt or despair, holding on to our faith which enables us to keep His Spirit with us. Which is a spirit of hope, peace, love and also JOY! Yes, it is possible to feel even joy in the middle of turmoil because we do not discard our faith. This is what God wants us to achieve. To become people that no sorrow can overwhelm, no heartache ensnare.

The lesson that Job had to learn was that if we have trust in God then we do not ask ‘why?’ Trust simply doesn’t need to ask. We submit and we accept, and it is in accepting the trial we begin to gain mastery over it. In the scriptures, this reliance and trust in God is often called, ‘rest’, which is reassuring!

 I testify that blessings do come after much tribulation, I know this for myself. The truest and greatest blessings are peace, coming to know my Father in Heaven and a deeper trust in Him and greater strength for future trials that will undoubtedly come.

Monday, 14 October 2013

An 'Ordain Women' Sympathiser... but not quite.

I can’t remember exactly how old I was when I realized that I was not going to be passing the sacrament when I turned 12. I was less than eight years old. Before then I had, for many sacrament meetings acted out in my mind how I would be so reverent and so organised in the way the trays would be passed. Then one Sunday I suddenly, quietly realised that girls didn’t do this and I was stuck by a feeling of deep regret and rejection.

Growing up in a strong LDS household I often had Personal Priesthood Interviews on Sundays with my father. During these interviews I would voice a lot of my apprehension, dislike and sense of injustice regarding women’s roles in the church and the world. My Dad was very wise, he admitted to now knowing all the reasons and led me to realise that the giving of the priesthood to men was God’s design, not mans.

I knew that the design of His church was in accordance with the design of God’s Eternal Plan of Happiness. If I  had a bone to pick about only men holding the priesthood I needed to take my argument up with HIM.

My questions led to very frank, perhaps even abusive prayers to God. I really didn’t trust him, or even like him sometimes. I made these feelings very clear to him. I discovered that he was not offended and instead became very well acquainted with feelings of reassurance, comfort and love.

Such a kind reaction from my Father in Heaven was not necessarily appreciated. Sometimes his very kindness felt like a form of manipulation to coerce me into submitting to being a slave to his ‘plan’. I felt trapped. I knew God existed which meant the Devil existed and that one offered happiness and the other misery. Out of the two, I preferred to side with God. But I wasn’t convinced that a God, who was a man, would know what was best for me, a woman.

In the end I decided to follow Gods plan and be obedient until I understood it completely. If I discovered that it stunk, at least then I would know and I could change my mind. I knew that I experienced happiness in my present so figured, well, I can always return to this point, wiser and more satisfied with what I have, for having seen the view from the top of the mountain.

That was me in my youth. Fast forward about 10 years.

I returned from a successful mission and was happy working in the MTC. I had forgotten my rebellious teenage thoughts. Then, one day, all these feelings, fears, questions of my youth suddenly returned, out of the blue. I sat there, fuming at God once more. Then suddenly the thought came to my mind…

‘Helen, I thought you had found the answer to these concerns.’

I stopped mid thought and realised, yes, I had. But what then, had been the answer?

It was then that I realised I had learnt it on my mission and it centred in my new understanding of the Atonement. The answer, for me, was this…

‘There is no way Christ would have gone through what he did if it were not going to make you happy.’

There are things that I have now learnt and am still learning about why God ordains men and not women to hold the priesthood. But what I have learnt is that every answer has to begin with this one, unshakeable, never to be questioned truth.

God loves us.

It is not the full answer to the question of why God ordains men and not women but to find those answers you have to begin from that point.

All of God’s acts are ones of love. That women should not hold the priesthood is an act of love. It is for us to figure out how it is a loving act. In the process we will come to know and understand God and ourselves better, and the nature of love.

When I read and learnt about the Ordain Women movement I smiled to myself because I could see myself standing with them and among them. The points that they make on their website are familiar and I can empathise with them. I do believe that they are good women. I can see in them the same strong desire to love, serve and be close to God that I have. I love and admire them for it. Yet in that same goodness lies the trap.

It is so incredibly easy to want the wrong thing for all the right reasons!

I want to offer my own personal AMEN! to everything that Elder Christofferson spoke of in last conference talk. I felt his love and Heavenly Fathers love in it. I know the truth of what he spoke.

Equality happens when men and women learn to listen to one another, to cherish and respect one another and to work effectively together. Ordaining women to the priesthood will not be a quick fix to gaining that kind of equality. It can only be gained by hard work and serious introspection.

I have sat in some ward councils and if there has been any inequality, I realise now it was because I did not fully engage with the task at hand. I allowed myself to sit back and wish I was somewhere else. I had the opportunity to be a part of the decision making in my ward, but too frequently I do not fully realise my responsibility and the priesthood in my ward was weaker as a result.

In contrast I can think of other Relief Society Presidents who I have felt completely shaping and guiding my ward with incredible authority. They would be no more powerful and influential and heard if they HAD been ordained to the priesthood. These sisters certainly had a say in how the ward budget was spent on activities, welfare and other things.

I have felt the power of ordinances bestowed upon me. I have exercised my faith in prayer when blessings were needed and felt no less blessed for being the receiver than the giver. Faith is the universal key to the effectiveness of any blessing.

I have seen men and women working together in the Priesthood in a beautiful and wonderfully equal way. The example that comes to mind most forcefully is that of my mission President and his wife.

They served their Mission in complete unity and power. At Zone conferences we would be addressed by both of them and she was a powerful speaker! In fact, if I wanted to I would call her a Priestess, but that could be confusing. It might lead people to think that she HAS been ordained when she hasn’t. That would be misleading!

Whenever interviews came around we would take turns in being interviewed by the President and his wife. They said that they knew that some missionaries in the mission felt a closer tie to the President, and others to his wife. There was no jealousy between them, you just knew that between the two of them they could touch more lives, reach out to more people. They were a great team.

I saw a woman holding the priesthood right there. She held it in her arms as she magnified his priesthood just as he did when he would put his arm around her and tell us all how amazing she was.

Perhaps there does need to be some change in the church to teach us more about the equality of men and women. I have wondered if more could be learnt by the membership of the church if we were able to know better the wives of the Apostles, the husbands of the Auxillary Presidents. I think of how much I learnt from Sister Hinckley who was such an influential presence when President Hinckley was alive. I wonder if we could all learn more about successful marriages and partnerships and equality by the examples of the Brethren, the Sisters and their wives and husbands. I have certainly been inspired by Elder Scotts stories of his late wife, Janine.

But as for being Ordained to the Priesthood. I, a one time sympathiser for such a cause, am no more. I know that God’s love is in complete evidence in the design of His church if we simply have the eyes to see and the hearts to understand.

Monday, 24 December 2012

If Christ Came at Christmas

Christmas. Whatever its pagan roots might have been, there is no doubting that there was a good and grand design in the creation of this Holy Day. It guaranteed that even the most decided atheist or rebellious sinner is reminded, once a year, of that name, Christ. And with that name the idea that in the darkest, coldest hours there is hope, love and assurance. He waits for them to reach out to Him.

For those of us who seek to always remember Christ, this season is more than a party. We come to this chapel each week to witness to our Heavenly Father not just our yearly remembrance of him, but our weekly, daily, hourly remembering of Him. We know of His sacrifice, what he accomplished, not just in this earth life, but in the pre-earth life and after his death.

In the words of Neal A. Maxwell, we know that He is,

"utterly incomparable in what He knows, what He has accomplished, and what He has experienced. Yet movingly He calls us His friends." That, "we can trust, worship and even adore him without any reservation! As the Perfect Person to sojourn on this Planet, there is  none like Him!"

For us, His disciples, Christmas is a time for us to remember the redeeming love we have felt and ask the question that Alma, the Book of Mormon prophet asked,

"if ye have experienced a change of heart, and if ye have felt to sing the song of redeeming love, I would ask, can ye feel so now?"

Can I feel so now? How do I lift Christmas above the regular daily, weekly, monthly worship?  Where do we find Christ at Christmas?

An interesting question; "where would I find Christ at Christmas?" If I were to answer that question literally, what would be the answer? If Christ came to our City of Preston this Christmas, where would he go? what would he do?

In preparation for this talk I decided to read through the Gospels once again to see if I could find clues to how He would plan His time when all the world celebrated His own birth.

The following are some of my suggestions of what Jesus’ schedule might include, providing scriptural reasons for my choices.

In 3 Nephi 11 Christ began His visit to the people of the Americas at the Temple in Bountiful. The people there did not know he was coming. But they were in the right place at the right time and as a result were blessed to hear the Father's voice from Heaven proclaiming His Son,

"Behold, My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased, in whom I have glorified my name - hear ye Him!"
And Christ would speak, saying as he did then,

"Behold, I am Jesus Christ, whom the prophets testified shall come into the world. And behold, I am the alight and the life of the world; and I have drunk out of that bitter bcup which the Father hath given me, and have glorified the Father in taking upon me the sins of the world, in the which I have suffered the will of the Father in all things from the beginning."
What would have been the chances of you being at the Temple that Christmas Eve when Christ would come, unannounced, unexpected? I am sure that the spirit would have prompted us. Would we have listened?

If you were one of those present at the time he arrived you would have been there before the crowds. He would have been so completely available to you, to speak with, to touch His hands, kiss His feet and wipe away tears of joy. He would have given instruction and counsel to be taken and shared with all those who love Him, but might not have been there at that moment.

So where would I find Christ at Christmas? Firstly, at the Temple.

            The next thing I imagine Christ doing is gathering His missionaries around him. A great, endowed, spiritual power rests with the full time missionaries. It comes because of the sacrifices they have made. Not so much the sacrifice of leaving family, friends and life behind, but rather in the far greater sacrifice of a disciplined daily life. It is their commitment to daily obedience to high ideals of living, to study the gospel every day, to look first to the welfare of others before themselves and to not take in any worldly influences and distractions. Principles we could all live up to, whether serving a full time mission or not.

            Whenever modern day apostles visit a country they always ask for the missionaries to be gathered, separate from the members, for them to meet and speak to. In the Provo MYC at Christmas, one apostle and his family will visit the Missionaries there and celebrate Christmas with them. I feel sure that this is not just to strengthen the missionaries themselves, but the apostles themselves feel the inspiration of these dedicated people.

            Being with missionaries who have dedicated themselves fully to their work is an inspiring place to be. I think of the many Christmas Day’s we have had the missionaries in our home, and how much we have missed them on the years they did not come. I can truly testify that, if you want the Spirit of Christ in your home, look no further than the missionaries. Having them in your home is to invite Christ within.

            In Mark 10:13-16 we read,

            “And they brought young children to him, that he should touch them: and his disciples rebuked those that brought them.
            But when Jesus saw it, he was much displeased, and said unto them, Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God.
            Verily I say unto you, Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not enter therein.
            And he took them up in his arms, put his hands upon them, and blessed them.”

            With the added knowledge of how Jesus blessed the children of the ancient Americas we can have no doubt that Christ would spend time with all the children at Christmas, and He would want it to be a good, long time. Playing with them, blessing them, answering their questions, talking to them, just being with them.

            How do we bring our children to Christ at Christmas? Are they interested more in toys and games? Do we allow them, and show them how to me blessed by His love for them?

            Whilst reading the Gospels I noted how much time Jesus spent in the wilderness.  In Mark 1:35 it reads,

            “And in the morning, rising up a great while before the day, he went our and departed  into a solitary place, and there prayed.”

            Sometimes Christ took others with him as he does in chapter 6: 31, 32.

            “And he said unto them, Come ye yourselves apart into a desert place, and rest a while: for there were many coming and going, and they had no leisure so much as to eat. And they departed into a desert place by ship privately.”

            Clearly there needed to be time away from the demands and the hustle and bustle for Christ and his disciples to pray, ponder and rejuvenate themselves. In the hustle and bustle of our Christmas comings and goings, will we determine to find a solitary place to pray, to tune ourselves into the spirit and quietly ponder and remember the feeling of love for the season? Perhaps we will find Christ in such a place, in the natural world, His marvelous creation, a wilderness of our own making and discovery.

            Throughout His mortal ministry Jesus was continually among the sick and afflicted. It is interesting to note that most of the time they were brought to him by others, family and friends, to be healed. The question I now find myself asking is;

            “Who would I bring to be healed?”

            In the past four months I have worked with the mentally and physically disabled, the neglected, elderly and homeless. At times I have found myself remembering this account in Mark 9.

            And one of the multitude answered and said, Master, I have brought unto thee my son, which hath a dumb spirit;

            And wheresoever he taketh him, he teareth him: and he foameth, and gnasheth with his teeth, and pineth away: and I spake to thy disciples that they should cast him out; and they could not.

            He answereth him, and saith, O faithless generation, how long shall I be with you? how long shall I suffer you? bring him unto me.

            And they brought him unto him: and when he saw him, straightway the spirit tare him; and he fell on the ground, and wallowed foaming.

            And he asked his father, How long is it ago since this came unto him? And he said, Of a child.

            And oft times it hath cast him into the fire, and into the waters, to destroy him: but if thou canst do any thing, have compassion on us, and help us.

            Jesus said unto him, If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth.

            And straightway the father of the child cried out, and said with tears, Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.

            When Jesus saw that the people came running together, he rebuked the foul spirit, saying unto him, Thou dumb and deaf spirit, I charge thee, come out of him, and enter no more into him.

            And the spirit cried, and rent him sore, and came out of him: and he was as one dead; insomuch that many said, He is dead.

            But Jesus took him by the hand, and lifted him up; and he arose.

            Perhaps this story come to mind mostly when I have spent time with those who are severely autistic as it sounds so familiar to some that I have encountered. I have realized though, as I spend time with them that this is where Jesus would be, healing these people.

            I am reminded of the man at the Pool in Bethesda being told to rise up, take his bed and walk. Of the blind receiving their sight. I have met so many who are sick, or poor, or ignorant of their true potential as sons and daughters of a loving God. People who would, I believe, if born into different circumstances would not live as they do now.

            As I ponder this question, ‘who would I bring to Christ at Christmas’, I begin remembering some of the times in the past months, experiences I have had with the people I have worked with and met.

            In a dementia unit I assisted a dear lady to get ready for bed. To help her off with her slippers I found myself kneeling at her feet and realized that I was kneeling as Christ must have done, at the feet of His disciples as he washed them. I felt a deep reverence for the lady I was helping and a great love for her as I wished her good night. Pondering that experience I have concluded that ordinary acts can become holy and meaningful simply by remembering Christ as we do them.

            Then there was the game of chess I played with a man in the homeless shelter. He didn’t smoke, drink or do drugs. He had studied art and showed me some of his beautiful work, but he was very humble about. I shared with him the idea of a pre-existence and the idea that God is literally the Father of our spirits. That we are here on this earth to become like him. I know that these thoughts have begun to take root in his heart, because he told me so the next time I saw him.

            One young lad I met in accommodation for young people at risk of homelessness. He was one of those loud, foul mouthed and violent eyed youths you walk on the other side of the road to avoid. Once he stopped swearing and blustering for a brief moment and, noticing me said, something like,

            ‘you must think I’m a right ….., always moaning and swearing whenever you are around.’ With a smile, hiding the nervousness for how he might take my response I said,


            He laughed and we ended up having a good conversation. I told him that I could see that his anger came from the frustration of feeling that life was not supposed to be like this. That he felt he was capable of great things, but life just wasn’t giving him the chance to prove it. He looked a bit stunned and didn’t say anything after that, until his mates turned up and  he yelled at them about 'being careful of that woman, she can see right through you'. He turned out to be a polite and pleasant young man.

            Just this past week I went carol singing with friends in Preston town centre. I can’t say that I know we brought anyone closer to Christ. However it ended up that we didn’t want to leave, didn’t want to stop singing, though our voices were dying and it was cold and wet.  We didn’t want to leave because we had caught a hold of a feeling we didn’t want to let go of. The spirit of Christ.

            We need to bring people to Christ, but the success of our efforts is not always the most important outcome. The most interesting thing about at least making the attempt is that you end up bringing yourself to Christ.

            In Matthew 25 Jesus taught,

When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory:

And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats:

And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left.

Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:

For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in:
Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.

            Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink?

            When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee?

            Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?

            And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.

            It has been odd, growing older with no family of my own, while my younger brothers and sisters have married and now have their own families. I am both part of them and not, which has often meant feeling displaced at Christmas, and the season has actually lost a lot of its excitement.

            However, two Christmas’ ago I decided to be part of a charitable opportunity in London which happens every year, called ‘Crisis at Christmas’. For about ten days over the Christmas season, four centers around London take in the homeless, or those that were once, or who are lonely, and invite them to have good food, new clothes, to get washed and cleaned, a hair cut, to see the dentist and doctor, mix with volunteers, listen to live music and actually celebrate Christmas. I took part and did an afternoon shift on Christmas day.

            I can’t say that I did anything particularly brilliant or had any grand emotional experience. I had a few interesting conversations with people who had once been homeless. But I did discover a new ‘Christmassy feeling’.

            This feeling was nothing like the childish excitement I remember feeling and believe a lot of adults long to return to and try to relive through their children and grand children. It was a very quiet and feeling I had to ponder on for a while before I could realize what it was.

            I am sure you have felt that feeling of anti-climax and the end of Christmas Day. So many people have told me they prefer Christmas Eve because of the anticipation that comes with it, rather that the feeling of ‘well that’s another Christmas done with’ that comes at the end of Christmas Day.

            The feeling I had at the end of that Christmas was the complete absence of anticlimax, replaced with a sense of satisfaction, wholeness and completeness. It wasn’t a strong, overwhelming, emotional feeling. In fact I could have missed it. It felt good, I felt satisfied.

            So what is my conclusion?

            If you have found yourself less excited about Christmas than you would like to be, maybe you need to consider changing the way you celebrate it. Maybe only in small ways, maybe in large sacrifices. But examing how we celebrate Christmas may well lead us to examine how we can better live our lives as true disciples of Christ. It may mean judging others less, having Christ in our thoughts more, or spending less time with good things and more with the very best of things.

            I know that for myself, the words in Matthew are true. As I have begun to seek to serve more, rather than to indulge my appetites, I have discovered myself closer to Christ, walking beside Him, with more of His comfort in my heart.

Sunday, 8 July 2012

Olympic Flame!

I have been waiting for this next adventure for seven years. 

The news that London had one the Olympic bid came to me about two days late since I was in Guatemala at that time, and I hadn't been to the one small internet cafe in San Andres for a few days. In fact, I learnt about the London bombings first from locals who told me about it. I went online to learn more and thus discovered the older news of the won bid. I admit, the horror of the bombings didn't quite hit home, for which I have always felt a little guilty.

The then Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, got it right when he spoke after the attack about the Olympics coming here to this city being a symbol of that reality, that differing ideals and peoples can live in harmony in one place.

 I love London, I love England, I love the Olympic games with a determined defiance of all the cynical opinions that are attracted to it like mosquitoes to a very bright, sun lit flame. May they all be burned!!! Humanity is not perfect, yes, we all know that, very clever of those who like to make a living pointing that out. But our potential... that's what it points towards. What we could, should, and have to believe we shall, one day be, a human race united, celebrating our love for one another across all divides.

So, since there was little chance of my becoming a world champion archer in seven years (yes, I actually looked into it as my only option for competing), the next best option was to be a volunteer. So, as soon as they asked for people to signal their interest online, I did so.

For seven years the only response I ever got was emails saying... 'we haven't forgotten about you'. My parents were called for interviews in Manchester, but I wasn't. I went to America with the very real worry that I would be called for interview whilst there and so miss out. But thankfully that was one sacrifice I was not asked to make.

It wasn't until April this year that I got an email with an apology for not being given a chance to be interviewed and then a query as to my further interest in being involved. Of course I hit YES!

And so I then received my assignment as an NOC Assistant and Driver at the Rowing and Canoeing Village at the Royal Holloway University. Driver training followed, then uniform issue, which was fun, venue training and then my assignment to ...


How randomly exciting is that!

So I have been trying to find out more about Lativa. I now know its flag, but can't find out much about the rowing team. I will meet my chief de mission on Thursday for the first time, and then... who knows what they will have be doing! But I shall be proud to be cheering on Latvia, since I love supporting an underdog, and England is definitely not the underdog in the rowing! 

The wait is nearly over, the flame is nearing its throne. Its going to be great!