blind monkeyDo you sometimes wish you could ‘unsee’ things? Do you wish that you could delete what you have seen in the same way that you can delete the viewing history in a browser?

As a boy I remember stumbling (!) across a small stash of items in the bottom of my parents’ wardrobe that were clearly intended to be Christmas presents. I was excited to have found them but later wished I hadn’t as it spoilt the surprise on the day.

After watching an emotion-wrenching and draining television programme a friend of mine commented that they wished they could unsee it. I saw the same programme and can empathise with that feeling.

Perhaps you were sent a letter or an email and, after reading it, you wish you hadn’t and could delete the memory of it from your brain.

At the heart of these things we often find an emotional response has become associated with the memory and when we recall the memory we recall and relive the emotion which makes the memory more difficult to cope with. I am sure psychologists and counsellors would help with the particularly traumatic ones, but what about all of the smaller things that you wish you could unsee? We can’t get therapy for everything!

In time (probably) the impact of the emotional reflex will diminish as the significance of the event fades. It may help to talk about it with someone who knows you well and whom you trust – asking them to help you get a fresh perspective on things.

But we can also use those things to help us to learn and grow as individuals:

I learnt that the joy of finding presents before they are given diminishes the excitement and surprise of receiving them and didn’t go rummaging stumbling in my parents’ wardrobe again.

My friend could decide not to watch any more of the programmes in that series, or perhaps to watch them at a time when they have the space and company to help them process what they saw.

Your memory of how you felt when reading that letter or email can help you think about the impact of messages you send and perhaps soften the approach.

You see what I mean?

This is not ground-breaking therapeutic news. We learn and grow by experience. It’s what people have been doing with ‘stuff’ since Thag got tummy ache after eating some dodgy berries.

But in our multimedia internet-dependent world do we sometimes forget to do the learning and growing as we click and tap from experience to experience? By reacting and splurging on social media almost as these things happen to us we may fail to give ourselves the space to process, reflect and think before responding.

Psalm 27 is attributed to David – the shepherd boy who became Israel’s most successful king. It’s clearly written at a time when he was under threat. He had taken the time to pause, reflect and respond to what was happening – perhaps writing the psalm was an ancient form of blogging – and these reflections led him to these gentle, final words: “Wait for the Lordbe strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.”

David had clearly learnt that rushing in with a response is not always the best way ahead, and to wait for God’s timing is best.

That’s something I hope I never forget and don’t want to unsee!

Be blessed, be a blessing



memories are made for these

Remember 1At this season of remembrance I pondered why it is that God made us with memory. Why did he create us with the ability to remember things, people, events, PIN codes and passwords (sometimes)?

As I pondered I realised that memory is an astonishing gift:

  • Good things that have happened in the past continue to bless us and cause us to smile as we remember them. The moment of happiness is extended in time and the joy is magnified.
  • Important people remain with us in our memories, even after we have lost contact with them or if they have died. The impact that people have had on us, the love we have experienced and shared, the life we have shared with them continues.
  • We don’t need to repeat our mistakes. If we didn’t remember we might find ourselves constantly doing the same things wrong or injuring ourselves. Memories of failure can haunt us and guilt can shackle us, but we can also use them to guide us so we have more chance of avoiding doing them again.
  • We have hope for the present and the future. The Bible is full of encouragements for God’s people to remember – remember God’s goodness, graciousness, faithfulness and love in the past. When the times are tough and we find it more difficult to sense God’s presence or aren’t sure what he’s up to we can remember how he was there for us in the past and be reassured that he’s with us now and will be no matter what. That is one reason why it is wonderful to have Bibles – we can read of God’s faithfulness to others and be encouraged about his faithfulness to us.
  • It draws us closer to God. Jesus told his friends to eat bread and drink wine ‘in remembrance of me’. I find that the occasions when I share bread and wine with other believers are special. They don’t just draw us together but they draw us closer to Jesus as we remember the depths of his love for us.

There’s a lot more to be said about memory, but let me leave you with this thought (and a cheesy joke warning beyond the blessing which you may want to avoid if you are being led into a special place with God right now). Whatever emotions are evoked by your memories, God is there with you. He is in the happiness and the sadness. He is in the laughter and tears. He is in the celebration and regret. He gave us memory and inhabits the memories.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

A loving couple were celebrating their Wedding Anniversary with friends. The husband was talking with his friends, and one of them asked him how long they had been married. The husband thought for a while and then leant over to his closest friend.

“What’s that sort of flower that has prickles on the stem, comes in different colours and you give red ones on Valentine’s Day?” he whispered.

“A rose?” suggested his friend.

“That’s right!” the husband beamed. He called out, “Rose, how long have we been married now?”

tick tick tick

No, the blog title doesn’t refer to how my teachers used to mark my work at school.

Today is a significant landmark in our family. It is the final formal moment in our son’s Secondary education. Other than collecting his A Level results next month he won’t be going back. Today is Speech Day, and he will be receiving two subject prizes (turn proud parent mode to maximum). As I thought about this today I was reminded of the famous passage in Ecclesiastes:

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance, a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain, a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away, a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak, a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace.
(Ecc 3:1-8)

Perhaps there should also be ‘a time to finish’ and ‘a time to start something new’ in there too. I think that because it is such an evocative passage many people have heard of it (the Byrds’ song based on it does help keep it in our consciousness).

I remember hearing a sermon on this passage many years ago (I think I was a teenager) and the preacher said that while we can take this and get all poetic and sentimental about it, you can also look at it as describing the relentless, driving passage of time. If you imagine a metronome ticking away in the background it takes on a different perspective. Life just keeps coming at us and there’s nothing we can do about it. Time keeps passing and there’s nothing we can do about it.

Except that we can mark time. Not in the way that marching soldiers do, but we can mark the moments. I think it is great that there is a Speech Day to conclude our son’s time at school and that he has been awarded some prizes. It makes it memorable.

And for me that’s the key. Memorable moments mark time. It doesn’t have to be spectacular or impressive, but writing in the margin of your Bible when God speaks to you through a passage, writing a prayer journal or even a blog all help to record memories to which you can refer later and give thanks to God as you remember. Many times in the Old Testament the people of God were urged to remember the narratives of how God had been with them in the past so they could gain courage and strength in the present and assurance and hope to face the future.

If you don’t have your own memorable moments with God yet, read the Bible and borrow some of his. You may well find that some start for you as you do.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

A man was due to receive an award at a ceremony and it was dragging on and on so that by the time he was presented with the award it was very late and he sensed that people were restless. He stood up to give an acceptance speech.

“I have two speeches tonight,” he said, “a long one and a short one. In view of the lateness of the hour I will give you the short one.”

There was an appreciative ripple of applause.

“Thank you,” said the award winner, and sat down.

The master of ceremonies was a bit taken aback and insisted that the man to give the longer speech as well.

Reluctantly the man rose to his feet again to give the longer speech.

“Thank you very much,” he said, and sat down again to tumultuous applause.

lost thoughts

Don’t you hate it when you have a good idea or profound thought as you are dropping off to sleep and can’t remember it the next day when you wake up? I have a pad of paper and a pen next to my bed for just such an eventuality. It also helps me to write things down that are buzzing around in my head preventing me from sleeping. I know that I will be able to address them tomorrow because they are written down and can then relax about them.

The system works well. Except when I have reached the point of no return when dropping off. Last night I know I had a brilliant* idea as I was dropping off and I know I thought about writing it down but sensed my body saying, “Don’t you dare, you’re about to be asleep!” and ignored the thought. It’s now floating around in my brain – unlabelled, unfiled and inaccessible.

What happens to those thoughts? Thankfully one or two of them manage to fight their way back into my consciousness and are logged and processed. In fact… [trumpet fanfare] last night’s thought has just done exactly that! Hooray! It was an illustration for a service I am taking in a couple of Sundays’ time in Horsham. I now have to evaluate it, having written it down on a pad so I don’t lose it again and you will have to come to that service to see whether or not it was as good as I thought it was.

But lots of them never surface again. They are lost forever. Do they have an expiry date and simply *poof*disappear from inside my brain after a designated period of time? Or do they remain inside my head, enjoying a nomadic existence that never settles anywhere? Or is there a part of my brain that is a home for orphaned thoughts? If it’s the latter, wouldn’t it be amazing to be able to access that part of the brain and discover them all?

I sense that some of you are having a very conscious thought right now… where on earth is he going with all of this?

I wasn’t sure when I started (if I am honest) but reflecting on the above has reminded me of these somewhat enigmatic words at the end of John’s gospel: “Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.” (John 21:25)

What we have in the gospels are the things that Jesus said and did which the Holy Spirit considered important for us to know. They are the things he brought to the minds of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John to tell us about Jesus. If there are so many other things, and these are the important ones, doesn’t that elevate their significance somewhat? I think I will treat them with even greater reverence as a result of that reflection.

On Sunday morning I am speaking about the Last Supper and I have just realised (d’oh!) that Jesus said, “Do this in remembrance of me…” not “Do this to remember the things I said and did.” Our focus should be first and foremost on him, as revealed to us in the Bible. So what is it about Jesus that the Spirit is bringing to your mind right now? It’s important, whatever it is!

An elderly husband and wife noticed that they were beginning to forget many little things around the house. They were afraid that this could be dangerous, as one of them may accidentally forget to turn off the stove and thus cause a fire. So, they decided to go see their doctor to get some help. Their physician told them that many people their age find it useful to write themselves little notes as reminders. The elderly couple thought this sounded wonderful, and left the doctor’s office very pleased with the advice.

When they got home, the wife said, “Honey, will you please go to the kitchen and get me a dish of ice cream? And why don’t you write that down so you won’t forget?”

“Nonsense,” said the husband, “I can remember a dish of ice cream!”

“Well,” said the wife, “I’d also like some strawberries on it. You better write that down, because I know you’ll forget.”

“Don’t be silly,” replied the husband. “A dish of ice cream and some strawberries. I can remember that!”

“OK, dear, but I’d like you to put some whipped cream on top. Now you’d really better write it down now. You’ll forget,” said the wife.

“Come now, my memory’s not all that bad,” said the husband. “No problem, a dish of ice cream with strawberries and whipped cream.”

With that, the husband shut the kitchen door behind him. The wife could hear him getting out pots and pans, and making some noise inconsistent with his preparing a dish of ice cream, strawberries, and whipped cream. He emerged from the kitchen about 15 minutes later.

Walking over to his wife, he presented her with a plate of bacon and eggs. The wife took one look at the plate, glanced up at her husband and said, “Hey, where’s the toast?”

*It seemed brilliant at the time, but that perception may not be entirely reliable given the dopey nature of my condition at the time.

Of printers and prayers

Following the Pob speculation yesterday I feel the need to come back to something vaguely representing normality. I have just realised that my printer is almost out of paper and I have none with which to replenish it. You can’t get much more normal and mundane than that! The printer in my study is networked to the different computers at home and so has to cope with demands for printed output from a number of sources. It’s quite clever really (thankfully it set itself up while I followed the instructions) and means we only need one printer for the family.

For any of you still reading and not having given up because of the banality of the previous paragraph, here’s some more. As I put the last few sheets of paper into the printer I thought to myself, “I must go and get some more paper tomorrow.” That was yesterday. So far today I have not remembered to buy paper when I have been anywhere near a paper-selling emporium.

I am aware that I often have good intentions – I must phone so and so, I need to visit X (X representing a person, not where the spot is marked), I ought to do such and such… But translating those intentions into reality is sometimes even less successful than my printer paper replenishment processes. One of my greatest failures to translate good intentions into reality is in the area of praying for people. I say that I will pray for someone and then (to my shame) forget or do not pray as often as I should.

My solution is to associate different places and objects with different people. When I am driving around the town I try to remember who lives where and offer a prayer for them as I drive past their house or near their road. (I don’t close my eyes as I pray at those times!) I try to remember people’s occupations and offer a prayer for them when I see someone in that occupation or a business similar to where they work. Or I might see an object that I associate with someone’s needs and that reminds me to pray for them.

I do have lists on my desk that I use to remind me to pray for people as well, while I am quietly reflecting and praying, but I have found that it is best when God prompts me about people to pray for them there and then rather than wait until a special time later. That has the added benefits of punctuating my day with prayer and keeping my relationship with God more vibrant.

Prayer-related jokes:
They have Dial-a-Prayer for atheists now.
You call up and it rings and rings but nobody answers.

A 4-year-old boy who was asked to say a prayer of thanks before Christmas dinner.
The family members bowed their heads in expectation. He began his prayer, thanking God for all his friends, naming them one by one. Then he thanked God for Mummy, Daddy, brother, sister, Grandma, Grandpa, and all his aunts and uncles. Then he began to thank God for the food.

He gave thanks for the turkey, the dressing, the roast potatoes, the peas, the carrots, the parsnips, the sausages, the bread sauce, the gravy, the cranberry sauce, the stuffing, the Christmas Pudding, the custard and even the cream.

Then he paused, and everyone waited

and waited.

After a long silence, the lad looked up at his mother and asked,
“If I thank God for the brussels sprouts, won’t he know that I’m lying?

A young boy called me recently to ask me to come by to pray for his mother who had been very ill with the flu.

I knew the family and was aware they go to another church in Colchester. I asked him, “Shouldn’t you be asking your own Minister to come by to pray with your mum?”

“I suppose so,” the boy admitted. “But we didn’t want to take the risk that he might catch whatever Mum has got.”

what goes on in your head in the night?

Yesterday I had a really good idea for a blog entry. Or at least I thought it was a good idea. Today I can’t remember anything about it, except that it seemed like a good idea. It’s so frustrating. It’s as if during my night’s sleep the internal white board on which I write the important stuff I want to remember gets all smudged so that it is illegible in the morning.

At the same time I found myself awake at 5.21 this morning (I looked at my clock) with my mind rehearsing lots of the things I am going to do today. Why couldn’t it wait? Why did my brain decide that 5.21 in the morning was a good time to go through the day and wake me up in order to do it? Someone needs to tell my brain that if I have a good night’s sleep I am more likely to be able to cope with the day than if I have been awake half the night thinking about it.

I quite like the theory that dreams during sleep (as opposed to daydreams or aspirations) are when the brain does all the filing of things that are important in your life. That makes sense (until I start to think about some of the dreams I have had!). It helps explain why some dreams seem to have meaning. It also provides an opportunity for God to put some new files into our lives for us to file in the ‘woaah’ or ‘really?!’ section. Just ask Joseph (of technicolored dreamcoat fame).

I have only had a few dreams that I felt had direct meaning for my life. The most dramatic was when my family was on a boating holiday on the Norfolk Broads. I was only four (I think) but had a vivid dream in which I could see my teddy bear floating down one of the Broads. I shouted out “My teddy’s floating!”

This woke my mother who thought, “He’s thrown his teddy overboard!”

She jumped out of bed to come and see the problem…

…into water that came up to her knees. The boat was sinking. My teddy and my dream had saved us all from drowning in our sleep (I may be exaggerating the danger levels for dramatic effect). I have often wondered whether that dream was a message from God. On its own it was a weird dream. In that context it was exactly what we needed to hear. The same seems to be true in my life of lots of other occasions when God has spoken to me – through other people, through circumstances, through passages in the Bible. On their own they are insignificant or strange. But in that context they are just what I needed to hear. I guess I need to make sure I am always listening.

String of pearls 4After she woke up, a woman told her husband, “I just dreamed that you gave me a pearl necklace for Valentine’s day. What do you think it means?”

“You’ll know tonight.” he said.

That evening, the man came home with a small package and gave it to his wife. Delighted, she opened it to find a book entitled “The Meaning of Dreams”