Sunday, November 12, 2017

Me Before You

Here am I naked before You
Without the make-up to conceal the defects
Without the mask to cover the flaws
Nothing to hide

Here am I silent before You
No feeble excuses to explain my failures
No vain boasts to embellish my achievements
Nothing to say

Here am I laying before You
My dented armour and battle worn shield
My songs of triumph and every golden crown
Nothing to prove

Here am I reminded before You
That Your sacrifice once for all time
Was always sufficient to secure my redemption
Nothing to add

Here I stand receiving from You
Transformation from glory to glory
Expressing Your likeness, revealing Your image
Everything being made new

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Horses For Causes

I have a guest writer! He is a horse with a cause and a love of carrots.

“Hi, my name is Dillon, not so much a horse for a cause, at only 13.1 hands high I am more a pony with a purpose.

I have been at Soar Valley Western Stables since I was 2 years old, boy did I have some issues. I trusted no one. Someone tethered me as a foal so as I grew, the head collar I had on at the time didn’t so I now have scars around my head. Do you think after that I was going to let any one touch my face!
Sharon and Malc have been kind, considerate and patient. They helped me overcome my fear and pain. Now I repay that kindness along with the others in the herd to help people of all ages, of all abilities and disabilities to feel good about themselves.
Our work is not hard, we are fed, groomed and looked after in a way that's maybe alien to other horses. Whilst I live in a natural as possible environment, we are cared for and so loved by all our visitors. Some of our visitors do not speak, they make funny noises and they make strange hand gestures but because I trust Sharon and Malc, I know that they will not let any harm come to me.
My job is to stand and be groomed (you cannot beat a plastic curry comb over a rough winter coat!) and to walk with people to build their confidence. Horses look to humans for leadership (they think that they are taking the lead but I know different), for children I will happily let them ride me. I am multi skilled and from the amount of treats (usually carrots) I am much appreciated.
Whilst I am one of twelve equine delights, I must give a mention to the canine members of the team. Red the dog is always around to wag his tail and again make everyone relax. He had a very rough start in life and like me was cruelly treated as a youngster. For people who have serious anxiety problems, Red will sit down at their side and demand attention. His calm but clown like behaviour makes everyone laugh and installs confidence and trust. His friend Mae joined the family two years later, she also loves to be fussed.
We know our job and we do it well, please visit the web site catch up with Horses for Causes on Facebook, on you tube Horses for Causes Equine Assisted Therapy, you can see us all acting as horses do, otherwise contact Sharon on 0775 3639228 or Malc on 07710 386498, we all look forward to meeting you.”



Wednesday, November 08, 2017

Saint Mel

“I saw your wife last night…”

We are not talking about a clandestine meeting in some seedy motel.  I was seen at St Mary’s Roman Catholic Church at their All Saints Day Mass. I had been invited by a young friend of mine who was playing the organ. All Saints Day is about remembering all the lesser known saints that don’t have their own special day. The day after, All Souls Day, is for the rest of us who never became official saints, although technically, according to the Bible, we are all saints.

My friend asked me today whether I had enjoyed the service. I had to admit that I thought they over-did the incense wafting. I looked up at one point to a hazy view of what was happening at the front of the church. My friend said he would pass on my comment.

“I didn’t see you there.”

The conversation continued at my husband’s workplace.  I was there, he wasn’t and some kind of explanation was required.

Quick as anything my husband had his answer ready. His name being Joseph, he had an assigned saint’s day, March 19th, Joseph being Jesus’ dad. Come March 19th Joe would be attending mass. All Saint’s day – that was for the unknowns. Mel, he said, didn’t have a proper saint anyway.

Every so often the world goes name crazy. Coke bottles have a name – even really obscure ones like Horatio – but they never have Mel or Melanie. Candle holders, bedroom door signs, foldaway carrier bags, mugs, cards, “Do Not Disturb” signs, pens, pencils, coasters – and all manner of personalised things don’t come with a Melanie label. It would come as no surprise that there are no Mel saints either.

Except that there is one!

The man went away back to his desk. He might have had proper work to do but he googled “St Mel. He tracked Joe down just minutes later waving a sheet of printed paper.

There was a St Mel. Not a St Melanie. Wrong sex altogether but I’m not fussy.

St Mel has connections with the saints’ big names – St Patrick – he who banished snakes from Ireland.  Mel was his nephew and one of his companions who helped to evangelise Ireland. He didn’t have his own place until Patrick built a church at Ardagh and appointed Mel as the bishop.

“Acting upon the apostolic precept, he supported himself by working with his hands, and what he gained beyond bare necessities, he gave to the poor.”

That’s not a bad example for another Mel to follow. One doesn’t have to be a big named saint to do saint-worthy stuff.

St Mel’s Day is February 6th. It has become a day to celebrate being single and all the good things about it.  Apparently one sends a St Mel’s Day card to oneself and hosts a party for all one’s single friends. Isn’t it nice to have a day like that instead making single people feel tthey are deficient in some way?

I wish, in my single days I had known about St Mel.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

The Real Dulsie Bridge

“O Lord, what great works you do! And how deep are your thoughts.” Psalm 92:5

I often get accused of using words that no one understands. There may be a simpler way to express an opinion, using the words my listeners are familiar with, but there is such a rich vocabulary out there that I refuse.  The dictionary every year drops out words to allow new ones in. Sometimes the words that hang on in there lose their original meanings and become something else. Language evolves and I understand that. I just like words and lots of them.

This morning as I was reading Psalm 92. I had a notebook and pen, a couple of commentaries and devotionals and I make notes. As I came to this verse the words “Dulsie Bridge” came to mind. Some things don’t get dropped out of the memory. I wrote this in a Faithwriter’s Weekly Challenge.

One Saturday, Joe and I went for a drive. We began at Nairn with a late breakfast and then as the weather wasn’t particularly nice for walking, we went for a car drive. We picked up a tourist information leaflet at the local office. It contained directions for a car drive in the area. By following the instructions we would see things that we would never just bump into.

Several miles along the route was the sign post for the Dulsie Bridge. There was no picture in the leaflet, so we were not sure what we were looking for. We have seen some nice bridges in our time.

The “bridge” was beside the road. It was very humped back with a turf top to it. There was no water going under it, the river having been diverted by engineers at a later date perhaps. We took the required amount of photos - me on the bridge, Joe on the bridge, me standing next to the bridge and so on. It was a nice bridge!

Imagine our surprise when a mile down the road we came upon the real Dulsie Bridge! It was even labelled! The road dropped down towards the bridge that spanned a huge chasm, and then climbed up steeply on the other side. It was a real feat of engineering. The two bridges were incomparable - the other must have been an old drover's bridge!

We looked at each other and laughed thinking of the photos we had taken!

If we had not continued with the drive after seeing the old drover's bridge, we would have never realised that we had missed the real Dulsie Bridge. Seeing the real thing, we knew that the first bridge wasn't it.

When we know what the real thing looks like, we realise that what we thought was "it" really wasn't at "it" all. The real thing is much more impressive.

There are a lot of people who think they know what the Christian life is like. When they are confronted with the real thing, it is so much more impressive! Some people may think they know what God is like. When they are confronted with a real encounter with God, there is no mistaking Him!

This morning I wasn’t thinking about what the Christian life is like or not but what God is like. I have a feeling that what we label as God’s great works don’t really come close to what they are about. Rather than allow scripture to define them, we define them according to our own experience. Perhaps because we live less vibrant lives than we ought, our concept of those great works fall short of what they really are. We limit our perceptions. God is not allowed to demonstrate His great works because they make us feel uncomfortable.

The depth of God’s thoughts? I’m not sure that we are willing to dive that deeply. We imagine, all too often, that God thinks like we think. Scripture tells us otherwise – but we don’t live scripture very well. We soften and dilute to make life easier and forget to be radical. We seem to have lost the ability to turn the world upside down by taking God at His word.

I felt a little bereft this morning.  A little bewildered. I find myself, perhaps, in a comfortable place and wonder what happened to the risk.

I was talking to a group of young people this week about the changes that we had been through over the last twelve months. Some were taller. Some were more confident. Some had new family members or had moved house.

I shared how I had lost courage. I noticed it particularly in driving places. Last year Joe and I went to Yorkshire for a second time. The first time the hills, the unfamiliar roads, getting in and out of cities, driving in the dark – none of these things alarmed me. Last year – it was a different story. I wasn’t as courageous then as I had been. I admit I have dodgy eye-sight and a need to update my glasses – so, yes, I had reason to be wary. Deep down I lamented my lack of courage.

It is not my surroundings that should make me comfortable but the knowledge that I am secure in God. Whatever the adventure, whatever the risk – I am safe in His hand.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Someone Whispered

It was after late night shop window blinds were winched down
After lively conversations on balconies were muted
After echoes of boots on wet pavements dissipated
After curtains shifted in the cool breeze of an open window
Someone whispered

Four courtyard walls, a dozen flats and a chimney of space
A dark square of sky, a scattering of stars, a light drift of cloud
The scent of a dozen meals cooked and the fragrance of wine
The last bars of a song, water from a shower, the low rumble of a washing machine
Someone whispered

We met in daylight, the tenants, glancing and guessing, awkward dances in hallways
We watched each other, reluctant to speak or ask, or look the other in the eye
The names we never knew, because we never asked, never tipped on our tongues
Strangers sharing bricks, cement, a wrought iron gateway and a dozen post-boxes
Someone whispered

Night after night after night
Someone whispered
English, not Spanish
A woman, not a man
At night time, never in the day
Someone whispered

“She’s praying,” said the woman from the top floor as she folded her washing
“It’s her brother’s flat,” announced the man who lived opposite, cigarette between fingers
“He’s in hospital with cancer,” added the young man wheeling his bike into the porch
“Dying,” disclosed the old woman from the ground floor, crossing herself swiftly
Someone prayed

We listened, chairs pulled up to windows, eavesdropping on a conversation
She prayed a storm of words, rebuking tumours the size of an egg, declaring healing
Asking for anointed conversations over cups of coffee on the hospital veranda
Seeking peace, finding anger, raging at God who kept His distance, then saying “sorry”
She prayed

We thought if we were God we would answer her prayer, perhaps
We thought the brother would get the all clear, perhaps
We thought we should say something if we saw her, perhaps
We wished someone would pray for us the way she prayed for him
So we prayed

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Tales by the Real Fireside

I think I was willing to be talked out of going last night. Storm Brian had been in the news and the clouds were gathering. It was Strictly night on TV and I was all for being cosy on the sofa. However, having been involved in some of the workshops I felt I needed to see the whole thing out - the final result of four weeks of a creative workshop. I grabbed a brolly, a torch and a camera set to night-time pictures and headed off.

The meeting point was the carpark at Great Glen House, the dropping off point for my husband on a morning. The Crofting Commission shared the building with a number of other organisations. Last minute details – I inserted my hearing aids, stuffed spare batteries into my pocket – quite how I planned to change the batteries sitting on a log, in a forest, under torchlight I hadn’t worked out but like the good girl guide I used to be, I was prepared. The dozen or so people at the carpark wore rucksacks and walking boots and had that fit and healthy look about them. They probably didn’t even know they were missing Striclty.

A fifteen minute walk was promised. I had fretted about this. People in general tend to walk a lot quicker than me. Although I began the walk quite near the front, I was trailing behind towards the end. There were fairy lights decorating the path every so often, and although we were not encouraged to use our torches, I kept mine on, pointing to my feet. I have a feeling that in daylight I might have quailed at the path. It was steep, but only being able to see a foot-span spotlight ahead of me I couldn’t see how steep, or how long we would be climbing.

Tea, coffee or hot chocolate were on offer at the fireside. There were logs to sit on, with a mat to cushion the rear end against the rough bark. A canopy had been fixed, spanning from tree to tree. Had Brian brought his rain, we would have been dry. The fire was burning bright surrounded by a ring of stones. Through the trees, way down below us, the lights of Inverness sparkled in white, yellow and orange.

The stories began.

It didn’t take a lot of imagination to feel transported to a different era. It was as if a family or clan had gathered by the fire. We were perhaps missing the oldest generation. The youngsters sat beside mums and dads, bedtime postponed for a little adventure.

I’d heard most of the stories before as part of the storytelling workshops. It was different hearing them in the middle of a forest, late at night, in the firelight. I could almost see the fairy folk drawing near, enticed by a good tale, enthralled and listening just out of view. I imagined there was a sigh among them; that people had returned to the forest not to walk dogs or chop down trees, but to gather and tell tales, like they used to once upon a time. I thought about this present generation of people not here, playing death-dealing games on the computer or a dancing somewhere under strobe lights. This story telling event was something of a unique experience.  It was a soul feeding opportunity.

I had prepared my own story to tell. Indeed I had been telling it to myself in the car as I drove to the carpark. Having missed two of the workshops, I had missed my chance at making it on to the storytellers list. I didn’t mind. There will be another time to tell that tale.

The final story was new to me, a Welsh legend that involved a farmer, his son and a dark stranger. It was a tale of magic and dangerous deals. The boy and the dark stranger, a magician, turn into a variety of animals and fish as the one pursues the other. It was only when Merlin was identified as the son that I remembered the sequence from “The Sword in the Stone” cartoon. Someone once said that there are only six stories out there in the world. The thousands that are told change names and settings and quests – but they are essentially the same story.

I was thinking about last night, the climb up to the forest, the fire, the tales, the hot chocolate, the descent back down to the carpark – and how I had almost talked myself out of it. The threat of Storm Brian, the lure of Strictly and longing for comfort. Had I listened to that voice telling me not to go, I would have missed out on the event.

What other things do I talk myself out of doing?

There is so much to deter, distract and divert my attention and my energies. I don’t want there to be a pile of treasure in heaven I can never claim because I never climbed the hill, sat on the log in front of a fire and listened.

Imagine if no one had gone with Jesus to the tops of mountains, heard and seen the things He wanted to share the record in the gospels would be that much shorter, much less vibrant and challenging, paler somehow.

 We don’t climb enough mountains. We are too obsessed with picking them up and hurling them out of our way.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

“Being Ourselves”

“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment” Ralph Waldo Emerson

A couple of years ago I challenged myself to write a poem a day during the advent season. For some of the poems it was simply about writing something as opposed to writing nothing. I could tick the box and say I did it. When I look back over the few lines I am amazed that sometimes they are not just lines at all, to fill a space, but they contain a truth.

Heaven’s King

Heaven’s king comes down
Jesus at ease in His skin
touches a leper

I love that phrase “at ease in His skin”. There are too many surveys and polls around that reveal how much we are not really at ease in our skin. There is too much out there in the world presenting us with images that we rarely match up to. We are not allowed to be at ease in our skin unless it is size zero and blemish free.

Today I met with the “Poetry in Motion” crew to explore what it means to be ourselves. They were running a series of workshops around the Highlands as a part of the 2017 Mental Health Arts Festival. The venue was the Glenurquhart Library in Drumnadrochit, just off to the right of Loch Ness before you hit Urquhart Castle on the left. Amazing building.

There were a couple of warming up exercises and a fistful of prompts to play with. We are the sum of all the places we have ever visited, the memories that we hold inside, our hopes and dreams, the people whose lives we have touched and what floats our boat or sinks it. Who we are isn’t always what people see us to be.

There is a spiral staircase in the library that leads to desks littered with computers and a panoramic window that looks out onto the distant hills. A couple of banners hang from the ceiling. Two words decorate them “stones” and “people”. I didn’t consciously think about either word but they must have registered somewhere in the creative part of my brain.

I did Geography “O” Level at school. In my day it was not human Geography as in towns and cities and pollution and poverty. It was the structure of the landscape – mountains and valleys, rivers and rainfall. I fell in love with the word “isthmus” and I knew that Fort William had the highest level of rainfall never thinking I would ever visit the place.

As I looked through the window of the library I wished I could remember all I had been taught about how the mountains came to be like that. It was something to do with glaciers and the ice age and plate tectonics – the movement of earth’s crust, sometimes pulling away, somethings pushing together and piling up.  There’s a limit to how much we can play around with the landscape to make it do what we need to when it comes to roads and railways. We seek out the natural passes rather than blast our way through. We tend to build according to the contours.

That’s the landscape – the “stones” but what about the "people"?

It didn’t seem to be a difficult jump to start thinking about people and how they got there. Not how they got there according to evolution or the birds and the bees of sex education. (Remind me to tell you about the trains and the tunnels and dropping off presents). How people got there as in how they ended up living the lives they live and the internal firing of thoughts and feelings. Is there a human equivalent of plate tectonics and glaciers that shape and form us?

Over a cup of tea we talked about how much of being ourselves is written in our DNA and how much we are shaped by our environment. Philosophy on a Saturday morning! It really was an interesting discussion with no right or wrong answers.

We settled down to write something inspired by our notes and observations.


landscape shaped and formed
by wind and weather
the earth’s crust shifts
sometimes pulling away
sometimes piling up and over
mountains and valleys fashioned
rock, soil and lochs
ice age evidence
too much to dismantle
we build beside or near
curbed by contours

people shaped and formed
by family, friend and foe
the heart’s crust shifts
sometimes love bestowed
sometimes love withheld
our joys and sorrows fashioned by
words spoken, or swallowed
too much to dismantle?
we fight or surrender to our DNA and
build who we want to be