Saturday, May 30, 2015

Half-term wonder

This last week we have experienced family togetherness as never before.  Forgive me using my blog for such a inward-looking reflection, but I must record how for the first time ever both sets of grandchildren (with their parents of course) were able to spend a week's holiday together.  That's eleven of us!  (I know - a small tribe compared with some but capable of decibel levels and energy output far beyond their numbers). With one family living in New Jersey, USA and the other in London UK it is rarely possible to spend more than a day or two together.  But not this time.

Carol and I look back on this past week with immense gratitude.  Why? Partly because bright dry weather every day allowed us to make the most of staying at the seaside in Minehead, Somerset;  partly because the five children ranging in ages from 13 to 3 happily co-existed day after day; and partly because the beach was opposite which allowed daily visits for hours at a time, looking for crabs, treasure, damming streams and flying kites.

But mostly we are grateful for the sheer miracle of family togetherness. When it works, it's glorious! My oldest son commented wistfully that it was just like holidays in his youth.  Rather old fashioned because the main interests were all outdoors enjoying nature and engaged in physical activity.  There were no funfairs, amusement arcades, expensive children's activities. Yet, every day enthusiasm reigned on the beach, visiting a castle and climbing down the ravine at Watersmeet for a cream tea.  Good old fashioned fun by the sea, with tension from work falling off shoulders and laughter bubbling up instead.

We organized it in order to celebrate that we both have big birthdays this year. We could think of no better way than family togetherness.  And so it proved to be!

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Hymns and the elderly

In the middle of this past week, between Carol's celebration and the turmoil of moving my uncle (a task which thankfully was completed on schedule), we shared in the 80th birthday of a remarkable lady who served as Principal's Secretary at Spurgeon's for 25 years.  During my tenure she was at the top of her game, holding encyclopedic knowledge of the college and its supporters.  From day one I relied on her wisdom (and hard work).

Sadly, she now suffers from an unusual kind of dementia that prevents her from speaking or showing expression.  When I have shown her photographs in the last couple of years she recognized people and events, and clearly followed conversation.  But, tragically, she is expressionless....except.....
At her birthday party she mouthed the words when we sang 'Happy Birthday'.  The group then went on to sing some of her favorite hymns.  She joined in soundlessly but word perfect!  'Great is Thy faithfulness', 'How great Thou art', 'Thine be the glory' and 'Just as I am'.  Apparently, the last one was a particular favorite.  Before she came to Spurgeon's she worked for the evangelist Eric Hutchings and this was a great response hymn at his crusades (as with Billy Graham).   Verse, after verse, we all marveled at her total involvement with us.   Someone commented how extraordinary it is that hymns can connect like nothing else.

A day later, when I was clearing my uncle's attic room after many years in this Abbeyfield home, I noticed on his bedside table a radio, magnifying glass, Bible and (have you guessed?) two well-thumbed hymnbooks.  He can still speak (though weakly) but again I saw the power of hymns in his life.  I know it's not just with the elderly that hymns are important spiritually but this week I have seen how powerfully they can work.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Family life happens

I had mapped out these weeks following my return from the USA for some gentle times of reflection and some work in my shed/sanctuary.  With my US family actually living alongside us in Cambridge I recognized that some time would be expended on an energetic nine and six year old ...expended is the word1  But it looked a relatively straightforward month.

I had no idea that immediately on my return I would be plunged into heavy duty as the eldest nephew of my only surviving older relative -my 91 year old uncle who lives four hours away.   Taken into hospital twice in rapid succession and needing to find a new residential home, his needs have suddenly entangled us with the  world of doctors, nurses, occupational therapists, social workers, and residential care workers. The next few days we shall be involved in physically moving him from his home of the last 15 years.  He is a kindly private man who will not complain. All my life in ministry I have witnessed others going through this process with elderly relatives - now I can speak with fellow-feeling.

However, today I have exulted in a very different family happening.  Carol has celebrated her Big Birthday in style.  For the first time ever, both our boys and their families were able to join us in our home for a riotous Chinese take-away, cricket on the nearby playing field, water-play in the garden, balloons, banner, cards (over 50 so far!), and gifts.  Earlier we had driven out for a couple of quiet hours in Bury St. Edmunds. As we sat by the bowling green with the backdrop of the magnificent abbey we reminisced about life so far and God's goodness in it.  Family life certainly adds complications but we are profoundly grateful to God for the story so far.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Praying and following through

Today we were back in our local Baptist church in Histon, England.  There is something quite remarkable about being back with the people of God you belong to.  It's not just that you have friends whose stories matter to you because you share in the same small group, or have enjoyed hospitality in their homes.  It's that these friends may have been praying for you and actually following your progress while you are away!
It is so easy to say that you will remember someone and that you will pray for them yet find good intentions are pushed way back off your agenda.  But, to our joy, Carol and I were met with dozens of enquiries from people we knew well (and some we didn't) who wanted to know how the preaching project had fared, how I got on in my speaking commitments, and how well we had both kept on our travels.  It was humbling to be on the receiving end of such genuine interest from people who had actually remembered and prayed for us.  Follow-up like this shows authentic Christian love.
It made me think of my list of intercessions that I return to in the UK - the individuals I try to remember in prayer - and how my follow-up with them will actually reveal how much I cared and prayed.   It's a great experience to be prayed for and supported by people who follow through, isn't it?