Questions, questions….

I wrote this for Through the Roof (www.throughtheroof.org) and it is reproduced here by kind permission.

Around 30 years ago I was just beginning to discover the extent of my daughter’s disabilities. She had failed to meet any of the normal milestones during the first year of her life, was not moving around, sitting unsupported, picking up toys (or anything else), moving her head or forming any intelligible words, and already the tightness of her muscles was beginning to pull her little body into a distorted shape. A paediatrician came to visit us at home with the diagnosis; she told us that Ellen had cerebral palsy, with “spastic limbs” and might lack the intelligence ever to learn any speech (which turned out to be overly-pessimistic). After she had gone away, I put Ellen to bed and as I looked down at her twisted form on the mattress of the Moses basket which she was still tiny enough to fit into, a poem of sorts formed itself in my mind:

Limbs like a corpse, too stiff to play,
Voice that says nothing to no one all day;
No wonder, then, pillowed alone in the dark,
You coil yourself into a question mark.

Over the years that question mark came to symbolise so many things for me: Where was Ellen’s guardian angel the day when her catastrophic breathing collapse caused major brain damage at the age of nine weeks? Surely this couldn’t be God’s will; but what kind of God permits things that are not His will? As part of my degree course I had studied several theodicies (ways in which Christian thinkers down the centuries have tried to reconcile evil and suffering with the existence of an all-powerful, all-knowing and all-loving God). I knew which ones I found convincing in theory, but in the face of the actual suffering, both physical and emotional, which I had to watch Ellen endure, all of them rang hollow.

And yet alongside the questions I was finding an ever-deepening embrace in the love of God. Somehow, as my experience of His love grew larger, the questions grew smaller. They don’t go away – there are some I would still dearly love answers to. But first of all I came to see that the answers were not important as the questions; because asking the questions was an act of honesty with God, and being real with Him drew me ever closer towards Him. And secondly, in that growing closeness, I came to experience Him as utterly trustworthy. He holds my questions for me, and for now I am content to leave them there and know that whatever the answer is, it all has to do with Ellen’s ultimate good and blessing.

As an A level student, I had read Camus’ “La Peste” in which a Catholic priest watches a tiny child die in agony from the plague, and then asks, in his next Sunday sermon, “Who are we to say that even a whole eternity of bliss could possibly compensate for a single instant of human suffering?” As a degree student I remember writing an essay about the man born blind from John chapter 9, in which I explored the idea that to inflict him with blindness so that God could display His own works through him seems like the action of a megalomaniac. Now I came to understand that it was far better and more blessed for the man to have been born blind and to have been healed than if he had been born sighted in the first place. Somehow, every instant of Ellen’s suffering was working for her an eternal weight of glory. And I believe I can say that without at all meaning that God caused, willed or planned her suffering.

When she was 4 years old we went to a large, international conference headed by a well-known evangelist (I am not going to name or criticise him; he is someone for whom I had, and retain, a great deal of respect). Among the congregation was a man who’d had a leg amputated. At the first appeal for healing prayer, he made his way to the front on his crutches, and asked for prayer that his leg would grow back. In this article I’m less concerned with that than with the attitude of the congregation. This man went forward with the same prayer request at every meeting. As the week went on, he didn’t wait for the appeal, he simply went forward before the sermon ended. I began to hear people talking about him. I noticed that people would enter the auditorium and begin looking for him, pointing him out to one another when they spotted him. I heard people speculating about when he would go forward, whether he would wait for the appeal or go up during the sermon, and whether this spectacular miracle would take place or not.

During the conference another internationally well-known evangelist announced that he would be holding a healing meeting at 1pm. By 12.15 there was a 300 ft queue of physically able people outside the venue. Like other disabled people, our daughter could not queue outdoors for 45 minutes. When the doors finally opened, able people all rushed in to fill the front rows and get a good view. We, and many other disabled people, were relegated to standing room at the back.

The conference had been trumpeted as an occasion when great miracles would take place. It’s not true to say that nothing happened that week. I personally witnessed one lady with MS who was apparently cured, enabled to get out of her wheelchair and walk normally for the first time in many years, and her joy was palpable – I was left in no doubt that God had given her a gift of physical wholeness and I rejoiced with her. But there seemed to be no understanding of the deeper healing that God can bring about even without a physical cure, and the results of the week certainly did not match the hype which preceded it.

During that week the impression I gained was that people had gone to watch physical cures as a spectator sport. There was something very disturbing about the way in which physically able Christians appeared to have come to be entertained by the misfortunes of people who had been promised a physical cure (even though God might not have seen that as their most pressing need at that time). I overheard people gossiping and speculating, and it was unedifying. As I reflected on the impressions of the week, I found myself turning to Mark 5, the story of the raising of Jairus’ daughter from the dead. Verses 37 and 40 stood out to me: “And He allowed no one to accompany Him, except Peter and James, and John the brother of James.” And “But putting them all out, He took along the child’s father and mother and His own companions, and entered the room where the child was.”

By contrast with the vast spectacle of a public gathering, when Jesus performed a truly outstanding miracle in which even death had to obey Him and yield the little girl back to her parents, He admitted only those people who loved her and those few who truly believed in His power. I thought of Galatians 5.6 where we are told that faith works by love. The kind of “faith” that manifested in that conference was not true mountain-moving faith because it was not fuelled by love. Perhaps there might even have been more physical cures in evidence if there had been more genuine love.

Over the years, I know that God has given me some specific promises for Ellen. I haven’t seen all of them fulfilled yet, any more than I have had all of my questions answered. But I know that His love for her is unimaginably deep and constant, and my faith is fuelled by that love, as well as by my own love for Ellen. I hope that 26 years on from that conference, the church is beginning to understand that God’s omnipotence does not equal doing things the way we tell Him to, and that if we do sense that He is asking us to trust Him for a miracle for someone, whether of the outward and visible or the inner and quiet variety, genuine love for the person is the vital ingredient to activate our faith.

Assisted Dying Bill

Lord Faulkner’s Assisted Dying Bill is being debated in the House of Lords today. Supporters of this bill claim that it will apply only to terminally ill patients whose life is near its natural end. But there is reason to be very concerned indeed about any bill which devalues human lives simply because they are limited or painful. This is not an exaggerated Orwellian scare story – we know that already pressure is being put on families of healthy young disabled people to agree to “Do Not Resuscitate” directives. It was good to hear the much respected Sir Bert Massie on BBC tv this morning defending the rights of disabled people to be protected from the unforeseen effects of a misguided assisted dying law. Please take a stand against this culture of seeing limited or economically unproductive lives as disposable. Please encourage your friends and contacts to sign this petition so that we can make the strength of feeling known to the Health Secretary.
http://www.change.org/en-GB/petitions/health-secretary-stop-asking-families-of-disabled-young-people-to-discuss-do-not-resuscitate-directives

Andrew, one year on

It was more like a scream than a roar
as that dark tunnel swallowed you from view,
your dimming lights vanishing into the unknown
while the echo reverberated ever more faintly;
and the vacant track, lacking your presence,
vibrated with a shock of emptiness.

We were left startled, dazed,
until nothing but the merest puff of smoke
drifting from the tunnel’s gaping mouth
floated momentarily before dissipating
into the still air of a fresh day.

Your mortal remains,
scattered in peace and beauty,
seemed only to mock
the entity we knew you had been.

Yet the journey with you,
having left us many miles
from the station of our departure,
attests to a world forever changed
by your brief sojourn.

Lulu is celebrating Global Forgiveness Day!

Lulu.com is celebrating Global Forgiveness Day with a “Forgive and save” promotion.  Why not forgive someone who’s wronged you (you’ll feel much better) and then buy one of my books at a special 10% discount to celebrate?  Go to www.lulu.com/spotlight/rosbayes and enter the checkout code “FORGIVE10″.  This promotion is for today and tomorrow only. Proceeds of all my book sales are going to fund my India trip in October during which I will be working at the Atulya Girls home (http://www.karunaaction.org/countries/india/delhi-atulya-girls-home) as well as running some writing workshops and doing some training on inclusion of people with learning disabilities in the life of the church.

*Although this offer has now ended you can still purchase my books from lulu.com at the full price, or contact me direct to buy both books for £12+p&p. Comment on here if interested.

Spiritual exercises for on holiday

I’ve been preparing for our upcoming holiday, and as well as the packing, route planning etc., I wanted to prepare for the holiday to be a spiritually fruitful one. If I were going on a retreat, I would have a spiritual director prescribing spiritual exercises for me. So I have decided to be my own spiritual director and draw up a plan of spiritual exercises for the holiday. I’m not sure, on a family holiday, how realistic this is, especially the ones during the day. But if Carlo Carretto could experience the desert in the city it must at least be possible. I know I will follow the morning and evening ones. I won’t beat myself up if I don’t manage the daytime ones. It’s an experiment. At least I know it can’t do me any harm! Hopefully I will come home closer to God for it. I thought I would share it in case anyone else wants to try.

Arrival evening
Read: Psalm 4
Meditate: Ask God to highlight one phrase from this Psalm to you. Meditate on this phrase, turning it over in your mind as you fall asleep.
Pray: Feel the gladness that God has put in your heart. Share it with Him.
Give thanks: What has made you grateful today? Thank God for it.

Day 1 morning
Read: 2 Samuel 12. 24-25
Meditate: Imagine you are the adult Solomon reflecting back on the circumstances of your birth. How does it feel to have been born of an adulterous marriage? What does it do to you to know that God has nicknamed you “dearly loved by God”?
Pray: Tell God how His love makes you feel. Bask in it.
Give thanks: What has made you grateful overnight? Thank God for it.

Day 1 during the day:
Be mindful: Live in the present moment. Notice what is around you. See God in your surroundings, events and the people you are with.
Be prayerful: As often as God brings them to mind, pray for the people you love who are going through difficulties.
4 times a day: Pray the Jesus prayer at 4 regular intervals throughout the day, like taking regular doses of medicine: Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.

Day 1 evening
Read: Psalm 92
Meditate: Ask God to highlight one phrase from this Psalm to you. Meditate on this phrase, turning it over in your mind as you fall asleep.
Pray: Tell God what is uppermost in your mind right now. Leave it with Him and do not take it back.
Give thanks: What has made you grateful today? Thank God for it.

Day 2 morning
Read: Luke 8. 43-48
Meditate: Imagine you are the woman in this story. How does it feel to have been untouchable for so long? What does it do to you to when Christ singles you out and publicly honours your faith?
Pray: Bring your shame to God. Receive His honour in exchange.
Give thanks: What has made you grateful overnight? Thank God for it.

Day 2 during the day:
Be mindful: Live in the present moment. Notice what is around you. See God in your surroundings, events and the people you are with.
Be prayerful: Pray for Pope Francis and Archbishop Justin, that they will continue to bring a powerful prophetic voice to the world.
4 times a day: Pray the Jesus prayer at 4 regular intervals throughout the day, like taking regular doses of medicine: Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.

Day 2 evening
Read: Psalm 27
Meditate: Ask God to highlight one phrase from this Psalm to you. Meditate on this phrase, turning it over in your mind as you fall asleep.
Pray: Tell God what makes you fearful. Leave it with Him and do not take it back.
Give thanks: What has made you grateful today? Thank God for it.

Day 3 morning
Read: Luke 7. 36-50
Meditate: Imagine you are Jesus in this situation – you have been treated as a second class guest and an object of curiosity. Your feet have not been washed and you’re here not because your company is valued but because your host thinks you can provide a diverting theological argument. How do you feel in this atmosphere? What does Mary’s worship do for you?
Pray: Tell Jesus you want your worship to minister to Him. Spend some time in silence listening for His response.
Give thanks: What has made you grateful overnight? Thank God for it.

Day 3 during the day:
Be mindful: Live in the present moment. Notice what is around you. See God in your surroundings, events and the people you are with.
Be prayerful: Pray for all those who are working to bring peace and reconciliation in the conflicts of this world. May they, as peacemakers, know that they are sons of God and act with the authority of their Father.
4 times a day: Pray the Jesus prayer at 4 regular intervals throughout the day, like taking regular doses of medicine: Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.

Day 3 evening
Read: Psalm 119. 65-72
Meditate: Ask God to highlight one phrase from this Psalm to you. Meditate on this phrase, turning it over in your mind as you fall asleep.
Pray: Ask God to show you ways in which He has allowed and is allowing affliction to shape you and develop your maturity. Listen for His response.
Give thanks: Thank God for the wisdom with which He uses the circumstances of your life to make you more like Christ.

Day 4 morning
Read: Matthew 2. 14
Meditate: Imagine you are Levi (Matthew) sitting in the tax booth, an object of hatred for every Jew who walks past, despised by every Roman who knows you are betraying your own people. How do you feel when Jesus stops by your tax booth? When He calls you to follow Him? When you abandon all your financial security to go with Him?
Pray: Tell Jesus how it makes you feel to have only Him as your security and to follow where He leads through life. Spend some time in silence and allow Him to respond to what you have said.
Give thanks: What has made you grateful overnight? Thank God for it.

Day 4 during the day:
Be mindful: Live in the present moment. Notice what is around you. See God in your surroundings, events and the people you are with.
Be prayerful: Thoughtfully and meaningfully pray the Lord’s Prayer from time to time during the day.
4 times a day: Pray the Jesus prayer at 4 regular intervals throughout the day, like taking regular doses of medicine: Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.

Day 4 evening
Read: Psalm 113
Meditate: Ask God to highlight one phrase from this Psalm to you. Meditate on this phrase, turning it over in your mind as you fall asleep.
Pray: Draw near to God and allow Him to lift you from your particular ash heap.
Give thanks: What has made you grateful today? Thank God for it.

Day 5 morning
Read: Acts 9. 23-25
Meditate: Imagine you are Saul. Recently you have been kidnapping and murdering Christians, but after your Damascene conversion you are now “one of them” and the Jews are out to kill you. How does it feel when the people you were so recently persecuting take such risks to save your life?
Pray: Tell God how the love of your brothers and sisters in Christ makes you feel. Listen in the stillness for His response.
Give thanks: What has made you grateful overnight? Thank God for it.

Day 5 during the day:
Be mindful: Live in the present moment. Notice what is around you. See God in your surroundings, events and the people you are with.
Be prayerful: Pray for the hearts of fathers to be turned to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers in our nation.
4 times a day: Pray the Jesus prayer at 4 regular intervals throughout the day, like taking regular doses of medicine: Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.

Day 5 evening
Read: Psalm 134
Meditate: Ask God to highlight one phrase from this Psalm to you. Meditate on this phrase, turning it over in your mind as you fall asleep.
Pray: Ask God to show you how you can minister to Him by night.
Give thanks: What has made you grateful today? Thank God for it.

Day 6 morning
Read: Psalm 118.19-24
Meditate: What does it mean to you to have God open the gates of righteousness for you to enter in? Picture yourself entering through those gates. What lies on the other side?
Pray: This is the day that the Lord has made. Rejoice and be glad in it!
Give thanks: What has made you grateful overnight? Thank God for it.

Day 6 during the day:
Be mindful: Live in the present moment. Notice what is around you. See God in your surroundings, events and the people you are with.
Be prayerful: Pray that the church in this country will not leave anyone feeling despised or abandoned or marginalised, but will go out taking God’s welcome to those who have not felt able to come in.
4 times a day: Pray the Jesus prayer at 4 regular intervals throughout the day, like taking regular doses of medicine: Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.

Day 6 evening
Read: Psalm 134
Meditate: Ask God to highlight one phrase from this Psalm to you. Meditate on this phrase, turning it over in your mind as you fall asleep.
Pray: Ask God to show you how you can minister to Him by night. Listen for His reply and then do it.
Give thanks: What has made you grateful today? Thank God for it.

Day 7 morning
Read: Luke 7. 11-17
Meditate: Imagine you are this mother. How does it feel to have all your hopes, your future security and the object of all your love lying dead? What is it about Jesus that gives you such a strong first impression of His compassion? What do you see as he restores life to your son? What words do you say to Him to express your feelings for what He has done?
Pray: Ask God to resurrect something in your life today. Spend some time in silence feeling His compassion.
Give thanks: What has made you grateful overnight? Thank God for it.

Day 7 during the day:
Be mindful: Live in the present moment. Notice what is around you. See God in your surroundings, events and the people you are with.
Be prayerful: Notice the other holiday makers around you. Pray God’s blessing on them.
4 times a day: Pray the Jesus prayer at 4 regular intervals throughout the day, like taking regular doses of medicine: Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.

Day 7 evening
Read: Psalm 37
Meditate: Ask God to highlight one phrase from this Psalm to you. Meditate on this phrase, turning it over in your mind as you fall asleep.
Pray: What things are your fretting about? Hand each one to God now and let Him remove it from you.
Give thanks: What has made you grateful today? Thank God for it.

Day 8 morning
Read: Matthew 6. 25-34
Meditate: Imagine you are one of Jesus’ hearers. Look at the wild flowers. How do you see them now? Think about your own needs. Picture God meeting every one of them.
Pray: Consciously lay down every one of your anxieties about the future. Breathe in His peace.
Give thanks: What has made you grateful overnight? Thank God for it.

Day 8 during the day:
Be mindful: Live in the present moment. Notice what is around you. See God in your surroundings, events and the people you are with.
Be prayerful: Pray for your suffering brothers and sisters in Iraq, Iran, Syria, Sudan and elsewhere.
4 times a day: Pray the Jesus prayer at 4 regular intervals throughout the day, like taking regular doses of medicine: Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.

Day 8 evening
Read: Psalm 6
Meditate: Ask God to highlight one phrase from this Psalm to you. Meditate on this phrase, turning it over in your mind as you fall asleep.
Pray: Receive God’s forgiveness in every area where you need it.
Give thanks: What has made you grateful today? Thank God for it.

Day 9 morning
Read: Matthew 18. 23-35
Meditate: Imagine you are the king. How does it feel to have your mercy taken for granted in this way? How do you feel about the man who has not been forgiven by his fellow servant? What would like the unforgiving servant to understand?
Pray: Who has wronged you? Thank God for His forgiveness. Ask Him to help you release that person into His forgiveness too. Open your heart and let Him do it.
Give thanks: What has made you grateful overnight? Thank God for it.

Day 9 during the day:
Be mindful: Live in the present moment. Notice what is around you. See God in your surroundings, events and the people you are with.
Be prayerful: Pray for the kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls – by name if you have the list with you. Hold each one up to God and pray for His strength, comfort and healing, and for each mind and heart to be guarded by his peace.
4 times a day: Pray the Jesus prayer at 4 regular intervals throughout the day, like taking regular doses of medicine: Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.

Day 9 evening
Read: Psalm 124
Meditate: Ask God to highlight one phrase from this Psalm to you. Meditate on this phrase, turning it over in your mind as you fall asleep.
Pray: What snares of the trapper has God released you from today? Share with Him how you feel about that. How does He feel about it?
Give thanks: What has made you grateful today? Thank God for it.

Day 10 morning
Read: Matthew 8. 1-4
Meditate: Imagine you are the man with leprosy. What are your feelings as you approach Jesus, certain of His ability but not of His willingness? What do those words “I am willing” mean to you? What do they do to you? Find some words to express how you feel about the One who has healed you.
Pray: Listen to God and let Him tell you what He’s willing to do for you.
Give thanks: What has made you grateful overnight? Thank God for it.

Day 10 during the day:
Be mindful: Live in the present moment. Notice what is around you. See God in your surroundings, events and the people you are with.
Be prayerful: Pray for one of your work colleagues or your neighbours, that God will bless them in such a way while you’re not there that they will have something specific to share with you when you get back.
4 times a day: Pray the Jesus prayer at 4 regular intervals throughout the day, like taking regular doses of medicine: Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.

Day 10 evening
Read: Psalm 91
Meditate: Ask God to highlight one phrase from this Psalm to you. Meditate on this phrase, turning it over in your mind as you fall asleep.
Pray: Practice dwelling in the secret place of the Most High. Ask Him to teach you how to abide there.
Give thanks: What has made you grateful today? Thank God for it.

Day 11 morning
Read: Philemon 1.10-20
Meditate: Imagine you are Onesimus, the runaway slave. What are your fears? What things trouble your conscience? How does it make you feel to know that Paul considers you his son and longs for your company?
Pray: Tell God how it feels to know that he has made you his son or daughter and longs for your company. Rest in silence and allow Him to tell you how He feels about you.
Give thanks: What has made you grateful overnight? Thank God for it.

Day 11 during the day:
Be mindful: Live in the present moment. Notice what is around you. See God in your surroundings, events and the people you are with.
Be prayerful: Pray for your fellow holiday makers. Ask God for an opportunity to minister his acceptance and fatherhood to someone today.
4 times a day: Pray the Jesus prayer at 4 regular intervals throughout the day, like taking regular doses of medicine: Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.

Day 11 evening
Read: Psalm 56
Meditate: Ask God to highlight one phrase from this Psalm to you. Meditate on this phrase, turning it over in your mind as you fall asleep.
Pray: Thank God for noticing and treasuring every one of your tears. What are you afraid of? Take this opportunity to put your trust in God over it.
Give thanks: What has made you grateful today? Thank God for it.

Day 12 morning
Read: Mark 10. 13-16
Meditate: Be one of those children. Just rest there like that.
Pray: Tell God how it feels to be accepted as His child. Listen for His response.
Give thanks: What has made you grateful overnight? Thank God for it.

Day 12 during the day:
Be mindful: Live in the present moment. Notice what is around you. See God in your surroundings, events and the people you are with.
Be prayerful: Notice the children around you today. Pray that God will protect them from harm as they grow up and that they will come to know His love.
4 times a day: Pray the Jesus prayer at 4 regular intervals throughout the day, like taking regular doses of medicine: Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.

Day 12 evening
Read: Psalm 62
Meditate: Ask God to highlight one phrase from this Psalm to you. Meditate on this phrase, turning it over in your mind as you fall asleep.
Pray: Still your soul and wait in silence for God only.
Give thanks: What has made you grateful today? Thank God for it.

Day 13 morning
Read: Mark 1.32-34
Meditate: Imagine you are Jesus. How do you feel as you look at the crowd of sick and disabled people waiting for your touch? Picture each one. What do you say to him/her? Now imagine you are one of the people waiting. How does He heal you? What does He say to you?
Pray: In the silence, receive healing from God. Tell Him what it means to you.
Give thanks: What has made you grateful overnight? Thank God for it.

Day 13 during the day:
Be mindful: Live in the present moment. Notice what is around you. See God in your surroundings, events and the people you are with.
Be prayerful: Pray for your church meeting together back home. Pray that God’s presence among them will be manifestly powerful.
4 times a day: Pray the Jesus prayer at 4 regular intervals throughout the day, like taking regular doses of medicine: Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.

Day 13 evening
Read: Psalm 71
Meditate: Ask God to highlight one phrase from this Psalm to you. Meditate on this phrase, turning it over in your mind as you fall asleep.
Pray: Tell God that you have taken refuge in Him. Listen for His response.
Give thanks: What has made you grateful today? Thank God for it.

Departure morning
Read: Luke 15.11-24
Meditate: How does it feel to be returning home today? Can you picture your Father waiting eagerly to run and embrace you?
Pray: Run into His arms and revel in the warmth of His embrace.
Give thanks: What has made you grateful overnight? Give thanks for it.

Adlestrop

I wrote and recorded this for Through the Roof’s June Podcast and it is reproduced here by kind permission.

Last Saturday I finally fulfilled a thirty five year ambition. Ever since, as a student, I discovered Edward Thomas’s poem, “Adlestrop” I have wanted to visit the village of Adlestrop. His poem, about the time the express train made an unwonted stop there on a hot June day, brings it to life in such vivid detail, I longed to see if my imagined version of it bore a resemblance to the actual place. His poem describes the wild flower meadow and the haycocks visible from the station, but it focuses more on the sounds – the hiss of the steam, a cough, a blackbird breaking into song and being joined by “all the birds/ of Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire”.

On Saturday I made my way from Hampshire to Birmingham ready for the Enabling Church conference and decided to take a detour through Oxfordshire to Gloucestershire and visit the place at last.

I pulled up in the village and parked in the car park by the village hall. A wooden shelter proclaims the name of the village, Adlestrop, in large letters, and on a bench under its roof is a plaque containing the full text of the poem. I saw the willows and willowherb though there were no haycocks to be seen. And yes, the air was still filled with that glorious birdsong, although it was a warm May afternoon, and not a hot June one. I didn’t notice a lone blackbird, but I’m sure I heard pretty well all the birds of Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire. I had the time to wander slowly down the country lanes, taking it all in. I was happy when I arrived, but the peace and beauty of the place lifted my spirits no end, and I left in a state of elation.

And it suddenly struck me that there was a parallel with my life as a follower of Jesus. For many years, I read the book. I studied it. I became very familiar with its contents. I knew how they should be interpreted and was quick to argue with anyone who misinterpreted or misquoted it. But I never visited the place.

Proverbs 18.10 tells us that the name of the Lord is a strong tower. In the end it was trouble that drove me to the strong tower, and I began to discover the place for myself. I found that in Jesus there is such a place of safety, it can shield you no matter what life throws at you. The sound of His voice, which I had read of in His book, was suddenly real and present to me.

I learned not only to study the Bible (as good as that was) but to still and quiet my soul, and I discovered that in the silence and solitude, when I took the time to make myself present to God, He was always there.

Everything I had read and studied was true – but there was so much more which I had never imagined, depths of compassion, strength and patience which took my breath away.

Just as Adlestrop was so much more tranquil and lovely than I had pictured, so the place of safety when I pressed in close to Jesus was more wonderful than I had ever realised from reading other people’s experience of Him. Just as I left Adlestrop in a more joyous mood than when I arrived, so those encounters with Jesus have changed me and left me happier and more at peace.

So I pray that whatever your circumstances right now, and however busy you are, you will manage to take time to find that place of encounter with Him and will find that everything you have read in His word is true, but there is so much more, and that your rendezvous with Him will leave a permanent mark on you of quiet contentment, and a thirst that keeps you coming back for more.

Adlestrop by Edward Thomas 1878 – 1917

Yes, I remember Adlestrop –
The name, because one afternoon
Of heat the express-train drew up there
Unwontedly. It was late June.

The steam hissed. Someone cleared his throat.
No one left and no one came
On the bare platform. What I saw
Was Adlestrop – only the name

And willows, willow-herb, and grass,
And meadowsweet, and haycocks dry,
No whit less still and lonely fair
Than the high cloudlets in the sky.

And for that minute a blackbird sang
Close by, and round him, mistier,
Farther and farther, all the birds
Of Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire.

Who are the disabled ones?

I wrote this for Through the Roof (http://www.throughtheroof.org/info-and-resources/articles/ros-blog/) and it is reproduced here by kind permission.

The day my second child was born, my world changed forever. She was thirteen weeks premature and the doctors had been warning me to expect her to be stillborn. Even if she was alive, they said, she wouldn’t cry, as her lungs would be too immature. Moments after she was born I heard her give a fairly powerful cry – it was, and remains, the most wonderful sound I’ve ever heard in my life.

Now began her long, hard fight to hold on to life. It was more than ten weeks before the doctors could tell us that she would live, and at least two years before we could say with confidence that her life was no longer in danger.

From her birth onwards our world was turned upside down. I wrestled with God over what was happening, as I came to grips with a world of sleepless nights, emergency resuscitations, failure to thrive, physiotherapy and low, low educational expectations. Things that my other daughters received by right (such as appropriate education) had to be fought for tooth and nail.

Again and again Ellen defied the prognosis and achieved things we had been told were beyond her. For example, we were told she hadn’t the intelligence to learn any speech and now at the age of 30 she can not only hold a conversation (on her own terms!) but has a reading age of 8. Nonetheless, her learning disabilities are considerable, and as a result much about the world remains puzzling, confusing and frightening to her.

One thing I observed as she grew up was the simplicity and yet the undoubted reality of her faith in God. Her music therapist at school (not as far as I know herself a committed Christian) remarked that Ellen was clearly developing her own faith and kept asking for songs about God’s love during their music therapy sessions – so she was becoming, in her own way, an evangelist, too! By her late teens she was clearly expressing in simple words her own faith in Jesus. We asked her if she would like to be baptised and she replied with a very enthusiastic “Yes!” So we found a couple of strong friends to carry her from her wheelchair to the baptistry and she was baptised at the age of 19.

This caused me to reflect on my own relationship with God. How often I needed my questions answered before I felt safe to trust Him; how I needed to be able to work out logical reasons for my faith along with my experience of God; how important it was to me to be able to explain exactly why I believed what I did. None of that was needed for Ellen. She constantly flung herself into the arms of her heavenly Father, certain that He was there and would hold her. She saw things that I, with all my theological study, could not see because my spiritual eyes were dim.

In 1 Corinthians 1.20, 25 and 27 Paul writes, “Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?…. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength…. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.”

Amos Yong wrote these words: “If people with intellectual disabilities represent the foolishness of the world, what hinders our viewing them as embodying the wisdom of God?”

I suspect that when the world is wound up and all things are made new, and we begin to find out what things in our lives were of eternal value, and what things have passed away with the temporal world, we will have to revise our whole view of disability. We who thought we had the advantages in life – the strong, the clever, the ones the world regards as gifted – will find that on a spiritual level we have been severely disabled compared to our brothers and sisters who lacked those intellectual giftings, but whose spiritual life is marked by abilities and giftings we never knew they possessed. In that day they will be our teachers, leading us from the place of our spiritual impoverishment on the long road to catch up with where they already are in their deep understanding of, and relationship with, God.