All things that day seemed to be out of place;
And yet their new place seemed so fitting, too.
A star forsook the firmament’s vast view
And stopped above our roof to show its face.

The shepherds were no longer in the field,
But crowded, jostling, in our little home.
Their sheep forgotten, left to stray and roam,
Yet something apt in how they bowed and kneeled.

The donkey where so nearly I gave birth,
Munching, oblivious, in the corner stall
As if that journey, pregnant girl and all,
Was the most unsurprising thing on earth.

And in my arms Abundance lay in need,
The mighty One dependent on my aid,
Birthed by the mother He Himself had made,
God in a dirty nappy, crying for a feed.



It has always flowed
so naturally;
seeping from my soul
out through the nib of my pen
onto the waiting sheet of paper.
Detailing the death-by-degrees
of repeated betrayals of trust;
or the breath-stopping shock
of watching helplessly to see
if my child would writhe her way
out of the grasp of death;
or even just the sad autumnal metaphor
of trees being stripped of their beauty,
leaving only a reminder
of what had once been.
Somehow the happy moments
always eluded my skill,
refused to be displayed in vivid words,
laughing as they skipped around my head
defying calls to come to heel
and file in orderly fashion
into the pen.
Until now.
Until the moment you came into my life
and an explosion of joy
burst into the air around me
like a glitter bomb
and fluttered down to settle
in sparkling iridescence
all over the pages of this book.

Garden or window box? (My thoughts on the closure of church buildings)

There is an ongoing debate about the closure of church buildings during the pandemic.  On one side are people who are concerned above all for public health and not wanting to prolong the crisis.  On the other hand there are those who quote Hebrews 10. 25 (‘Do not forsake the assembling of yourselves together’) and wish to see churches reopen and normality resume in their worship services as soon as possible.  Here are my thoughts.

Firstly, let’s not forget the pastor in the DRC who encouraged his congregation to continue to meet during the Ebola outbreak, thereby contributing massively to the spread of Ebola in his region, resulting in his own death and that of many of his congregation.  Do we really want people to be able to turn round and point their finger at the Church and say, you people made it worse?

Secondly, people like my daughter who lives in a care home and has been condemned by this pandemic to a separation from her family which causes her a great deal of anguish, and people like my lovely colleague who is having to shield and has not been able to leave her city flat for 3 months, will be the ones who suffer the longer this pandemic continues.  People who feel safe to meet up in public because they are at low risk from this virus need to consider that if their action prolongs the pandemic, it also prolongs isolation and separation for those less fortunate than themselves.

But thirdly, here is something I’ve observed.  Looking round my garden as May ends and June begins, I can see that it’s a season of rapid growth.  The roses that I pruned right down have shot up and are covered in buds.  The vegetable seeds which I sowed weeks ago are suddenly sprouting at a rapid rate.  My strawberries are laden with fruit.  And in my own church I’m seeing something parallel to that in a spiritual realm.  People are growing spiritually at a rapid rate.  When we communicate via the church WhatsApp group or hold our meetings on Zoom, people are sharing deeper spiritual insights than ever before, reporting deepening understanding of and relationship with God, and are sharing the many ways in which God is using them to bless their neighbours and share the Gospel in deed as well as word.

It is as if we have been uprooted from our window box where we were crammed in with little room for growth of roots or foliage, and transplanted into a wide garden with plenty of  space to spread our stems and branches, put down deeper roots and produce abundant foliage, blooms, and eventually, fruit.  Why would we want to be stuffed back into that cramped old window box again?

Yes, I miss people, especially living on my own.  Yes there are days when I would give anything to be back in the church building just so I am in reach of an actual person who can give me a physical hug.  But these things are less important than what God is doing.  Looking at church history, growth has almost always come through scattering, usually as a result of persecution.  It’s not persecution that is scattering us, but an invisible virus.  Nevertheless, personal growth and Church growth are the results.  Let’s not be in a hurry to shut that all down again and scramble back into our old window box where we can look how we used to look and do things the way we used to do them.  God’s dreams for us are far bigger than that.

And when we do finally begin to meet again, let’s not forget that some of our disabled brothers and sisters have, for the first time, been able to participate on a level playing field with everyone else when church has been online.  Let’s not retreat into our inaccessible buildings and close the door in their faces again, but let’s become a church that uses every conceivable tool at our disposal to ensure that every member is fully included, especially the disabled ones of whom Jesus said in Luke 14 that his house is not full when they are absent.

Can a photograph be a prayer?

Sometimes, words fail me.
Yes, even me, a writer,
Words fail me at times.

Sometimes the enormity
Of what I carry in my heart
Oozes like a crushed olive
And spills down my face,
Or, like trodden grapes,
Flows in celebration
Of the beauty
You have scattered into my life.

It cannot be contained in words,
Vessels too paltry
For an ocean at the full.

Some days I reach for Your hand
To squeeze as I walk;
Other days I cannot bring myself
To turn my face towards You.

So I stop by the wayside
To take a photograph
And that simple act
Becomes a prayer
Of sacred worship.

It is my deep appreciation,
My thankful joy
That everywhere I turn
You have left me a reminder
That You are present.

Who Matters and Why?

Here’s an observation from these past few weeks we’ve been living through.  Some of the assumptions on which our lives – and hence our national response to the pandemic – have been based, turn out to be completely false when tested by adversity.

Working and associating a lot with disabled people it’s been obvious to me for a long time that the only people really valued by government are those who are economically productive.  Fed by the media to the population, this idea has also taken hold in a lot of people’s minds.

It was probably the driving force behind the widely-reported “herd immunity” policy that the government had to abandon.  The idea was that if healthy adults of working age generally seem to survive the virus, let’s allow it to rip through the population.  It will only kill the old and the feeble anyway.  It’s probably the reason why, for the first 2 months of the pandemic taking hold in the UK, only hospital deaths from the virus were counted.

The trouble is, though, that the assumption is an entirely false one.  People are not valuable simply because they can make a net financial contribution to the national economy.  People began to realise that those felled by this disease will be MY elderly parents and grandparents whom I love, MY friend’s disabled brother or sister whom I really do care about, MY client whose daily care I provide, and who is a lovely person with, under normal circumstances, many years of life left.

And so a growing clamour began.  Why were deaths at home and in care homes not also being counted?  Do these people not also matter?  Care home staff made the sacrifice of temporarily abandoning their own families to move into the care homes where they work.  Why?  Because the people they care for do matter.  They are not worthless simply because they have ceased their working life, or because their contribution to the country has never been a financial one but one of love, laughter and wisdom.

It turns out that we had our values wrong.  People matter because they are people, not because of what they do for a living.  In the words of the old cliché, they are human beings, not human doings.  Yes, a scientist getting paid to do research and paying taxes makes a great and much valued contribution to this country.  But so does the quadriplegic lady with a learning disability, an immense musical gift and a cracking sense of humour.  The first contributes expertise and money.  The second contributes art, joy and employment opportunities.  One type of contribution is not more valuable than the other; both are much needed if life is to be worthwhile.

The country is waking up and realising this, as calls grow for people in care homes to be treated as if they matter.  Slowly the government is realising that it will face a backlash unless it starts to provide adequate PPE and widespread testing to those living and working in care homes and those more vulnerable than the rest of us through age, disability or illness.  I saw a recent tv interview in which someone was asked whether he would prefer to take a pay cut or lose his mother.  “A pay cut, of COURSE!” was the reply.

We have made a god out of an ever-expanding economy and sacrificed people on its altar.  Solzhenitsyn warned us against this a generation ago and his warnings have proved true.  He predicted catastrophe if we tried to make our economies grow year on year ad infinitum instead of aiming for stable and sustainable economies that could provide for the need, but not the greed, of our nations.

It’s not too late.  This sudden hiatus in our normal lives gives us the opportunity to press the reset button, to say that no individual needs to be a billionaire, no corporation needs to have a global monopoly, that supplying local and buying local are activities just as worthwhile as global exports, and that the life of every individual is infinitely precious and should be treated as sacred.

My booklet “Who Matters and Why?” published in 2016 is available for £4 from

Evening prayer

I sit in my garden, by chance
To find you out of doors;
And the blackbird’s eye watching me askance
Is Yours.

The scent rising up from earth
Bathed in fresh fall of dew,
An alchemist’s blend of sorrow and mirth,
Is You.

Like a cat that springs on the fence
Balancing on all fours
Is the bee on the stamen; his skill, I sense,
Is Yours.

I sit in my garden awhile;
Sun kisses each leaf adieu.
And the face of azalea’s purple smile
Is You.

I sit and drink it all in,
An intoxicating wine,
But the joy as I hear nature whisper, “It’s Him!” –
All mine.

Inspiration in isolation

For many years now my go-to author in times of difficulty has been Samuel Rutherford.  I have blogged about him before: My thoughts have been turning to him again recently because almost 400 years ago he experienced exile under house arrest – confined indoors and allowed no contact with his loved ones.  And all this was long before the days of social media, Skype and Zoom conferences – he truly was cut off from people.

(c) University of St Andrews; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

(c) University of St Andrews; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

I have picked up his volume of letters again this week, as I know he has something to say to those of us who are separated from those we love and restricted indoors indefinitely at present.  When I began writing this, my daughter was confined to her bedroom in the residential care home for over a week with a mystery illness which didn’t appear to be covid-19, but no doctor was available to diagnose it.  And of course the one thing I most wanted to do – rush round there and give her a cuddle – is the one thing I can’t do at the moment.

So what did Samuel Rutherford experience when he was removed from his community and confined indoors?  During the early months, he struggled with depression and was even afraid that God might be punishing him.  In one of the early letters from this period he wrote, “That day that my mouth was most unjustly and cruelly closed, the bloom fell off my branches and my joy did cast its flower.”  He wrote of his faith bowing under “this almost insupportable weight” and prayed, “Oh that it break not!”

He worried terribly about those he had left behind: “My day-thoughts and my night-thoughts are of you; while ye sleep I am afraid of your souls.”  And he spoke of the one thing that, next to Christ Himself, had been his greatest joy – preaching the Gospel.  He wrote, “It was to me like the poor man’s one eye; and they have put out that eye.”

So like everyone at the moment, he felt the privations of confinement and separation very keenly.  But as time went on, he discovered a wonderful secret.  First, he came to realise that although pain and grief are part of our daily experience of life, indulging and wallowing in them need not be.  “What folly is it to sit down and weep upon a decree of God …. It were better to make windows in our prison, and to look out to God and our country, heaven.”

In the pain of isolation and loneliness, he found the tender friendship of Christ all the sweeter.  “My extremity hath sharpened the edge of His love and kindness.  I would desire …. daily renewed feasts of love with Christ, and liberty now and then to feed my hunger with a kiss of that fairest face…. I find that it is possible to find young glory and a young green paradise of joy, even here.”

A few months into his confinement he wrote, “Oh what a fair One, what an only One, what an excellent, lovely, ravishing One is Jesus!  Put the beauty of ten thousand worlds of paradises, like the garden of Eden, in one… and yet it would be less than that fair and dearest Well-beloved, Christ.”

He prayed for those he could not be with physically, and wrote to remind them of the fragility of their life, and encouraged them to set their hopes upon those things that would endure and not perish: “Remember, when the race is ended, and the play either won or lost, and ye are in the utmost circle and border of time, and shall put your foot within the march of eternity, and all your good things of this short night-dream shall seem to you like the ashes of a bleeze of thorns or straw, and your poor soul shall be crying, ‘Lodging, lodging, for God’s sake!’ then shall your soul be more glad at one of your Lord’s lovely and homely smiles than if ye had the charters of three worlds for all eternity.”

And he learned to live in the presence of Jesus and experience His empathy right there in the place where he was locked up: “He will be a confined prisoner with me.  He lieth down and riseth up with me; when I sigh, He sigheth; when I weep, He suffereth with me.”

So what can I learn from this man who has long been one of my heroes?  That I shouldn’t beat myself up if I feel depressed or anxious about the situation – that is a natural human reaction to these circumstances.  But also, not to wallow in those feelings, but to turn my eyes upon Jesus, and to pray for those from whom I am now separated.

Her Majesty the Queen, in her recent broadcast, encouraged us to use this time for prayer and meditation – it sounds as though she may have discovered something of Rutherford’s secret, too.  Experience tells me that if I will take time to focus on Jesus, I too will find the joy of His presence, just as Samuel Rutherford did.  There are lessons to be learned, and if my heart is soft, I will learn them as he did: “Our soft nature would be borne through the troubles of this life in Christ’s arms; and it is His wisdom, who knoweth our mould, that His bairns go wet-shod and cold-footed to heaven…. Time will eat away and root out our woes and sorrow. Our heaven is in the bud, and growing up to an harvest.”

At the very end of his life, Rutherford wrote to a minister whose congregation were unable to meet all together (sounds familiar?) and urged them to gather in small groups in homes on different days and do the work of fervent prayer.  He wrote, “Though the same particular day be not observed, yet, where many are on work, some salvation from the Lord’s arm is to be expected.”

Eventually, in his captivity, his restless nights of anxiety over absent loved ones had given way to a peace that enabled him to sleep undisturbed in God’s presence: “Christ will have joy and sorrow halvers of the lives of the saints, and that each of them should have a share of our days….But if sorrow be the greedier halver of our days here, I know that joy’s day shall dawn.… When we are over the water, Christ shall cry down crosses and up heaven for evermore! and down death, and down hell, and down sin, and down sorrow! and up glory, up life, up joy for evermore!  In this hope I sleep quietly in Christ’s bosom.”

So my prayer for myself and all of us as we live this strange new life of disconnection and separation from familiar places and people is that we will discover, as Samuel Rutherford did, that we can be open about our doubts and anxieties, but we can give them to Jesus, and we can use this time to grow ever closer and more familiar with Him, and that we will emerge from this time with a new depth of passion in our love for Jesus that will redirect our lives from here on, into a new path of intimacy with Him.

Easter morning meditation in a garden

Sunday 12th April 2020

Out of the dark perplexity of burial
Comes the first cotyledon,
Pushing soil out of the way;
Like finger tips grasping the stone of the doorway,
Tentatively exploring the absence of obstruction.

Then, hungry for growth,
It searches for light to photosynthesize sugars
From carbon dioxide in the air;
Like the face peering from the gloom of confinement,
Squeezing the body through the narrow doorway
To sit in sunlight on the discarded boulder
And fill grateful lungs with renewed air.

What follows is effortless, inevitable,
The lengthening stalk, the burgeoning leaf,
The pregnant bud replete with incipient seed,
Bound to reproduce in perpetuity;
Like the secret concealed in the laughter
That ripples from the joyous throat,
Life that will replicate Himself
And bring many souls to glory.

Peace in a time of pandemic

This was written for Through the Roof ( and is reproduced here by kind permission.

I used to think leaving my tiny premature baby in SCBU each evening not knowing whether she would make it through the night was as traumatic as it gets, and maybe it was.  She’s now 36 and resident in a care home and I’m not currently allowed to take her out or even visit her. Seeing her on the other end of a Skype call distraught beyond words and seriously self-harming comes pretty close to being the most traumatic!   As a mum, all my instincts are to rush round and scoop her up in my arms but that is the one thing I’m not allowed to do.

It’s a weird kind of comfort to know that other friends are in the same boat.  There’s a sense of being in this together, of going through a shared experience.  There are some people whose empathy means a huge amount because you know they really do understand.

But though the grief and heartbreak is real, there’s one thing I’ve learned over many years of parenting a child with multiple disabilities and health problems.  When Jesus said, “I leave My peace with you. I give My peace to you. I do not give it to you as the world does. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not be afraid”, He wasn’t holding up some lofty ideal, attainable only to the spiritually superior.  He was describing a present reality in times of deep, dark trouble.

I remember when my daughter had an operation for scoliosis at the age of 11.  The doctor told us gravely that her spine had become so twisted and deformed that it was compressing her heart, lungs and stomach and putting her at imminent risk of heart failure.  He asked us to sign a consent form for the operation to insert a rod the entire length of her spine.  And he explained the risks – a fairly small risk that she might end up completely paralysed, and a more significant risk that she might not survive the operation at all.  As he passed the consent form for signing, he said, “All her life you’ve taken responsibility for her, and now I’m asking you to take responsibility for this, too.  It needs to be done soon; we can’t leave it a year, she doesn’t have a year left.”

That was in January.  It went close to the wire.  By the time all the support systems were in place for her aftercare and the operation could go ahead, it was October.  We were told the operation would take a minimum of five hours if it went smoothly, but that they never do go smoothly.  We were told that she would need at least 48 hours in intensive care and a month in hospital.  We accompanied her to the operating theatre and the consultant told us to go home and spend time with our other children, promising to phone us as soon as there was any news.

After only 3 hours the phone rang and I picked it up.  It was the consultant surgeon and my heart sank.  Was he phoning to tell us the worst?  “I’m absolutely amazed and delighted,” he said.  The operation has gone like the smoothest possible textbook procedure.  She’s doing ok and she’s in recovery.”  We returned to the hospital.  Our daughter was transferred to a side room off the children’s ward with an intensive care nurse in attendance, but incredibly she didn’t go into intensive care.  She was discharged from hospital just three weeks later.  Yes, there was some permanent damage from the handling of her spinal cord, but she adapted to her new limitations and has gone on to have a happy and fulfilling life.

I remember those three weeks that she was in hospital.  She was on morphine for the pain from such a drastic operation, but we soon found that the morphine was supressing her breathing and the dose had to be reduced until she was in sufficient pain to keep her alert enough to breathe.  That was distressing to witness.  I sat in a chair at her bedside, day and night for 3 weeks, snatching naps when she was calm or asleep.

My overwhelming memory of those three weeks is of an almost tangible sense of the presence of Jesus in the room, filling me with a joy that defied explanation or description.  I thought of Paul’s words about there being a “peace that passes all understanding” and I paraphrased it as “a peace that’s ridiculous in the circumstances”.

My daughter and I emerged from that hospital room to face new beginnings – she with an indefinite extension of the life that had come so close to an untimely end, and I with a deep and enduring love-relationship with the Jesus who had sustained me and filled me with His joy at the most unlikely of times.

Some of us are now facing a prolonged period of unbearable separation and hardship, witnessing our children suffer in ways we cannot alleviate for them.  It’s ok to cry!  I’ve done quite a lot of that myself this week.  But let’s not forget where our source of peace comes from.  These are the very times in our lives when we get to prove the reality of God’s promises.  Let’s turn our eyes resolutely to Jesus and stay fixed on Him.

And when we get overwhelmed by the magnitude of what is happening, the way it seems to stretch out endlessly before us with no end in sight, the fear and anxiety in society and the media all around us, and we wonder what to pray for and where to begin, there’s a great prayer in the Old Testament which Jehoshaphat prayed when his army faced overwhelming odds:  “Lord, we do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.”  (2 Chronicles 20. 12) Make that your prayer as you face the current global situation, in whatever way it affects you.  May you know His presence with you and His joy in your heart no matter what the coming days hold for you.

Ruled by the Shepherd’s Rod

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

I am unashamedly a word nerd. The only subjects I was any good at when I was at school were the ones that involved the meanings of words – English language and literature and foreign languages. I am fascinated by the meanings, the spellings, the origins and derivation of words, and by the connections between words in different languages. So when I read the New Testament, I often go back to the Greek and ask the question, “What did it actually say and mean in the original?”

I was recently involved in a discussion in which someone was promoting war on the grounds that Jesus is war-like because in Revelation it says that He will rule the nations with a rod of iron. How, I asked myself, can the Prince of Peace be war-like? It makes no sense, and it also doesn’t accord with the character of Jesus as portrayed in the Gospels.

So I went back to the Greek and looked up what those passages in Revelation actually say in the original language. It was a very enlightening study.

Firstly I noted that there are three words commonly used in the New Testament to denote “rule”. One means to lord it over someone, one means to govern and one means to lead or guide. However, none of those words is used in relation to ruling the nations with a rod of iron. The word used is ποίμήν (poimen). This word actually means to pastor or shepherd, and derives from an origin that has to do with feeding cattle.

The first two references (Revelation 2.27 and 12.5) therefore actually state that He will pastor or shepherd the nations with an iron rod – a very different image from that of an iron-fisted ruler subjugating his enemies by force. The third reference (Revelation 19.15) is very interesting. It says that He will smite the nations with the sword of His mouth – a picture used elsewhere as a metaphor for the Word of God – but also that He will shepherd them with an iron rod. The image is of a shepherd who leads His flock to safety, occasionally whacking them back into line either verbally or with His rod when they stray from where they should be.

It struck me that if Jesus’ style of leadership, even in respect of those who disregard or reject His rule, is to shepherd them rather than to use violence to destroy them, how tender must His heart be towards those who love Him, and those who are vulnerable and in need of His protection.

In Isaiah 40 the prophet announces some good news, so important that he must go up to a high place and announce it. The news is that God is coming to rule with a strong hand and arm. And then in verse 11 it describes what this rule looks like: “He shall feed his flock like a shepherd: He shall gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young.”

What a comfort for those of us who find ourselves in need of His rule. Maybe someone reading this is experiencing hardship because of a society that discriminates against disabled people, or a welfare system that leaves their finances in chaos. Maybe someone reading it is struggling to trust God while a physical, sensory or mental condition makes life a daily struggle. I don’t know about you, but at such times I long for someone to come and bring some order into my life, some governance that can be relied on and makes sense of what I’m going through. Isaiah’s good news is that there is One whose strong arm will take the chaos of life and bring it into order.

Now think about what it means to have a God whose heart even towards His enemies is to shepherd them, and whose heart towards you is to carry you through the troubles of life, to feed you and pastor you. What a wonderful thought with which to begin a New Year. At a time when the nations rage and the peoples imagine a vain thing, when the kings and the rulers of the earth take counsel together and set themselves against God’s rule (Psalm 2. 1-2) God can laugh at them (Psalm 2. 4) because He knows that His ways are not their ways. His ways are to shepherd and guide and bring a reign of righteousness, and His ways towards us are to heal and to bind up (Psalm 147.3).

So I wish you every blessing for 2020, whatever it brings, and I pray that your experience of God’s rule in your life will be one of guiding, feeding, protecting and all the other things the Great Shepherd does to care for His sheep.