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Friends, Romans, and……..York!

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York Minster

Writing about my weekend in Cambridge has inspired me to write about our day in York with friends from London. They had never visited Yorkshire before, so Paul (my husband) and I were looking forward to ‘showing off’ one of our favourite cities!

The day dawned fine and sunny. It was a good sign, and a reflection of the excitement I was feeling at the prospect of meeting up with our friends. Brian, an old schoolfriend of Paul’s, and Michele, his wife, who we hadn’t yet met. We had met Brian a few months before at a school reunion in London. As I wrote in my last blog, we had friended Brian and Michele on Facebook and we were very much looking forward to spending the day with them.

We set off for the hour’s drive to York, filled with expectation of a lovely day ahead. I love meeting up with friends, and York being one of my favourite cities, the two combined was an exciting prospect!

Paul and I arrived early, so we spent a pleasant hour or two wandering around the delightful cobbled streets steeped in history, stopping for a drink en route.

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The Shambles, York

We had arranged to meet our friends outside the Minster. With only a small section currently covered by scaffolding, it looked very impressive, with its sandstone walls gleaming in the sunlight. Paul and I wandered around the gardens at the back of the Minster, pausing at a wall of arches with wreaths commemorating the men who died in WW1, it being the Centenary this year of the start of that war.

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By the South door of the Minster is a statue of Constantine the Great, who was proclaimed Emperor of Rome in York in AD306.

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Statue of Constantine the Great

Across the road there is a Roman column, dating from the same period. Paul and I were amazed at being able to see and touch something from that period, and the fact that it was so well preserved.

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Roman Column, York

As we were walking back to the main entrance of the Minster, I suddenly spotted a couple a few yards in front of us and I said to Paul, “It’s them!” They turned round as I got to them, and there were smiles, hugs and greetings all round!

We made our way to the entrance. It has been years since I saw the inside of this impressive building, and my first impression was of grandeur and colour, as I gazed at the huge stained glass windows all around me. I was awestruck throughout our tour at the craftsmanship and work that had gone into creating this piece of our history.

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One of York Minster's impressive windows.

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The above photos of these amazing windows were taken by Brian, used with his permission.

I was amazed to discover, as we continued our tour, that the stonemasons currently working on the Minster still use the same kind of tools and traditional craft skills to maintain the building as would have been used in medieval times. As I felt the stones displayed, and the different textures, it was incredible to think of the painstaking work that goes into carving each one. They are, at the moment, conserving and replacing nearly 3,500 stones on the Minster’s East End and are working to restore the medieval masterpiece, the Great East Window, along with York’s Glaziers Trust.

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The Great East Window

Walking through the Crypt, we discovered a quiet little corner, a single candle stood on a stone table, with a  backdrop of a beautiful stone wall, such lovely pastel colours, very calming and peaceful. I took a photo of this simple, but lovely scene.

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The Chapter House was particularly interesting, built in the second half of the 13th Century and octagonally shaped. Lots of geometric patterns, beautiful stained glass and floor tiles. Though I didn’t particularly like the stone ‘heads’ that were carved into the pillars along the walls, I did notice that every face was different, and I marvelled as I thought of the painstaking work and skill that had gone into creating each one.

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The fantastic ceiling in the Chapter House

But the part that impressed me most was the spectacular ceiling, the brilliant photo here taken by Brian who, thankfully, wasn’t laying on his back in the middle of the room at the time, unlike an obviously professional photographer who was laid on his back while we were there, pointing an enormous camera lens at the ceiling! Brian did threaten to join him, but Michele and I told him we would promptly leave if he did!

After leaving the Minster, we went for a coffee. Sitting in a coffee shop with friends has to be one of my favourite pastimes, and we had a lovely time chatting and getting to know each other better, Paul and Brian reminiscing about their school days.

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From left to right, Brian, Michele and Paul

After walking round the shops for a while, as dusk began to settle, we had a walk along the wall, climbing up the steep steps from Monk Bar. I have to say, this was my favourite part of the day and the perfect time to see the Minster lit up from this great vantage point.

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No visit to this beautiful city is complete without a walk along its ancient wall, beneath the medieval stonework lie the remains of earlier walls, dating as far back as the Roman period.

We sat on a bench in an alcove for a photo while admiring the wonderful scenery.

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From left to right, me, Brian and Michele

It was very peaceful and quiet, and we would like to have stayed longer, but were anxious not to get trapped on the wall if the gates closed!

After leaving the wall, we spent a lovely couple of hours chatting over a pub meal, sitting in a courtyard lit by fairy lights.

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It was the perfect end to a lovely day.

Blessed of Friends

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I arrived home yesterday evening after a most memorable two days away, journeying to and from the beautiful city of Cambridge. The weekend started at 5.00 am on Saturday morning and a reviving cuppa. At 7.15, my husband drove me to Scarborough railway station where I boarded a train to York, arriving with plenty of time on my hands to grab a takeaway coffee and ‘people watch’, while waiting for my coach that was to take me to Milton Keynes, where I was to change coaches for Cambridge.

The day was grey, threatening rain, but inside I was excited at the prospect of a day of travel. I love sitting on coaches or trains, gazing out of the window at the passing world, and daydreaming. I was often told off by my teacher at school for doing just that during lessons!

I decided, as it was rather cold at the bus stop opposite the railway station, that I would wait inside for my coach, so I settled myself on a bench, situated next to a policeman, who was standing watching the folk in the station, some chatting together, coffee in hand, others rushing to catch trains. I imagined he was hoping there wouldn’t be any trouble, though he looked rather important standing there looking like a Sentry at Buckingham Palace! He didn’t look worried! After a while, a lady came up to him and started chatting amiably. I had no idea whether they actually knew each other, but she sounded as though she had known him for years! He was politely answering her questions and nodding in the right places! After a couple of minutes, her friend came up to them and animatedly informed the policeman that  “My friend will flirt with anyone in uniform!”

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York Railway Station

I boarded the coach and settled down for a few hours of blissful peace and rest, with the knowledge that at the end of my journey would be a delightful evening with friends. I was on my way to a house concert by two great musicians Peter Banks (from After The Fire, my favourite band!), and James Weaver, who called themselves Cafe Musica. I knew there would be friends there who I usually only communicated with on Facebook, and it was so exciting to be meeting them again for real. We only really met up at music gigs, so I sat on my coach with great anticipation of a wonderful evening to come.

Several hours later, I arrived at Milton Keynes Coachway, which at first I thought was a very large greenhouse! It was pouring with rain and I was glad I could walk off the coach straight into the warmth of the coach station. It had rained for the whole journey. Above the driver, and behind him, was a screen facing the passengers, which showed the road ahead from the windscreen. I had never seen a film before of ‘A Coach Driver’s View of the Road Ahead’! But all I could see were the windscreen wipers flying across the screen!

At one point in the journey I needed the loo, and wondered whether I could possibly wait until I got to Milton Keynes, as I didn’t particularly relish the idea of using the loo on the coach. But when you have to go………it was literally a moving experience! I actually slid from one end of the cubicle to the other, landing on the wall behind the toilet and hoping fervently that the passengers sitting outside hadn’t heard! I managed to hold on to a conveniently placed rail to avoid landing in the toilet, and was very thankful when I got out and no-one looked oddly at me!

From Milton Keynes, I boarded the coach for Cambridge, knowing my hosts would be meeting me at the other end. At the coach stop on Parkside in Cambridge (the photo at the top was my view!), I was met by car, and we drove to the venue, a beautiful house which was a converted barn,  with high, vaulted ceilings, lovely beams, and was lit with coloured fairy lights. On arrival, I was greeted with music, as Cafe Musica were rehearsing. Some friends had already arrived and there were hugs all round!

I gazed at my surroundings. There were doors leading off to…..where? Some led to stairways, some to more rooms. It was such a lovely quirky house, and in the lounge where the concert was due to take place, there was a balcony around the room under the huge ceiling. On the right there was a massive fireplace with a huge log burner. The band were playing right in front of it, and thankfully, it wasn’t lit!

How lovely it was, after the rehearsal, to share a meal around the table before the concert, and such a world away from simply communicating online with comments on Facebook. To be face to face with such lovely friends, chatting, laughing, and eating together in such a beautiful setting, was wonderful, though it was through Facebook, and a mutual love of music, especially the band After The Fire, that we had met.

The concert was brilliant, great music, banter, chatting together in the interval over drinks and cake! Delightful!

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It was hard saying goodbye to everyone at the end, but after a day of travelling, I was glad to get to bed! I slept in a lovely little room with a low, beamed, sloping ceiling. My friend, who hosted the concert, told me as she showed me my room, “Don’t worry if you hear scuttling during the night, it’s only the mice in the roof!” And she reassured me that they wouldn’t come into the room! Fortunately I didn’t hear any scuttling, the mice must have been wearing slippers! Maybe it was my ‘coach lag’, but as I fell asleep, I thought of making tiny mice slippers out of the tops of cotton buds………
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The following morning dawned bright, with the sun making a brave effort to shine through the clouds. After a delightful breakfast, my friends drove me to the centre of Cambridge, where I had an hour of meandering before catching my coach…..a delightful prospect! How uplifting it was to walk the graceful streets of this beautiful city, gazing upwards at the lovely buildings, with the backdrop of the Sunday morning chimes of the church bells creating a welcoming atmosphere.

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My heart felt so full of joy and gratitude! I grabbed a takeaway coffee and wandered past the market, and a curious round church.

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I also couldn’t help noticing how many bikes there were in this city, parked against every railing! I thought to myself that the citizens of Cambridge must be very fit!

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I strolled through some lovely streets filled with delightful shops, and determined that one day I would return and explore them properly.

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As it got close to the time when I had to catch my coach, I started to panic slightly that I couldn’t find the right road. I had a map on my phone, but couldn’t work out where I was! After a while I asked a lady how to get to Parkside and this lovely woman (who I decided was an angel!), guided me in the right direction. (I had been headed in the wrong direction!). I made it with time to spare.

I had another nine hours of coach travel before arriving home, and during the journey I couldn’t help thinking “All there ever was, and all there ever will be is this coach……!” I felt I could have slept for a week! Towards the end of the journey, with an hour or two to go, a young man sitting opposite me started whistling very cheerfully. I was just about to hit him with my handbag, when, luckily for him, he stopped!

But during the journey I also had plenty of time to think about the lovely evening i’d had and how wonderful it was to spend time with friends, eating, listening to music, hugging, chatting, just enjoying being together.

Facebook can be such a blessing, a way of meeting people, keeping in touch with family and friends, and I have had reason to be very grateful for this social media, but how much more delightful it is to meet friends face to face!

Where does our hope lie?

Yesterday, I found myself thinking about what we base our lives on. I am writing this in the week between Christmas and New Year and, with the Christmas festivities now over and having had a wonderful time with family and friends, opening our lovely presents on Christmas Day with our children (two of whom are now grown up but always come to our house early on Christmas morning to open their stockings and presents!), and eating too much chocolate, my thoughts yesterday turned to where our hopes lie and what we make the focus of our lives.  This morning, as usual on a Sunday, I attended our church and two ladies shared in turn their experiences of working with different charities our church supports, one in a deprived area of Tanzania and the other in an orphanage in India.  As I listened to both stories, both ladies sharing how amazed they were at the poverty in the communities they visited, but also the smiles on the faces of the people they met, smiles of genuine happiness and joy, and the incredible generosity of those people in such poor communities who had next to nothing, I found myself feeling sad at the materialism in our country, so many people building their lives on things that are not going to last.

After our friends had shared their memorable stories, our Pastor got up to speak.  His sermon was on the subject of hope.  Where does our hope lie?  Are we hoping that, because we haven’t done anything particularly bad, that we will somehow get to heaven on our own merit?  Or are we just not thinking that far ahead and enjoying the trappings this world has to offer?  Both are foolish.  Like the man who built his house on the sand, relying on our own ‘goodness’ or focusing on material things, are very precarious foundations for our lives. When storms come, or tragedy, or illness, we realize how shallow and unstable they are.  We can never be good enough for heaven. God demands perfection, and none of us are perfect. Material things will rot away, they can not last for ever and we can’t take them with us when we die. 

That is the bad news.  As Romans Chapter 3 says, ‘There is no-one righteous, not even one, there is no-one who understands, no-one who seeks God.  All have turned away….’  On our own we would never turn to God.  The world, combined with our natural self-centeredness, blind us to the truth.  Later in that chapter we read, ‘…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God….’ but these words are followed by amazing good news! ‘…and are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.  God presented Him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in His blood……He did this to demonstrate His justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies the man who has faith in Jesus.’

Jesus is the Rock on who we must build our lives.  One day we will all die, and all the ‘stuff’ we have accumulated in our lives will be worth nothing.  We must focus now on what will last forever.  The Bible says, ‘These three remain…faith, hope and love…but the greatest of these is love.’  Jesus, God’s son, came down from heaven as a baby, which we have just celebrated at Christmas, and demonstrated His love for us by living a perfect life because He knew we couldn’t, then died on the cross to take the punishment we deserve, then rising from the dead, so we can have eternal life. If we trust Jesus as our Saviour, and if He is the foundation of our lives, then, as Romans 5 says, ‘Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through Whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand.  And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.’  Grace is undeserved merit and is absolutely amazing.  It is God’s free gift to us through His son Jesus. 

So, are we going to build our lives on sand? Or on rock?  Jesus Himself said, in Luke Chapter 12, “Watch out!  Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”  He went on to tell the parable of a rich man whose land produced a good crop.  He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’  Then he said, ‘This is what I will do.  I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods.  And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of good things laid up for many years.  Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.” ‘

But God said to him, ‘You fool!  This very night your life will be demanded from you.  Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’  “This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich towards God.” ‘

Harsh words? But Jesus said those words because He loves us, not to condemn us!  I have noticed when I read about the rich and famous, how dysfunctional their lives often are and how having a lot of money, big houses, fleets of cars, expensive holidays, and everything else this world has to offer doesn’t seem to make them happy!  Doesn’t it seem sensible to build our hope on things that will last forever?  Faith, hope and love….the greatest commandment, and the one thing that will satisfy and fulfill us is this, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind,  and love your neighbour as yourself.’  This can be found in Matthew chapter 22 verses 38 and 39.  And we cannot outgive God…the more we give out, the more we receive from Him! 

So….where does our hope lie?

One Small Step at a Time!

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We often look through a keyhole at the miracle on the other side of the door and forget the miracles in ordinary living!

Imagine you are standing at the edge of a river, looking across at the opposite bank. There are wonderful things over there. But you can’t get across the river in one huge stride, God provides a bridge. You can only cross the bridge one ordinary, obedient step at a time.

A while ago, God spoke to my heart when I had been getting frustrated that I didn’t seem to be fulfilling my calling…He said, “Do what I put in front of you!”  When I thought about it, it was obvious. What God puts in front of us is usually ordinary, but those small faithful steps lead to more. If we are faithful with the little things, God will entrust us with bigger things!

‘By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going.’ (Hebrews 11 v 8)

Joy! The Heartbeat of Heaven!

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Today has been one of those days when I wish I could have stayed in bed! I clean houses on four days a week and today I felt as if I was working on autopilot! I felt so tired! I expect you, like me, have had days like that. Maybe today is one of them.

When I got home from work, I decided to have a rest before our daughter came home. While resting on my bed I began to read my book at the page where I had got to. The book is called The Happy Intercessor and is by Beni Johnson.  As I read I was reminded that God WANTS to release JOY in us! If we know and love God and have accepted Jesus as our Saviour then we are already citizens of heaven! The world we live in now needs to see happy, joyful, alive people of God who love and serve others with hearts full of joy! The Bible says, ‘The joy of the Lord is your strength!’ Jesus, though He suffered a lot on this earth, was full of joy and He brought heaven’s joy to many many people wherever He went. He wants us to do the same!

‘If I say, “I will forget my complaint, I will put off my sad face and wear a smile.” ‘ (Job 9: 27)

This doesn’t mean gritting our teeth when we are going through a difficult time. It means consciously deciding to accept our Heavenly Father’s offer of the gift of Joy…..a present from heaven. Jesus showed this joy which, like God’s peace, another free gift, is beyond our human understanding.  We can’t always control our circumstances, but we can decide to ‘put off [our] sad face[s] and wear a smile! We can’t do it in our own strength but God will give us the gift of joy…all we need do is ask Him for it!

After reading my book, I decided that I was fed up of feeling fed up!! Even though I am still feeling very tired, I did ask God for His gift of joy, and guess what! I am smiling!

God bless you and fill you with His love, joy and peace. Amen.

“Is God Deaf?”

A strange title, you may think! But there have been times in my life when I did think God might have selective hearing!! And it always seemed to be during the most difficult times of my life when I was crying out to God that He seemed not to be listening.

Why is this? Is God really not listening to our cries for help? Or is it that we are so busy yelling at Him and questioning His promises and His faithfulness, that we are not willing, or even thinking about being still and just…listening. When Elijah hid in his cave, God did not speak in the earthquake, the fire, or the wind, though He was there in the midst of all that. God spoke in the stillness….though He is awesome and mighty and all powerful, His was a still small voice….and in order to hear that still small voice we need to ‘be still…and know that He is God’. He is in control. He loves you. He has your best interests at heart. He KNOWS what you are going through. He knows your pain. He has answers to all your questions.

Faith is quieting…faith is knowing. Faith is stillness in the midst of the storm. Faith is a gift from God. ‘Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.’

Be still….and be at peace, knowing God really is in control. It will be ok. Bless you.

Grasshoppers and Giants

ImageAre you facing a giant today?  In the Bible, you will find the story in Numbers Chapter 13, verses 26 to 33, twelve men were sent out from the Israelites to explore the land of Canaan, which God had promised them as their inheritance.  Twelve men were sent out, but only two were confident that they could take the land.  Ten men were afraid of the people they saw there, called the Nephilim, and who seemed like giants because they were very tall!  They said to Moses and Aaron, “We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them!”

If we abandon our faith in God and turn away from our problems, then we easily put ourselves in a position to be swallowed up by what was meant for our growth.

In the New Testament, in 1 Corinthians Chapter 2 verses 1 to 5, Paul speaks to the church in Corinth, and in this passage and elsewhere, he and others present to us two kinds of Christian experience, both are equally valid and necessary.  On the one hand, there are such strong, almost boastful affirmations, for example, “God…always leads us in triumph in Christ!” or “To me to live is Christ!” and “I can do all things in Him that strengthens me!”  Yet, on the other hand, Paul, and others, with equal truth, write that they have had to confess “We despaired even of life!”, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am the worst!” and “We also are weak in Him!”

This seems to be another kind of Christian!  Faulty, frail, fearful, and alarmingly lacking in confidence.  But in fact, the real life of a child of God consists in the co-existence of these two experiences.  We would all prefer, of course, to concentrate on the first, and forget the other, but to know them both is to know Him who is our loving Heavenly Father, our God, however we feel…and we can know and rely on His strength, whatever we are going through.

The trials we experience, and there may be one confronting you at this very moment, may be quite as gigantic as were some of the Canaanites, but God intends to use them for our good, and on our way to our destination in heaven, where they will be no more, they will bring us closer to Jesus as we rely on His strength and not our own.  I don’t know about you, but not having to rely on my own strength is a great relief!  I am weak but God is strong! Amen!

Whatever you are facing today, turn to God, be honest and tell Him how you feel…He loves that!  Be still, and know that He is in control and that He loves you very much.  He wants the very best for you – He is the perfect Father and He is bigger than all our giants!  I pray you will know His peace in the coming days.  God bless you.

Heather