The Check I Never Wanted…

It was sitting quietly in the mailbox one misty morning. Waiting for me to find it. I knew what it was before I opened the envelope.

International Special Delivery, the important stamp said. I normally love mail from England… it’s always family-sent. But this one was different.

I opened it slowly and pulled out the contents. An impressive logo announced, ‘Zurich Bank’.  So here it was…. the check I never wanted.

Dear Mrs Nellist, Paying the claim on your father’s Adaptable Life Plan, the words said in bold.

Your. father’s. Adaptable. Life. Plan. 

I had to read those words three times and still I didn’t want to believe them. Is that my father? The one with a twinkle in his eye and a love for life?

2016-01-13 22.41.27The one who taught me how to swim, and played badminton with me on holiday?

The one who walked with me through the woods, and taught me how to spot glow worms in the dark?

The one who held my hand when I was in the dentist chair, and read books to me every night?

The one who taught me the name of every insect and every tree?

The one who happily gave away everything he owned, and the only things he ever saved for himself were acorns in his pocket?

Do you mean my father? Surely not.

Because if you do, then I don’t want this check.

What I want is for my wonderful dad to see what I’m seeing… which is a fiercely protective robin, who labored long to build a scraggly nest in a ladder outside my front door; who carefully laid four little blue eggs in there; who chases away every naughty chipmunk that dares to go near her home; who sits on those eggs every minute so that her young can have the very best future possible.

Who, when those babies are born, will watch over them, and love them, and feed them, and nurture them, and teach them everything they need to know about the world….

just like my wonderful dad did for me.

And if I could hug him again, and laugh with him again, and walk with him again, and show him the robin building her nest, I would gladly rip this check to pieces.

But it’s his way, my wonderful father’s way, of caring for me, even though he’s gone.

He’s gone.

20160517_093015

I Wish You Knew. (A Tribute to My Mum)

Her name was Isabella. She hated it, and preferred to be called Isobel. But she hated that too. She thought it old-fashioned.

2016-05-07 23.11.06

I wish she knew now how popular that sweet name is, and how, when I meet that little girl called Bella, she always makes me think of her. But there’s a lot I wish she knew now.

I wish she knew that I married David, whom she adored.

I wish she knew that he became a pastor…how surprised and thrilled she would have been!

I wish she knew that I had four wonderful sons, that my family has grown to welcome three daughters-in-law, and four adorable grandchildren.

I wish she knew that I went into teaching, and eventually became a children’s book author.

Because it’s really due to her.

Those who know me well would never, ever believe that I was a naughty girl at school. But I was. My poor parents were constantly hauled into the headmaster’s office, as he tried to rein in my unruly behavior.

I remember one of those occasions more than most.

I’m sitting in his office, while he glowers at me from behind his big important desk. His black gown is as dark as his mood. I’m sure I deserve to be there. I probably deserve to be shouted at too, but I can’t remember what I’ve done. Perhaps I got caught smoking again, or perhaps it was the time when I nicked someone’s bike from the bike shed and rode off down the road with my best friend. But we had only sneaked away from boring science class to get some fish and chips… what’s wrong with that?

Whatever it was, I’m upset. And that’s unusual too… because I’m a bit of a rebel, and I have a hard exterior. But the headmaster in the black cloak has no hope at all for my future; in fact, he thinks I’m heading for failure.

And perhaps I was.

But that’s when I hear Mum come to my defense. To be honest, I can’t remember her exact words, but they went something like this:

But did you know, Mr Ellis, that she is SO very good and patient with children? I wish you could see Glenys at home. She takes her little niece, stands her on a chair, and they bake dozens of wonderful fairy cakes together. They line them all up on the kitchen table, and fill them with custard and jam. Glenys is so good with her! I just know she’s meant to work with children.

Mum didn’t know that she had just sowed a seed in my heart, that I would one day become a teacher, and out of that, my love for writing for children would grow.

She didn’t know because she took her last breath the day I sat my final exam at college. She never saw me wear the cap and gown, or pick up the pen to write Love Letters from God.

Mum has been walking those gold-paved streets for thirty-five long years. This month, I will turn fifty-seven, the age she was when that cruel illness stole her from us.

I wish she knew how thankful I am, what a privilege it was to be raised in that wonderful home, a place full of laughter, and busyness, and song.

A place where a hard-working lady called Isobel did her best to raise eight children, and saw the good in them when others couldn’t.

I wish she knew.

Why Your Church Needs to Celebrate Children’s Sabbath

She could have been at home, watching cartoons or playing outside.

She could have been out shopping with her mama, or enjoying a pancake breakfast in the restaurant on this Sunday morning.

But instead, she’s here, this little girl with the blonde hair and the big pink bow. She’s here, breaking the bread, and smiling, holding it out at arm’s length well before we’ve even reached the altar, as if it’s really important, as if to say:

Come and get this! It’s just for you! Its special!

2016-05-01 18.10.51

And it was.

In fact, my whole morning was special.

It was Children’s Sunday in this United Methodist Church, a special day set aside to celebrate the children in our midst.

Everything about this service said: We love children. Children are special to us.

From the bulletin cover,

2016-05-01 20.12.00

to the Call to Worship…

2016-05-01 20.08.41

From the prayers of blessing,

20160501_102510

to the benediction…

2016-05-01 19.10.06

everything involved children, and told them, over and over again:

You’re important here.

And so it’s not really surprising is it, that the little girl with the blonde hair and the big pink bow should be here at all? Because isn’t this the place where she knows she’s welcomed, and loved, and needed, and important?

I’m watching this little child.

I notice how she crouches down to one who is smaller than her.

20160501_111450 (1)

I see how she fixes her eyes on one who is older than her.

20160501_111502 (1)

And when it’s my turn, she gives me the biggest smile and tears off the biggest piece of bread, and she tells me, quite confidently and with no doubt in her voice:

 Jesus loves you.

I don’t know how many people received communion from this little girl.. but she managed to make me feel like I was the only one who mattered that morning.

I don’t know how she did that.

But she did.

No wonder that the Kingdom of God belongs to such as these.

***********

Eight easy ideas to include in Children’s Sabbath:

  1. Have a child design the bulletin.
  2. Use the Call to Worship included in this post.
  3. Have children read the scripture.
  4. Invite them to extend their hands during prayers of blessing.
  5. Have children lead the benediction, ‘Go in peace to love and serve the Lord’ in sign language.
  6. Let children serve communion.
  7. Decorate the altar with balloons and toys.
  8. Before the service begins, hand musical instruments out to every child and invite them to play along whenever music is heard.

My thanks to Pastors Mary Ivanov and Erin Fitzgerald for these wonderful ideas, and for reminding me in powerful ways to whom the Kingdom of God belongs.

Where Hope is Hiding

It was a grey, misty morning when the plane took off from Portland’s International airport.

The drive to the airport had been bleak too. Who likes goodbyes? The weather matched my mood.

We gave our last hugs and boarded the plane, Michigan bound. Rain poured down the little windowpane.

But less than five minutes later, this was our view….

Mount Hood

Mount Hood’s spectacular snow-capped peak was waiting to surprise us, in skies bluer than the ocean, and brighter than I could believe. We had climbed above the clouds, and left the rain behind.

No matter what, there’s always hope.

And when hope seems to hide… beyond the clouds, or deep in the darkness of the earth, or curled in the shriveled chrysalis… we just have to remember that it’s waiting, unseen, to surprise us.

Because every daffodil that was once squashed deep in the dirt, and every butterfly that was once caught in the chrysalis, and every mountain peak that was once shrouded in mist, they all sing the same glorious song….

it’s the song of hope.

Hope is faith holding out its hand in the dark. George Iles.

That Quiet Cave…

Jesus was dead.

Joseph and Nicodemus were sad. They carefully took his body down from the cross. They cleaned him. They made him smell nice. They wrapped his body in strips of white linen and carried him to a quiet cave on the hillside. They laid Jesus down inside the cave. Then they said goodbye. And before they left, they rolled a big stone over the entrance.

Jesus was dead.

Outside the cave, two guards kept watch. The big heavy stone was sealed in place. Around the cave, leaves fluttered silently in the wind. Above the cave, the skies were gray. Rain fell softly from heaven and pitter-pattered on the hillside. And for three whole days, all was still.

IMG_20160326_102124

But inside that quiet cave something was happening.

God was working.

God was doing a new thing.

If you tried to peep inside, you couldn’t see anything. No eye could see it.

If you stood outside and put your ear to the big stone, you couldn’t hear anything. No ear could hear it.

If you tried to imagine what was happening, you couldn’t. No mind could imagine it.

But inside, God was doing something new—something utterly amazing. Something only God could do.

Jesus waited.

And the world held its breath and waited with him.

No one’s ever seen or heard anything like this, Never so much as imagined anything quite like it— What God has arranged for those who love him. 1 Corinthians 2:9

The Trouble with Holy Week

I will not buy a glass of freshly squeezed pomegranate juice. I will not. Even though I know how delicious it is, and I really do want one. I turn away from this tempting stall even though I can smell its juicy, ripe fruit from here, and try to focus.

I’m standing in one of Jerusalem’s tiny, fascinating, cobbled streets. This route is called the Via Dolorosa. I’m one of a group, trying to listen to our tour guide as we follow in the last footsteps of Jesus. The triumphal procession and celebration of Palm Sunday is long gone for Jesus. What lies ahead is horrific, and unbelievable, and unimaginably cruel.

These are the very streets through which Jesus dragged his heavy cross, stumbling under its weight, bleeding onto the cobbles, while people watched and laughed and cheered.

We’ve just emerged from the darkness of an underground room, the place where Pilate condemned Jesus to death. We’re ready to go where Jesus went. I’m behind my sister-in-law and I hear her whisper to my brother, as she slips her hand in his:

Let’s follow the footsteps of Jesus.

2016-03-22 09.15.41

I’m already feeling emotional as I really think about where his footsteps would take him.

But as soon as we emerge on to those busy Jerusalem streets, that’s when I see the pomegranates, and the scarves, and smell the coffee. And that’s when I lose my focus.

The narrow, winding alleys are simply filled with life, and color, and busyness, and sound. Everywhere I look there are stalls filled with things I want….

I see that fruit and suddenly, instead of thinking about the sour vinegar- the last drink that Jesus would have-  I’m thinking about that freshly squeezed pomegranate juice I could have.

I see a myriad of colorful scarves, blowing in the wind, and suddenly, I’m not thinking about the crown of thorns that Jesus wore- I’m thinking about the pretty blue scarf  I could wear.

I see the little Israeli coffee stall and suddenly, I’m not thinking about the smell of blood and sweat as Jesus fell to the cobbles under the weight of his cross- I’m thinking about the delicious aroma of freshly ground coffee mixed with cardamom seeds.

Let’s follow in the footsteps of Jesus, she said.

But I’m terrible at it.

It’s so very hard… to walk with Jesus through this Holy Week, to truly contemplate the meaning of Maundy Thursday, and to experience the grief of Good Friday. But for Jesus, it was the only way, the only way, to that empty tomb, to Resurrection Sunday.

And if I wanted to, I could skip right through Holy Week. I could jump straight from Palm Sunday to Easter morning. I don’t have to go through any of it… because Jesus did it for me.

Help me, God, amidst the busyness and distractions of Holy Week, to try to remember that.

The Invitation

We welcomed new members today. Six people had decided to join our church.

They had faithfully attended the membership class a few weeks before, dutifully filled in the paper-work, learned about the holy sacraments we celebrate as United Methodists, and heard all about John Wesley, our founding father.

They were ready. Today was the day we would welcome them into membership.

My husband stood at the altar and called their names. They came forward, smiling. But before we welcomed them into our United Methodist family, my husband said these words…

Is there anyone else here today who feels like they would like to join our church this morning?

It was quiet. And still. Nobody moved. But he didn’t give up.

If God is moving in your heart, I invite you to come forward. We can deal with the red tape and paperwork later, he smiled. But if God is calling you, come and stand with us. 

And from behind him, a young woman came, followed by her husband, followed by an older lady who slowly made her way up to the altar, pushing her walker. It took her a long time. But she came. They came. They stood together. And suddenly, six became nine.

And you could just feel it, this whisper of the Holy Spirit, this mysterious murmur that happens when you let God work in the moment, in the quietness, in the heart.

And I’m sure it’s the same Holy Spirit who whispered in the wind on that Galilean beach so long ago, when Jesus said ‘follow me’ to four fishermen, who just dropped their nets and went. Because what could be more important than saying yes to Jesus?

And here’s the thing… I don’t think God cares if we’re ready. I don’t think God cares if our nets are mended or our classes are completed. No form-filling, no lesson-learning, no net-mending should ever come between us and God. God just wants us to say yes to the call, to walk up to the altar.

Because when we do, we invite God to be at work in powerful ways. The moment becomes God’s moment, and our church becomes that beach, where we can drop our nets in the sand, and let the ground become holy as we follow Jesus.

If God is calling you, come and stand with us. my husband said.

It’s the best invitation we could ever receive, the only invitation that truly offers us life.

Church

My Dad’s Battered Bible

This is my dad’s Bible.

IMG_20160224_155855 (1)

The cover is not patterned, as my son first thought, and it’s definitely not pretty. The leather is terribly cracked, and wrinkled, and dry –  so much so that the words ‘Holy Bible’ are almost obscured.

I don’t know how long my dad owned this 1957 King James edition, or where he got it from, but I do know that he read it every day, that his hands turned the well-worn pages, that this was the most important book he ever owned.

As a Methodist local preacher, my dad preached every single Sunday, and like a faithful companion, this battered Bible accompanied him. It must have traveled for miles.

Whether lying on the front seat of his car, being carried under his arm as he walked, or riding in the panniers of his bicycle as he rode to his appointments, this book was at his side. It was, for my dad, the only text from which to preach.

As a young girl, I can remember coming downstairs early in the morning to find him sitting at the kitchen table, his head pored over this book.

This is a great text, Glenys. I just need three good points to preach on, he would say.

I don’t know how many pulpits my dad climbed, how many sermons he preached, or how many lives were changed because of his words, but I know mine was.

I found his bookmark, tucked, appropriately, in Romans 8:28towards the end of the New Testament. My four-year old grandson, when he saw it, said, in his wonderful, innocent way,

Oh Grandma, your dad nearly got to the end of his book. You’ll have to finish it for him.

There’s nothing I can do to finish what my dad began. But I can carry it on.

I can continue what he started, what he pursued so passionately in life. I can spread the Gospel – from the pulpit, or the page. I can try to put others before myself, be in love with the splendid world God made, always look for the good in everything, and live like Jesus lives in me. Because that’s what Dad did.

I hope I’ve inherited more from my dad than his Bible.

My dad died as he had lived – quietly, and humbly. He left this world like a whisper, without any fuss, or ceremony, or great reproach.

And it’s really no wonder that the heavens literally opened as we lowered him into the grave.

They were opening to let a great man step in.

Who Knows?

On a snowy afternoon in a little Michigan town, a blue-eyed three-year old with wavy hair opened an early Valentine’s day gift from his grandma.

IMG_20160121_090857

She took photos of him as he snuggled with his mom to read his new book.

He lifted the flap to read his love letter from God, and his little face just lit up when he saw his own name written inside. IMG_20160122_174607And who knows how God is at work in young hearts and minds as they open those books, and read their letters, and hear God call their very own name?

Who knew that when God called the name of Moses from within the flames of a burning bush, an entire nation would be rescued?

Who knew that when God called the name of Samuel in the quietness of the temple, that little boy would grow up to anoint kings?

Who knew that when God called the name of Mary in the stillness of a Jerusalem morning, when all hope was gone, hope would be restored to the world?

Who knows when God calls the name of Austin through the letters of a little book, what that young boy will do?

Who knows?

Visit the link below to read 50 ways for your family to celebrate Valentine’s Day, and enter the giveaway to win your own copy of the little book that Austin holds.

Valentines Traditions & Little Love Letters from God!

Blog Stop #3!

This week I’ll be making two blog stops in the virtual world to celebrate the release of Little Love Letters from God

The first is with children’s book author Diane Stortz where I was able to participate in an author interview.

Find out how these four British born boys brought us to Kalamazoo, Michigan, and enter the Little Love Letters Giveaway!

2016-01-18 13.23.19