The Inspiration Behind Snuggle Time Psalms

I’m only about six or seven years old, but already I know that I love to write. I love to read too.

My brother and I, we sneak into my dad’s study and pull the big heavy book from the shelf. We huddle together and turn the pages. Already we’re giggling.

It doesn’t take long to find what we’re looking for… a photograph of a fat bird with a huge, puffed out red chest protruding from under its chin like a ball. The Apple Bird we used to call it. It seemed to us that this strange bird must have swallowed an apple and the gigantic fruit had somehow made its way outside the bird’s skin. We couldn’t believe that such an exotic creature existed… it was so unlike the tiny red-breasted English robin who hopped around our front garden, waiting for my dad to feed it.

This big book of wonder was only one treasure in a room containing many. The shelves in my dad’s study were bulging with encyclopedias and classics and poetry books and bibles.

And something else….

In a tiny corner, in the smallest of spaces, sat a little desk… containing notebooks and paper and pencils. And a chair. It was my desk. And it was all I needed.

I think it may have been at this desk, surrounded by my father’s books and bibles, that I began to write poems. And even though I inherited my dad’s passion for poetry and his love for God’s Word, I never, ever would have thought that fifty years later, I might be able to combine the two in Snuggle Time Psalms.

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And all I can think, when I leaf through its pages, is how much my dad would chuckle to see it, and how much he would love it so.

And maybe one day, there’ll be two little children, who will lift it from the shelf, and giggle over it together, and wonder at our great God, who made Apple Birds and English robins, and brothers and sisters, and all things good.

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Our Ridiculous God

It was this time last year, when the sun shone hot over the water and the family of geese floated by. That’s when it happened.. something so ridiculous that only God could have done it.

We’re standing in the back yard, my husband and I. We’re not alone. There are others here too, perusing the papers passed to them by the realtor. They’re doing what we’re doing – trying to imagine themselves living in this home, this little home on the lake. But it is little. Cute… but would we have room for our family when they come to visit from England?

I blame the Fletters. It was that family, among others, who made us fall in love with the ridiculous idea of lake-living when we came to live in the United States. Fifteen long years ago it was when they took us to that lovely lake home where we were first introduced to the fun of tubing, and the crazy idea of swimming in a lake.

No-one in England swims in a lake. I can remember saying incredulously. They’re freezing!

But not in Michigan. In Michigan they are warm, and welcoming. And people live on them.

But not us. I remember thinking. We’ll never live on a lake, because we live in parsonages. We go where God sends, and that means a home I’ll never get to choose myself.

But who knows what God has in store? Not me.

So this time last year, the unimaginable is about to happen. And we’re thinking about this little home. We’re standing on the grass that looks and feels like a luxurious sponge, and we’re looking out over the water to where kayakers float effortlessly and two white swans drift by. And my husband turns around to look at the neighbor’s house. It’s much bigger. It has a lovely deck. And a cute little beach. And for some ridiculous reason, there’s an ‘Open House’ sign hanging there too.

Now that’s a lake home Glenys. He says. Look at next door! Look at that lovely deck! That’s a home big enough to share with our family from England. Let’s go and peek inside.

I remember saying it clearly:

Don’t be ridiculous. 

And twelve months later, when those same white swans are drifting by, and the sun is sinking in a pool of red over the lake, that lovely deck is the one from which I write. That lovely home is the one we’re sharing right now with our family from England.

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And all the thanks and praise goes to God, who whispers crazy things like:

Just hold your staff over the water Moses, and see what happens. 

(Can’t you just hear Moses saying, Don’t be ridiculous!)

Or: Just march around those massive walls Joshua, and see what happens. 

(Can’t you just hear Joshua saying, Don’t be ridiculous!)

Or: Just wait three days Mary …you will see me again.

(Can’t you just hear Mary saying, Don’t be ridiculous!)

But that’s our ridiculous God… who does the impossible, who whispers the incredible, who resurrects fifteen year old dreams and breathes them back to life.

Yes God is good: in earth and sky,

From ocean’s depth and spreading wood,

Ten thousand voices seem to cry,

God made us all, and God is good.

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When You See Your Book Published in Korean…

A wonderful surprise plopped onto my doorstep recently. It was four copies of Love Letters from God….in Korean.

Korean Love Letters

I tore away the packaging and eagerly opened the book. Of course, I couldn’t understand a word. But on the other hand, I knew everything it said.

My Korean translator is called JongRak Hong. He diligently pored over this book and spent hours translating it into his native language.

Last year, I got an email from him. It was very polite. It went like this:

May I ask you a question? Don’t worry. It’s a very simple question.

In Acknowledgments, you say thanks to your brother Trevor.

Is he your elder brother or younger brother?

Because In Korean, there are different words for calling elder/younger brother and sister.

His message made me smile. Here was I, thinking that a computer would be translating my book, when all the while, JongRak was poring over its pages, working diligently to make sure every single word was translated correctly.

Trevor is my older brother, I told him.  (The one who first saw the potential in the pages of this book, the one who is a wonderful writer himself….but I didn’t tell JongRak that.)

It was several months later when that amazing package arrived at my door. I tried to find the name of my brother, Trevor. It’s hard, but I know it’s somewhere near the top of this page:

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My name looks like this:

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And this is the name of God:

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And while I’m turning the pages in the USA, struggling to make sense of the words, I know there’s someone on the other side of the world, perhaps a mom, or a dad, or a grandma, or a grandpa, cuddling their little Korean child on their lap, who’s also turning these pages and smiling as they read God’s love letters to them.  And every word makes complete sense.

Go into all the world, Jesus told his disciples, and preach the good news to all nations. Wow…perhaps I’m a tiny part of that, and so is JongRak Hong.

To the Newly Ordained Pastors….Why I’m Afraid For You.

It truly was an amazing Ordination Service.

Hundreds of United Methodists, a great cloud of witnesses, gathered together to honor and celebrate those who had bravely stepped forward to answer God’s call on their lives and enter ordained ministry.

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It was such a powerful and moving service that I wouldn’t have been surprised if a white dove had descended from the ceiling. Because the Holy Spirit was surely present… hovering, and filling, and moving, and working. Everyone there could feel it.

In the Bishop’s hands as she knelt to wash the feet of those newly ordained, the Holy Spirit was there.

In the songs we sang. and the music we heard, the Holy Spirit was there.

In the babies and children who clapped their hands, the Holy Spirit was there.

In those who watched from the balcony, who heard God calling them into ministry too, and who made their way up to the altar in tears, the Holy Spirit was there.

It was the same Holy Spirit who hovered over the chaos of creation; the same Holy Spirit who came down upon Jesus 2000 years ago in the River Jordan; the same Holy Spirit who showed up powerfully thirty years ago, when my husband was ordained.

Do you believe that God has called you to the life and work of ordained ministry? the Bishop asked.

I do so believe came the unanimous response.

I do so believe that too.

I believe that God called each of you.

I believe that each of you who knelt before the Bishop have already knelt before God’s throne.

I believe that each of you who had hands laid upon you in prayer already have God’s own hand powerfully laid upon your life.

I believe that for every person who hugged and clapped and cried for you, there are already a thousand angels singing for joy for you.

Because I know that you, like my husband, have been called, and set apart and sent for God’s Holy work, and you entered the ministry because you have a yearning to mend broken hearts, and bind up the wounded, and try to make a difference in this hurting world. I know this.

But I’m afraid for you.

I’m afraid lest you become one of the wounded. I’m afraid that as you rise to your feet and leave that spirit-filled sanctuary behind, the world and (dare I say it) your churches might steal your joy, and cause you to question your call.

And if that day should come, I pray that you can find your sanctuary again, that you will remember that it is Almighty God who has called you, that you will still be able to feel God’s Holy Spirit strengthening and sustaining and upholding you, and that when you hear words that discourage and deter, the truth of God’s words to you will be louder in your ear and stronger in your heart….

you are my child whom I dearly love; I find happiness in you.

It was a privilege to see you ordained. May God bless you every day and fill you with the Holy Spirit as you seek to make disciples, preach the Word, and answer that wonderful call on your life.

You are brave.

And you will make a difference in the world.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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,

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to the Call to Worship…

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From the prayers of blessing,

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to the benediction…

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.