Remember

Today it’s Remembrance Sunday, when we remember the fallen and the sacrifice of many in the name of freedom for all. Last weekend we had All Saints Day, when we remember all saints and martyrs, known and unknown, throughout Christian history. It is certainly a season of remembering, and for me, I remember someone particularly special.

My grandad, Julian Macrae-Clifton (Chief Petty Officer in the Royal Navy) died on this day 10 years ago. It isn’t really all that long, and yet in other ways such a very long time. So much has happened, and I often wonder how he would have chatted at length with my husband, or enjoyed holding my daughter when she was born. It is strange to me that the two most important people in my life have never met someone who was so important to me growing up.

Most of all, I miss talking to him about sailing; I miss him falling asleep on the sofa, and then waking determined that he wasn’t sleeping (even though he was snoring); I miss his voice, which I am not sure I can remember. I miss him for all he would have brought into our lives as a family of 3, but mainly, selfishly, I miss him for all he brought into my life.

Whilst we loved him as husband, dad, grandad, he also served his country. And 50 years ago he was awarded a Queen’s Commendation for Brave Conduct. And so, in this season of remembrance, it seems fitting to share this citation from his award here:

Citation for award of QCB said:

Awarded for great courage, unusual initiative, cool judgement and exemplary devotion to duty.

Chief Petty Officer Macrae-Clifton served with the Scotland and Northern Ireland Command Explosive Team for four years, during which time he performed many hazardous tasks in an exemplary fashion. On two occasions, he displayed particular courage, coolness and skill.

On 11th October, 1968, he was required to dispose of a mine which had been sucked into the shoe of the Dutch suction dredger WILHELM STEAD, while operating in the entrance of the river Humber. Weather conditions were poor, with a gale blowing from the South East. He started work on board the dredger shortly before midnight and found that the mine was slightly crushed, and held fast in the suction pipe. He unhesitatingly decided to remove the primer-detonator assembly before attempting to extract the mine. Having taken the precautions of ensuring that all other personnel were as far away as possible, and that the dredger had boats in the water, he proceeded to render the mine safe. This involved a long process of carefully cleaning rust and corrosion from the primer-detonator tube, and was finally finished about two hours later.

Chief Petty Officer Macrae-Clifton’s decision to render the mine safe before moving it involved great personal risks while minimising the the danger to others, and exemplified his great courage and high sense of duty.

Again, on 3rd December, 1968, he was required to dispose of a mine which had been landed on the Fish Market quay at Peterhead. The primers and detonator were still fitted, the cast filling was intact but becoming more unstable as the mine dried out. The prime-carrier had been damaged, and he decided that it was too dangerous to try and render the mine safe where it was. With assistance from RAF Buchan, he guarded the mine overnight, keeping it damp with rags. In the morning he accompanied the mine to a disused airfield three miles away and exploded it; the subsequent crater was about thirty feet across and fifteen feet deep. He had been with the mine for over eighteen hours, a period of increasing danger as the weapon dried out.

In both these incidents, Chief Petty Officer Macrae-Clifton showed great courage, unusual initiative, cool judgement and exemplary devotion to duty.

In recognition of this service, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second has been graciously pleased to award Her Commendation for Brave Conduct to Chief Petty Officer Macrae-Clifton.”

Grandad, you are missed, and so loved.

Worship the Toddler King

Some of you may remember that my husband Barry was giving up chocolate, sweets and biscuits for the whole of 2018. I am pleased to tell you that, apart from an unfortunate incident at a local restaurant, where the chef accidentally put chocolate sauce on his sticky toffee pudding, despite being told explicitly of the challenge, Barry did it! He resolved to do something greatly challenging (and of personal cost to myself, as I had no one to share giant bars of chocolate with and so my waistline was hard hit), and he managed it. Despite temptation, frustration, and a little bit of suspected foul play, he did it… rather like those in our reading this morning.

In our Gospel reading we are introduced, at last, to the magi from the east, our wise men, our three kings. Though we don’t know that there were three, there may have been more, we do know from our reading that they set out on a greatly challenging journey, with temptation, frustration and attempted foul play.

What do we know then?

We know that the wise men arrived in Jerusalem, after Jesus was born. They didn’t arrive in Bethlehem where this King they were seeking actually was. So, the Magi’s challenging journey was also one of surprises.

We know that whilst a new baby brings curiosity, it doesn’t necessarily bring visitors from far away, unless they are family or close friends. This points to Jesus’ royalty, as we also know that a royal family would await visits from across the kingdom and further… if someone didn’t turn up to pay homage to your new child, it would be seen as a slight against you.

When I think of this I think of the Disney classic, The Lion King: Simba (the lion cub, and son of the King) is shown to the entire pride land and kingdom for the first time. He is held up and presented to the gathering of animals, except for one… his uncle, Scar, who is less than pleased that his older brother, Mufasa, has successfully produced an heir to his throne. He does not turn up.

We know if you wanted to show respect to a new heir to the throne, you turned up. The Magi’s challenging, surprising journey was also one of honour and respect.

We know that when the Magi arrived in Jerusalem and began asking around, word soon reached King Herod, the man who had been appointed King of the Jews by the Roman authorities. “All Jerusalem” is likely hyperbole; the entire city was not terrified. Instead of all Jewish people being afraid, it is more likely that Matthew means the royal we: the Jewish leadership; those who had something to fear by the arrival of the rightful King of the Jews. The Magi’s challenging, surprising, honouring journey was also one of fear.

We know that Herod required evidence, so he could make sense of what was being said. In verse 4-6 we see that, through this evidence, Herod is given a frame of reference for the child he wants to find. Later in Matthew he orders the death of all boys under 2 years old. It is reasonable to conclude that it had taken the Magi 2 years to travel to Jerusalem. The Magi’s challenging, surprising, honouring journey that brought fear was also one of danger.

In verse 7 we begin to see Herod’s fear and insecurity work itself out into action: he begins a manipulation in order that he might find this new King and put an end to him. Herod’s own desire to have power leads him to do unthinkable things, like killing the vulnerable. It seems an appalling stretch, but I wonder if we ever put our own desires or insecurities above others, to their detriment.

lbg2016-ch-star-of-wonder-fb-

It is reasonable to assume from the text that the star appeared in the night sky above Bethlehem at the moment Jesus was born, and then disappeared again. In the school’s Christingle service the children sang of the star: Oh and love shone down, over the hills and over the valleys, oh and love shone down over the world. I found the imagery of that so poignant: that Jesus’ birth delighted his heavenly Father so much he couldn’t help but show off with the biggest and brightest star in the night sky. That same star of love appears again in verse 8, just as the Magi needed some guidance.

At this point I’d like to just say how this part of the story never ceases to amaze me. Here was this group of men, who weren’t Jewish, or even from the surrounding area, and they chose to make a significantly challenging and dangerous journey. They could have decided in Jerusalem that they’d been mistaken, and yet they trusted in a star, sent by a God they probably didn’t even believe in. And what happens next is astonishing.

Verse 10 says, when they saw the star they were overjoyed.

Jubilant, rapturous, euphoric, exultant, delirious. All words which come up when you look for synonyms of the word overjoyed. When was the last time you were overjoyed? For me, it was on New Years Day when we took our daughter ice skating for the first time. Neither Barry nor I are too hot on our feet when it comes to ice skating, but she insisted on standing up to push the aid we had got for her to sit on. Our little girl had such joy and delight in her face, especially as she got better and better. Watching her enjoyment gave me such a deep sense of joy. How much more so for the Magi, when they finally glimpsed that star ahead of them?

The Magi had set out on their challenging and dangerous journey. They’d no doubt been disappointed in Jerusalem when they arrived and were met with suspicion and manipulation. They’d been given the next clue, Bethlehem, but really it would be like looking for a needle in a haystack. Their journey had hit a dead end, until… The star appeared. The same star. That star of heavenly grandeur and love. Suddenly, their journey was one of joy and hope, as they hurried to greet the new King.

They arrive, and the magi enter the house and see Mary with Jesus; they kneel down and WORSHIP him.

Imagine the scene: by entering the house, the Magi likely walked into the courtyard, from which rooms opened off from. If they had arrived in the daytime, Mary would have been sat doing tasks (sorting the food for a meal, or sewing), Jesus would have been doing what 2-year olds do: toddling, making noise, playing, eating mud off the ground. As it happens, they were led by a star and so the family would have been inside for the night. Jesus was probably still doing what toddlers do though!

In the Magi walked, into an ordinary house, with an ordinary family. They had come from the King’s courts in Jerusalem, from great grandness. And yet, as they arrived in this humble home, with a humble family, they recognised the child – the toddler, likely dirty and noisy. They recognised him as the KING. And they worshipped him.

They offered him the gifts they had brought: gold, frankincense and myrrh. Upon kneeling, whilst feeling overwhelmed with joy, the Magi offered this toddler KING gifts they had brought with them.

The magi come prepared to show honour and bless new royalty with gifts fit for their status. Gold, for Jesus, because of his kingship, frankincense because of his priesthood, and myrrh??? In ancient times, myrrh was a valuable commodity. Beyond being used as incense, it was used also as perfume, and medicine. Most specifically, myrrh was commonly used (especially in Egypt) in the process of embalming. I cannot help but wonder what drew the magi to choose a substance used in death as a present for the new King. After all, we know Jesus was embalmed with myrrh at his death, as it says in John 19.

In the carol “We Three Kings” we sing these words: Myrrh is mine, its bitter perfume breathes of life, of gathering gloom; Sorrowing, sighing, bleeding, dying, sealed in the stone-cold tomb. Glorious now, behold him arise; King and God and Sacrifice. ‘Alleluia’ ‘Alleluia’ Earth to Heaven replies.

I love this carol and, though it’s definitely a carol, you could be forgiven for thinking it fits at Easter. It’s the moment when the present gift looks toward the future sacrifice. It serves as a reminder that Jesus did not come to live an ordinary life. He came to die for us. He came to die for our sins. He came to die, so we might live. As we begin our journey, from stable to tomb, we turn our eyes away from the sweet baby in the manger towards the pain wrought face of a dying man and his words: it is finished.

These wise men, the kings, the Magi, they undertook a challenging and dangerous journey, and were greeted with the face of God himself. They brought gifts fit for a Heavenly King, and they could not help but worship Him. During Advent I read through Luke’s Gospel and what jumped out to me was that time and time again people meet Jesus and they worship Him; Jesus performs miracles for people, and they worship Him; Jesus takes the time to listen to people, and they worship Him. When people come face to face with God, whether as a toddler or as a man, they cannot help but worship him.

What then can we do, but pour out our whole lives as a living sacrifice… a living worship to him?

As it says in another carol, What can I give him, poor as I am? If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb. If I were a wise man, I would do my part; yet what I can I give him, give my heart.

 

Matthew 2: 1 – 12

“This is my body, broken for you…”

Recently I was chatting to a friend, who has just become a mum to the most beautiful little boy (Congrats Team Parry!!), and I had asked her if she wanted someone from church to visit in hospital for communion. Her reply got me thinking about why I place such high value on the act of Holy Communion, and I thought I would share that thinking here.


I grew up in a fairly ordinary, traditional Anglican family, with my dad ordained throughout my life and my mum later joining him. We attended church each week and, when there wasn’t Sunday School, I took great delight in reading the liturgy alongside my dad, under my breath so only God and I could hear. From the age of about 7 I received communion, because my parents knew that I understood what it meant. I wasn’t confirmed until I was 13, but by that point I was away at boarding school and the thrill of reading liturgy and going up for communion had long since passed.

The school I attended, though Christian in its philosophy (and advertising), would not allow those who weren’t confirmed to receive communion. Furthermore, you could only be confirmed once you were 13, and so for almost 3 years I only took part in the communion part of the Anglican service when I was at home during the holidays. Perhaps it was just me, but at that time I became quite shut off during the spoken and sung liturgies, simply because I couldn’t take part in the fullness of it. And from there, I began to believe that communion wasn’t a big deal.

When I arrived in my current city for university (6 years ago in September!!), I attended a church where communion was part of the service once a month. Given my school experiences, this didn’t bother me in the slightest. I didn’t give it a second thought, and delved into the rich life of worship (spoken and sung) offered at this church. Right up until 19 months ago, if someone had asked me, “How do you connect best with God?” I’d have probably talked about sung worship, how singing and listening to others singing helps me to tune into God.

Not anymore though. I mean, singing still helps me to experience the full breadth of my emotion and feeling at that time. Music enables me to sob if I am feeling wounded or vulnerable, whilst also helping my spirit to soar and delight in the good times of life. Now, though, something else has taken the place of singing: communion.

Why?

Surely, it’s just bread and wine. Just some words.

It isn’t, though. It is so much more than just bread and wine. And I don’t mean in a transubstantiation way (though I respect those who do believe in that). 

For me, it is through eating that bread and drinking that wine that I am fed and watered. Clearly, a simple bread wafer and sip of wine will not fill and satisfy me. It would be ludicrous to suggest so. And yet, it does. Not physically, but spiritually. That broken wafer represents Jesus’ broken body; the wine his blood poured out. It represents the brokenness which allows me wholeness and fullness of life.

When Jesus broke that bread, it was a sign of what was to come. A sign of his brokenness. A sign of his sacrifice, for me. For you. For all of creation.

When I take communion now (weekly, at a new church), I am beyond thankful as I think of the innumerable ways God has shown me grace in my life. I am nourished spiritually, because of the act of communion. I am reminded of just how imperfect I am; so imperfect that the only way God could make things right again was to break someone perfect in my place. And I am reminded of the wholeness that I now experience freely, because of Him.

I’m a big, big girl in a big, big world…

Gone is the cot and the baby who slept in it.

Here to stay is the big girl and the big girl bed.

There are moments as a parent when you gulp with angst that they’re growing so fast, getting older so quickly. Taking down the cot, and putting them in a proper bed has been, for me, one of those moments. All those silent feeds, since she was 6 months, lowering her back into the cot in the darkness of night. All those times I freaked out, like the first time I discovered she had turned 180 degrees in the night. And the first time she was just stood in the cot, a prisoner in a jail where I was the warden and my milk was her reward. 

She barely stretched the half way point in her cot when I first put her in it. It was for a nap on 7th March 2016: she was just 46 days old. 


She loved her cot, though not towards the end when it symbolised being alone and locked up. She already loves her big bed, crawling all over it and enjoying a bedtime story with mummy and daddy sat either side. 

Yet each time my lovely girl reaches another milestone, I feel a sadness simultaneously with the delight. The delight is easy to explain: there is not greater joy than watching your own child grown and learn and develop, doing things for the first time. But the sadness… that’s trickier.

For me, it is because each milestone triggers the memories of the milestones before. So I start to think about my baby before she could crawl, or roll, or even hold her own head. I start to think about my baby before she ate food, or said words. The baby who made only the smallest little snuffling sounds. I think of the baby who could do nothing but stare helplessly into my eyes as I cuddled her, fed her, changed her, sang to her. And so the sadness is because I am suddenly reminded of a time that has been and gone. A time that can never again be lived again.

It isn’t like returning to a favourite place on holiday, or frequenting the same restaurant. Once these days are gone, they are gone. One day my daughter will talk, we will be able to have conversations. If she’s anything like me, I’ll be silently wishing her to quiet down. Maybe I won’t be. Even if I am, I know I will be thinking about the days when she hadn’t even uttered her first word: Eddy (our cat). I will be remembering them, fondly, whilst also excitedly looking forward to what the future holds for this creature of mine.

Maybe it isn’t a sadness, then, that fills me when I reminisce about the moments of my daughter’s life so far. I’m not sure what it is. Perhaps that is why it is so hard to explain the feeling. 

Everyone always said, even before she was born, “Enjoy every moment! It will pass so quickly.” It wasn’t that I didn’t believe them. I just didn’t think it would go that quickly.

Enjoy every moment. I know I am.

I Am Mummy

Hi ho! Hi ho! It’s off to work I go.

Yes, that’s right. The time has come for me to leave this delightful creature as I re-enter the world of work.


I am nervous and anxious, but also excited and happy. It’s actually almost 3 weeks yet, but I’m off on holiday soon and I start as soon as I’m back from France. So it feels as though it is right there in front of me: the day I leave my gorgeous girl.

Ok. Maybe I’m being a little melodramatic. For starters, it’s only 1 day a week. Secondly, it isn’t like she’s being taken by wolves into the woods to be raised away from me. It is literally 9 hours apart, perhaps 10 at a push. 

Except… even writing that makes me want to cry. Because, in a way, just as she is dependent on me, I have become dependent on her.

I live to see her smiles; to hear her giggles; to watch her trying to crawl; to hold her close and inhale her scent. I live to provide comfort, to play peek-a-boo, to sing Wind the Bobbin Up 100 times a day. I live to love her.

Of course, I am more than ‘mummy’. I know that. I am a wife, a daughter, sister, friend. I am Mrs Haines, and I am a writer. A teacher. A singer. But above all these things…

I am mummy.

Baptism

What a joyful day we had yesterday! We finally had our little girl baptised, and it was such a privilege to join with friends and family in our church and celebrate together. I was baptised there, as a baby many years ago, and my husband was baptised there just a few years ago. We were married at this church, and so it was very special to have her baptism there too.


When our daughter was born, my parents gave us a bottle of champagne to toast her. We decided that we would open it and enjoy it on her baptism day, so yesterday evening we enjoyed some cake and champagne and we prayed for our daughter as we toasted her.


Our prayer for our lovely little one is that she will grow into a strong, confident and compassionate woman of God; that she will encourage others around her, seek righteousness, and dare to challenge those around her to live ever more generously and ever more lovingly.

About Her: Mei Yee Leong

This month I have the pleasure of introducing you to a dear friend, and Christian sister, Mei.
Mei owns her own arts business, specialising in prophetic art, but she also does cool things like bespoke wedding invitations. You can find out more at: https://wonderfullymei.com


So Mei, where did you get the inspiration for Wonderfully Mei and Prophetic Arts?

It actually came from a place of brokenness and the end of myself. It brought true healing and deeper intimacy with my Father. I had bombed out on my PGCE teaching training course, ending up feeling incredibly deflated, worn out, confused and battered and bruised (ego, that is!). I felt I had given so much, only to not have that much to walk away with. That year was the worst year in my entire life. I had never felt so under appreciated, undervalued and not seen.

I sort of “fell into” it … and it started just from painting. And somehow, other people had seen those and wanted to buy them. From there on out … it has been a slow and arduous journey of branching out into design, and branding, and even providing Virtual Assistant Services too.

In a way, Wonderfully Mei Designs has become my redemptive blessing. She has taught me how to see my own worth, my own value, and my own skills. That I am worth something, that I have much to give to the world, that I am seen from this tiny corner of the world.


Obviously, prophetic art requires a lot of prayer and keeping that line with God open. How do you pray?

I tend to do it throughout the day, through conversational dialogue. So, I will talk to Him about things, and He will respond. Sometimes, with silence … sometimes with words. It gets quite amusing at times but He is incredibly loving and understanding. I think the dynamics change, the more revelation we receive about who God is.

Sometimes a simple “ask” prayer is good too; e.g. asking for peace or for insight about something.

Sometimes I will pray the Lord’s Prayer; I think this is a good, solid prayer to pray if you are every feeling stuck for what to pray exactly. If we pray God’s will into our life, we can never go wrong.

I also pray God’s sovereignty over my life and alignment too, if I ever feel like I am going off track.


How do you read the Bible?

Usually, as directed by the Holy Spirit. God will often direct certain passages or specific pieces of scripture. These will often confirm or highlight me to what may come in my life, in that season.


What’s your favourite bible verse for this season you’re in?

For the past few years, the verse:


So you’re definitely a Spirit girl. What’s your favourite worship song (of all time, or now)?

There are so many but the one that remains and speak to me strongly and consistently in every season, is probably ‘Your Love Never Fails’ by Jesus Culture.

I am also a huge fan of any and all of Israel Houghton music, just because he writes scripture into his music so well. It’s so good to be able to sing scripture over ourselves. It is very life-giving.

Tell me about a favourite piece of art.

This, ‘Tidal Wave’, is a favourite. I painted it entirely with my fingers, and it was very spontaneous. I think it is a favourite because of the rawness and spontaneity of it.


If there was someone reading my blog wondering how to step out and ask for spiritual gifting, how would you advise them?

I would pray about it. And ask someone with discernment for recognising spiritual giftings to pray for you too! For me, my giftings have come incredibly naturally and organically, as I have grown deeper in intimacy with God.

“As your love, in wave after wave, crashes over me, crashes over me. For you are for us, you are not against us. Champion of heaven you made a way for all to enter in.”


Thanks, Mei! What is your hope for your prophetic art?

My hope is for people to receive from God in some way, to be blessed by the messages they read from it and to elicit some sort of emotional response. I don’t want my paintings just to be pretty. I hope that my paintings glorify God.

To also bless those who wish to commission them too.

In the long run, it would be awesome if I managed to get at least one piece in a famous, national art gallery or at least on the front of a book cover (yes, dream big!). Whatever comes first! But, that is up to God really.


(NB: This sunflower was a prophetic piece done for me. The first time I looked at it, I just thought, ‘huh! Great painting!’ Then, midway through my NQT year when I was feeling battered and had lost my zest for life I found it again. This time, I looked at the words on the back. Written on it was a message of encouragement, reminding me that I am like the sunflower: an encourager, a giver of energy and light to others. It picked me up, just at the right time, but also is a daily reminder as to who I am in Christ.)

A Season for Everything

Today, I tried to put my daughter in a favourite vest of mine: a Harvard University one, a gift from my sister-in-law. It matches my own Harvard University t-shirt which I bought in Boston in 2012. Anyway, it was far too small. I couldn’t even squeeze her arms through the arm holes.

There is reason to rejoice, of course. She is growing! She is a lovely size, with adorable chubbiness. My milk is providing her with everything she needs. And yet, I am so sad that she has outgrown yet another favourite top.

I rushed her into certain cute 3-6m clothes, when I could have been enjoying the 0-3m ones. Why? Simply because I couldn’t wait. It is a trivial matter, but it is a matter nonetheless. 

“To everything there is a season, A time for every purpose under heaven.” – Ecclesiastes 3:1

Each phase of Isobel’s life will bring great joys, as well their own challenges. As each phase draws to a close, I know there will be things I will rejoice over never having to do again. But there will be so much I will miss, and so much I will never experience with her again.

When I wrote this originally, earlier today in my quiet time, there was an alternate end. Since then, though, there has been heartbreaking news that the MP Jo Cox, wife and mother of 2, has been stabbed and shot dead in broad daylight. The news is horrifying anyway, and when I saw it I text a mummy friend, “I’m just sat here crying. What is this world we are living in? I cannot believe an MP has been shot dead. I cannot believe the hatred being spread.”

The news chills me to the core. As a mother, Jo Cox may have kissed her children goodnight last night, or made their breakfast this morning, unaware that it would be the final time she would do it. As parents we do not know when the last time we do something will be the last time. I do not know when I will do Isobel’s final breastfeed. I do not know when she will wear her final nappy, nor when her final nighttime feed will be. I do not know the last time I will see her gummy smile without teeth. Jo Cox did not know that she would never again get to say to her children, “I love you.” She will never get to say those words again.


There is a season for everything. And the season is now. Not tomorrow, not yesterday, but now.

Grasp every moment. Live in the here and now. Enjoy the seasons.

Life is precious.