Monthly Archives: September 2011

In Praise of Old (er) Women!


“I shall be seventy on Friday!” whispered my friend during worship on Sunday morning. Last time I had seen her, eighteen months ago, she was slowly recovering from major illness, and had been pale and weak. Now, looking at her radiant, happy face, I thought I had never seen her look more beautiful.  As long as I have known her, Patty has always been attractive, vivacious, and a woman of faith. She has had many trials and difficulties but has prayed and praised her way through them. Now, she rose from her seat, took the microphone  and testified to the goodness and faithfulness of God, exhorting us to keep abiding in the vine so we could continue to bear fruit. It was powerful, because she exemplifies her own words.

It took me back to Mrs Bendall.  I met her when Anna, my daughter, had just been born. The elderly lady was a visitor in church that morning. She was quiet, a bit shy, but something about her made me want to get to know her. So during the week, I  went to see her, wheeling the pram with Anna lying in it, and 2 yrs old Ben perched on top. (Those were the days when we had prams built like coaches, high, with large wheels and sprung so that the baby swayed gently, comfortably cocooned in its inner depths: not stuck in a bucket on wheels like they are now.)

I loved her from that moment. She adored Anna, being very fond of babies, and often had her on her lap in church. Somehow, in her gentle unassuming way, she became vital to our lives. She actually moved to live across the street so that she could be near us. She would pop in for coffee, babysit, and simply love us. Looking back, I can’t think of any particularly wise and wonderful things she said: she just smoothed our way by lovingly serving.

She seemed to be able to communicate easily with anyone. She was very fond of cricket and always knew the latest test scores. I remember giving her a lift once, and  also in the car was an inarticulate, awkward teenager. In no time this little old lady had charmed him into chatting away about cricket as if he had known her forever.

One day, she told me that she had not married until well into her forties. She was idyllically happy. Then three months later, her husband dropped dead from a heart attack. I wept as she spoke with a gentle sadness, but no bitterness or anger. I remember the soft look on her face as she talked of the love of her life.

I wonder what fierce struggles she had fought and won? Now there was simply a beautiful dependence on God, a deep trust, and a growing hunger for his presence. Always eager for more, at the age of 76 she  received the baptism in the Holy Spirit, spoke in tongues, and was coveting to prophesy.

One morning, we had an anxious phone call from her sister. Could we go and check on her? She wasn’t answering the phone. We ran over and found her body lying on her bedroom floor; only she wasn’t there, she had gone to Glory in the night.

We felt her loss keenly. I will always associate her with Psalm 92 v 12 “The righteous flourish like the palm tree, planted in the house of the Lord. They will still bear fruit in old age, and stay fresh and green.”

Liz Holden’s mother, Margaret Etherton, was like that too. Always hospitable, she was a pastor’s dream. She would stand near Terry at the end of Sunday morning, and say, “Just send any people who need lunch down to me.” We used to joke that her round table was elastic, as it seemed to stretch! She once made a chicken provide a meal for 15 people. When we exclaimed, “How did you do it?” she just said vaguely, “It must have been the Lord…” It probably was. After all, if he could do it with loaves and fishes, why not a chicken?   She was a woman of faith and prayer.

Recently, I had a letter from my aunt. She was 102 in August.  She was widowed about 60 years ago, and had to bring up 6 children on her own. Now a great, great grandmother, she is constantly praising God and looking forward to meeting loved ones  in heaven.

I haven’t even mentioned my own mother, who at the age of 82 came to live near us. She had some cards printed inviting all the people in her block of flats to come to coffee, and then gave her testimony, and invited them to church. All her life she was motivated to bring people to Jesus, and prayed through every crisis.

I could go on, giving many examples of faith-filled elderly women. The thing is, now I am 65, I am on the edge being old myself! It is so strange, because I don’t feel old. (I remember my grandmother referring to “those dear old ladies” who were in their 70’s and 80’s. She was 98 at the time!) People without God are terrified of old age because they know life is rushing to its end, and they don’t know what to expect. So they try to perpetuate youth in an effort to postpone the inevitable.

Of course there are unwelcome aspects to aging: less energy, increased aches, droopy skin, wrinkles. I’m a sucker for face creams that promise miracles.(If you know of one that delivers the goods, let me know…) But the old ladies who walk with God have given me hope! You can be fruitful, happy  and serene, enjoying the advantages of growing old. Yep: you have to be old(ish) to have grandkids, and they are amazing! You don’t have to prove anything any more, because you’ve been there and done that (whatever “that” is). And if you don’t feel like rushing about no one is surprised! (Although I still mostly do rush about). You have lots of good memories; you have lots to thank God for, and I do, all the time.

And you know what? We know where we are going…when the old bod drops off, we shall be young again, or better, recreated. I shall join the old ladies’ tea party in Heaven, except we won’t be old any more. “Our youth will be renewed as the eagles…”

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Paris, Je T’aime!


Yes, it was absolutely crazy to go to Paris for the weekend when we are trying to sort out our furniture and pack up 30 years of memories prior to moving house; and we are going away for nine weeks on Friday to the USA and Mexico. I feel permanently out of breath and my brains are scrambled. But this date has been on our calendar for months, and hey, it’s Paris! No-one passes up an opportunity to visit this most beautiful and romantic of cities. Do they? Moi, je t’aime Paris!

So on Thursday, we left Brighton by train and embarked upon the Eurostar at St Pancras, the high speed train which goes through the channel tunnel straight to the Gare du Nord in 2 and a half hours.

What a fabulous, civilised, uncomplicated way to travel! Beats the crowds and indignities of airports, the frustration of congested roads, and the seasickness of ferries hands down.

We were met at the terminus by our friend Gordon Neal who drove us along by the Seine, past the Louvre, Pont Neuf and Notre Dame, and a fine view of the Eiffel Tower to his home in Issy.  Gordon is fluent in French and formerly lived in France. In 2007 while at the Brighton conference, he had a vision one night in which he knew God was calling him back to Paris to church plant. The next day, as he was translating for a prophetic seminar, he was called forward and three notable prophets powerfully prophesied over him, repeating, confirming and enlarging upon what God had already told him.

When Gordon finally hauled himself off the floor he knew without a shadow of a doubt that he had to go. He was a business man living in beautiful Montreux, Switzerland, at the time. To relocate to Paris has been an enormously time consuming, energy sapping, finance swallowing operation. But he and his wife Kerry have accomplished it, and others have joined them, such as George and Gill Tee from Coventry. Currently, around 90 people now meet regularly. The main reason Terry and I went to Paris was so that Terry could preach to this embryonic church the foundational doctrines of grace and the baptism in the Holy Spirit.

But before the church gathered on the Saturday and Sunday, we had Friday to soak up the ambience! So the four of us took the metro to Montmartre and had a happy time wandering through the steep cobbled streets, relishing the sights: typically Parisian tall apartment buildings with their shuttered windows and attics in the roofs, the café tables  on the sidewalks, and the square where passers-by were having their portraits painted. We poked around in the artists’ shops and ate a leisurely lunch (Terry ate snails) at the Auberge de la Bonne Franquette, the very tavern where such luminaries as Degas, Renoir, Matisse, Monet, Sisley and Toulouse Lautrec enjoyed convivial meals and conversations.

The autumnal sun had now broken through as we approached Sacre Coeur and the view from this high spot over Paris was breathtaking. The organ was rolling out sonorous notes as we made a brief visit inside the majestic basilica. Feeling somewhat subdued by its massiveness, we emerged and took the funicular down to the Pigalle and the Moulin Rouge.

Ah, Paris! Wonderful in the spring, as we know, but sweet also in the falling autumn leaves.

But more exciting is the vision of a vigorous community of believers, so pulsating with life that it overflows into multiple churches which will affect the culture of this great city. On Sunday morning, about 10 responded to the teaching and received the baptism in the Holy Spirit, and others were healed of various painful conditions. From small springs flow mighty rivers; from acorns grow huge oak trees.

We believe in a God who has told us to dream big dreams and to have faith that moves mountains. I can believe in a big vision for Paris. I can pray for that.

Will you pray for Paris too?


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Sold!

A big ‘Sold’ sign is adorning the front of our house! Yes, it has finally happened. The ‘For sale’ sign went up in January, and I naively imagined people would be flocking to buy our very desirable home. We would have to fight them off, and having made huge wads of money, could choose a new home in a leisurely fashion.  In fact we were already pretty sure which house it was going to be. It had been on the market since June of 2010, but as it was so suitable, God would keep it for us!

How wrong can you be? A few people trickled by to view our property, and then everything went deathly quiet for weeks. “Never mind,” said our agents, “The market always picks up at Easter!” Perhaps you remember Easter this year? In the UK, it turned out to be our summer. It was so hot that everyone was out having picnics, and sunbathing, and generally behaving as if it wasn’t Easter. They forgot about house hunting.

So we kept praying. “OK Lord, we understand that you want us to stay in Brighton for the last Together On A Mission conference. It really helps to be on the spot, not least because we have family coming and going; But when its over, please send someone to buy our house!”

The agents said, “No one buys in August. It’s the flattest month”.

To cut a long and boring story short, all of a sudden people were coming to view. We “sold” to one party from Dubai, but eventually that fell through and we now have buyers who have a family and live nearby, which is simpler.

The house we were so sure was the one God had for us was sold to someone else! No! Despair! “God must be testing our faith! We must pray them out. They haven’t got a mortgage, and we don’t need one, so we’ll pray they don’t get it”.  So we did, and they didn’t for ages; but eventually they did.

OK. We must look for another house. Sigh. More going and looking at properties that look wonderful in the photos online, but which turn out to be horrible in reality. So we had an exhausting, tedious day looking at useless houses. Terry and I never fight, but that day we nearly came to blows. At the end of the day the agent produced particulars of one more. It looked OK on paper, but then they always do.

Mustering our strength for one last assault we went…and saw… and loved it! Yes!

Surprise, surprise! It is much nicer than the one we thought we were going to get!

So we are buying it!

So now we are trawling through all our possessions, madly dumping loads of papers and books and old photos and ornaments; shedding beds and bedding, and generally trying to reduce the furniture of a six bedroomed house to the needs of a three  bedroomed.

As anyone knows who has been through this process, it is stressful and frustrating and really tests your faith. We thought our journey was unusually prolonged and difficult, until we heard other people’s stories and realised that actually it hasn’t been as bad as some. It has been both tedious and tense; exhausting and exasperating. We have prayed our way through it, believing that God has initiated this change in our lives. In the end, he is in control of all the details.

But the process of dismantling a home  is strange.  Going through dawers of old photos, finding beautiful letters from old friends, rediscovering memories long forgotten: these evoke emotions of  wistful sadness and joy at the same time.

Yesterday I found a bundle of mother’s day cards from all my children. As I read again the loving words each had written year after year, a surge of thankfulness engulfed me. I also found photos and letters from my own parents. I realised afresh that we are links in a chain. God invented homes and families. When we seek to build them his way they bring stability  and continuity into our lives as well as great joy.

God gave us a beautiful house in which to raise our family and in which to pray, eat, laugh and cry, with countless people who have passed through. If these walls could talk! In the eternal scheme of things it is only bricks and mortar, non-permanent. But it has been the context for conversations, events and decisions which, amazingly, will continue to affect lives, stretching into eternity.

Yes, I will leave with some sadness; but the overriding emotion is thankfulness to God for such a rich thirty years in it, and  the excitement at having the privilege to  do it again, differently, in another house.

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43 married years on..

August 31st has significance for my family in several ways: it is the birthday of Hudson, one of our grandchildren; it is the birthday of my aunt who is 102 this year; and it is Terry’s and my wedding anniversary. We have clocked up 43 years. Written down like that it looks an enormous length of time, but it feels astonishing to me that so much time has elapsed yet seems to have passed so quickly.

Is it really 43 years since I was putting on my lovely white dress, full of joyful anticipation? The phone rang. It was Terry half way down the M1, saying the radiator of his borrowed car had blown up and he was stuck at Newport Pagnell with his best man, the best man’s wife and baby daughter. This was at about 12.30pm. The ceremony was at 2pm.

My already nervous father was dispatched in his car to race down the motorway, rescue them all, and try to get them to Leicester , all dressed and ready . Heroically, he did it. (Those were the years before speed cameras had been invented.)

So we duly had the ceremony, only slightly delayed. After our 17 month engagement, I was simply euphoric that at last the day had come and floated happily down the short aisle of our brethren assembly building, to my waiting bridegroom whom I hadn’t seen for several weeks.

At the end of the wedding, we had a slight dilemma. The car was languishing somewhere near Newport Pagnell: how were we to get to Wales where we had planned to have our honeymoon? This is where the resourceful Arnold Bell stepped in. He had been Terry’s room mate at Bible College, and had often jokingly enquired, “So: where are we going on your honeymoon then?”

This turned out to be no idle speculation. He now ran to the nearest phone box, (this was in the days before mobile phones were invented) and phoned a farmer in the village where he was doing a locum pastorate. His cottage was free!  So we the newly weds found ourselves leaving the wedding reception amid clouds of confetti in Arnold’s car as he drove us off toward Melton Mowbray. So we had an idyllic weekend in a quaint cottage with roses round the door. Eventually we made it to Wales as well, but we won’t go into that. (That was in the days before Christians felt free to stay in  hotels, so we were in a Christian guest house…. I think they have improved now. We hope.)

You may think it was an inauspicious start, but as so often has been observed, a wedding is but a day; a marriage is for life. I made vows on that day that I meant with all my heart, and there were times when I had to remind myself that this marriage was not just about me and my preferences: it was about solemn promises to one another before God. (This was in the days before marriage prep. had been invented). So yes, there were many adjustments to be made but when those 2 human beings are seeking to put God first in the relationship and are learning to respond to him as well as each other, there is grace to grow, grace to love, grace to forgive.

In a world where marriage is cynically regarded as  just a bit of paper, where relationships end when the partners “fall out of love”, where they don’t know how to resolve differences, where there is sex but no friendship, where there is no respect, no laughter, no prayer….I am profoundly grateful that our marriage has been built on solid rock. I married a man who walks with God, and this makes me so secure.

My marriage is a rare and precious thing: it is not just a contract between a man and a woman; it is two people whom God has joined together to create a new thing, a unit that wasn’t there before. It is a relationship which has the supremely high calling of depicting a mystery, the sacrificial love which Christ has for his church, and her wholehearted response of love to him.

Christians: guard your marriage well! It has the potential to say something to the world about God himself! People should see our marriages and be in awe! They should see two people who are in love 43 years later, who love being together, never tire of each other’s company, live in harmony although they are very different personalities, laugh a lot, pray a lot, are generous in attitude, give grace to each other and are protective of each other, and of this most precious relationship.

Surprisingly, after a disappointing summer,  31st August this year was a warm sunny day. We had lunch at a pretty pub called the Golden Galleon, and then walked happily and contentedly hand-in-hand between the hedgerows down to the beach and back along by the Cuckmere river. The tide was high, and the water lapped gently on the banks; larks sang in the sky and sheep dotted the smooth rolling downs, basking in the  hazy afternoon. It was blissful. So we strolled, my love and I, not talking of anything very profound, but deeply enjoying the moment, together, thankful for love and life.

I am so glad that God invented marriage.

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Glorious Mud!

Do mud and glory go together? Well, there is a case to be made for it. Last weekend, Terry and I were at a camp in Yorkshire. It was August, but it might as well have been November. It was freezing cold, and it rained a lot. Consequently, as happens when 2,500 people with cars and trailers are moving around a flat grassy field in torrential rain, the ground got very churned up. The mud was truly spectacular: brownish-grey, slippery, with pools of water lying in the furrows, deep and a bit smelly. It got on everything: clothes, bags, bibles, kids….

It hadn’t occurred to us to bring wellies, but I was thankful to borrow a tasteful pair in green, decorated with daisies. Nice. So a nod in the direction of femininity and style then.

There were all sorts of people camping: young and old, families with babies, teenagers.  I am ashamed to say we stayed off site. No I’m lying, I was deeply grateful! But I was totally in awe of mothers who were carting their kids around in the rain, cheerfully sporting muddy jeans, wet jackets and plastic bags on their heads in the absence of suitable headgear.

I only once over heard an exasperated mum venting her wrath on an urchin who had presumably been wallowing  a bit too enthusiastically and had got his last pair of dry jeans wet and filthy….actually, I thought her response was fairly mild, considering. It reminded me of a Bible week many moons ago when Anna and Joel stomped around deliberately in a mud puddle and then came into the caravan…you just had to take wooden spoons with you everywhere in those days.

The surprising thing was that complaining was so rare  at North that it was practically non-existent. Maybe those Northerners are made of tougher stuff! They live there after all, under constantly grey, lowering skies I believe, and just get on with life. But they didn’t just not complain, they worshipped God wholeheartedly in every session; they served one another diligently; they listened to the preaching attentively, and they gave spectacularly! In fact, they gave over £130,000, and Westpoint also gave £101,000 to church-planting and outreach programmes. So nearly a quarter of a million given for further apostolic advance from these 2 camps.

What is it that makes people spend their bank holiday weekend camping in such extremely unpleasant conditions, trying to sleep  shivering in damp sleeping bags, splashing through thick mud to go anywhere,  queuing for loos and showers, and living on sausages in baps? This is not the famous British stiff upper lip: there were people there from Canada, Scandinavia, and Ireland. At Westpoint they also came from India, Spain and Portugal.

They were like the early Christians: sharing their lives together, worshipping, praying and learning from the apostles’ doctrine, having all things in common…even wellington boots. People were healed of  back problems and other painful conditions; many were filled with the Holy Spirit;  and some responded to God’s call on their lives to take the Gospel to another location, even overseas.

There was a great sense of identity and momentum.

They are together on a mission, not just for last weekend, but in everyday life. Yes, there was something glorious about it.

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