Diary of a Harvest Festival

Diary of a Harvest Festival

You might remember, if you follow my blog, that way back in March, I wrote a post about an idea I had for harvest, and I promised to let you know what happened. Here is a brief diary of events:

March: I read about the origins of our harvest festival in Leviticus, and was challenged by my apathy towards the festival. Had a clear idea of how the weekend might be planned. Decided to wait and see if idea faded or grew.

Next Sunday: As I sat in my church, I could clearly see how it might be decorated and arranged for a large family supper. Began to feel rather excited. My idea/vision was not fading.

Few Weeks later: A Missions Team Meeting – I shared my idea with the rest of the team, and was given permission from Rev P to start planning the event. He said he would arrange the Sunday bit. (This caused me some angst – what if he got the Sunday bit wrong? I am a control-freak.)

April: I chatted to J and C in church, and they agreed to help me plan the event. We met one evening, and I splurged out my ideas. They then discussed what they thought would work, and what should be dropped, and generally improved on my basic thoughts.

One idea which they modified was my “Thank you table,” which they thought had too much potential for precious items being lost/spoiled. They suggested instead a “thank you tree,” where people could write their thanks on autumn leaves, and attach them to the tree.

They also said there was too much for one evening, and they didn’t think my ‘sacrifice table’ would work, so we dropped that idea.

May/June: We met a few times. C planned some attractive fliers, which we could use to advertise the event. She also booked the church rooms for the evenings we needed them, and managed to book DJ to do the demonstration (which was brilliant news).

Rev P let us know that all the families I’d hoped would return had accepted the invitation. Very exciting!

We split the event, so each of us was leading a specific area: C would arrange the flower arranging demo on the Thursday evening. J would head-up a team to decorate the sanctuary ready for the meal/service. I would organise the catering.

July: We finalised the design for the fliers, setting the times for when we thought the most people would be able to attend (needed to juggle people who work on Saturdays with those families who are on an early clock). J told us the ‘thank you tree’ was under control, and she had ordered some rather smart autumn leaves. We discussed whether to have a flower demo followed by a workshop, or whether to split that over two evenings. We then realised we were suggesting people came Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday to harvest events, and this might be too much for most people. Decided to drop the Friday workshop, and instead decorate the church Saturday morning.

We started to announce our plans in church, giving people advance notice. Husband told me my announcements were mainly confusing (always get very honest feedback from family).

We spent an evening at the church measuring tables and rooms, deciding on the layout of the tables. We would have the demo in the back hall, and use the sanctuary (which is a lovely space) for the meal, arranging the tables as for a banquet – trying to give the impression of one big table (like a big family meal), even though the space only allowed for 3 separate tables.

The supper is a ‘Bring and Share’ supper. People will arrive, and sit at the table with their dish, which they will eat, and share with those around them. This means people with allergies/food preferences won’t worry about the food. It also eliminates the long queue of people waiting to go to the food table (and the need for there to be space for people carrying plates of food). It also means that people who have spent 3 hours cooking something delicious don’t arrive at the table to find only a cold burger and a hard baked-potato.

August: We all went on holiday and thought no more about it.

September: Returned from holidays, life became very busy with work/ill parents/health/start of all the church groups, and I began to wonder if harvest was all a big mistake. Very stressed. This was made even worse by reaching the part in my book where there is a barn dance, so I was also planning that (even though it wasn’t real). My head was full of how much a band costs (not real), how many people we could seat in the church (real), what food to serve (both real and not real). All got very confusing.

(Note: You may wonder, why— when I was busy planning an event— was I also trying to plan a virtual event for a book? The thing is, if authors are not disciplined, and keep writing, even when life ‘gets in the way’, then books are never finished. As in, never. I meet so many people who have been writing a book for about 25 years, and never finished it. To write a book, you have to write; you cannot wait until there is a ‘good time’ because there never is.)

Fliers were printed and distributed. Friends were invited. J arranged a team to help decorate. I tried to find people to help me cater, and printed off a quiz, so people who felt shy/bored had something to do at the tables.

The team has grown. We have someone who will wash all the white cloths we use at Lunch Club and return them to church for the Saturday. People setting up games in the hall for the children/young people to use during the meal. Someone collecting and returning wine glasses (borrowed from Waitrose). Someone sourcing some autumnal napkins. A team who will help decorate. People who will help set up tables and move furniture before and after the meal, and so on. I am beginning to feel excited.

One Week Before: Ordered food from Morrisons (15 stick loaves and 6 gammons) and bought drinks. I also cooked some dishes, and froze them, ready for next week. Other people in the church began to plan/buy/cook what they would bring.

Wednesday, day before the flower demo: C phoned to say our demonstrator had pulled out and could no longer come. I was flummoxed. Now what? We couldn’t even let most people know the event was cancelled, as we didn’t know who would have seen our advertising.

Son suggested I went to local florists and tried to find a replacement.

Chatted to C and we decided that I would pray, she could contact DJ and try to persuade him to still come. I wasn’t sure what to do if this failed.

Wednesday afternoon: C phoned and said DJ had agreed to still come (I think there had been a misunderstanding, which C had now sorted). Phew!

Thursday 6pm: Arrived at church, just as C and DJ were leaving, having set up his display tables. J arrived, and we set up chairs, refreshments, a place where I could give a 3 minute Tearfund talk (we were collecting donations for Tearfund at all 3 events). J had made mini chocolate brownies, sausages coated with herbs and honey, and tiny feta and olive pastries. I brought wine and soft drinks, J brought glasses.

Thursday 7–9pm: DJ gave a brilliant talk and flower demo. About 20 people attended (which was disappointing, as I’d hoped for more). The evening seemed a happy one. We raised about £35 for Tearfund.

Friday: Lunch Club. A last chance to advertise the event. Afterwards, on my way home, I bought food, so there would be enough at the meal for our guests (17 people, who were invited to come but who wouldn’t be bringing food as they were travelling a distance). When I got home, I picked some flowers and fruit for the display.

Friday evening: Popped into church to check: kitchen was clean, there was a supply of toilet rolls, I filled freezer with ice-creams. The stage was heaped with beautiful flowers and vegetables which people had grown and donated.

Saturday morning: I arrived at church to help decorate. People were already there, making the sanctuary look beautiful. Someone had also set up the back hall, with games for teenagers and toys for children. It looked fabulous already!
We set up tables (there was some discussion, as to whether to change the planned design, but eventually they were set up as planned, with a sort of ‘mini top-table’ to visually link the tables – wasn’t sure who would feel comfortable sitting there though). We had 85 people signed up to come, and finding enough cutlery/water glasses/serving spoons was a challenge. We ran out of knives, and had to use plastic ones. (I should’ve counted all the cutlery beforehand.)

The church began to look beautiful. Inspired by the Thursday demo, I decided to have a go at an arrangement with the stuff I’d brought. The last flower arrangement I attempted, my mum rearranged when she saw it. People were very polite about my attempts (but I could see in their eyes that they were lying). Then D, who is so sweet, said I had started a really lovely shape, and she had some flowers left over, how would I feel if she added to my arrangement? She then added flowers and foliage, and made it look amazing. I decided I would tell my family I had done it. Sent them a photo.

Left the church about 1pm. All looks exactly how I’d hoped. Very excited. Went home, sorted the animals, cooked lots of gammons, finished planning what I would do with the children on Sunday.

Saturday 6–8pm. People arrived (about 80 people) & everyone seemed to have enough to eat, the atmosphere was happy. I was busy, checking people had what they needed, washing up, passing wine, etc. At one point I glanced into the hall, and it was full of young people playing snooker and table-football and having a laugh. That warmed my heart. Another special thing was the ‘top table’, which I’d worried might remain empty, was full of little girls, who were clearly having a party!

Rev P did an entertaining and poignant talk, which fitted perfectly.

Cleared up. Lots of people helped, which was great. I got really tired, and at one point needed to rest my brain from all the noise, so sat in the car for a few minutes. Felt seriously exhausted – in the end decided to leave some of the washing up and do it on Sunday. Went home.

Sunday: When I went into the church kitchen, to sort out the dirty dishes I’d left, someone had already done them, and everything was clean and tidy.

Church was nicely full, and looked lovely.

D and I took the older children during the service. We had 13 young people, ranging from 7yrs old to 15yrs, in a fairly small room. It was a great hour. Many of them knew each other from before they’d moved away, so they were happy just to be there. At one point, one of them stared at the 7 year old, and said: “Is she the baby who used to smile at everyone?” (She was!) It was so nice to be there, in a sort of slightly disorganised family atmosphere. I did a short talk, then we played a variety of Pictionary/Jenga/Consequences games, the kids in teams of mixed ages. Happy morning.

Went downstairs after the service ended (a few minutes late, as the young people wanted to finish what we were doing). The atmosphere was very happy, people smiling, hugging, chatting. I tried to chat, but I was very tired, so I’m not sure I made much sense.

So, was it worth it? Well, yes, I think so. Afterwards, several people have contacted me, and although their comments aren’t intended for a public blog, I know that God did bless the events, he did speak to people. (Plus we raised about £1,500 for Tearfund.)

Harvest is about remembering what God has done in the past, what he has given to us, so that we don’t forget when times are tough. I think we managed to do this, our church was reminded that God has blessed us, that church is still a family and a good place to be. The work before and after was actually a crucial part of this – a group of people sitting together and making table decorations was as essential as the words said from the front. Church is God’s family, and I am happy to belong.

#

Have a great week, and I’ll write again next week (I want to tell you about an old book, written in 1600s – I bet they didn’t have trouble with publishers in those days!)

Love, Anne x

Thank you for reading.

Anne E. Thompson has written several novels. They are available from bookshops and Amazon.
You can follow her blog at:
anneethompson.com
Why not sign up to follow today?

 

If you want to read my post, written way back in March, the link is below:

https://anneethompson.com/2018/03/26/harvest-thoughts-yep-i-do-know-its-only-march/

When you are useless…

Do you ever feel that everyone else is more capable than you are? They seem to have more friends, more purpose, to achieve more—and you feel as if you’re playing ‘catch-up’ the whole time? I think we’ve all felt like that at some time. The trouble is, we tend to evaluate ourselves in comparison to everyone else, we see what they’re achieving, and we feel less able, less capable; a bit useless really. In 2014, I really was, utterly useless. Let me explain.

In 2009, I was a working Mum, teaching in the local school, preaching occasionally in local churches. We had returned from a few years in New Jersey, the husband’s career was developing nicely, and all seemed good. It wasn’t, but it seemed good.

But then things started to unravel for me. I started waking each morning with headaches that lasted all day. I was forgetting things, and I felt, very slightly, as if I wasn’t quite coping. Teaching seemed more about politics and pleasing parents, and less about the pupils. Preaching felt more ‘head-knowledge’ than true. The family and house and animals all seemed slightly too much. I put all this down to stress, cut down on teaching, stopped preaching, and tried to get the home bit right.

Then one day, while emptying the tumble-dryer, I came up under the work-surface and knocked myself out (as you do). The next day I had an awful headache, so went to Casualty, where they did a CT scan. They told me that I had a small benign tumour, right in the centre of my brain. When I got home, I did some online research, and found this was very rare, often undetected, and sometimes caused “sudden instant death”. So not hugely reassuring.

I then started a whole era of brain surgeons, MRI scans, and frequent migraines. For five years, I lived in this rather tense bubble, because the medics said removing the tumour would damage the brain, so it was better left where it was and monitored. My migraines meant I was too unreliable to teach or preach, so I felt a bit useless. Except, God still had a plan for me. Because however incapable we might feel, God can use us, and life can be good and full of meaning (which is the point of this article).

Being ill is mainly boring—so I decided to learn Mandarin. I practised by teaching English in the local Take-Away restaurants, and I made some very special friends amongst the Chinese community. I often hurt too much to talk, but I learnt to listen.

In 2014, the tumour changed and became dangerous, so my surgeon took it out via a craniotomy. He cut through the right side of my brain, right to the middle, and patched me up with bits of metal. There I was, a middle-aged woman, with half my head shaved, an impressive scar, and a terrible memory. Pretty useless really. Plus, as they cut through the part of the brain that controls anxiety, I also became anxious about really daft things—like leaving the house to have coffee with my mum. (And although my mum’s coffee is pretty awful, it’s not something normal people become anxious over.) My rather dodgy maths became even worse, so counting or having any awareness of time became very hard. As the brain was having to make new, less efficient pathways, I grew tired very easily, and found too much stimulation (noise, lights) exhausting.

As a scarred brain doesn’t really heal, it just finds new ways of doing things, all those things, to some extent, are still true today.

However, the left side of my brain was undamaged, and my language was intact, and this became very important. Gradually, I grew more confident. I found that people didn’t mind the over-emotional woman with the terrible memory—in fact, some people preferred her. Leaving the house is still a bit scary, but I have learnt to force myself, to pray very hard (and to carry Immodium at all times!) The more I do, the more God enables me to do, the more I realise that I can trust him. It started with tiny steps, the “Please God can I have coffee with my mum without having a panic-attack” sort of prayer.

Since then, I have travelled the world, in fact last year I was walking through the slums of India talking to people, researching a book. Because now, I write books. When I was at the “leaving the house is too scary” stage, I started to write a blog. This developed into longer articles, and finally books. All the stories I have always had in my head, are now forming themselves into words, and I find I can write them down. Excitingly, people are buying my books, and liking them enough to buy the next one. Gosh!

So the next time you feel useless, are tempted to think that everyone else is doing rather better than you, remember this: You were created for a reason, and whatever happens, however weak, and dependent, and incapable you may become, if you lean on the God who created you, you will never be useless. Because there is a plan. We simply have to learn how to follow it.

xxx

These are my books. They’re available from book shops and Amazon. Please will you buy one to read this summer?

Following my diagnosis, I began to learn about how the brain works, and am fascinated by how controlled we are by our brains. I then began to explore other illnesses and disorders, focussing on psychopathy. Psychopathy is a mental disorder, not an illness, and it causes certain personality traits – most psychopaths are not violent, or ever convicted of any crime – but the way their brains function mean they have certain behavioural characteristics. As I studied psychopathy, reading books by neurologists, listening to psychopaths as they talked, and even finding two mothers of psychopaths who were prepared to talk to me about raising a psychopathic child, I realised that most people have no idea how a psychopath thinks, why they behave as they do. In response to this, I wrote two novels: JOANNA and CLARA. Both show how people are affected by the way their brain processes information—and the impact on people around them. (When selling these books, I am often asked by people if any US Presidents are psychopaths. I think if people read CLARA, they will be able to decide for themselves!)

Thank you for reading.
Anne E. Thompson

 

The latest, and best book (in my opinion). An exciting novel written in the first person, which shows how a psychopath views the world. The story encompasses the world of women trafficked in India, and shows how someone very bad, can be used to achieve something amazing.

This tells all the things I wish I had known when first diagnosed. A helpful book for anyone with a potentially terminal illness. It shows how to find a surgeon, how to cope with other people’s fears, how to not be defined by an illness. It also has a few funny anecdotes – because even when you’re ill, it’s good to laugh.
Available from Amazon (you can get it free if you have a Kindle).

A hilarious romance for when you want to relax.

A gritty thriller, which shows what it means to be a psychopath, and how it would feel if someone in your family did something awful. (Because every psychopath has a mother.)

Hidden Faces by Anne E. Thompson.
An easy read, feel good novel, set in an infant school. An ideal gift, this is a book to make you smile.

An exciting novel, set in the near future. One family shows how they cope with driverless cars, new laws, and schools run by computers.

Does God Care About the Children in Syria?

Does God care about the children in Syria?
Does he even see them?

Photo: AFP rudaw.net

The other day, I was half watching the News, half eating my lunch, when they broadcast a report from Syria. I was suddenly faced with a little boy. He’d been sat on a chair, under the television lights, and he was bleeding – wounded from yet another attack in Syria. He had a cut on his head, and when he put his hands up to feel, he got blood on his fingers. He then didn’t know what to do. I watched as he instinctively went to wipe them on the chair, realised he was being watched, so instead slowly wiped them on his trousers. I nearly cried. He was a little boy, just the same as my sons were, as every little boy I have taught. I could see what he was thinking, that as he sat there, he was worrying about the blood on his hands and he didn’t know what to do. I wanted to tell him it didn’t matter, to take him to a sink and wash him and bandage him. I wanted to tell him that it wasn’t his fault, that this war – which is full of complex politics – was the fault of grown-ups. That he deserved better.

So, as my heart ached for this one child, I wondered – does God care? Does he even see? And if so, why doesn’t he act?

The reason I’m writing this, is because I have just listened to a talk about God seeing. (I tend to miss the talks at my church because I’m usually with the children, so I catch up online later.) The talk (which was brilliant) is too long to tell you completely, but it made one point I will share with you.

Imagine you are waiting for someone, and she is late. If they are a stranger to you, you might be irritated, or angry that they are wasting your time and not bothering to let you know. You might even decide to get up and leave, they have messed you around and missed their chance. But if you know that person, if they are a close friend or relative, and someone who has always been reliable in the past, who has always been on time, never let you down, then your reaction would be different. You might be concerned that something had happened to them. You would be confident that they are late because there is a valid reason.

The same is true with God. We may not understand why bad things are happening, but if we know him, if we have experienced his love in our own lives, if we are confident that he is truly good, truly God, then we can trust him with this too.

Sometimes we don’t know why. Sometimes things are too sad, too horrible, too painful to comprehend. In those times, all we can do is trust. The God who we know to be loving and faithful and right, the God who is God, does care. And he does see. And when the time is right, he will sort it.

Photo: Unicef

The link for the talk is below. It lasts about 40 minutes, and is worth finding the time to listen.

https://www.godstonebc.org/sermons/el-roi-the-god-who-sees/

Thank you for reading.
Have a good week.
Love, Anne x

*****
You can follow my blog at: anneethompson.com

Anne E. Thompson has written several novels and one non-fiction book. You can find her work in bookshops and Amazon.

(I took the photographs from Google. They are possibly copyrighted, so I have tried to credit them accordingly.)

Psalms – Next book in my Bible Blog

In my read through the Bible I have reached Psalms. I didn’t find it a very easy book to read through, as each Psalm is like a poem, and if I wasn’t in the right mood, it was hard to connect with what the psalmist was writing. Lots were written by David, when he was fighting for his life, so he was in a different situation to most of us. It’s quite difficult to hope all your enemies will die horrible deaths, if you don’t feel you actually have any enemies. However, there is still lots to glean from reading them.

This book is made up of songs, which we tend to read as poems (and is actually divided into five separate books). I used the books by Michael Wilcock to help me understand them, and if you want to study individual psalms in detail, I would recommend it. (It’s part of The Bible Speaks Today series, ISBN 9780851115061) He describes the Psalms as being like “a photograph album, full of pictures that show us a variety of places in a land of spiritual experience.” I rather like that description.

As I read through, there were three main themes which struck me: The absolute power and sovereignty of God, the importance of remembering what God has done in the past, and the realisation that we are very temporary. These themes are repeated and intermingled throughout the Psalms, and I think they’re important. (There is also a lot of poetry, but I’m not a great appreciator of poetry, so that side was a bit lost on me.)

If you have ever faced a potentially terminal illness, you will have faced the fact that you might die soon. This is probably not a bad thing to realise, especially in our culture, which tends to hide away from death. We need to acknowledge that we have a ‘use-by’ date, and that our life is relatively fleeting. I guess for the psalmists, who lived in an age when dying in battle was likely, when diseases were mostly incurable, and when life expectancy was short, knowing that you would die one day was much more relevant. But it’s something we all need to consider. Not because we want to be gloomy, but because then we will have some urgency to how we choose to live our lives. What exactly is important? What really matters? (Probably not the designer handbag, nor being a best-selling novelist, or the CEO of a major company!) In Clara – A Good Psychopath? Clara makes the observation that all the writers of the Bible were pretty weak people, who made lots of mistakes, and they’re all dead now anyway. And yet, their lives had meaning and significance, simply because they followed God and HE gave their lives significance. Their lives were worth something, because HE was worth something. I think this is what the Psalms remind us. Unless we look to God, it’s all pretty meaningless in the long term.

Which leads on to the importance of remembering. I don’t know about you, but I am fairly fickle when it comes to praise and worship. I remember, right after I had brain surgery, when I was so grateful to God for his support, that I wanted to tell everyone I met about it. Talking about how great God was, happened naturally, it was sort of bubbling up inside of me. But I’m not like that now. Most days I’m a grumpy middle aged woman who has a crisis when the cat brings in a mouse. Therefore, remembering is important. We need to stop, regularly, and remember what God has done. The Israelites were told to remember being rescued from Egypt, long, long afterwards – in fact, generations afterwards. Remembering what God has done for us is important, especially when life is tough. If life is like a series of mountain peaks and valleys, then remembering how we felt on the mountain will help us to get through the valley.

Finally, the Psalms deal with the absolute power and sovereignty of God. The God who created the heavens, who formed the mountains, the power of the waves – there is no other. When we’re in the doldrums, it’s good to lift our thoughts upwards, to think about who God is, to remember to worship him. Which challenges us to think about how we do that. Do we make time to pray regularly? Do we bother to kneel down when we pray? Do we make space for the God we claim to worship in the busyness of life?

So, Psalms was not a favourite book of mine, and is one I would rather dip into when I’m in the mood, than to read from beginning to end. But reading it has, I think, helped to change me, just a little.

*****
anneethompson.com

Thank you for reading. The UK Amazon links for the books mentioned are below.

Psalms by Michael Wilcock:
https://www.amazon.co.uk/Message-Psalms-1-72-People-Speaks/dp/0851115063/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1523950840&sr=8-1&keywords=the+bible+speaks+today+psalms

Clara by Anne E. Thompson:

Surviving Easter Weekend and a Post Post Script

Hello, and I hope you had a lovely Easter weekend. I am actually writing this on Good Friday, in a snatched few minutes before the next onslaught of jobs. No idea if I will actually make it past tomorrow.

It has been a stressful week, but I will try hard to not apportion blame.

It began badly, when the painter arrived on Monday. For some reason, somebody had booked a man to decorate the entire house, beginning the week before Easter. This is generally a busy time, as all the family, including my mother, come to stay, and then on Easter Monday we invite the whole church and anyone else who wants to come, and we all go for a country walk and have a cream tea. Last year we had about 80 people, so it involves baking quite a lot of scones. And having the house tidy. And is not helped by having a bloke painting random rooms the week before.

But we survived. The painter man turned out to be relatively low-impact, though having to empty whole rooms is not without a certain amount of chaos, and chemicals smell horrid, so windows have to be open, so the house is cold. I couldn’t write in my normal place, and so shared the kitchen area with son who’s back from uni. It wasn’t completely terrible, and I managed to write 13,000 words of next book. I think I write best when depressed.

The main reason for the depression is that, due to repeated nagging from various people, I went to the doctor about those chest pains/breathlessness I told you about a few weeks ago. Part of this involved blood tests, and I was told I need to cut down on cholesterol. Which is frankly awful. I am not sure that a life without cakes and flapjacks and cheese sauces is necessarily one I want to live. I spent the week rebelling, and baking said flapjacks and cakes, and then feeling guilty, so forcing them onto other people.

The weather is also being rubbish. As I write, I have just returned from a particularly unpleasant walk. The fields are not just boggy, they are lakes. Son made a lot of fuss about having a hole in one wellie. The chickens insist on leaving their cage because it’s not actually snowing, but they are cross, so sit on the back doorstep frowning at me. The back doorstep is now covered in chicken poop, so that’s another job before the cream tea (in the rain) on Monday.

The ducks are happy though. And randy. Ducks in the spring are incredibly randy. Which means lots of eggs, but I have been removing them because I don’t want more ducks, and now the laying boxes are empty each morning. Which means they are hiding their nests. Which means they will arrive with a clutch of ducklings in a few weeks time, and I will have to either fish them out of the pond, or leave them for the magpies to eat.

Anyway, I have survived so far, and if I make it to Monday I will be feeling calmer. Am hoping lots of people still come to cream tea, even if the weather is bad, otherwise I will have many pots of clotted cream to dispose of (or eat, if I decide the whole cholesterol thing is best ignored). Perhaps I could post them out with copies of Clara. A sort of unusual special offer: Buy a book and get a free pot of cream. Perhaps not.

Enjoy your day and have a lovely week, whatever the weather.

Take care,
Love,
Anne x

PS. Had the BEST review today – the local bookshop wrote on twitter that a customer had so enjoyed Clara that they’d gone back to buy my other books. Excellent. Have you bought a copy yet?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

PPS. As I set the table for Easter Sunday dinner, I put out napkins. We don’t use them very often, because some of my family never use them, and they are bit of a pain to wash and iron afterwards. But for special occasions, we use cloth napkins. Which reminds me of something I read this week.

Did you know, that Romans used napkins, and their slaves would watch while they ate? When the master had finished eating, he would screw up the napkin and leave the table, signifying he had finished. But sometimes, he would leave the table and carefully fold the napkin. This was a sign to the servants that he wasn’t finished – he would be returning to the table. Now, if you read the Easter story, you will read in John’s book, that when the disciples got to the empty tomb, the grave cloths were left there, abandoned. But the napkin which had been around Jesus’ head was carefully folded…

The Sword Pierced Heart (a story reposted for Easter)

 

The Sword Pierced Heart

by Anne E. Thompson

I watched my son die today. My beautiful boy, beaten, battered and left to die. And my heart broke. I held my cloak close and I remembered the weight of him as a babe, like a boulder on my hip, wriggling to be free, to run and jump and climb. Those legs will run no more. Those limbs, I was so proud when they grew. I remember when he grew as tall as me, then taller even than Joseph. I remember watching him, stretched out as he ate, those long limbs seemed to go on forever. “I grew him,” I used to think with pride. Those limbs will not sprawl relaxed in my home ever again.

I watched his hands, the hands that used to pat me cheekily on the head when he’d grown tall. Those strong hands which laboured with wood, which helped me carry heavy loads, which lifted young children playfully. They are no longer strong. I saw them bang nails through the flesh, felt that I heard the sound of bone shattering over the thump of the hammer, heard his ragged breath as they forced the cross upright. And I wondered if I too might die. But I watched. I am his mother and I would not leave him alone.

When they tried to take me home, when they told me to shield my eyes, avert my gaze, I did not. For he was my son. I would never leave him alone, not at such an anguished hour of need. Others watched. Some women were there, terrified and hanging back. Not me, I am his mother. I stood with John, where he could see me. What could they do to me that was worse than this?

Others watched who hated him. They mocked and spat and called abuse. It could not hurt him now, I thought, let them shout. “He trusts in God,” they called, “Let God save him now,” and they laughed, even as he died they laughed. Yet even God deserted him by the end and that was hardest to bear. He called out with a loud shout, asking why God had turned from him.
“My God,” he called in anguish, “why have you forsaken me?”
But I was there. I did not leave. I saw them crucify him, naked upon a cross. No mother wants to see her grown son naked, but still I did not look away. I was there at the beginning, I would stay with him until the end.

The soldiers took his clothes, for fabric is costly and even that of a criminal should not go to waste. Most they tore and shared between them but not his tunic. They cast lots for that, not wanting to spoil something precious. Yet my son was precious and they destroyed him.

It began last night. They woke me from my sleep and warned me there was trouble. He had been arrested, taken from a meal with his friends and questioned by the temple authorities. They feared the invaders, so he was then referred to a court of Godless law, a place that feared no God. They told me that he was scourged, beaten with whips that removed chunks of flesh as they struck. He was mocked and abused, then brought to this place.

I came, stumbling through streets full of people, full of noise and smells and fear and hatred. I came to this place, this Godforsaken hill beyond the city wall and I saw my son, my boy, diminished, shrunken somehow. I saw that what they had told me was true, smelt the repugnant stink of excrement mingle with the metallic stench of blood. I heard the shouts of abuse, the curses of the guards, the screams from the prisoners, the wails from friends. And him, like an oasis of calm amidst the turmoil, suffering but at peace.

And he saw me. Those dark eyes that as a baby had watched me intently when he fed. Those eyes that twinkled merrily when he teased me and became serious when he wanted to explain something important. Those eyes, red rimmed with exhaustion now, turned to me. Even hanging there, with parched mouth and dried lips, he spoke to me. His voice was hoarse, for he had refused the wine they offered, but I heard him well. A mother knows her child’s voice. I stood with John and my son told me that this was to be my son now and he was to care for me as a mother. Even in his torment he cared for me, fulfilled his duty as my son. Still I would not leave.

Then it ended. The sky had turned as black as my world and he drew his last breath. It was finished.
Those who had mocked became silent, some cried, some beat their breasts in despair. The blackness of the sky frightened them and many fled, wondering at what they had done.

Then I left, I let them lead me away. My soul was broken and my heart beat even though I bid it stop. My boy was gone, my firstborn, special baby, was no more. I carried that knowledge like a rock within me, I would have rather died in his place. How can I live, continue with my life knowing he is gone? There would be no more sunshine or laughter, nothing matters now. The core of me was gone. I could not even cry.

Afterwards, I could not rest and I heard strange stories. They said the soldiers pierced his side, to check there was no life in him. His blood had separated so they took him down, a solid corpse that had no life.
A man came and took the body, they said they followed and knew where he lay, in a tomb that was guarded. They told me of strange things, of the temple curtain torn in two, of dead men walking and boulders breaking open. I do not know. I only know my boy is gone. That is all that matters.
It should not have been like this. It was so recently that people praised his name, sang and danced before him, treated him like a king. It should not have ended like this.

And yet, I recall a song, it comes persistently to mind, sung often in the synagogue. It speaks of one forsaken by God in his time of need, scorned by many. He belonged to God from before he was born, then suffered at the hands of many. They sung of bones poured out like water, a heart of melted wax, that is how my boy would have felt. They sung of hands and feet pierced like his and enemies gloating over him. They sang of lots being cast for clothing and of God’s ultimate victory. They sung of remembering him for ever, not just now but families of every nation, even those presently unborn. For he has done it.
Is this my son’s song? Were the words written for him? He spoke of his death often, he tried to warn me that he would die. But not like this, not before my own time has come. No mother should bury her child, it goes against what is natural and right. Though, he showed no fear, he knew what his end would be. And he told me there was more.

As I turn now to sleep, I wonder at his words. Will he truly return somehow and will I know?

Has he finished what he was sent to do?

****

If Mary was a young teenager when she learned she was pregnant (which would fit with the age girl’s became betrothed in those days) then when Jesus died aged thirty-three, she would have been about forty-seven. How does a woman of that age cope with the things she was forced to witness and how much would she have understood at the time? I am about her age, I have sons, contemplating their dying is too horrible for words. I am sure she loved her boy as much as we love ours.

Crucifixion was a ghastly way to die. We learn in the Bible that Jesus, who never sinned, who never did anything wrong, died to save the world. What does that mean? You can learn more at:https://anneethompson.com/how-to/378-2/

However, many people were crucified, some probably unjustly accused. So is it the death that was important or was it that God became separate? I think that this is the key issue here, the part of Jesus that was God left him. That was more terrible than crucifixion. That is what each of us deserves and what we do not have to suffer if we choose to come to God.
If we want to know God, we can, even if that means changing our minds. You may not believe in God but God believes in you.

The song which Mary recalled in the story was Psalm 22. It has some striking similarities to the account of Jesus’ crucifixion. It was written about one thousand years before the event. (wow)
It begins: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
It finishes: “…..future generations will be told about the Lord. They will proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn – for he has done it.”

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Thank you for reading.

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King David and The Good Wife

Often, as I read the Bible, I come to a passage which makes no sense. Something happens, there is a reaction to it, and you are left wondering why. In the olden days (of not so long ago) people would have heavy tomes sitting on bowed bookshelves, and would pull down a version of their favourite commentary to investigate. Today we have Google.

However, the problem with Google, is that usually, you have no idea who has written something. Sometimes it’s difficult to know if someone is giving their own opinion, which is no more valid than your own, or if they are Biblical scholars and know what they’re talking about. And they write with so much authority!

Take a passage I read recently (as part of my task of reading through the whole Bible – which is taking me months). I read an account of King David, before he died, telling his minions to take a census of Israel and Judah, because he wanted to know how many people he ruled. (End of 2 Samuel.) This makes God angry, and there is a plague, which kills thousands of Israelites. Why? What is wrong with a census? I put the question into Google, and came up with dozens of results.

Several people said the problem was David’s reasons for taking the census, that it showed pride in his own achievements. Some people suggested that the problem was lack of trust, or wrong priorities – David was more concerned with how many people he ruled than what God wanted. All sounded very plausible, and were more or less what I’d decided myself.

Then I read another explanation, posted on a website called “gotquestions.org”. They came up with a different reason for the census being wrong. They said that in Exodus 30, God had clearly said that no one should take a census of Israel, because Israel belonged to God, and only he could instigate one (as he did when the book of Numbers was written). When the people were counted, they had to make sacrifices, showing that they belonged to God.

So, the reasons for the census (pride, wrong priorities, etc) weren’t the problem. Taking the census in the first place was.

There is also the issue of what prompted David to take the census. In 2 Samuel, it says God incited David to. But in 1 Chronicles (same story) it says Satan incited David to. So, which is correct?

Again, there were lots of answers online, people saying that actually it was God, who allowed Satan to incite David. Or saying that Satan was not a Hebrew word, and that is where the problem lies. However, scholars who actually know some Hebrew point out that actually, the verb ‘to incite’ has no subject in the original text. So it is better translated, “There was who moved David against them,” – which doesn’t make sense. So English translators added what they thought was best. Which means that to be definite in our interpretation of the English translation is foolish. There are, it seems, a lot of foolish people out there.

Which actually, is my point (I know, you were wondering if I had one!) The reason the title mentions The Good Wife, a series on Netflix which I very much enjoy, is there is a character, a judge, who insists that when the lawyers present their arguments, they should always say, “In my opinion.” I think this would be a good rule for people who expound the Bible, whether they do it online or teach, or preach. To give an opinion on part of the Bible, and to say this is absolute, when perhaps you are using a translation (eg, a version written in English) is dangerous. I would even go as far as to suggest it might be wrong. Yet people do it all the time.

My understanding of the ten commandments, is that the second commandment, is relevant here. It’s the one that says, “Do not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.” (Exodus 20) I was taught that this does not mean casual ‘swearing’, using the name of God as a meaningless word, saying, “Oh God!” when we drop something (though that is also wrong, but for a different reason). It means, do not claim something is from God when it is not. Do not say, “God told me to…” if you’re actually not sure if it was God or your own mind. Do not claim something is God’s word – an absolute explanation of the Bible, if actually it is just your own opinion. Especially if it’s based on a translation.

People should not be so forceful when telling others what they believe, because they might be wrong. To say: “If you want to come to God, you must first say you are sorry, because that is what happened in the parable of the prodigal son,” would be wrong. ( I have explained this in my article on understanding stories : https://anneethompson.com/christian-tearfund-materials-and-poems/understanding-stories/) We can be sure of God, sure of our relationship with him, sure of his character. But when we are interpreting the Bible, we should show a little humility.

Perhaps those who take a particular stand on a subject, be it homosexuality, or the place of women, or euthanasia, need to be careful. Yes, we should pray about issues and ask God to guide us. Yes, we should stand up for what we believe is right. But we need to be ever aware that we are standing for what we believe. We do not speak for God. Sometimes we might be wrong. It worries me when I read Christians write about those who disagree with them, referring to them as, “Those who claim to be Christians,” clearly indicating that actually, their own view is correct, their own view is the true interpretation of the Bible, the others cannot possibly be right.

So please, next time you give your view about something, especially in a public forum, remember that it is your view, not God’s. Because, in my opinion, we can never be sure.

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Anne E. Thompson is the author of several novels and a non-fiction book, How to Have a Brain Tumour.
Her books are available from bookshops and from Amazon.
You can follow her blog at: anneethompson.com