Bible Blog


I’ve decided to read through the Bible. I have, since childhood, read various parts of the Bible many times, but I have never read through it, beginning to end. So I thought it was time that I did. I don’t have ‘a system’ – I’m not that sort of person. I’m just going to read, in order, from beginning to end, as time/enthusiasm allows.

I will try to post each Sunday a short update about how I’m getting on. Partly to motivate myself, and partly because you might be interested. (If you’re not, you can just skip the blogs headed Bible Blog each week – I will still continue to post my newsy, family, travel blogs every Monday.) I’ll be honest about what I read and think, I won’t just regurgitate churchy views.

April 30th

I started at the beginning (which is actually, NOT a good place to start if reading the Bible for the first time! Better to begin in the New Testament, with Mark’s book.) Here are my thoughts/ramblings thus far:

There are two different stories about creation. I have studied these before, when teaching RS, so could really write a whole blog on them alone. However, my only comment here is I think it’s important to remember what question they are answering – they are not explaining HOW God made the world, they are explaining WHO and WHY. I think they are pictures, illustrating ideas, clearly showing that God was the creator. They were told at a time when there were lots of stories from the Babylonians, about dragons using things to create the world, so the point about God creating it from nothing, using just his word, is important. Personally, I don’t think it’s meant to be taken literally. Things like plants being created before light just seem too illogical.

Having said that, the first bit of Genesis is still weird. It is full of pictures and giants and strangeness. It is, on first glance, every bit as unbelievable as the myths that other cultures and religions have about how the world began. I think to understand it properly, you need to do further reading. One excellent book (I think) is Creation or Evolution, do we have to choose?

https://www.amazon.co.uk/d/Books/Creation-Evolution-Choice-Alexander-Denis-Author-Paperback/B0092GFUNA/ref=sr_1_10?ie=UTF8&qid=1493456743&sr=8-10&keywords=creation+evolution

After creation comes the flood. Most old cultures have a flood story, which is interesting – who knows, perhaps it really did happen. Certainly the instructions for building the ark (about the size of a multi-storey carpark) are detailed, if not especially interesting. After the flood, there’s a story about Noah getting drunk and his son having sex with him (they didn’t cover that little gem in Sunday School when I was a kid!)

There are many lists of genealogies. No idea why, they don’t make for an interesting read. However, recently I watched “The Good Lie”, about children being rescued in Sudan. One clip showed the children reciting all their ancestors. Perhaps in some cultures it’s important.

Next are the stories about Abram, Lot, Isaac. These seem more historically factual, they read like real events about actual people. One part that interested me was when Abraham plants a tamarisk tree. I did some research into what this was. It’s a tree that’s very unusual because it puts down very deep roots, and so can reach deep water tables. It uses a lot of water, so starves the surrounding soil of moisture, so other plants cannot grow near it. It also is able to take up salt, which it expels as a salty layer on its leaves. When they fall, this makes the soil salty, which again means no other plants can grow near it. So, it is a lonely tree, very different to other plants and not able to mix with them. It was introduced to the western states of America, where it flourished and is now seen as a pest, but hard to kill due to its deep roots. Now, Abraham is seen as ‘the father of the Jews’. It seems to me that the tamarisk tree makes a good metaphor for how the world views the Jewish race.

Another story I found interesting was the one where Abraham sends his servant to find a wife for his son. He feels that he wants his son to marry from his own people, so makes a plan. However, he also has a backup plan, he tells the servant to come home without a woman if she isn’t willing to go with him. So, he was doing what he thought God wanted, but if he was wrong, he had made a decision about what to do instead. He hoped he was right, that he was following God’s plan, but he didn’t assume it. Of course, when the servant did find the wife, Rebekah, it all proved to be what God wanted. But I found it interesting that Abraham didn’t know that for sure, he was just doing his best, doing what he thought was right. Which sometimes, is all that we can do.

xxx

Thanks for reading. I’ll let you know how I get on in the next week.

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anneethompson.com

xxx

Understanding Stories


 

How well do you know the stories in the Bible? I’m guessing that anyone who lives in the UK knows at least some of them. Which of these do you know?: Adam and Eve, Noah’s Ark, Joseph and his dreams, Moses and the Plagues, The Nativity, The Lost Sheep, The Prodigal Son.

As you know, I am rather keen on knowing what the Bible says, and have been reading it for most of my life. However, sometimes I read a commentary that shows how little I still know. This was true recently, when I was looking at the story of The Prodigal Son. I thought I’d let you know about the bits I have been getting wrong for the last 50 years.

Firstly, when you think of the story, where do you see it set? I have this image of a house surrounded by fields – so when the father runs to meet his returning son at the end, he is running down this long straight road. A bit like a farm on the American plains. This is so wrong! When the story was told, land owners, even wealthy ones, lived in small communities. They might send someone to sleep near the fields when the harvest was ready, but their home would be in a community. So, when we read this story, we need to be aware of all the friends and neighbours who would have been part of the story, even though they’re not specifically mentioned. (They weren’t mentioned, because everyone listening already knew this. If I write a story today, about a family eating roast beef, I don’t say that the food is served on a china plate, because anyone reading my story already knows that.)

So, what happens in this story? It begins with a man and two sons, and the younger one asks for his share of the inheritance, before his father has died. Now, in those days (actually, today it still holds true) this was in effect, telling his father, “I wish you were dead”. You would expect the father to be angry, to throw out his son and not give him anything. However, the father in the story doesn’t do this. He divides his money between both his sons. Which is interesting for two reasons. Firstly, in order for this to be legal, it would have to be done in a way that the community believed this was the father’s free choice – so he was protecting his son even though he’d been insulted. Secondly, the oldest son also took the money. He didn’t protest, tell his father he’d wait for his share. Nope, the money was divided between both of them. (Leaving the father in a very vulnerable position). The community would be angry at how the sons shamed the father.

Next, the youngest son leaves. This is where the community matters. In those days, it was very important to a community, that all wealth remained with Jews. If you sold property, you sold to Jews. If you spent money, you spent it with Jews. To lose money to non-Jews (Gentiles) was disgraceful. They actually had a ceremony, called the kezazah ceremony where a community would smash a pot filled with burnt corn and nuts in front of the individual, to show he was cut off from the community. We know that the youngest son lost his money amongst Gentiles, because he is later employed as a pig farmer (Jews don’t eat pork). He is working because the only way he can return to his community is if he manages to repay the money he lost. But we read that no one ‘gave him anything’ – so he’s not managing to earn money to cover his loss.

So, the son is in a pickle. He has lost his money to Gentiles, and he’s hungry and poor. What to do? Now, here comes an interesting bit. The story says he says to himself, ‘I will go back to my father and say, “I have sinned against heaven and before you”’. He then plans to ask his father for employment (so he can pay back what he owes, and no longer be in disgrace). He has a plan. Now, I always thought that these words meant that the son was sorry, and was returning to his father to ask for forgiveness. But no, that’s wrong.

This story was told by Jesus to the pharisees, who were annoyed because Jesus was eating with sinners. Pharisees would know the old testament extremely well (better than I do). So, when they heard the words, “I have sinned before heaven and before you”, they would recognise them at once. As you, if you enjoy old films, might recognise “I go to the hills for the sound of music”, or if you read, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times”. You see, the words spoken by the son are a direct quote from the story of Moses and Pharaoh and the plagues. They are the words that Pharaoh says when he wants the plagues to stop. Was Pharaoh sorry? Did he accept that Moses was right? No! He just wanted the problem to end. It was the same with the son. He had his plan all clear in his mind. He would go home, manipulate his father into letting him work for him, earn enough money to pay back what he’d lost, then his problem would be over, the community would accept him back.

However, that’s not how it turned out. Before he even reached the community, his father saw him and came running. He ran because he wanted to show the community that he accepted his son, that there was no need for the kezazah ceremony. Men in those days did not run. Mothers did, not fathers. The father is again breaking the mould, doing what is necessary, to save his son. When they meet, the son starts on his prepared speech – but he doesn’t finish it. He is overwhelmed by his father’s love and forgiveness. He stops and simply accepts what the father is offering.

Then we have the feast. I always thought there was a party to welcome the son home, which to my mind seemed a bit unfair, because he didn’t deserve one. But the friends came to the feast to honour the father, not the son. Another interesting twist is this, when the feast happens, the father (good man) is eating with the son (bad man). Which is exactly what those listening to the story had accused Jesus of doing.

Now we return to the older son, the one who had been the silent benefactor of his brother’s abuse of the father. He is outside, and hears the party, and asks what it’s for. The story is clear here, he is not angry because his brother has returned, he is angry because his father has accepted him back. He is angry and jealous and refuses to go inside. In those days, that would be another huge insult to the father. The father could be expected to be angry, to cast him out. (It would be like someone at a wedding standing up and criticising, in public, the parents of the bride. Not done.) Instead, the father again risks his own humiliation and leaves his guests and goes to find his son. He listens to his grievances and reminds him that he has all he wants. It is important to remember here, the banquet is for the father – to celebrate what he has done for the son – NOT to celebrate the wayward son. If the older son wants to truly be unified with his father, he must also accept his brother. Which is, I think, the point that Jesus was making to the pharisees. If they wanted to be part of God’s work, the shepherds of his flock, then they must accept everyone who God accepts; and God accepts sinners.

So, what is the point of this story for us? It tells us what it means to be reunited with God (who is represented by the father in the story). It tells us that there is no scheme that we might have that makes us good enough, all we can do is accept the amazing generosity of God. It tells us that ‘being a Christian’ is not a belief system, is not a list of rules, is not a hereditary condition. It simply means we have chosen to accept what God has done, we choose to accept being taken back. Which ties in very well with everything that we celebrate and remember at Easter. So I hope you had a great time.

Thank you for reading.

I learned all this through reading “Jacob and the Prodigal” by Kenneth E Bailey. Great book!

Re-posted for Easter: A Sword Pierced Heart


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?

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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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anneethompson.com

You can’t always trust what you read…….which is scary.


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Several months ago, a friend recommended a book: Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes by Kenneth Bailey. It sounded interesting, so I bought it, read it, loved it (many thanks Rev Hatfield). I have since devoured all Kenneth E Bailey’s other books, and was disappointed to learn he has died recently, so won’t be writing any more.

The books are interesting because Mr Bailey is a clever man. He has a knowledge of both middle Eastern culture, and also the languages the Bible was written in. He takes a passage, one that anyone who reads the Bible knows well, and puts in into context. He shows how people of Bible times would have responded to the things said and done, what the language is likely to mean, why things have been translated as they have.

So, take for example, the story of the Samaritan woman at the well, who Jesus asks for a drink. I already knew that Jews and Samaritans were enemies, and that a man speaking to an unknown woman was unusual, but the book explains so much more. It points out the flirtatious nature of the woman’s initial words to Jesus, how she was assuming he wanted something more than water! It also shows how she tried to misdirect the conversation, to move it away from a personal discussion about her own faith. All very interesting.

My Bailey also spends a lot of time showing how words have been translated. He very often challenges why particular words have been used in the English translation, why passages have been broken up into certain chapters. He points out that sometimes whole meanings have changed because the end of one chapter has been placed at the beginning of the next one, which makes the reader assume it is part of something else. I’m not sure if I’m explaining this properly – but unless I copy vast chunks of his text (which will make this very long) I need to just give you an overview. Really, you need to read some of his books for yourself.

Now, the thing that has caused me a problem, is when Kenneth Bailey looks at particular translations. Why Luke would have used a certain word, and whether the translation is reliable. It is fascinating, especially if you speak another language, so have a feel for how direct translations are rarely possible between languages with different roots. (If you are someone who believes you can put a phrase into the Biblical language equivalent of ‘Google Translate’ and come up with a phrase you can trust, this article is not aimed at you!) However, it has left me with a slight insecurity. The whole church practice of taking a text – one verse that explains an ethos – seems very flawed when you realise how unreliable our translations are. How much can we trust what we read in the Bible?

There is great danger in thinking along these lines. Although the Bible never claims to be infallible – Christians do NOT claim that it was dictated word for word (which some other religions claim about their holy books) – it is what we rely on to learn about God. The Bible claims to be the word of God, to point the way to God, to explain something of the character of God. It should not therefore be dismissed as unreliable. Except, our translations ARE unreliable. As you read what Bailey writes, you realise that to take individual verses literally is actually a bit dodgy. It can give a very skewed idea about what Jesus taught, about how we should view God, about how the church should be functioning.

What then is the solution? I do believe the Bible is an important way that God teaches us. I do believe we can learn the character of God within the pages of the Bible, that it guides and shapes us. I am just not sure any more that we should take snippets and be confident that “This says such and such, therefore, we must behave in this way.” I’m sure there are people who will label me as ‘liberal’, who will dismiss what I am saying as ‘diluted Christianity’. But actually, I am simply one person who is trying to discover who God is. I now believe, that to take individual verses as ‘proof’ of something is dangerous. We might be heading off in the wrong direction. I believe that the only reliable way to use the Bible is to read LOTS of it. To look at individual passages in the light of all the others. That the whole Bible will give us a taste of the essence of God, and that will lead us into the right choices. But to base any action on a single verse is foolish. We should not be ignoring certain parts of the Bible, even the difficult boring bits, they were put there for a reason. They all work together to give us an overview, an understanding, of God.

Take for example the story of Jesus allowing the children to approach him, when he took them onto his knee and said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.”
I have heard many sermons use this as a text. We are urged to come to God trustingly, openly, simply. Which might be right. But do read what else has been written guys, don’t just take that snippet. Children have lots of attributes: They are very selfish. They don’t plan ahead (“I need the toilet NOW”). They will eat sweets until they are sick. They believe in everything that looks true, including monsters and talking teddies. Are we meant to approach God like this? With no forward planning? No questioning? No regard for others beyond our own immediate comfort? I don’t think so. To know what was meant, you need an understanding of the whole.

Or look at the passage where women are told to “not speak” during church services because it is “shameful”. Yet according to scholars, “speak” is better translated as “chatter” and the “shame” is like, “a shame if I don’t do that”, a sort of “not quite proper” rather than a strong condemnation. Yet many English churches have used this passage to stop women preaching, ignoring the places where Paul refers to women prophets and female leaders in the early church.

When I discussed this at home, it was pointed out that some people like to keep things simple. They like to take things at face value, they would feel I was over complicating things. The trouble is, it is because people have taken things at face value, have used snippets of the Bible to set their direction, that Christians have done some terrible things. Wars, murder, oppression, all done with the backing of a few verses from the Bible, all justified as “God’s Will” because of things written in the Bible. If we study the whole Bible, learn the character of God, and use that as our guide, then I feel this is much more reliable. We are working with a translation people, written thousands of years ago and transcribed millions of times. YES it points the way to God. NO, each and every word cannot and should not, be relied upon. The whole “God won’t let us misinterpret his will” argument is rubbish too – try living in Henry VIII times. Which is a bit scary because it means that to understand God requires effort. To live as God intends us to live, whatever our age, means we have to work hard. We cannot simply clutch at a few random verses and announce we’ve “got it”.

Knowing God takes time. Perhaps a whole life time. Perhaps that is the point.

xxx

Thank you for reading.

anneethompson.com

xxx

One of those days…..


The alarm screamed in her ear and she reached out a tired hand to bang the top. Silence. One eye opened. 7:30am. Eye shut. Two minutes of pure warm comfort, then heave back the covers, legs swung out, slippers on, day started.

Jayne didn’t like mornings. Nor did she like people who spoke during them. She wasn’t quite sure how she had managed to be married to someone who woke up cheerful and noisy. Sometimes, she wondered if she wanted to remain married, and how long the prison sentence would be for murder with intent. Steve was already getting dressed, having leaped from the bed with enthusiasm.

“Morning, my sleepy-headed vision of desire. How was your night?”

Jayne did not see the need to discuss the night. Nights were all the same. At least, they were now the children were old enough to realise she was scarier than any monster that might have crawled under their beds. Nights were for sleeping. And they were too short. They did not need discussing first thing every morning. She grunted.

“That good huh?” said Steve, undeterred. “So, what do you have planned for today?”

He always asked this. Much as Jayne hated waking up, she hated planning even more. Every morning, without fail, he asked what she planned to do. She didn’t want to think about what she planned to do. She wanted to drink tea and wake up slowly and then, when her body had adjusted to being awake, then she might let her mind think about what had to be done. She might look in the diary. She might, a little, plan. But not now. Never now. So why did he ask? She scowled at him and locked the bathroom door. On the other side, she could hear him whistling. The radio was turned on, and there were sounds of a child arriving. Happy conversation drifted through the door, until she blocked them out with the shower.

8am. Jayne emerged from the bathroom in time to kiss Steve goodbye. He was warm and smelt of toothpaste and deodorant. She smiled at him. She loved him more when he was leaving. She checked both children were dressing, and went downstairs to let Max into the garden and to pull boxes of cereal onto the table.

8.10am. Christopher arrived in the kitchen.
“You can’t wear red socks to school,” she told him.
“Can I have cocoa pops?” he said.
“Did you hear me?” said Jayne, pouring cereal. “You can’t wear red socks to school.”
Abigail arrived and slid next to Christopher. She reached for the cocoa pops and poured the last dregs into her bowl.
“Did you know the cat’s been sick?” she said.
Jayne didn’t know. Nor did she especially want to know. Now that she did know, she needed to do something about it. She left the table and found a cloth and spray and went to clean up the mess, just as the phone rang. She stood for two seconds, hoping it would stop ringing. It didn’t, so she put the cloth and spray on the floor and went to answer the telephone. It was Steve.
“Hello, Love of my life.”
“I’m late. What’s the matter?”
“Could you do me a huge favour? Sorry to be a pain.”
“If you tell me quickly. The cat’s been sick and we’re going to be late for school.”
“Right, sorry about that. Well, I left the passport application on the hall table, and it needs to be posted today or they might not be back in time for the holiday, what with the Christmas break and everything. Could you post them after you’ve done the school run? I’d like them to catch the first post if possible.”
Jayne glanced at the clock. 8.25 already. She wasn’t sure they would catch the first post anyway, but she agreed to try, and rang off. Christopher had spilt milk all over his jumper. Abigail had disappeared.
“Abigail, five minutes, then in the car,” she shouted towards the doorway. No answer, of course, though that did not mean Abigail hadn’t heard. Twelve year old girls took their power where they could get it.

She grabbed a cloth and began to wipe Christopher’s jumper. He wriggled, knocked her arm, which caught the box of Shreddies and sent them cascading across the floor towards where the abandoned cat sick cleaning equipment was waiting.
“Chris! I do not have time for this,” said Jayne, tension rising.
Christopher wriggled free and made for the stairs while she rummaged under the sink for the dustpan and brush. She was on her hands and knees when Abigail came back into the kitchen.
“I thought you said five minutes?” said Abigail, “And the cat sick is still there.”
“Yes, thanks for that,” said Jayne. “Perhaps you could start to get your brother into the car?”

8.35am. The cat sick had been cleaned up, the Shreddies swept into the bin, the children were belted in the car. Jayne grabbed her handbag, checked for her house keys and – stopped. Her house keys were missing. She glanced at the clock, 8.36. A slow tide of despair started to wash over her. They were never going to make it on time to school. Which meant she would for sure miss the post with the passports. And her whole day would be messed up.

She began to try to remember where her keys could be. They were always in her bag, she never moved them. Her brow creased as she tried to remember. Yesterday, what had she done yesterday? They had come home from school, she had opened the front door, put her keys back in her bag. In the evening, she had popped next door with a wrongly delivered letter for Mrs Cartwright. Had she taken her keys? Perhaps she had. She had worn her blue jacket.

Racing up the stairs, two at a time, she rushed to her room, flung open the wardrobe, rummaged through the clothes. Some fell from their hangers in protest but she left them where they lay, grabbed the blue jacket. One pocket was empty, the second one was heavy. Her keys. She pulled them out, nearly tripped on the clothes that now littered the floor, charged out the room, down the stairs, scooped up her bag and the passport letter, slammed the door shut behind her. It was very cold, and her breath came in smokey puffs as she hurried to the car. Both children were huddled in the back, their cheeks pink in the cold.

She caught a glimpse of red socks in the back as she got into the car. Too late now. Jayne put the key in the ignition, started the engine, then thumped the steering wheel. A van was reversing into the drive, the bright slogan of Parcelforce cheerfully emblazoned on the side. It was reversing very slowly. This happened sometimes, when Steve needed some papers delivered from work. Usually he warned her, but sometimes he forgot. Jayne sighed. They would need signing for. There was no way she could drive past the van in the driveway, and a conversation explaining she was late would probably take longer than just signing.
The driver was sorting through the paperwork as Jayne approached. He looked up and smiled through his window.

“Hello, do you have a delivery for me?” she asked, knowing the answer was obvious.
“Yes. I’m just finding the paperwork….”
“I’m in bit of a hurry, if I could just sign quickly?”
“Sure, no problem.” He oozed his belly passed the steering wheel and slid from his cab at the speed of a sloth. He walked to the back of the cab as if someone had pressed the slow motion button on a film recording. Jayne found she was tapping. Soon she would start to twitch.
“Ooops, need the keys,” he said with a smile.
Jayne didn’t slap him.
The driver sauntered back to the cab, reached inside, removed his keys from the ignition, returned to the back.
Jayne unclenched her teeth.
There was then a thorough sort through the contents of the back of the van. Parcels were moved, over-sized letters carefully placed back in crates, boxes pushed from one side to the other. At last he straightened, white package in hand.
“Here’s the one,” he said with a grin. He picked up his scanner and zapped the barcode. He tapped in some details, then asked Jayne her name. She signed an unrecognisable squiggle on the handheld device, and moved back towards her car.
Throwing the package on the seat next to her, Jayne started the engine once more.
“What was it?” asked Abigail.
“I don’t know, something for your father,” said Jayne. “Is this man going to move now? What’s he doing? Oh, I don’t believe it, he’s sorting out his delivery for the next place. Come on man, hurry up.”

She decided using the horn was too rude, and watched in agony as he closed the rear doors. Checked them. Adjusted his trousers over his belly. Walked, slowly, back to his cab. Used both hands to heave his bulk into the driver’s seat. Closed the door, but not properly. Opened the door, and closed it with a slam. Fiddled with the keys. Started the engine. At last, with a sigh of despair, the van began to inch down the driveway with Jayne close on its tail. She felt close to screaming.

They turned out of the driveway and drove at speed towards the junction. The road was white with frost, so she adjusted her speed, just in case. She didn’t want to skid.

Christopher was telling her about their class assembly. He was a frog and needed to wear a green jumper. Did he own a green jumper? Could they buy one? He began to sing the songs, slightly out of tune and with substituted words when he couldn’t remember the correct ones. Abigail sighed loudly and looked out the window. Jayne avoided the old lady crossing at the junction and drove as fast as she dared towards the roundabout. They were so late. Not that this meant the traffic had eased at all, they were now meeting all the cars leaving the schools.

At 9.20, both children were safely in school and Jayne was driving towards town. The car park nearest the post office filled up quickly in the mornings, but if she was quick, she might be lucky. She wasn’t, of course, it was that sort of day. As she drove along the High Street a lorry reversed from a turning, blocking the road. Its lights flashed and an automatic voice droned a warning while Jayne watched in frustration. There was no room to pass and she sat there, in an ever-growing queue of traffic, while the lorry manoeuvred onto the main street, turned, and chugged up the road.

She arrived at the car park just behind a white Ford Fiesta. Jayne could see curly grey hair behind the wheel, and knew this was going to be slow. She followed the car around the car park. It braked heavily at every corner, before indicating first one way, then the other, when it spotted a vacant space. The driver reversed slightly, turned towards the space, stopped, reversed again, made another approach. Jayne considered offering to help. Eventually it was safely in the space and she could continue to circle the now full car park. By the time she had driven to park in a side road, Jayne knew there was no way she was going to make the first post. She walked to the post office and stood in line, waiting to buy a stamp.

While she was waiting, Jayne pulled out her phone and scrolled through her diary. Tuesday, 9.30am, Me = dentist. She stared. How could she have forgotten? She checked the date on the calendar on the post office wall. Yep, today, half an hour ago. No way she would make that now. She found their number and phoned to apologise. Which meant she was still talking on the phone when she reached the front of the queue. Which meant she was juggling phone and bag and letter and purse as she bought the stamp. Which meant she didn’t notice the £20 that floated from her purse and into a corner of her bag.

As Jayne left the post office, she caught sight of Nicola. She hadn’t seen her for ages. She wasn’t feeling particularly sociable, but Nicola was already raising her arm and hurrying over.
“Hello Jayne, how are you? Haven’t seen you in ages!”

They stood for a moment and smiled, gave brief snippets of news, asked how the other was feeling. They didn’t really exchange any meaningful information, but they were friendly and cheerful and agreed to meet ‘another day’ for coffee. It was unlikely they ever would, which both women were aware of, but that’s what people said to each other. That was what was expected.

As soon as Jayne felt she could look at her watch without being rude, she exclaimed at the time and said she had “better be getting on.” The two women smiled, said their goodbyes and separated. As she hurried towards the supermarket, pulling out her shopping list, Jayne failed to notice the twenty pound note, which drifted from her bag and blew into a corner, underneath the bench next to the bus-stop.

The rest of Jayne’s day was taken up with shopping, cleaning, walking the dog. She collected the children from school and fed them solid fish fingers and baked beans, then bathed Christopher and helped Abigail with her homework.

By the time Steve came home, she was tired. He pushed his dinner around his plate and drank beer and told her about his day. Then they sat, side by side on the sofa. Steve put his arm around her, and she could feel the warmth of him through her sweater. She leant in close, glad her day was over, happy to have someone to tell. She told him her day had been awful, everything had gone wrong. Now she came to tell him about it, actually, only a few things in the morning had not gone to plan. But it had put the whole day off kilter. She felt as if the whole day had been a disaster. And she was tired. She didn’t mention the lost £20. He didn’t need to know about that, and she didn’t need the lecture.

After watching a boring documentary about animals, with Steve saying, “Wow, look at that Jayne,” every few minutes so she didn’t feel she could suggest they could turn to a different channel, Jayne decided she had had enough of the day.

She leant over and kissed his cheek, rough now with new stubble, and said she was having a bath and an early night.
As she poured pink liquid into the running water, watching bubbles foam beneath the tap, Jayne thought some more about her day. It hadn’t been too bad, she decided, peeling off her clothes and balancing them on the stool next to the heater. She slid under the water, her muscles relaxing as the hot water lapped over her. No, after the morning, it hadn’t been too bad. Mainly just boring, with too many jobs.

She rubbed herself with the towel. The morning had been tough though, all those things going wrong, one after the other. It was weird how some days were like that. She pulled on her pyjamas and went to bed. She could, she decided, understand how some people believed in their horoscopes, could understand why it seemed that life was fated, predestined by the position of the planets or something.

Jayne didn’t believe that. She believed in God, and that life was controlled by him, but she could, after a morning like today, definitely see other people’s point of view.

She leant back on the pillows and reached for her Bible. She read her Bible every night, a pre-going-to-sleep ritual left over from her childhood. She wasn’t sure what it achieved really, but it was what she did. She prayed too, and she wasn’t entirely sure, if she was honest, what that achieved either. But she liked to do it. She liked thinking that she was part of something bigger than herself, that perhaps in some way, God might decide to use her, that her life counted for more than just cat sick cleaning and school runs.
She thought about her day as she prayed, about all the things that had gone wrong during the morning.

“I’m not sure what all that was about God,” she said, “perhaps tomorrow could be a bit better please.”
Then she prayed. She told God all about the things she was worried about, asked him to keep her family safe and well, asked him to show her how she should be living, asked for a bit more leisure time with Steve. Then she finished, as she always did, “But not my will, but yours. Amen.” Because that was what she had been taught to pray. And because, if she thought about it (which she never did) she really did want God to be in charge. She really did believe he knew best. Even if this morning had been one disaster after the other…

Jayne turned off the light and snuggled into the pillows. She knew she had about half an hour before Steve came crashing into the room, rattling the change in his pocket, stomping across the carpet and asking if she was awake. Men were noisy. She closed her eyes and drifted to sleep.

Nicola was going to sleep too. She had enjoyed seeing Jayne, it had cheered her up. Nicola was struggling a bit at the moment, her life seemed a bit bleak and pointless. She thought back over their brief conversation, about how nice it had been, being with someone her own age for a moment. She had first met Jayne at church, but Nicola hadn’t attended the Sunday service for months now. The weeks just seemed too busy. Perhaps she should give it another try, she thought. Perhaps it was time to get sorted out, and hearing about God might help with that. It would give her something other than the family to think about anyway. For the first time in weeks, she was smiling when she went to sleep.

A woman called Lisa was not asleep however. She was on a bus, heading home. Lisa lived alone. One day, she would be a care worker and help to ease the last moments for many old people. But she didn’t know that yet. At the moment, she worked in a pub. She had left work late, only to find her purse had been stolen. She had no way to get home, there was no one to phone and ask for a lift, no way to pay for a taxi. She had started to walk home, back to her bedsit on the other side of town.

Another thing that Lisa didn’t know was that approaching her from the other side of town was Tony. Tony was an addict, in dire need of a fix and had no way to pay for it. His eyes were bouncing erratically from shop to road to tree. He was looking for a person who might have some money, someone who might provide a means to stop his discomfort. In his pocket was a knife, and he was feeling desperate enough to use it. As Lisa walked towards the post office from one direction, Tony was approaching from the other. As yet, they were a distance apart, they couldn’t even see each other. But in ten minutes, they would meet. It was unlikely that Lisa would survive the encounter.

However, they didn’t meet. As Lisa passed the post office, she noticed something flapping under the bench next to the post office. It was a twenty pound note. She picked it up and looked around. No one was around, and there were no nearby houses. She decided it was now hers. As she stood there, deciding, the bus swung round the corner. The yellow lights shone through the night, and Lisa thought about how tired she was and how much she wanted to be home. She stuck out her hand, climbed aboard, and used the £20 to pay for her fare. By the time Tony arrived at the post office, Lisa was safely gone.

Someone else who was not asleep was Mike. Mike couldn’t sleep because his face hurt. He had slipped that morning on the ice, and fallen, smack, right on his face. It was a hard fall, and had bruised his nose and blackened one eye and knocked out his front teeth. His tongue was feeling those teeth now, sore in his swollen gums, but replaced. They had been replaced by the local dentist. Mike had been driven there by his Mum, and luckily, there had been a cancellation and Mike had been ushered straight in to see the dentist. The dentist had put his teeth back, told him that they might survive the knock, that Mike was very lucky. He didn’t feel lucky. He felt bruised and sore. But he did hope he could keep his teeth.

One person who was neither asleep nor awake was Judith. Judith had died at 11am that morning. It was very unexpected, she had hardly felt ill, just a trace of indigestion after breakfast, a bit off-colour. In fact, she had even gone out that morning, driving herself into town. She had left home later than she’d planned, which meant she had not managed to reach the town car park before all the mothers arrived after the school drop off. As she had turned her white Fiesta into the car park, she had been sure, in fact, that there would be no spaces left.

But she had been very fortunate, and had taken what might have been the last vacant spot that morning. This meant she only had a very short walk to the shops, and had bought her milk and returned to the car in less than ten minutes. She then drove home again, arriving in her driveway at soon after 10am.

At which point, just as she swivelled around to position her car outside her front door, she had a massive heart attack. The car shot back, crashing into her front door. A neighbour heard the noise and rushed over. They saw what had happened and phoned for an ambulance, which arrived in good time but too late for Judith. It was time for Judith to die.

However, had she not found that parking space, she would have been forced to park in the road and then walk to the shop. This would have tired her. Not enough to start the heart attack while she was shopping, but enough for it to happen while she was driving. With the delay due to street parking and walking, Judith would have been passing the infant school at 10am. Which is exactly the time that Miss Mott was leaving the school, to walk her class to the church to practise for the carol concert. Had Judith been passing at that time, the time when her poor heart caused massive pain and her arm to lock in agony, she would have mounted the path where the children were walking.

Tommy and Clara and Samantha were currently asleep in their beds at home. Had Judith not found that last parking space, they would be lying in the morgue, while six of their friends would be lying injured in the hospital. But they weren’t. They were safe.

Of course, Jayne, as she lay sleeping in her own bed, did not know this. Nor did she know that had her morning gone completely to plan, her own children would also be in hospital.

At 8.55 that morning, Miles Brown had driven down his steep driveway rather too quickly. As he arrived at the junction with the main road, his heavy 4×4 skidded on the ice, causing him to lurch into the road without looking. But no one was there, because Jayne was delayed by the fat delivery man. So no one was hurt, and when Jayne did pass that spot, exactly 7 minutes later, Miles Brown was well on his way to work. So she delivered her children to school and then waited behind the reversing lorry, which delayed the car immediately behind her, which meant that Judith found a vacant parking space.

However, no one knew anything about anyone else. Everyone lived their own lives.

#

The following morning, when Jayne woke to the alarm and hurried to the bathroom to avoid her cheerful husband, she sorely hoped her day would be better than yesterday. She also remembered her prayer. She didn’t know why she prayed every night really, though she liked to try to include God, just a little bit, in her daily life. And you never knew, did you? Perhaps one day she would be part of his plan, part of something bigger than herself. Even if, she thought, as she stepped into the shower, even if, it had never happened yet.

The End.

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anneethompson.com

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Calamity Church


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Ever have those days when everything seems to go wrong? Church has been a bit like that recently…

At school, we used to sing the hymn “Onward Christian Soldiers” – do you know the one? All about brave soldiers marching forwards into battle, ‘See his banners go’, ‘Like a mighty army, Moves the church of God’ – all sung to a rousing tune. The sort of song you have to stand up to sing. Well, the church I attend isn’t like that. My bit isn’t anyway. Sometimes it’s more like Dad’s Army if I’m honest.

Take this week as an example. On Friday, we had the health inspector at Lunch Club. Now, in case you don’t realise, health inspections are very high stress. If you serve food to the public, you have to comply with certain laws, which is good. You have to attend a hygiene course, so you don’t poison anyone, which is good. You are given a ‘star rating’ so everyone can see what your hygiene standards are like, which is good. In order for all these excellent things to be effective, you have to also endure random inspections by the health officials. Which, when you are the leader of a group, is quite stressful.

So, this week I was cooking and knew an inspection was due. Arrived early and scrubbed the kitchen before I cooked. (Yes, we do ALWAYS wipe the surfaces, we do not every week scrub the tiles behind the taps, dig out every last crumb behind the bins, things like that.) I was mid cooking when the inspector arrived. A very nice woman dressed in white overalls. I explained that I was cooking, and would just strain the part-cooked potatoes which were ready for roasting, and then set her up with our files to read through, while I put the potatoes in the oven and got lunch to a position where I could leave it for a few minutes. I left the potatoes in the saucepan while I grabbed the folders for her to read, then turned back to find one of of the other helpers was mashing the potatoes – or at least, was trying to mash them, they were still hard as had only just come to the boil. I did not slap the helper (inspector was present) and rescued those potatoes that were still large enough to roast, then continued to cook lunch and answer questions and appear calm. All turned out okay, 38 people had lunch (very few commented on the potato shortage) and we retained our 5 star hygiene rating. But it did not feel professional. It didn’t feel like an army marching forwards.

Another unfortunate event was our film night. We found out that it’s possible to rent films after they have been in the cinema but before they are released on DVD. This makes for a good opportunity to have a ‘community cinema’ – a service for local people, somewhere friendly for them to spend a Friday evening, plus they come into the church building, meet some of the members, and hopefully discover that we are welcoming, church is less ‘odd’ than they might think. The first showing was this week. It had been advertised in the local press, fliers had been given out, ice creams bought for the interval, a new high definition projector bought to ensure film quality, we were all set. We just needed the film. Which was delivered later than expected. So no one watched it beforehand. Certificate 12A have changed since I was a kid (when we went to see things like The Sound of Music!) As I sat in the church building, behind a fluffy haired sweet old lady; while strobe lights from a party scene flickered across the stained glass windows and people on the big screen snorted drugs; I felt this might have been a mistake. In the interval, the pastor said how relieved he was that at least there had been no nudity. He spoke too soon….

None of which makes me feel much like a mighty army of God. But we try. We are called to be faithful, not to always succeed – which is just as well at my church! And, we do have some brilliant sermons. This week, the week of disasters, we had a sermon on the book of Job. You know the book? It’s about a man who has everything, nice family, health, possessions. Then God lets the devil take it all away, to see if Job will still worship God, if he will stay faithful. I have never seen the point of this book before. I have no idea if it’s based on actual events, or is a story to make a point – but previously I never got what the point was, it just seemed cruel. But this week, it was explained.

The book shows that God is worth following. Just because he is God. Not so we have an easy life. Not because it will guarantee health, or wealth, or safety for our family. Stop and think for a minute.

Sometimes Christians ‘sell’ God. We talk about becoming a Christian so you can know peace, joy, forgiveness, so you have someone in your life who cares. The book of Job illustrates that these are NOT the reasons we should follow God. We should worship God because he is worth it. Just because He is God. That is a huge thought. Huge.

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Thank you for reading.

If you enjoyed this, you can follow my blog : anneethompson.com

You might also enjoy my book – strong characters and light humour wrapped up in an easy-read novel. Why not buy a copy to give as a gift to someone you want to make smile?

Hidden Faces final cover 6 July 2016

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Hidden-Faces-Anne-E-Thompson/dp/0995463204/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1474882091&sr=8-1&keywords=hidden+faces+by+anne+e+thompson

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Two Years…


Hidden Faces final cover 6 July 2016

Two years ago, July 2014, I had brain surgery. It was scary! It was also the end of lots of things. The end of a five year headache. The end of knowing I had a high chance of ‘sudden instant death’. The end of constant medical monitoring. The end of the brain tumour.

But not all good. It was also the end of being able to juggle several ideas all at once. The end of reliable memory. The end of any kind of mathematical ability. And, because the part dealing with anxiety was chopped through, the end of much of my confidence. The end, in fact, of me teaching.

I learned that, God still has a plan for us however broken we are. So yes, the end of teaching, but the beginning of writing. A blog grew into longer articles and finally, at last, a book. A real, solid, hope you enjoy it, book.

I hope you will read it, enjoy it, recommend it to a friend and buy one for your sister. Thank you. It means the world to me.

Hidden Faces is published by The Cobweb Press.

Available from Amazon:
https://www.amazon.co.uk/Hidden-Faces-Anne-E-Thompson/dp/0995463204/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1469806559&sr=1-1&keywords=hidden+faces+by+anne+e+thompson

Hidden Faces final cover 6 July 2016

One Little Life


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We had rats. Anyone who has poultry and a pond has rats. If you also have several mild winters, you then have a rat problem. Mr Rat Catcher came with traps and poison, but we still had a rat problem. So, we decided to get cats.

We found some cats that had been born in a stable, not feral as they had been well cared for, but they were used to living outside. We bought two, Milly and Molly, brought them home, and put them in the garage. For three days, I didn’t see them, and wondered if they had escaped! Then I took the dog into the garage with me, and two tiny kittens tentatively appeared. They had been raised on a farm with German Shepherd dogs, and they recognised Kia as a friend. Gradually they learned to like us too. When they were bigger, they moved to their home in the workshop.

Two cats wasn’t really enough to cure the rat problem, so we didn’t spey Milly and Molly. After about eighteen months, both were pregnant. Between them, they gave birth to four live kittens. Both cats are tabbies. Their kittens were a mixture of silver tabby, smoke and black. They had clearly never read any of the parenting books about how to care for kittens, and regularly sat on window sills where the kittens couldn’t reach them. I had to check them frequently and reunite mothers and kittens so they could feed. They weren’t really keen on any of them. Apart from the black one.

Milly had given birth to the black kitten, but they both wanted him. So they would hide him. I would go into the garage and all the kittens would be mewing in a heap, the mothers would be sitting somewhere high, and the black kitten would be missing. I found him at the back of shelves, in empty boxes and behind gardening equipment. When I put him with the litter, Molly would try to steal him, ignoring her own kitten.

Eventually the kittens were weaned. I decided we had too many cats, so gave one kitten to a friend, put two kittens with the mothers to live in the workshop, and kept one kitten inside, as a house cat. I chose the black kitten (I wanted him too!) We called him Mungo.

Now, everyone thinks their pet is special, (and people without pets think they are slightly mad.) So I won’t bore you with details of how Mungo would ‘beg’, reaching up with his front paws when he wanted to be picked up. Or how he would chase a plastic egg for many hours. Or how he loved the dog and would dive bomb her paws when she was sleeping. Or how he regularly killed the kitchen towel. Or slept in a very ‘uncatlike’ manner, on his back, with all four legs outstretched, often in the dog’s bed. Or how he adopted Husband (“not a cat person”) and ran to meet him when he arrived home from work and sat on him all evening. But he was special to us, and we loved him.

Initially, the plan was to keep him inside, for him to be a house cat. Then one day he escaped. I found him outside, playing with his siblings. He looked so happy, it seemed cruel to keep him locked inside. But the traffic in the farm lane worried me. So we decided that at night, when there were very few cars (about 4 per hour) he could go outside. During the day, when the roads were busier, he would stay inside.

We soon had a routine going. Every evening, Midge, his brother, would loiter around the cat flap, waiting. When we went to bed, we would let Mungo into the utility room, so he could use the cat flap. Every morning, around 6am, when we let the dog out, Mungo would run in. His siblings often were with him, it was like they were saying ‘Bye’ to him when he came inside. He would then eat, drink, and follow us around, asking to be picked up. Then he would nap for most of the day.

Until the last day. Until the day when he didn’t come in when we let Kia into the garden. The day when a man knocked on the door at 7am, to ask if I had a black cat.

I rushed outside. Some landscapers had found him, on their way to work. They had parked their vans in the lane and were carrying him in a sling made from an old towel. There were about nine of them, young men in their green uniforms. It was so kind of them to bother. Sometimes people are nice.

We could see Mungo had, at least, a broken leg, so we rushed him to the vet. As we drove, he took my thumb into his mouth, like a child holding my hand. Then either pain or fear became intense, and he bit down, both sides, straight through my thumb. It hurt.

He spent all day at the vets. Apparently, the most dangerous thing for a cat is shock, so they kept him warm and sedated, planning to operate the following day. He died that evening.

It was a bizarre day. I ate four doughnuts and drank lots of coffee. Completely missed lunchtime, it was suddenly mid-afternoon. I had walked the dog and cleaned out the birds and was wishing we had something other than Mr Bump plasters in the house for my sore thumb. Felt weird, sometimes fine, sometimes contemplating losing all the other people and animals I care about. Everyone dies. It’s always horrible. There isn’t a way to protect yourself, not without being hard.

I wondered where God was in all this. The thing is, we aren’t protected from the rubbish in life. God helps us get through it, but we aren’t ‘owed’ by God, whatever our relationship with him. He isn’t a genie in a lamp, we cannot pray and ‘make’ God change things. Life is horrid sometimes. It hurts. It’s tough. We can only try to survive and recover from the hurt. But I do believe he cares. When we hurt, God hurts too. It doesn’t have to be lonely even if it is always hard. I did pray, but in a sort of wordless, lifting the sadness sort of way – a young child raising their arms to a parent sort of way.

In time, I will thank God that I had Mungo, even though a year was too short, his life was too little. But do I have the right to say that? Sometimes, when we are hurting, we feel the loss more than we ever felt the joy. Mungo was a cat. In a few days, life will be back on kilter. I will carry the loss of my father’s death for the rest of my life. However, I have no ‘rights’ here, I did not create any of the things that I have loved, I can feel pain, sadness, loss. But should I feel anger? Whilst it is a natural part of the grieving process, there comes a time when I should let that go. We have never been promised a pain free life, not here, not now.

If you have had a pet, I don’t need to explain the sorrow, the tears, the huge hole that he has left. My thumb was sore for days, but the pain was sort of helpful. It was something physical that recognised the pain I felt inside.

There is no happy ending here. Sometimes in real life there isn’t. I wish I had never let him outside at night. But then, I am glad that I did. He had such a happy little life. He climbed trees and played with his family and did everything that cats are designed to do. I know, eventually, I will think of him and smile. I will recognise that he gave us one year of lots of joy. But right now, I miss him. Thank you for reading.

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You can follow my blog at : anneethompson.com

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If you are interested, you can read why I think prayer doesn’t work at:

https://anneethompson.com/christian-tearfund-materials-and-poems/why-i-think-prayer-doesnt-work/

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For Easter : The Sword Pierced Heart


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I watched my son die today. My beautiful boy, beaten, battered and left to die. 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, even 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. 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?

Some 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.

Though 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 could 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, it was 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 sang of bones poured out like water, a heart of melted wax, that is how my boy would have felt. They sang 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 sang 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?

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If Mary was a young teenager when she learned she was pregnant (which would fit with the age girls 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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A View of History…..


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What is your view of history? It seems there are three main views (do let me know if you think there are more.)

The first idea is that time is like an old fashioned clock. It has been wound up, the pendulum is swinging and slowly, slowly, it is winding down. There was a beginning to life on earth and there will be an end. That is all there is to it. How individuals live and behave is pretty meaningless in terms of history. In millions of years from now, there will be no life on earth and no one to remember it. There will be nothing.

The next idea is that time is circular, more like a spiral. Everything that happens has happened in the past and will happen in the future. Events repeat – possibly after thousands of years, but basically the same things happen over and over again. Whilst this clearly doesn’t apply to specific inventions (the Romans had central heating but no internet!) in terms of humanity, empires rising and falling, people doing the same things over and over, history repeats.

I guess this idea is behind the philosopher who said,

“Every river flows into the sea, but the sea is not yet full. The waters return to where the rivers began, and starts all over again. Everything leads to weariness – a weariness too great for words. Our eyes can never see enough to be satisfied; our ears can never hear enough. What has happened before will happen again. What has been done before will be done again. There is nothing new in the whole world. ‘Look!’ they say, ‘here is something new!’ but no, it has all happened long before we were born. No one remembers what has happened in the past, and no one in days to come will remember what happens between now and then.”

The last idea is that history is more like an arrow that has been shot from a bow. It is going somewhere. We might not see the big picture, but there is a clear aim, there is somewhere that all this life on earth ultimately leads to.

So, which view is your view? I’m not sure if it’s possible to hold the third view if you have no belief in God or an afterlife. What do you think? I would be very interested to hear from anyone who does hold that view and who doesn’t believe in God. It is certainly the view held by religious people but if there is no God, I’m not sure where life could be leading. What do you think?

I thought about this a lot when I was a teenager. Actually, I was a very unhappy teenager – all those hormones whizzing round made for a very troubled person. I also could never summon enthusiasm for things that I felt had ‘no point’ (a common view amongst middle children I believe.)

This was something of a problem at school and I frequently skipped lessons and rarely troubled much about homework. It wasn’t helped by our family having very little money. Why learn French if the only foreign country you are likely to visit is Wales? I was also brought up to believe that the best thing for girls to be was a wife and a mother, so what use was chemistry going to be? (I do now, as an adult, think that being a wife and mother is an excellent thing to be. However, I also think that other careers are also excellent. I do sometimes wonder if I might have made a good journalist, going around the world and giving other people a voice. Some better qualifications would have been helpful. Too late now…)

I did actually, for a while, get very depressed. I was brought up in a religious family, but we were pretty much taught rules and knowledge. I really couldn’t see the point of life. If the point was to have fun, and I clearly wasn’t, then why bother? If there was a Heaven, why not just go there straight away?

No one ever told me (or at least, if they did, I never heard) that there was a plan and that I was part of it. I never heard anyone explain the last view with the addition that the God who had ‘shot the arrow,’ actually had a purpose for me, there was a point to being alive, right now, even if I didn’t always see it. I wish someone had told me that. That’s why I’m telling you.

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