Total Pageviews

Sunday, 27 July 2014

Beach Hedonism

Having just returned home from a short break, this holiday in Bournemouth was quite a learning curve, and very different from all the travel I had experienced throughout my lifetime. Because for the first time ever, our getaway involved a wheelchair in which my beloved sat, with myself pushing, often involving very steep ramps, as our hotel was located on a clifftop, and no matter which direction we took, we could not arrive at our hotel entrance without a stiff climb preceding it. Then the hotel was not really wheelchair friendly, as both the doorstep and the reception, just inside, involved steps. Fortunately, my wife Alex is what you may call semi-disabled. That is, she is able to get out of the chair and climb the stairs without aid before needing to get back in, making this an identical situation as at home, where she does not use the wheelchair at all - a big improvement from October of the previous year, when she was totally unable to move her thigh and leg muscles.
One of the highlights of the holiday were the long walks along the promenade, which connected Bournemouth with the neighbouring towns of Poole at one side, and Boscombe on the other, with the walkway linking all three without a single incline - such a blessing when it was constructed at a set distance above sea level. I have to admit, there was something euphoric in my spirit as I pushed the wheelchair over several miles. During these walks, I was able to look at Alex's head directly in front of me and felt such love for her pouring out of my heart - maybe because she depended on me entirely for her welfare and wellbeing. It seemed as an exact replica of the risen Jesus loving his bride, the church, both as individual believers and corporately as a body.

But not all was peaches and cream, the dream holiday everybody longs for. The weather was hot with unbroken sunshine, a heatwave by which we underestimated the strength of the sun. So on the day we lay on the beach and swam in the sea, we got sunburned, both of us, but the pain we did not feel until after we had returned to the hotel for the evening. Having a cold bath partially relieved the symptoms, but by the morning of the next day, we took action to buy a sunburn cream containing Ibuprofen, a non-inflammatory painkiller, and applied this liberally to the affected areas of our bodies. Indeed the aching did subside, and we both felt better afterwards, properly dressed and ready to start the first of our two walks, the longer one to Poole and back, with the sunburn virtually forgotten.
But for poor Alex, the cream had a side effect, causing her face to puff up, along with her feet, by the following evening. After she had watched the vast crowd of locals, visitors and holidaymakers enjoying their time at the beach and taking their mobility for granted, my dear beloved, away from the crowds, broke into tears. As I comforted her with tenderness, I assured her that my love and devotion to her will never ever fail, and I will be with her until my time is up. Once married always married. On top of this, I have encouraged her not to let her faith fail, and I gave her an example from the Old Testament character Job, who experienced the loss of all his children bar one, and the loss of all his possessions, and finally the loss of his health until he reached a point of hanging on to life by a hair. Yet, despite of all that, he declared:
I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth.
And after my skin has been destroyed, and yet in my flesh I will see God;
I myself will see him with my own eyes, - I, and not another.
How my heart yearns within me!
Job 19:25-27.
"I will see God." l will see God. The eternal security Job obviously felt about the afterlife was enough to strengthen Alex's spirit, and mine too. It was sufficient for the rest of the holiday not to be spoilt, and although the sunburn did gives us gyp, particularly at night, believing in the eternal promises of God was very re-assuring for both of us.
Yet the initial cause of my wife weeping as she sat in her wheelchair was the sight of so many people in such a holiday mood, as the sun shone, brightening up the whole environment into vivid colours and contrasts. Yes, we did see a few other wheelchairs about, but we could count on the fingers of just one hand the few we did see, compared to the countless individuals, couples, group of friends, and families, all sauntering along with probably no thought of their ability to walk normally without assistance. And on one evening, when we decided to stay in town until late at night, I especially, was taken in by the large group of revellers having barbecues on the sandy beach, with not a few actually having a late-night swim in the sea, with just the pier lights for illumination. The raucous, shouting, laughter, and generally messing about among them did not pose any threat of violence. Quite unusual, so I thought, for the British do have a reputation for alcohol, drunkenness, vomiting, violence and hospitalisation, not to mention a night spent in a police cell, particularly abroad, with the Mediterranean island of Ibiza being one of the top destinations for young Brits during the Summer. But as we drew nearer the crowd, I began to notice the dominance of both foreign languages and broken English. The crowds having a whale of a time seem to be mainly from abroad, who were able to revel without all those alcohol-related setbacks. At the same time the bright lights of the fun fair, in the town's main square, throbbing with life and loud music as more of these revellers opted for a ride.
The general age range seems to be in their twenties, which gave me a clue that they were likely students. But whatever the reason why they were here, has got me to ponder a little - or a lot, maybe. How would Jesus Christ had re-acted in this joyous environment? This question had got me to think how things were during the Victorian or Edwardian age. During those days, so according to some of the pictures I have seen, the coast would have been populated by smartly-dressed English genteel, who would have been offended by the sight of too much flesh exposed.

With their tight formal dress, I have wondered whether our hot Summers are a modern phenomenon, because the weather always looked so dull in these illustrations! But assuming that hot Summers were as prevalent in those days as at present, these people certainly knew how to endure their body heat in such constricting attire. It was such a vivid contrast to the present day, when during a typical weekday, we saw no more than half a dozen neck-ties worn, out of multiple thousands of males, many with just a tank top, vest or singlet. As we heard several times a swear word floating in the air, I could not help but ponder on the tiny percentage who regularly attend church, a massive contrast to the bygone days when Sunday church-going was all but mandatory for everyone.
Then I recall my own childhood days as a boy, wearing a suit and tie whenever we attended church. I also recall the day when I took the first Holy Communion at age thirteen - I have a picture of myself resembling a groom at a wedding. Then putting it all together, to me, there has always been a strong connection between formal attire and regular church attendance.
Do the average unbeliever or un-churched really think this? I have to admit that I don't really know for sure. But this was one main reason why I was very anti-church during my later teenage years. And going by the way the Victorians dress and their majority who attended church, indeed - if he was alive on earth today, I couldn't help but imagine Jesus walking along the promenade with a permanent scowl, judging and condemning the entire population for their skimpy attire, being drunk, swearing, having fun, and not attending church each week. To add to this, he would also condemn those who attend church dressed informally, with either tee-shirts, or open-neck shirts without a tie, and the ladies attending wearing low neckline attire and lacking a headscarf. As my father-in-law once said to me: attending church in casual dress, to him, is being disrespectful to the Lord.
And how would the Lord respond to the huge beach party with its barbecues and late-night swimming? And heaven forbid, not to mention the fun-fair, with its flesh-centred sensuality. Would he mingle around in his wrath, looking for at least one person formally dressed in Victorian attire, or at least in modern suit and tie? And not finding at least one "righteous" person, let alone ten, (Genesis 18:32) - would he call upon Heaven to send down fire and destroy them all? Or preach a loud message of judgement? Or at least turn his back and walk away, letting them all perish in their own iniquity?
No, not at all! I think it would be just the opposite. If Jesus was around at the massive beach party, what he would have wanted to do was to attract their attention in order to gracefully shower love, healing and forgiveness of sins abundantly. So the following scenario is what I personally believe what might have occurred if Jesus Christ was present that night:

At first, he would select someone with an infirmity, such as my wife in the wheelchair, with the right time and place set by his Father in Heaven. Then he would perform a healing miracle, purposely in the crowd, to attract attention. With growing astonishment together with an equally growing sense of curiosity among those who witnessed the miracle, two, three, maybe even four with physical disabilities approached him and they were all healed. With attention fixed on him, he would begin to preach - not  with a judgemental attitude, but with a smile, his words flowing with grace and meekness. Eventually, one of the many groups in the crowd would ask him to join them at their barbecue. As he sits by the fire, he takes a roll, a couple of beefburgers, and after bowing his head in prayer, instructs the group in charge of the barbecue fire to distribute to all who wishes to partake. Then by the fireside, he preaches the Kingdom of Heaven, the reality of sin, the need for forgiveness, and the need to believe in him alone in order to enter Heaven. Rather than condemn the beach party, he offers something more richer, more permanent, and with the ability to face up to life's adversities - living water, welling out of the belly of all who believe, and eternal life. As a result, a great many in the crowd would turn and follow him.

Then by chance a coach pulls up nearby, and around fifty immaculately dressed ladies and gentlemen alight to make their way to the pier. Their attention was instead drawn to the crowd on the beach beside the pier. After listening to Jesus preach and perform miracles for an hour or two, they all conclude that this man cannot be from God, because he mixes with the common rabble with their skimpy singlets and topless torsos. Furthermore, he actually makes friends with foreigners, and with the lowlife scum who most likely had never seen the inside of a church. This was an insult to their own nationality, their religion, and their own righteousness. Didn't they go to church Sunday after Sunday without ever missing a week? And everyone attending always dressed immaculately in suits and ties of the finest tailoring, and the ladies in dresses with buttoned up necklines and wearing a headscarf. Weren't they very class conscious, making sure that they knew their place in society, and associated only with those of the same social stratum? Furthermore, they tut-tutted anything sensual, especially on the beach. As they sauntered along, their scowling faces watching with deep disapproval at a young, topless man hugging his bikini-clad girlfriend after both having had a swim in the sea. One of the gentlemen then called out:

Don't you have any manners, young man? It's about time you two attended church and learn some respectability!

In which his reply, containing vulgar language, was essentially saying to mind his own business. The gentleman, feeling rebuffed, reassured himself that he was doing the will of God, and Heaven was waiting for him, and such lowlife will suffer his own eternal doom.

The above was just a story, but I hope it brings out the differences between how Jesus would have re-acted in such an environment, and what I believe how many may perceive the churches to be like, a lot based on my own experience as a boy.

Sunday, 20 July 2014

Travel - And James 4:13-17.

Holiday time is here again! That time of the year when I take a break from the humdrum of daily work and responsibilities to go away to a different location simply for rest, recreation and enjoyment. This year it was the result of a decision made just a few weeks ago, when we agreed that Bournemouth, in the English county of Dorset, was our first choice of destination. So booking a room at an inexpensive hotel over the Internet did not pose any problems.
This will be what I call a "round the corner" holiday, which means that it is local in comparison to other places visited. But the big advantage of this is that it would not be a big loss if something were to crop up which would lead to a cancellation. Rather, it is a location that can be easily re-booked, maybe even a couple of weeks later. After all, the resort is only ninety miles (146km) from home, and involves no passports, airport check-in, the threat of flight delays, or even a possibility of picking up a foreign bug. Neither, on the other hand, any guarantee of wall-to-wall sunshine, as most likely the case of any Mediterranean destination such as Crete, where I was to take my beloved for our wedding anniversary last year (2013). But her illness and resulting hospitalisation resulted in a cancellation which ended with a messy involvement with insurance afterwards, accompanied by a wretched gut feeling of imagining some other couple occupying our seats at take off.

Bournemouth Beach
But with us, life goes on. There have been ups and downs in various areas in our lives, and particularly on health issues. For example, my wife has been out of hospital since last December, and since then there has been no need for her to have returned as an in-patient. I am very thankful to God for that. But in the last couple of months, I have found myself lying awake in bed and literally gasping for air in the middle of the night, like the state of a runner just after crossing the finishing line, together with rumbling noises in my throat and upper chest. My wife pleaded with me to visit the Doctor. But as a typical male, believing to be just a bug that would clear itself up, and therefore avoiding wasting the medic's time, she eventually succeeded in persuading me to go. I was sent to have a chest X-Ray at a nearby clinic. Just two days later the Doctor called me back into the surgery, only to be told that I have heart trouble, and needed to have a echo-cardio scan at a local hospital. At this point in writing, I'm still waiting for the result, together with an appointment to visit a Cardiologist in the near-future.
To discover myself in such a condition was quite a shock, believe me! Even with the awareness that my father had a pacemaker fitted to his heart a number of years ago. But rather than running around in panic like a headless chicken, I thank the Lord for sending me warnings that something was amiss.  It is a comfort to know that I'm in good hands. Furthermore, I firmly believe that the National Health Service is the main avenue for God to work out his mercy in physical healing, perhaps unlike the beliefs of some Christians who insist that God only works through miracles. After all, here in the UK the NHS was founded on Christian principles, and the number of patients who had benefited over the years is countless. So for the last month I was prescribed three courses of medicine - one to remove the fluid from my lungs (the cause of the rumblings), the second to widen the blood vessels, and the third for the heartbeat itself. I can't help but comparing this with the healing powers of the Holy Trinity - the three in one course of medicine which has brought my health to a level where I can live a normal life, and to sleep at night.
And go ahead with the trip to Bournemouth, something which I might have had to cancel, had my pride got in the way of my wife's pleading to see a Doctor in the first place. Of course, during this writing, we are not there yet, anything can happen. But one of the lessons in life I have learnt, and come to appreciate is what James included in his general letter, which reads:
Now listen, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we would go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money." Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appear for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, "If it's the Lords will, we will live and do this or that." As it is, you boast and brag. All that boasting is evil. Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn't do it, sins.
James 4:13-17, emphasis added.
If it's the Lord's will. In the past, especially when I was single, I always assumed that every travel decision I made was approved by God. And according to my testimony, this has always been the case. But on the weeks, even months, on the approach to these trips, I always prayed to the Lord for none of the four things to occur:
1) Industrial dispute at the airport or affecting flights.
2) Falling ill just before date of departure.
3) Hospitalisation due to an external injury, e.g. bone fracture from an accident.
4) Sudden, unexpected expense or other loss of funds.
Each day, or when I thought about these things, I often went out for "prayer walks" - that is, going out for a walk alone in the evening for the purpose of prayer. And throughout all these years of long-haul travel, I never came across any serious problems. The only exception was a six-hour delay at London Gatwick in 1993 for a flight to Israel. And believe it or not, that trip was inspired by a vision I had from Heaven, some ten months previously, instructing me to go to Israel specifically to pray over Jerusalem. Since then, I have rated this city as the greatest destination I have ever visited - and I have been around the world ever since. I certainly appreciate and give thanks for such blessings from above! 

Western Wall, Jerusalem - taken 1994
And by reading the above quote from James, the apostle does not forbid any of these things, as he was aware that all good things comes from God, travel included. But what James was writing about was not to take such things for granted, as if it's our right. He then writes with a degree of sarcasm dripping from his pen, reminding us that our life here on earth is like a mist, or a wisp of smoke, which vanishes as it rises. This to me is sober reality, as my heart condition has so much brought home. It has made me realise that the very breath in my nostrils is sustained by God, as all the involuntary anatomical functions, including the heartbeat.
So as it comes to this Malaysian airline disaster which occurred over the Ukraine within the last few days. I won't mention names here, but two Britons who were university graduates springs to mind, along with two devout football supporters who were following their team to New Zealand. The two students, both I believe, were unknown to each other, were on a work placement in Australia, set by their university tuition. One was brilliant at maths, the other on business and finance. And by reading the testimonials, no doubt all four Brits were excited about their trip - the two students in vivid contrast to my school-leaving experience, when my first day at work involved pushing a broom across the factory shop floor, and making aware of my place right at the bottom of the ladder. Small fry indeed.

Small fry I may be, even to this day, but still alive in my sixties, as I also have a story to tell. But international travel had always been something of a privilege for me, the desire to explore another country - its geography, history and culture. Some people prefer doing this as part of a tour group, others may "flydrive" - that is, to hire a car after landing, or having a pre-booked vehicle awaiting at the airport; or to backpack with a small group of friends, or as in my case, solo. But whatever the preferences, the whole of travel, as I see it, is to experience life overseas which has the power to broaden the mind, to expand the horizon, to see natural features not found in the UK - the splendour of the Grand Canyon, the constant roar of Niagara Falls, the lofty mountains of the Alps, the coral reefs of the Red Sea and of the Great Barrier Reef, to stand on a mountain looking down across Lake Como, to stand on the lip of an active or dormant volcano - or to admire the beautiful architecture of historic buildings such as in Florence and Sydney, or the ancient ruins of Rome, Sicily, Greece, and Israel - to fascinate over flora which cannot grow naturally in the UK without a greenhouse: such as the Cacti of southern Arizona, the lush palms of Singapore, the mangroves of Australia and even a taste of a tropical rainforest of Blue Mountains National Park. All of these along with hosteling - the sharing of a dormitory, the members kitchen, the capacity to meet people and make friends. Oh boy! What of the joys of travel when I was single. Then not to mention the slow boat-train from London to Rome of the early 1970s when after disembarking from the cross-Channel ferry at the French port, the train awaiting there took some 24 hours to cross mainland Europe, including finding a way to navigate Paris through on what otherwise was a disused branch or link line. To sum up: Travel was an end in itself, and not merely a means to an end.

A pavilion at Singapore, taken June 1997

As was the case of these students and football fans. I have found it odd to travel to New Zealand, on the other side of the world from home, to watch a football match, without perhaps the admiring of the Southern Alps, or to fly to Australia to work in an office without much thought for the vast areas of natural beauty waiting to be explored. But again, perhaps academics and well-educated people have a very different perspective to world travel to someone like myself who was not allowed to forget my humble adolescence.

But the reality of James 4:13-17 could not be more horribly realistic than on that doomed flight. Excited and anticipating the glories of their chosen destinations, instead the airline was shot down, most likely mistaken for a hostile military aircraft, and all in it passed suddenly into eternity. Life is indeed like a mist which vanishes away. The reality is, it can happen suddenly to anyone anytime. As I look forward for a trip to Bournemouth for a few days, I too - or my wife for that matter - or even both of us - can succumb to fate, and not make it to our destination. Sure enough, a train is very difficult to shoot down, but all it takes is someone to lay something on the tracks, and the fast train could de-rail, sending it tumbling over the bankside, resulting in numerous casualties. What guarantee is there that such an accident cannot happen? After all, a points failure on the London-Edinburgh track caused a very similar catastrophe of a fast train at Potters Bar a few years ago, with quite a number of casualties.

Those four Brits boarded the aeroplane at Amsterdam, possibly on a much cheaper airfare than that of a direct flight from London. They were glowing with happiness and anticipation on what was to come, as well as assurance of a glittering career for the two British students, not to mention other students from Holland, and other nationalities also on board, including a group of scientists, along with businessmen and women, as well as young children. I have no idea whatsoever whether any of them were aware of the short Scripture passage. But I am aware of their sudden and unexpected passage into eternity, which proves James to be terrifyingly correct.

Nobody knows when their time is up, except God only. Maybe this coming night could be the one that I'll never wake up. Or the train journey could end up with fatalities, or I could cross a road and a car could appear suddenly out of nowhere. I can collapse with a heart attack - on board the train, at the hotel, at home, at work...

There is one safe course which all men everywhere should take heed. That is to believe in Jesus Christ as Saviour, be filled with the Holy Spirit, serve God, and be thankful for all the days of your life, not forgetting to count your blessings. For nobody knows when their name will be called.

As always, comments are welcome here, but since I may not have access to a computer in the next few days, publishing may be delayed. No fault of yours. God bless.

Sunday, 13 July 2014

By The Grace of God...

Summer is here, a time of the year when there is an air of a jollier mood being felt across our part of the world  - as the kids prepare to take a long break from school, and families turn their attention to the airports, perhaps feeling a degree of tension in their hope that no industrial strikes, political catastrophes, or even a natural disaster, would disrupt their well-earned getaways which had been planned and arranged since soon after last Christmas, which during the past six or seven months involved meticulous budgeting and saving. And I can attest to all that. Just a few years ago a volcano way up in Iceland blew its top. The cloud and ashes drifting south towards the UK caused all flights to be cancelled, long haul as well as short, and for over a week at least, if I remember, thousands of holidays and weekend getaways were ruined. And that was the result of a minor crater. I dread what would have been the consequence had it been its larger neighbour which had erupted, a possibility which many volcanologists hold as imminent.
But industrial disputes were the worst bane for someone stuck at the airport departure lounge. I will never forget 1978. That first Saturday in August of that year the French Air Traffic Control staff decided to strike, right at the very peak when families, group of friends, couples, and individuals, were ready to fly to European destinations, particularly Spain, in those days the chief holiday destination for sunshine breaks outside the UK. But the mid-seventies also saw the beginning of a revolution in air travel. If I recall, it was in 1976 that British entrepreneur Freddie Laker had opened the door for commoners to fly across the Atlantic Ocean on a cheap airfare. And competition soon established itself, so much so that poor Laker went bust in the early 1980s. But low-fare flights across the Pond remained established, no longer a privilege reserved for the chosen few.
But by 1978 I had already experienced my first transAtlantic flight the previous year, in 1977 when I flew to Toronto from London Gatwick. I recall the hugs I gave to my parents at the airport just before check-in, in anticipation of such a long distance to cover entirely on my own, with the nerve-racking yet exciting experience of standing at the Niagara Falls just a few days later. So by the following year, I wanted to return to North America to see the Grand Canyon in particular.
There was confusion around, caused by the strike, when my flight to New York was announced and boarding was now commencing. I made my way to the gate from the departure lounge. There was a crowd of people at the very next gate to mine, not looking too happy. Then the announcement echoed through the wide, glass-panelled corridor. Would all passengers for the such-and-such flight to Spain please return to the departure lounge. As the crowd of people at the next gate began to saunter back to the lounge, there was an eerie, spine-tingling scream. It was from a young man, about my age or slightly younger, whose pent up feelings of anger and frustration were released in a demonic- sounding vocal blast, no doubt, something very similar to be heard in a lunatic asylum. But as they made their way back to the lounge, at our gate we all boarded our 'plane on time, and take-off was on time as well, as the French strike did not affect flights to America.

As the British coastline well below us receded to make way for the ocean, I was still trembling over the young man's scream. But I could not blame him. Had I been in his shoes, I would have been equally frustrated, but most likely without the drama. What I have heard, that particular group should have taken off some seven or eight hours earlier, for a dawn arrival at their destination. Instead, they were called to the gate several times throughout the small hours, only to be told to return to the lounge. So his expression of rage was no surprise to me, after working hard and saving up for his dream getaway, his morning of departure was ruined by foreign union power. Little wonder that the Tories won the General Election just a year later with Margaret Thatcher as the nation's very first female Prime Minister, who dealt with the Unions head on!
The flight to New York was as uneventful as the previous flight to Toronto a year earlier. Except for one detail, and it wasn't the turbulence. Rather, it was the anticipation of flying across the Atlantic on my own, with no accommodation booked at all after arrival, as was the case with Toronto, as well as not knowing what might or can happen thousands of miles from home. So during mid-flight lunch, I took a roll of bread, broke it and declared that this was the Body of Christ broken for the forgiveness of sins. Then I took the red wine already in the glass, and drank, declaring that this was the blood of Christ shed for the New Covenant, and took it in remembrance of Him.
I celebrated mid-flight Communion seriously, yet back in those days, without Church authority, I had hopes that God would honour the sacrament, for I knew that because I took the bread and the wine without authority, the Catholic church would have anathematised me, and perhaps sentenced me to Hell as well. But instead, both backpacking trips were life-changing blessings, and I felt protected. As for accommodation, in both trips, I was never told, "Sorry, no rooms available," but I was welcomed off the street by reception at every hotel door I walked through.
Of all wonderful chances, I had the privilege to not only to look in to the vast, imposing Grand Canyon, but a chance to hike into it as well. This was because of a last minute cancellation of a bed booking at Phantom Ranch, near the Colorado River at the bottom of the Canyon. I was successful in grabbing that vacancy, making the full hike and an overnight stay possible, something close to being impossible normally, as planning to camp or sleep within the Grand Canyon National Park usually takes months of preparation. 1978 was the first of the two hikes completed at the Grand Canyon. The second was completed in 1995, for want of better photography.

Colorado River, taken from River Trail, at my 1995 hike into the Grand Canyon.

The year 1978 was a good example of one man being more fortunate than another when waiting to board a flight at an airport afflicted by industrial action. On that occasion I was the fortunate one. But much more recently, in 2013 I had booked a holiday with my wife in Crete to celebrate our wedding anniversary. But on the day of take-off, another couple occupied our seats instead, most likely on an extra cheap deal which our cancellation had brought about. While the 'plane soared into the air, my wife was confined in bed at a local hospital, where she stayed for nearly four months. Believe me, cancelling a fully paid up foreign holiday was my first ever experience I had in my life. Not only was the need to grapple with the insurance policy, but for us both it was a horrible sense of loss. Even to this day, Alex is unable to get outside the house without a wheelchair. Whether this will be for the rest of our lives or not, only God knows, as he has all things in his hands, including our future.
And I think this makes all the difference. Having our future in God's hands is a reality - this applies to everybody. But believing that God has our future in his hands seem to make all the difference. Believing this fact makes the burden much easier to bear, and there is even a sense of peace. Sure enough, I can look at all the photos taken while abroad, both first on my own and later as a couple. Together, our memories remain fresh as we strolled the beaches of Israel, Rhodes, Kos, Malta, Sicily, and Lanzarote. Not to mention the beaches and historical sites here in the UK, in the days when Alex was able to walk normally, allowing us to stroll arm in arm like any other couple. At present it is not so much in missing out on these trips, but the distress in watching my beloved sitting in a wheelchair while I push it along. If ever I need the love of God, his comforting arms, his reassurance, it is now. I don't think it's so much of a loss of foreign holidays as my wife's health. She had even suggested, more than once, that if I need to get away for a short break, she wouldn't object. But I know that within myself I don't have a heart to go away alone. Since the day I married, travel had never been the same since.

As a domestic window cleaner, having customers announcing that they will be flying away within the next week or at the following month is normal for this time of year. I have clients who even fly abroad more than once a year - Egypt seems to be high on the list, particularly with the Red Sea resorts where fringe reef corals provide magnificent diving and snorkeling opportunities within the clear, turquoise waters not unlike that of a large aquarium. Ah! This reminds me of when Alex and I visited Elat, on the southern tip of Israel, close to the Egyptian border. A reminiscence of the glory days at the Great Barrier Reef as a Round-the-World backpacker in 1997. But rather than sit and envy my clients while at the same time bemoaning our fate, instead I give thanks to God for allowing such opportunities to travel, both as a bachelor and then as a married couple. To add to this, Alex is looking forward to our coming break in Bournemouth in a week from now at the time of writing. Sure enough, compared to other places visited, Bournemouth is just around the corner, but it will offer the opportunity for my wife to get out of her wheelchair to recline on the beach while the sea laps gently close to our feet - providing the English weather is reasonable, of course!

Coral Beach, Elat, close to the Egyptian border - taken October 2000

If you think that I love looking back over my life while writing blogs, then you are right. It gives the opportunity to dwell on the goodness of God and his undeserved generosity. This is a good remedy during times when I'm feeling down or when life seems so unfair. For example, this weekend I was reading a very well composed article about a paedophile ring at Parliament throughout the 1980s. Although I'm not familiar with the author or his background, by reading his article in the Daily Mail newspaper, the way he compiled all the facts together has brought out his academic brilliance. The article looks like a result of weeks of research, but actually the only resource he had was from an obscure 200-page document at the British Library in London, and from a section not normally accessible to the public. Could he have amassed all this information over a couple hours browsing? That was how it came over to me. Yet by reading his rather complex composition with much intricate personal detail, I could not help wishing that I too was as clever as he was at school, and had passed scores of exams, collected grades and a degree at university, and then earn a living as a journalist - writing articles for a national newspaper which would have had a greater number of readers in one day than all of the 170 blogs I have written here, over a period of more than three years.

And that's the danger when making comparisons with other people, like when I was a child, we lived two doors away from a family with two boys, both a tad older than me, who were excelling well at school. My parent's mistake was that I was compared to them, and I fell way short. Ever since, I had that longing to excel academically, but my schooldays proved a disastrous failure which had a profound effect on self esteem, which most likely stem from my awareness that my parents wished for a son comparable with their neighbour's. Let's face it, I would have much rather have been a journalist than a window cleaner! - Especially as I find joy and satisfaction in writing.

But here is where the truth of the Gospel has it's effect. I found that it has the power to set me free from the nagging emotion of feeling inferior. And that's saying something - as I live in a class-obsessed country where professionals are revered by society over and above the commoner. I have come to learn, yes even over a long period of time, that as long as I have Christ, then little else matters. As the writers of the Bible so delightfully remind us: that life's longevity is like a wisp of smoke that is seen for a moment then vanishes - with Jesus Christ, life is eternal. So at present, I much rather to be a window cleaner in Christ than a professional without knowing him. As a result of this, I have a lot of admiration for this author, Guy Adams, rather than envy. He has done well and deserves his reward.

But other than salvation, I thank God dearly and praise him for giving me a wife, whom I can love and cherish. The husband and wife is an analogy of Jesus Christ and his bride, the church, and he gave up his life for her redemption. So with me, I can ask God for the power of the Holy Spirit to fill me with the same sacrificial love for Alex as Christ had for us. This includes going to Bournemouth with its questionable Summer weather than to go to Crete. It also means staying at home to look after and take care of her rather than backpack around the world. And I'm not talking merely out of a sense of duty, but rather my love and desire to remain together outweighs any desire for backpacking. That, I think, demonstrates the grace of God.

I greatly thank the Lord for allowing me to travel when the opportunity was open. But now I thank him for the greater gifts of salvation, and furthermore, for a wheelchair bound wife and companion whom I can lavish unlimited love and devotion.

Even if it rains everyday in Bournemouth.