Last weekend my husband and I went to a Trade Fair in Paris. We had a lovely time away without the children. Don’t get me wrong. We love our children more than life itself, but my husband and my marriage is as important to me as they are, and so having the opportunity to get away without them is something we cannot afford to miss out on. God knows how hard the evil one works to come between a husband and a wife. He will throw all sorts of distractions our way to take our eyes of each others’ needs, and he will allure us with all sorts of alternatives which we fool ourselves into believing are so much more important than nurturing that relationship.
You may think I was taken to Paris under false pretenses of a romantic weekend away, and I then suddenly found myself walking round a Construction Fair in the middle of one of the most romantic cities in the world. No, it wasn’t like that. I was fully aware before setting off that the primary purpose of our trip was to get me more involved in my husband’s new business and to learn about the products. However, one could not go to Paris and do just work and so on Friday night we walked round the streets of Paris hand in hand, full of excitement and experiencing that oneness that couples experience when they know that they have found that other half that makes them complete. It took me back to the first night we went out together, and as we returned from a night out in London to the university campus, we realised once we came out of the underground station, that we had missed the university’s minibus, the only mode of transport which would take us back to the halls of residence. We decided to walk the whole way through an absolutely beautiful wooded area which led from the village into the campus. As we set off, snow started falling heavily and what initially seemed like a scary and daunting walk, something I would have never done under normal circumstances, turned into the most romantic 30 minutes of my life. There was I with this guy I had fancied for weeks prior, holding hands, snow falling in the stillness of night, surrounded by the beautiful English countryside. The darkness and fear suddenly turned into light and hope, and my heart felt so full I thought it was going to explode. I will always cherish that memory and that is why I feel it is so important to grab every opportunity that comes our way to relive the romance and the magic that we experienced together that day. Life goes by all too quickly and it is amazing how as parents we so easily forget that before the children came into the scene, we had a life together, a wow, a bond, a promise, a Godly connection.
We spent the whole of Saturday at the Fair and after 8 hours of non-stop walking, except 20 minutes we took for lunch, I thought I could never get into my shoes again. But amazingly, we went back to the hotel, rested for an hour, and then changed to go back out and become immersed in the Parisian scene again. We had dinner in a lovely restaurant, and had an opportunity to unwind from the pressures of the day.
On the Sunday, the weather was not particularly great. It was cold and it was raining on and off. We both felt tired from the previous day and so we decided to jump on one of those double-decker tourist buses which give you a thorough tour of the city and offer the opportunity to get off at any of the stops in order to explore the sights further. We had both been to Paris on other occasions, but neither of us had been on a sightseeing double-decker bus in Paris before.
God spoke into my heart loud and clear that weekend on two counts:
Firstly, he gave me a stern reminder of how instrumental the “Feed the Homeless” initiative has been and is to provide the right conditions for the healing of the needy and broken-hearted in our community. If you want to read more about this initiative, go to my post entitled “It definitely does what it says on the tin”. As we strolled round the streets of Paris, we were impacted to see a homeless person either sleeping or begging in every single street we set foot on, and believe me we got around quite a lot. I have travelled round the world a fair amount and seldom have I seen such a stark contrast in a society between the wealth and lack of it of its members. I felt like I had just jumped into a time machine and been transported to the streets of London during the times portrayed in one of Charles Dickens’ books. In fact, it felt more like all the homeless and the beggars had been transported from 18th century England to the year 2009 in Paris. It was a surreal scene, like something out of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” video, where the homeless are coming towards people who are in the street, and people walk straight past them without giving them a second glance as if they were completely invisible. I suppose that is because to the majority of us who live comfortable lives, they are indeed invisible. And as I picture that, I am reminded of the scripture in Matthew 25:31-46 where Jesus tells us about the Final Judgement.
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.
Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me. Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me. They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you? He will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me. Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”
Seeing all that need and all that opulence in the same city allowed me to have the confirmation in my heart that if it wasn’t for the sacrificial and selfless service that some individuals give at the Salvation Army, to name but one of the many organisations that dedicate themselves to this charitable work, our streets would be full of the painful reminders of how unevenly wealth is distributed around the world, and of how inhumanely many of us can behave when we assume that these people are only enduring what they have brought upon themselves. How foolish and arrogant are those who blinded by their pride believe they have earned the blessings they enjoy; their hearts are hearts of stone and only by the grace of God will they receive a new heart of flesh, a new revelation of man’s standing in relation to God, who thought us into existence.
The second realisation that God imprinted on my heart last weekend took place during our tour round the city of Paris on board the double-decker bus. It was absolutely freezing and being my weak self, I insisted to my husband that we should sit on the lower deck, warm and under cover. One of the many qualities I love about my husband is that he knows how to live life to the full, but at the same time he will abandon everything at the drop of a hat in order to come to the rescue of someone who needs his help. There are so many things I would have not experienced in life, had it not been for his zest for life and his fearless attitude towards the unknown. In this instance, I was only being challenged out of my comfort zone to travel on the upper deck of a bus exposed to the elements and to a potentially very uncomfortable ride, and yet before even contemplating the options, in my heart I had already given up. BUT, and this is one of the reasons why I refer to my husband as a Godly connection, my husband filled me with the strength, encouragement, vision and perseverance which I lacked at that very moment. Within seconds of putting by backside on a lower deck seat, I had been persuaded to go to the upper deck. Of course the front seats which have cover had already been taken, and so we sat further back where it felt like the temperature had dropped by 10 degrees due to the wind, and every time the bus stopped we were going to be propelled forward into a building to never be seen again.
Despite all of that, God broke into my self-pity party and helped me to see once more the world through His eyes. Sitting in the lower deck was uninspiring, dark and quite frankly not worth paying to get on that bus in the first place, but suffering all the elements was so worth it, as suddenly the beautiful city of Paris began to reveal itself as this wonderful myriad of amazing architecture, bags of history and atmosphere. It was a sublime sight and one I would have missed had I remained down below. God spoke to me at that moment and I could hear Him say: If only my people looked up more often; if only they risked a little, they would gain so very much; if only they lifted their mind out of the daily trials and challenges that drown their hope and saw themselves and their journey the way I see it, from a Finishing Line perspective; if only they could take their eyes of what they are lacking and got a good long look at The One who intercedes to the Creator of the Universe on their behalf; if only they could silence in their soul the “what ifs” and replaced them with “If God is for me, who can be against me?”; if only they could really trust me and they sacrificed their comfort for a life of wonder, awe, light and revelation; if only they could pick up their own cross, sacrifice a little at a time, and followed me to the upper deck of God’s glory, infinite love and wisdom.