Is anyone in the UK still recovering from a battle with the ‘Beast from the East’? I’ve assigned this malicious weather system a gender in my mind – male. Not so politically correct in these gender neutral times I fear, but nevertheless, that’s what comes to mind and no offence is intended.
Mine is a trivial tale really, details withering with each retelling over the last week.
It was I who decided to travel to Scotland to celebrate my dad’s birthday amidst apocalyptic weather warnings. I took the photos of blue sky and sunshine in Glasgow the day before and posted them on social media. I appreciated all the gifs about northerners versus southerners attitude to snow. We Scots can handle a wee bit of snow, in fact, we can handle most things.
It is true that Glaswegian humour kept me sane and positive after our train broke down near the border with England on my way back home. ‘Banter’ flowed incessantly through the train carriage, mock outrage at being offered bottled water by the train operator one hour after being stranded when surely what was needed was a ‘wee dram’; jokes about trialling a border between Scotland and England – a soft one in this case; offers of help to fix the problem made to the beleaguered staff with characteristic dry wit and boundless enthusiasm.
Back in Glasgow, that evening snow was falling heavily. At least a foot of the white stuff lay on the streets outside and at 4.30pm the taxis were struggling to negotiate the city grid. A lone police van sat outside the station. Everyone else had gone home apart from stranded train passengers, the homeless and the foolhardy. Shops were shuttered and only dim street lights pierced the swirling grey.
I couldn’t operate my phone through my gore gloves and sub-zero temperatures numbed my fingers. Several train operators were helping their customers find hotel rooms, but not mine. An act of God they told me.
My brother’s car couldn’t get through the snow from his home eight miles away. “Sorry we are full tonight”, nothing was showing up on city centre hotel vacancies via online search engines but I was telephoning individual hotels with polite yet pleading tones. There were no buses, no underground trains, no taxis willing to come out, no flights.
Disconsolate, I made my way across the station concourse in search of warmth. No cafe’s remained open but there was a ‘passenger lounge’. I gave my fellow passengers a weary smile. There was a lady in a wheelchair who couldn’t even think about walking to a hotel a few streets away, an elderly couple clutching their belongings to keep warm, a young woman from Spain whose mother had been frantically trying to get her daughter a hotel room online without success and who was tearful. Station staff were busy trying to support them all.
Of course, I had prayed that I would get a hotel room. My own vulnerability was strong within me at that point, but this was a timely reminder that God cares for us as a father cares for his children. He calls us to his side while gently pointing out that He has not forgotten me, it’s just that He has other children too, vulnerable ones who can’t wait so long in the cold and younger ones who are distressed.
I baulk at paying £££ for the hotel room my brother eventually finds for me that night but I can pay this amount without it putting my family in debt. The snow bites my face as I trudge up the snowbound streets to my hotel with my suitcase in tow but I know this city from student days and my legs are strong.
In the hotel lobby, I remove my gloves to Raynauds fingers: white, intense pain. The reception staff bring me tea, and a phone charger and though they are not sure they have my booking initially I sip tea and tears of thankfulness.
The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?
Psalm 27, 1. (ESV)
There is a temptation to imagine God as a genie in the sky who zones in on those in trouble with a robotic arm, delivering aid, advice, support, finances or comfort as necessary.
In my experience, God does not operate in this way. God provides extensive advice in the Bible about life in general and how He expects us to live it, graciously, humbly, courageously, righteously and sacrificially. He allows us to use all our wits, knowledge, finances, courage and the help of others in every challenging situation but those who choose to seek God are surrounded with His unfailing love (Psalm 33,22) like a wall of protection. God does not shield us from negative emotions but He is there waiting in the chasm of our souls, upholding us.
We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed. Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies.
2 Corinthians 4:9-11 New Living Translation (NLT)
The writer of the book Hebrews in the Bible refers to our hope in the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul. (Hebrews 6,9.)
Later that evening I headed down to the bar/restaurant for some food. It was rather late and most of the other bar occupants were well into an evening of whiskey sampling. Glaswegians are friendly people and the conversation had taken an interesting turn to ‘religious matters’, church-going to be precise. It was all the fault of the ‘Minister’ one middle-aged lady announced, “Told my daughter age 14 he was disappointed in her when she decided to stop attending Bible Class.” Ministers, in general, were then berated for their misuse of power and authority in the church and community and were the sole reason why folks like these did not attend church anymore, even though a few insisted they were still believers in God. The conversation drifted to whisky production in Islay, refugees in Glasgow, Brexit and back to ‘religious matters’, funerals this time with a consensus quickly arrived at that Churches did funerals rather well, and births and weddings too for that matter. These were places which used to bring communities together it seems and God was optional. Nowadays we congregate in bars, and we support each other mutually in the inconvenience of the snow over a glass of wine.
Outside the snow still falls steadily and I notice Glasgow’s once dominant church spires are dwarfed by skyscrapers of glass and steel. The Lord is the strength of his people; he is the saving refuge of his anointed (Psalm 28, 8), it’s just that these people don’t really need God anymore?
Yet, people aren’t always as strong as they seem, communities are not always supportive. Problems in life can get out of hand and we are face to face with our frail humanity, our mortality, our own breed of evil, our children’s sorrow.
Back in my hotel room, I kneel to pray before bed. and I begin to write this story. In the Old Testament, Jacob built an altar to God after his remarkable encounter with Him in Genesis 28, 18-22. This story is my altar, my praise to God.
Some days I get to raise pillars as a memorial to God’s goodness. Sometimes that goodness is through the kindness of others, but I’m not at the mercy of others. I need more than the goodwill of others, more than my own strength, fate, or good luck.
So I’ll keep chasing after God. I know He will always wait for me.