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Of Robin Hood, cracked pots and dreams


David Robinson

Back streets and shared bedrooms, little food and hand-me-down clothes where the foundation stones for a beggar who was always told that life is like that you can’t change your destiny. Too many mouths to feed, to many grubby bodies to wash in the old tin tub before a blazing fire on a Saturday night, cold nights where the only heat generated was by cuddling together as a family and singing hymns and telling ghost stories. Special days melted into special nights in that little cottage in Salter’s Grange, it was one up on the flat in Armagh where the only garden we had was a window box my dad had made. We had a large garden and open field’s, trees everywhere, trees which became castles and mountains to climb, in the wet corner of one field a fallen willow looked just like a ship so cowboys became pirates fighting the kings best.

The trees became Sherwood Forest, we became Robin Hood and his merry men fighting the evil unseen Prince John because no one wanted to be the loser that he was. Our imagination became the battle of the bulge, where we fought as a family against the might of the German army and won using our newly build and top secret tank (a hollow log with a branch that just happened to look like a cannon) We fought the battle of the Light Brigade against other children who lived up the road and true to life seldom ever got the victory because of overwhelming odds.

We herded cattle across difficult terrain (sometimes the farmer was not very pleased) and were surrounded by hoards of red Indians and fought to the last man like General George Armstrong Custer. The back field was an open prairie one day and rolling seas the next, sometimes it would miraculously turn into a desert in which no man could survive, where thistles became scorpions and flies turned into mosquitoes.

Swamps were not uncommon in rainy Ulster and many a good fight was fought and won against the elements and crocodiles or worse, yes good days which overcame sad moments with little effort. Mum worked tirelessly to keep the troops fed and clothed, rain, hail snow or shine she would cycle the five miles to Armagh in the morning and home again at lunchtime to feed the crew, before heading back to work again.

Work was hairdressing, a trade she often thanked God for as it was all that stood between us and the dreaded poor house or worse the social services. In days when state handouts were so small that they slipped through her fingers quicker then we out grew our clothes, the pawn shop was a weekly stop as her wedding ring was often all that stood between us and hunger.

One December as Christmas approached I remember her searching her handbag for a few coins only to find a single penny, as she grasped it firmly in her hand I saw a tear fall silently onto her blouse followed by an almost silent prayer ‘Help me God, its Christmas’ It was the first time I had ever seen mum shed such a big tear, just one but with it fell her dignity and her heart broke like Niagara falls, she had a brood that drooled over the Dandy and Beano that ate oranges and apples from old socks and that loved Christmas. Faced with one tightly held penny she headed off to Armagh and the pawn shop determined to give us a holiday to remember, she brought her trusty scissors just in case she came across a client on her journey. She returned home later than usual smiling as she handed me her trusty bike as we met at the bottom of the road, her smile loudly declared what a thankful overflowing heart could not express.

Answered prayer, not one but three ladies who wanted to look their best for the festive season heard that she was in town, they sought her out before she got to the pawn shop and so Christmas was a true celebration a real Santa had arrived that year. I remember thinking that Christmas morning as I drooled over the orange ‘God heard my mum’s prayer’ and found myself saying ‘thank you God’

A penny turned into a fortune just because my mum refused to let poverty beat her and did something about defeating it, she too had fought a great battle and had won against all odds. I was always proud of my mum, she was greater than Sir Edmund Hillary having conquered bigger mountains than Everest, and she was like a queen who cared and loved her often disobedient subjects.

To me she was Francis Drake destroying every invading force who dared to come against her people; she was General Montgomery defending her El-Ale main. She was Florence Nightingale when we were sick and Queen Bodice’a gathering her troops to defend her home and her children. Mums are truly an often overlooked and taken for granted blessing who only become special when they are no longer with us but to me mum was all I could ever imagine a mother to be.

Looking back to those character building days I give thanks for every trial and every victory for each one made me what I am today; they were life’s pressure cooker that fashioned this rough diamond. Hindsight shouts ‘thank God for poor times’ because I saw the faithfulness of God and an abandoned mother working together for the good of the weak.

In it all I can see God turning every thing to good because he loved us, I can see Him taking the weak and making them strong, fashioning rough wood and creating lamps to shine for Him. Life may not have dealt me a great hand but God took the cards and cut them aces high just for me.

He was the potter and we were clay who in our poverty yielded easily to His hands desiring to be made into something better.  Our lives were often thrown into a spin as we all struggled against the desire of the master potter to make us vessels pleasing to Him; we often felt crushed as life pounded us as a family but he never allowed us to be defeated. We often felt as though we were drowning but it was only the master re-shaping our lives so that we would be like Him. I remember a vision that the Lord gave me one evening, I was told to go to the potter’s house and to watch the potter at work; I cautiously opened the creaking excuse for a door peering into the gloom for a sign of life and saw the hands of the potter putting the finishing touches to a new vessel. I admired his work from the doorway not daring to venture beyond in case of a rebuke for my interruption of such a defining moment.

Suddenly hands that once caressed and created became fists that destroyed as with determination the potter smashed the clay until it was without beauty again. Water became the source of life for clay that had died to its former beauty and pride, living water took dried up old clay and made it live again, thumbs became instruments of torture, fingers gouged great tracks in the clay before beginning again. Fingers entwined the clay, rough hands roughed it, pummelled it until it was ready to live again this time for the master and not for self, it was to become the unprofitable servant it had always been. Within minutes it stood silently before the master not daring to say ‘look at me I am a pot’ the potter smiled as the wheel finally stopped spinning, satisfied He separated it from the wheel and placed it on a nearby bench.

How like us and our relationship with God I remember thinking, we are His creation, he is the potter we are the clay and yet we seek out the accolades of men and by doing so rob God of the praise that is His alone. Just when we think we have made it to the top of the heap he makes us a heap again, mere clay who need to be changed yet again.

I looked over the potters shoulder as my eye grew accustomed to the gloom, a shaft of light from a broken plank which formed part of the side wall revealed a sad sight. Pots, vessels of every hue and shape lay in a heap; cobwebs shimmered across the once proud mouths as hungry spiders awaited with patience their next meal, mould and algae grew on those who had been there for years as stubborn, as rejected, as contaminated as they had always been. Instead of being sorry for their pitiful state they wore the dirt and dust like a medal given for stubbornness and courage they had fought the fight and had never given in to the promptings of the master to change their ways.

I felt a tear drip silently off the end of my nose before my hand could react to the rolling watershed, the master viewed the tear as it began to melt into the dust at my feet before gathering it and placing it tenderly inside a bottle labelled ‘Memorials’

Why? I asked daringly, why do you not pick them up and make them new like you did the last pot you threw. He smiled again, smiled at my furrowed brow, smiled at my faith stretched thoughts before saying ‘these are they who were hard, too dry and over filled with self importance, these are vessels that all the water in the world could not change’

‘Lord all things are possible for you’ I argued ‘not so for I can do no great miracles when they that I create refuse to change. ‘They were not marred by my own hands rather by their stubborn hard hearts, I called them to change but they did their own thing and considered themselves without need of me and so I gave them over to be scattered in days of calamity’  I felt all the ‘butt’s’ begin to fall like the dust from the side of the table, every argument swamped by the awesome waste of effort and love that the creator had placed into the lives of the ‘left aside’

‘Left aside’ what a destiny to settle for, they could have been vessels, pots that served in the masters house and yet they settled for a dirty heap in a dirty corner, they could have graced His table at the great supper of the lamb but chose to stay in the corner. God, I remember thinking, never let me get so hard hearted that I refuse to do your will, so hard that all I would be fit for would be a dusty home for spiders, never let me become so bitter or so proud that I would ensnare others and with them end up in reject corner.

It was then as my eyes become accustomed to the darkest corners, just when I thought that nothing could be worse than what I had witnessed I saw the most dreadful sight, broken vessels, pots smashed to smithereens, once proud glazed pots, once a thing of beauty now a horror story well read of all.

I stood transfixed by the magnitude of the dreadful scene as truth kicked my own thoughts out of the way and gave me understanding. I knew instinctively that these were pots that had been through the fire and had been glazed; they had the master’s seal of approval, they bore his name, they had been seen as leaders and now they were fit only for the pit itself.

Time and time again the master had called them to himself placed them on the wheel, planted them in the furnace not just once but many times and yet today even their memory was erased. Some were vessels used in religious service, places of importance, some sat on the tables of the famous including kings and queens, all had one thing in common their lives had become rooted in bitterness and pride which cracked them.

The potter had been patient, longsuffering with them, willing them to mirror his nature to everyone that used them but they became so proud of their position in life that they were smashed in front of others. They were so broken that they could not be made whole again, it was a warning that the slightest scar would not be tolerated at the Kings table and yet other vessels keep being filled with pride and prejudice.

I remembered pleading with the potter to remove every trace of bitterness and pride from my being; I never wanted to become so overcome by self that all I was fit for was filling a hole in the ground. He smiled; this must be truly one of God’s greatest assets for smiling puts you at ease, clay at peace with divinity, the divine winking in fun because he knows what the future holds for every fallen sparrow and every lifeless lump of clay. He may call on his own, his own may neglect him but they cannot deny himself; we may rebel as he places us on the potters wheel for what we hope and often pray will be the last time but trust him, he is making of each one of us a vessel to hold Holiness and to leak out mercy and grace.

So what then of Robin Hood and his merry men? What then of the heroes of many battles? Did they ever find their destiny? Did the motley crew find a real captain? Most of us were disbanded as Leonard and Ernest two of my brothers in arms left home for distant lands, Leonard to Queens University Belfast and Ernest to the Royal Air force in England as a junior cadet.

To be captain of one seemed foolish so age took over tumbled innocence and almost buried youth in its haste for maturity, I say almost because my often beleaguered wife often says I never did grow up; tell me, who would want to grow up anyway? Most grown ups I know are grumpy and miserable so let’s hear it for youth and for Peter Pans, at least the master can do something with them as we go through the potter’s house.

Someone once said ‘life is what you make it’ I believe it, just because you were born in a stable does not mean that one day you can’t be a king, just because you are born rich or in a palace does not mean you can’t attain to the higher calling of being a ‘servant’

‘Destiny’ is wrong in what it spells out, your destiny does not have to be tiny, your times are in Gods hands, and you can attain to greatness, do mighty exploits and be the man or woman you were fashioned to be in the hand of an almighty God.

Like produces like, you were made in the image and likeness of God the one who birthed you again after himself, you are born again of incorruptible seed and are called to do the will of your father. Within every believer lies a winner not a wimp, an over comer not one to be defeated, a conqueror not a looser, your a somebody not a no-body. We were created to good works which God had ordained a foretime; we are to live as kings and priests of the royal priesthood not as paupers and pagans, we were made to live above the world not to be like the world.

I am so glad that God gave me an imagination as a child and that he never took it away, I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me, like Moses I can bring people out of bondage, like King David I can run through a troop and jump over a wall, like Samson I can topple the temples of darkness.

Whatever I can imagine doing for God, whatever I can dream for I can achieve for his glory, why then grow up and be polluted by lies and half truths which have crippled the body of Christ for centuries?

We are Acorns awaiting the water of truth to enable us to grow to the fullness of the stature of Christ, we are Mustard seed that birds are waiting to see develop so that they can nest in our branches. We are the pearl of great price who have foolishly believed the lie that we are worthless, we are the Widows lost coin and yet think Christ has better things to do than search the house for us, we are Lost sheep who think that the good shepherd does not care that we are lost,

Sure we might look like beggars but see the table spread before us in the wilderness that is the world, we may seem like an old fiddle but wait until the master strums our strings. We may seem the odd ones out but at least we are in, we are the apple of God’s eye even when we have a plank stuck in our own.

We may be the sawdust and shavings off an old piece of timber but look at the beauty of Calvary’s wooden cross and see the beauty it has become to all that believe. We are the wood he carves with nail scared hands, the creator in his rightful place carving out our future, the wood in its place doing what the master carpenter bids, yielded and assured of his wisdom and love.

We are soil that the husbandman tends in spite of our dislike of life’s plough, but his eye is on the harvest which we will give life too, and so he ploughs deep and turns our lives up side down allowing his breath to revive us from slumber, up heaving hidden things of darkness exposing them to his light.

We are fig trees which bear no fruit and yet the husbandman gives us another year, he prunes us heavily removing weaknesses, he digs around at the roots that hold onto wrong things that pollute our lives, he feeds us with his word and waits patiently for fruit, more fruit and much fruit, fruit that will remain.

We are the keepers of Bethesda where multitudes of blind, crippled, paralyzed people await a touch from God, where the dying rooms are open to public gaze. From birth to death we all live in the dying room yet all we ever needed was to meet someone who has passed this way before and to follow him.

To the lost we are the signpost Christ has placed out in the valley of decision for the multitudes, to the sick we are the healers that Christ works wonders through, to the possessed we in Christ are the power to deliver.
We are called to be doctors who turn up when others say nothing more can be done, people who declare ‘all things are possible to them that believe’ we are not called to be undertakers we are called to deal life to those without Christ.

We are called to make the wounded whole, to give recovery of sight to the blind, to heal the broken hearted and to bring liberty to the bruised and downtrodden, we are Gods instruments of mercy to the guilty and peacemakers in a world filled with turmoil.

We are called to be like the boy who gave up his lunch so that 5000 could be fed, like the fishermen who became fishers of men, like the tax collector turned soul collector, sinners who became saints.

We are called to be beacons of light set on fire for prodigal sons and daughters who have tried the bright lights of the world and walked the pig pens of foolishness only to realize that home is best after all.

We are called to be the least that he might exalt us in due season, feet washers on streets of shame, helpers to the helpless, comforters to those that mourn, a cinema that shows God’s goodness at every matinee.

We are called to be servants to the servant, the least of the least and yet an open bible with all the answers to the worlds ills. We are called to be like the famous Robin Hood bringing comfort to the poor and needy, to clothe the naked and give bread to the hungry even if it means robbing our own lives to do it.

Enough I hear you say and yet my mind is flooded with dreams of a better world, a new city where men and women can live in peace having been reconciled with their God through Christ.

Imagine a place where time stands still for eternity in obedience to God who inhabits the praises of thankful hearts, a place where the sun gives up trying to outshine the glory of God, where the moon has no place because there is no night.  A place where tears are no longer poured out from eye sockets rather from bottles where they have been stored by the Lord who thought them too precious to let drop to the ground.

Imagine being where colours are so vivid that they never fade, where beauty is not in the eye of the beholder rather in the hands of the one who held us from eternity past to eternity future.

Imagine death exposed to assembled crowds as merely a stepping stone to life everlasting, see the joy that’s unspeakable and full of Glory, see the ashes turned to beauty, garments of heaviness banished forever and replaced with garments of praise. Imagine being a beggar at the Kings table, a pauper in His palace and feeling comfortable; imagine being clothed in rich robes of righteousness instead of sinful rags, imagine drinking from golden cups of mercy instead of cracked vessels of wrath.

Oh how I wish I had a greater imagination, how I wish I had not grown up, perhaps I could show more of what I believe to those who don’t believe, I wish I had spent more time at the masters feet and had let him teach me all things that he so desired to teach me.

So what then do I wish for? A lesser me and more of God, a more faithful and obedient me one whose only aim in life is to serve and to love the one who first loved me.

What do I want to see? More than anyone or anything in this world or even the next I want to see Jesus the one who placed a price on my head no one could ever pay, and then gave himself because he could find no one else to go in His place.

Oh, Lord my God, that I might know you, and the power of your resurrection and the fellowship of your suffering, oh, that I might truly know the measure of the cost of a human soul and the power that you have invested in me to see souls saved and kingdom bound.

Oh, for power to raid hell’s broad highway and to divest it of precious souls, to stand in the gap for those who tremble at the thought of death, to be poured out as oil on the sick and the dying and to let them see Jesus the mighty to save and to heal.

Oh, Lord that I might truly know the cost of Calvary what it meant for the potter to allow the clay to crush him, for the tree he created to hold him, for humankind to butcher divine kind. All this without a murmur from the lamb led to the slaughter, no complaints from the turtle dove being sacrificed, just forgiveness, no hatred from the scapegoat who carried the sin of the whole world, just Calvary love.

Oh, Lord that I might walk the winepress with you so that you would not feel alone, that I might grow to become a fruitful vine, Lord that I may always be found of you producing fruit and not just leaves when you come hungering for fruit. So from a life of poverty to the life I now lead as a King’s kid, a short journey compared with my eternal journey little wonder then that he allowed me to live in tents and not in a palace. But I can still dream...

David Robinson (c)

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