Sights and smells can summon sharp memories! Local horse chestnut trees have shed another heavy harvest of ‘conkers’. Back, when I were a lad in Largs, many after school autumn afternoon was spent in Netherhall’s grounds panning for these brown nuggets, launching sticks to knock them from their branch shies. Such was our determination to bag the best booty we sometimes climbed to shake the highest conkers to the ground. One day a friend and I pulled our lithe teenage frames across a thick branch to its perilous end, where thinner branches dangled their ‘Desperate Dan’ like spikey faces, brown conker lips pouting from cracked smiles. Suddenly Graeme slipped and clung for dear life by one hand, dangling 50 feet up. I’d never prayed so desperately as I did at that moment, unashamedly crying for God’s help as I stretched to catch my mate’s other hand and help him back onto the main branch. All while Alan below gutted himself with laughter, securely planted on terra firma.

This was one of at least five times I’ve diced with death and serious injury, the others involving electricity, a bike and cars. It is sobering how fragile life can be, but I can’t imagine the trauma of refugees fleeing violence around the world and fellow Christians in some Muslim lands, where to convert to Christ, means a death sentence. My shaves with death have been ‘accidental’, but for these fellow humans they have enemies out to rid them from this world.

Stories of courage and transformation from new believers in Iran are inspiring. One lady ‘handbag thief’ was snatching 6 handbags a day to make ends meet. She came across a bag with no money but containing a New Testament Bible. She read it avidly and responded to the invitation to find out more about following Jesus Christ. She admitted that, since reading the Bible, she’d only stolen one handbag.

As Dorothy and I walked peaceably to our 10.30am morning worship yesterday I was grateful for our freedom in Scotland, and the UK, to meet without fear of bomb or gun. And as we walk to and from early morning swims at The Portal we love and thank God for the changing colours of Autumn. Indeed, we managed to scoop up 100 shiny stoaters from a tree beneath Trinity Church’s spire, which Dorothy will use in another engaging and imaginative ‘art-attack’. The changing seasons are annual and daily evidence of a God Who shines, showers, and provides air to breathe for us all, the righteous ‘and’ the unrighteous. Times may be tough and ever tightening for many of us, but the ‘attitude of gratitude’, ever ready to notice and praise God for what ‘we have’ rather than moan about what ‘we don’t have’, is one that will help us face adversity and trying transition with hope in our hearts.

My mum wasn’t informed about my ‘near-death’ chestnut story; it’s as well we don’t know the half of what our kids get up to! Alas, my ‘hard fought for’ conkers flopped in battle at school, summarily smashed to smithereens. But did St Paul not say, “We are more than ‘conkers’ through Christ who loved us!”?  (Romans 8:37) Keep on keeping on my friends!