KNOWNS AND UNKNOWNS (Five Minute Friday)

I’ve written on UNKNOWN before (https://thestufflifeismadeofblog.wordpress.com/2016/10/10/unknown-day-10-write-31-days/) about the change in roles that my dad’s dementia brought us and I ended the piece with these words:
‘This is unknown territory. Let me walk it well.’

And it strikes me that the future is all unknown. Whatever plans we make, it is all DV, God willing.

I look back on the twists and turns of the last year and realise I could never have predicted the opportunities gained and lost, the triumphs and disasters, the blessings and the burdens. Assumption of the way forward is a risky and arrogant approach to life.

Yesterday I wrote in the Association of Christian Writers’ blog (http://morethanwriters.blogspot.com/2019/11/looking-back-looking-forward-by-liz.html) about what I would tell my nine year old self. And in the process, I realised what a rich life I have led, the details of which my younger self would never have imagined or believed.

It’s so easy to equate the unknown with fear and loss. It’s especially easy for me at the moment as I am on long term sick leave. But writing that piece made me see how the future can be equally unimaginably wonderful and fulfilling.

Donald Rumsfeld famously talked about ‘known knowns’, ‘known unknowns’ and ‘unknown unknowns’. The things we know that we know, the things we know that we don’t know, and the things that we don’t realise that we don’t know.

We often go about life thinking the future is a ‘known unknown’ or even a ‘known known’ when it’s really an ‘unknown unknown’.

Only God know the details of the future. It’s His job to do the planning not ours.

‘” For I know the plans I have for you,” says the LORD. “plans to prosper you, to give you hope and a future.”’

It’s our job to listen for the whispers of His guidance and trust Him, however the circuitous or mountainous the route, to walk us home.

Join the FMF link up here: https://fiveminutefriday.com/2019/11/14/fmf-writing-prompt-link-up-unknown/

A Musical Recommendation – please indulge me

Those of you who have read this blog for a while may remember that my younger son is a musician.

It’s an indulgence, I know, but what kind of mum would I be if I didn’t use the means I have to encourage and promote his talent?

So here’s his first full album, available on Spotify, if any of you Lovely Readers would like to listen, download, and even share more widely:

https://open.spotify.com/album/2uMRTXJ0xSMldwDe0CFYdw?si=ScPuD–kROG3H45J62U4XA&fbclid=IwAR2Y8QPDnWnWJ_fb8RLlDjTscZfz4CND9DVRya7s-lsztmR4z0ncfEZ2MeQ

SETTLEd (Five Minute Friday)

I know their anatomy so well.

Between the firm cushions of trapezius, pectoralis major, and sternocleidomastoid muscles is a slight triangular dip*.

Father, husband, sons – they all have it.

A place to rest my head into his contours and to settle my weight against his chest. A place to feel the strength of his heartbeat, the warmth of his arm around me, the security of being tucked under his shoulder.

My ear in that dip, like the echoes of the tides in a seashell, hears the murmur of memories:

The whisper of “I’ve got you, lass.”

The awe as we gaze down together at the child in our arms.

The salty smell of sweat from a race well run.

The proud graduate grin as bright as the sunshine of the ceremonial day.

Shoulders that have carried colours and coffins with equal pride and dignity. Chests filled with hope and grief in equal measure.

Time stands still as I stand in his arms, my head in that slight hollow, settled.

(*Just in case you’re wondering: http://css.dewarlorx.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/chest-muscles-anatomy.gif)

I Can’t WAIT! (Five Minute Friday)

“I can’t do it!” he cried again petulantly, stamping his foot. “I can’t wait anymore!”

“You have to.”

I don’t even remember what caused this repeated loop of debate between me and my small son. But I do remember my final reply, whipped out of desperate inspiration:

“All right then. Don’t wait. Just sit there.”

And it worked.

To my great surprise it worked.

He sat down, quietly, without further complaint.

Makes you wonder, doesn’t it? What is waiting? And how good am I at it?

If I’m honest, I’m not so different to that frustrated, impatient little boy. Particularly when it comes to prayer.

I hate feeling helpless and lacking control. Or, even worse, feeling responsible but lacking control.

I want God to change the difficulties now, to make me better at coping now, to bring us through to the other side of whatever storm we’re in now, to work a miracle now. But He doesn’t work like that. At least, not in my life.

But perhaps I need waiting to be redefined, just like my boy.

When my other son broke his leg, I stayed overnight with him in the hospital, keeping a bedside vigil on a hard plastic chair: soothing him when he was frightened, distracting him with stories, helping him with a bottle when he needed the toilet, stroking his soft hair as he finally fell asleep. It was a long night.

In a way, I was just waiting for the night to pass, for dawn to come, and action from the medics – a decision about potential surgery, more X rays, a new plaster cast, a physio assessment. But mainly I watched – for anything he might need, for the reviews of his condition, for any change that might require urgent input. And as I did so, I remembered Jesus facing the night in Gethsemane, asking his friends to wait with Him and keep vigil. It’s what I felt I was doing and I felt that perhaps He was keeping vigil with me over my son.

And that’s perhaps the redefinition of waiting that I’m looking for: to see it as something active not passive, not just ‘sitting there’, but watching for what God might do next, readying myself for action when it’s needed (just like the bridesmaids in the parable). And perhaps it’s also about acknowledging when I have overdone it and need the rest and recuperation of the waiting God has prescribed for me.

ACTIVE (Five Minute Friday)

For this week’s link up https://fiveminutefriday.com/2019/10/17/day-18-active/ I’ve gone rogue and written about the opposite of the prompt word.

Resting not quitting
Recovering not vegetating
Restoring not surrendering
Pausing not passing out
A lull not a let up
Respite not retreat
A stop but not a standstill
Downtime not defeat
Unwell not undone
Resolutely resting
Actively not quitting

(Motivational Mug Mat from the wonderful https://quiltsofhope.com/ – please check them out)

WIDE, WIDE AS THE OCEAN (Five Minute Friday: Deep)

It seems I am in a (writing) season of songs.

But this time I am taken back to my childhood, to the days of going to her Monday afternoon Sisterhood meeting at church with my grandmother, where I was spoiled with extra biscuits and intense interest in the minutiae of my life by all the older ladies.

Sometimes they sang hymns from the old Methodist Hymn Book and sometimes they sang choruses. And that was where I learned this song with its accompanying actions making it more exciting and memorable.

Wide, wide as the ocean

Stretching arms out as far as possible to either side, I remember the same gesture as an answer to my boys’ question, ‘How much do you love me?’ ‘This much,’ I reply, to show that it’s too big for me to reach and quantify, and then wrapping them round into a cuddle. ‘This much.’

High as the heavens above

On tiptoes for this one as a small child, I remember stretching up, trying to make myself taller to reach the skies. Later my father told me stories of the constellations above, so much further away than the clouds in the sky I had originally reached for.

The vastness of space seems incomprehensible to me the more we learn about it. Those models to demonstrate the size of the solar system with different size fruit make some sense but after that, the distances become too amazing to me. And yet ‘The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands’ (Psalm 19 verse 1). If space is this extensive, what does that say about its Creator?

Deep, deep as the deepest sea

Crouching now and pointing down, imagining dark waters beyond the floor beneath me, I remember my love of swimming and two particular holidays: the wonders seen snorkelling in Sal’s Old Harbour in Cape Verde; and the miracle of scuba diving around an old wreck off Corfu.

Nowhere near the depth of the deepest sea of course. The Challenger Deep in the Pacific Ocean’s Mariana Trench is 11,034 metres down. If, like me, that number doesn’t compute much, then that means if Mount Everest were put in it, there would still be over a mile above it to the surface. And despite the distance and high pressure, there’s still life down there – and, sadly, pollution.

Is my Saviour’s love

A finger pointing to me then up, followed by arms crossed over my chest, the song pulls back from the vastness. Somehow the actions speak to my heart more than the words. This immense God with His boundless love is concerned with me, loves me. It’s personal.

I, though so unworthy,
Still am a child of His care

Shaking my head and rocking an imaginary baby, I think of how inadequate I often feel. Then I remember the story of Jesus welcoming and taking children into His arms. And I picture His arm around me, curling up on His lap, head resting against the solidity of His chest, and feeling utterly safe and at home there.

For His word teaches me

Unfolding my hands like a book, I think of how my prayer times anchor and reorient me, how the Bible is full of struggling people like me but God doesn’t leave them to cope on their own. I think of Elijah – lonely, frightened, and exhausted more than once by doing what he is called to – and how God sends him food and companionship and quiet reassurance. Or Peter, overconfident, failing at a key moment, but forgiven and recommissioned. Or Naomi, engulfed by the bitterness of grief, restored and given a new future through the love and devotion of family.

That His love reaches me
Everywhere

Point up, cross arms, point at me, arms flung wide – actions repeated in a new order, the last the same as the first to make their own rhyme complete, the pattern reminds me of Hebrew poetry.

‘How much do I love you?’ it asks again. ‘This much.’

Hello My Name Is (Five Minute Friday LISTEN)

I’ve been listening to a lot of Matthew West recently. A number of his songs are both pulling me through sludge and anchoring me in a storm. How grateful I am for Spotify and Android Auto in my car.

One came on this week, ‘My Name Is’, and the lyrics caught my attention:

‘Hello, my name is regret
I’m pretty sure we have met
Every single day of your life
I’m the whisper inside
Won’t let you forget’

I am an overanalyser. I am also a perfectionist. And a natural pessimist. So I am very familiar with the voice of regret – all the ‘shoulda, woulda, couldas’ as I think back on how I could have handled major or minor events better.

Regret is like Poison Ivy, smothering the past so I can’t see it clearly.

‘Hello, my name is defeat
I know you recognize me
Just when you think you can win
I’ll drag you right back down again
‘Til you’ve lost all belief

I have a tendency towards depression (not surprising with my other personality traits). I know the voice of despondency far too well. I have felt defeat like a weighted blanket or overheavy rucksack pulling me out of good posture and making every step a struggle.

‘These are the voices,
these are the lies
And I have believed them,
for the very last time’

When these feelings come knocking, or rudely letting themselves in without, this is the first thing I need to remember. They are lies. They are just voices. They are not facts. And it is my choice whether to listen and believe them or not.

‘Hello, my name is child of the one true king
I’ve been saved, I’ve been changed, and I have been set free
Amazing grace is the song I sing
Hello, my name is child of the one true king’

This is the perspective I need. I am the child of the God of New Beginnings, the God of New Creations, the God of Restoration, the God Who Sees the Whole Picture, the God Who is in Control. I might need more changing, re-freeing, but my own meagre resources are not the whole story – I have His Amazing Grace and Strength to call upon (which I am reminded of by another Matthew West song, ‘Strong Enough’).

‘I am no longer defined
By all the wreckage behind
The one who makes all things new
Has proven it’s true
Just take a look at my life’

Well, be patient, God hasn’t finished with me yet. I’m not sure how well my life proves how new God has made me so far. But He’s working on it.

You can find the whole song here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZuJWQzjfU3o

Joining the Five Minute Friday community each week. You can find more inspirational writing on the theme of Listen here: https://fiveminutefriday.com/2019/10/03/day-4-listen/

WHEN LIFE GIVES YOU… (Five Minute Friday: ‘Success’)

With the change in weather and obvious turn of the season to autumn this week, I had to face the fact that my tomatoes, so carefully and hopefully planted, were not going to ripen to their sweet scarlet destiny. There were plenty of fruit on the vines but they just weren’t grown to full size or ripeness. Not a gardening success this year.

And yet…

There’s that saying, isn’t there? ‘If life gives you lemons, make lemonade.’

Well, in this case I made green tomato chutney*. Nigel Slater calls it saving them from ‘a fate worse than compost’. I only had enough for one jar’s worth (Why are all the recipes for over 2kg of tomatoes? Who has that much of a glut of unripe fruit?) but mine will still serve a few meals: bringing a sweet tang to a cheese sandwich; a new topping in a burger bun; even an additional depth of flavour to a stew.

Similarly, life often takes an unlooked for, unwanted turn – that job I applied for but didn’t get offered, the sudden death of a parent, a longed for holiday interrupted by illness. The disappointment of a future, short or long term, no longer achievable.

But it’s a bend in the road not a dead end.

We might need to review and rethink our hopes and plans. We might need to rethink our definition of success in life. We might need to make green tomato chutney instead of salad.

*Here’s the recipe I used: https://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/janes-green-tomato-chutney

Challenge (FIVE MINUTE FRIDAY)

Sometimes life sucks. Hopes, plans, routines – so easily derailed. The direction we thought we were heading in – the path suddenly crashes away into an abyss like in those adventure movies. We stand in shock and then face the fact that we have to divert, turn back, take the long route. And off we wearily tread. It’s the Mines of Moria for us.

Sometimes we, I run out of words. So I turn to others’ instead.

Here’s some that have helped recently:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B6fA35Ved-Y Even If by MercyMe
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cVHrkYBEgFM God’s Not Done With You by Tauren Wells
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-Otg-5p7qug Mended by Matthew West

And I reread and repeat the old truths to make them my own:

‘I’m absolutely convinced that nothing—nothing living or dead, angelic or demonic, today or tomorrow, high or low, thinkable or unthinkable—absolutely nothing can get between us and God’s love because of the way that Jesus our Master has embraced us.’ (Romans 8. 38-39)

I don’t like or want these challenges but at least I don’t have to face them alone.

The START of the Day (Five Minute Friday)

It’s a glorious feeling: being woken up by just reaching the natural end of sleep and by the light – light that permeates even the heaviest curtains to whisper a good morning in my ears and still closed eyes.

I creep downstairs and put on the first coffee of the day.

But I’m called to the windows, drawn by that golden low light of early morning, spreading over the hillside opposite like honey, gilding all the houses and undergrowth with an inner glow. It’s like tea to a thirsty soul. So gorgeous, that I throw open the French doors to let more of it onto the house and my vision, even though this northwards facing slope is itself in shadow.

Perhaps it’s the contrast with yesterday evening: our hopes of a painterly sunset washed away by grey drizzle clouding the view like garden fleece. This morning the air is free of moisture and clear, so clear, as if the new day has wiped away the accumulated smears on its glasses.

There is a warm cool freshness as the year teeters on the edge between summer and autumn, the change of colour on the edges of the leaves gleaming in that same dawn radiance. And I can hear the chug and rat-a-tat-tat drumbeat and roll of boat engines in the harbour below, like a band leading the carnival parade just around the corner.

The light, the view pulls me forward onto the terrace. And I stand, coffee cup in hand, soaking it all in, noticing new and familiar details afresh: pinpoints of swaying pampas grass; a pirate flag; a little white and glass conservatory peeping out from between the greenery; the brightness of berried shrubs and dancing laundry on a line; the vividness of painted window frames against white walls; leftover raindrops from last night globuled on leaves on our patio.

Strange how it’s the low light that transforms like this – not the obvious overhead-illuminating-everything light but the catching-you-by-surprise playing-with-shadows light, that only comes at the start and end of days and years.

And I think of the mellow fragile beauty of the start and end of lives and see its echo.

The main feature of Five Minute Friday is our weekly blog link-up. Each week Kate Motaung provides a one-word prompt, and we all set our timers and write for five minutes flat, then post our writing on our respective blogs and link up our offerings on that week’s Five Minute Friday post. You can find more on this week’s prompt here: https://fiveminutefriday.com/2019/09/12/fmf-writing-prompt-link-up-start/