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/

 

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TESTIMONY (Five Minute Friday)

There’s a saying, isn’t there? ‘If being a Christian were a crime, would there be enough evidence to convict you?’

Scary thought.

If I were in the dock, who would be my witnesses? I guess the key ones would be those closest to me, those who know me best, those who see how I behave every day.

My family certainly know about my faith and how integral it is to my life. They have seen over the years how it is at the core of my decision making and choices, opinions and priorities. They know I pray daily for them.

But they also know better than most how imperfect my faith is, how often I don’t live up to the standards my faith calls me to. Because they love me, they forgive me much.

And when I get it right, how much, I wonder, do they realise is down to God and not just my original character and upbringing? They didn’t know me before I became a Christian. Most of the people in my life now don’t. So how can they see what a difference Jesus has made to me?

I’m no evangelist. I am honest about my beliefs if people ask. But I don’t shout about it. And I am terribly aware of how often I get it wrong – my impatience, anger, or unkindness.

Called to the witness stand myself, I can only tell you that God is Who keeps me going when life feels overwhelming, gives me the means to grow as a person, and daily opens my eyes to the wonders and beauty of this world around me.

Sometimes He sends people to teach me these lessons. Sometimes circumstances show me. Sometimes a sentence in the Bible shouts His reassurance or direction at me. Sometimes as I write in my prayer journal to Him, the way becomes clear. Sometimes it’s like a gentle whisper in my head and a sense of peace as I follow.

This is my testimony.

Boscombe Looking BACK

This week’s Five Minute Friday prompt https://fiveminutefriday.com/2019/08/29/fmf-writing-prompt-link-up-back/ reminded me of a poem I wrote about one our favourite places. It’s only an hour and a half’s drive away and great to escape to for a weekend, a day, or just an evening’s walk along the prom in any season.  So this week I’m sharing that poem with you:

The low late light is too dazzling to look at directly,
Obscuring all into silhouettes at most.
But look the other way
And see what golden beauty the blush glow casts
On large and small:
Myriad minion suns burst
From the gorse covered cliffs;
Skyblue sea silver broidered with waves;
Rain clouds lined with hopeful edges;
And my beloved’s face reflects
The outer and the inner light.

 

Stop Before You Need To (PACE Five Minute Friday)

I’ve been running another of our regular fatigue management courses at work recently.

It’s the most common symptom our palliative patients get and sadly we can’t magic them back to the levels of energy they had in their youth. But we can help them make choices about how to budget the energy they have now.

One of the strategies we teach is the 5Ps. And one of the Ps is Pacing.

It may translate as something really simple like stopping halfway up the stairs to catch your breath rather than trying to rush to the top in one go. Or it may mean a change in routine like sitting down for a coffee break during a morning of housework. Or even some complex planning ahead, like arranging a taxi and carers to take a wheelchair bound patient home for a rest in between a wedding service and reception.

But the real trick with pacing is this: Stop Before You Need To.

Many of us keep going until a task is finished, even to the point of exhaustion. We feel if we stop, we won’t be able to get going again and complete it. But if we stop before our muscles, lungs, minds, or emotions get over burdened, after a break, we can often keep going for longer so that we actually end up doing and achieving more.

It’s a lesson I need to apply to my own life too.

Too easily I fall into the trap of not taking lunch breaks and working late to get something finished. Too frequently I have let that become routine. Too often it leaves me too tired to do other things in the evenings or at weekends that are important to me.

It’s so easy to forget that God calls us to pace ourselves, to take breaks, to stop before we need to:

‘Six days you shall labour and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work.’

‘Be still and know that I am God.’

Not only do we see Jesus doing the same:

‘After He had dismissed them, He went up on a mountainside by Himself to pray.’

But actually, God set this example from the very beginning:

‘Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it He rested from all the work of creating that He had done.’

God might have finished the work of creation at that point but there was going to be plenty more for Him to do as time went by. But He took a break. He paced Himself. He stopped before He needed to.

Who are we not to follow His example?

ENTERTAINING ANGELS (Five Minute Friday: HOSPITALITY)

My parents were the masters of hospitality.

From my teenage years, our house always seemed to have extras in it. From the fellowship groups they hosted to the lone souls who came to Sunday dinner. The ex con newly out of a Young Offenders Unit, the German visitor in London on holiday, any new member to the church.

And then there were those who stayed for more than dinner – Win, Reg, Renee and all the others who spent Christmas with us; Albert, the homeless man, who sometimes slept on our sofa until Dad could find him a hostel; William, the Chinese student, who had to vacate his halls of residence at Christmas and Easter so stayed with us and became an honorary uncle; or the six holiday friends my brother and I turned up with one midnight, who had missed their connections home, so bedded down in sleeping bags after an enormous fry up.

We didn’t have a lot of money – or rooms! But my parents, especially my mum, were always generous with what they had.

And I think that’s the key to hospitality: generosity and thoughtfulness.
My parents were generous with their supplies (Mum was great at stretching a meal with extra vegetables for unplanned for guests), their space, and their time. To their last days, even in their nursing homes, they always had time to listen, usually over a cup of tea. Their welcoming smiles drew friends, family, care staff to them like shivering people to the warmth of a fire.

And the foundation to it all: my parents’ thoughtfulness and kindness which put the receiver first. What did they need? How could they be served and loved?

That’s what makes great hospitality – not an elegant house or elaborate cooking but a lavish willingness to share what we have. I was frequently embarrassed by the untidiness of our house but was forced to reconsider when a school friend pointed out that she had never noticed it because of how my parents made her feel so at home.

The writer of the Book of Hebrews encourages us ‘to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.’ I don’t know if any of our guests were really angels but perhaps the practice of generous and thoughtful hospitality makes us more angelic. Or if we consider the Biblical idea of Heavenly Banquet, maybe it’s more accurate to say that it can make us more divine. I know I got a glimpse of God’s character in my parents’ hospitality.

Once AGAIN (Five Minute Friday)

Those Matt Redman lyrics keep circling in my head, with hints of the rest of the tune:

‘I’m in that place once again, I’m in that place once again.’

And I wonder what place I am in again?

Sometimes it’s a geographical place, or a longing for one, Cornwall in particular. The sound of seagulls, the salty smell of the sea, the reassuring rhythm of the tide as the river rises and falls in the harbour, that sense of a more peaceful pace in the wild beauty of the landscape.

Sometimes it’s the repetition of an emotional place – grieving the loss of my parents again, a monthly mood drop for no other reason than hormones, or the familiar fight to loosen anxiety’s tentacles that come back as reliably as bindweed.

Sometimes it’s social: the routine of a family get together, the joy of having my kids back together with us, the familiar strength of my husband’s arms around me.

But the song is about something, somewhere different. It’s about being back in a place of awe for all that Jesus has done for us, for me. It’s about remembering His ultimate sacrifice. It’s about never taking Him for granted.

And, like anyone else we love or who loves us, it’s far too easy to do just that, to forget the enormity of it all, to step out of our daily routine to express our gratitude.

And that’s the place I need to be in again most of all.

Here’s the full song and lyrics: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FkK4YHy-wNg

(Joining the weekly five minute free write with the fabulous Five Minute Friday community. You can find more on the prompt word AGAIN here: https://fiveminutefriday.com/2019/08/08/fmf-writing-prompt-link-up-again-guest-post-by-niki-hardy/ )

Happy Birthday FIVE Minute Friday!

I owe a real debt of gratitude to the Five Minute Friday website and community https://fiveminutefriday.com/2019/08/01/fmf-writing-prompt-link-up-five/ because this is what got me blogging and writing on a regular basis rather than just ad hoc or as the muse hit. Even if it turns out more to be Six Minute Saturday, Seven Minute Sunday, or even Twenty Minute Tuesday some weeks!

It was recommended to me by someone in the Association of Christian Writers https://christianwriters.org.uk/ (another big influence in my writing life) and since my first post (almost exactly three years ago), this will be my 241st post! I’ve gained 5,621 views, 472 comments, 127 followers to the blog itself plus 267 on Facebook and 74 on Twitter, and been read in over 64 different countries (hard to be exact as WordPress classifies the European Union as a country!).

I know there are many more popular blogs than mine, that these statistics are a mere particle in a drop in the ocean of the world wide web. But each of these figures is a source of wonder to me, that anyone would actually be interested in what I have to say, and also an added confirmation that writing is what I should be doing.

However, these figures are also a measure of vanity! Real success, the success that actually matters I think, are the other things that I have gained from joining the Five Minute Friday community:

It has taught me discipline – to write whether I feel like it or not, to start writing when all I have is a microscopic sliver of an idea and see where it takes me. It has boosted my confidence and sparked other ideas – completing Write 31 Days (I never thought when I began that I could post something readable every day for a whole month!), which led me to do my own Jesse Tree and Blessings Jar series of blog posts.

It has encouraged me to move forward with my writing and reach out to other writers – to join my local group of the Association of Christian Writers, to become a monthly contributor to the morethanwriters blog https://morethanwriters.blogspot.com/, and (successfully) submit a piece for an anthology.

I have also started to learn more about the technical side of literature, becoming involved in other authors’ book launches, penning reviews for blog tours, learning to ‘find an angle’ that is uniquely mine. And in all this, making unseen online friends along the way.

Most of all, it has taught me that sharing the depth and breadth of the detail my life – the pain of my father’s decline into Alzheimer’s, the joy of common family songs on a car journey, the stubborn strength of God’s love that keeps me going through all of it – that this resonates with others. Words and stories help us feel less alone and I hope the offering of the faith I have found to be so fundamental, holds out a lifeline to pull others into shore when the waves of life become too choppy, a small light to remind that the darkness never wins.

So thank you Kate and the Five Minute Friday community – with your help, thestufflifeismadeof (and me) are growing into something I never thought possible when I wrote that first FMF post ‘Ducks!’.  https://thestufflifeismadeofblog.wordpress.com/2016/08/07/ducks-five-minute-friday-happy/

Soft in the MIDDLE (Five Minute Friday)

Before all the chains spread along our high street like a rash, there used to be an independent coffee shop, decorated in all the shades from Americano to Latte, squeezed into a narrow gap between health food and book shops. It was the only place then where I could, occasionally, find Rwandan coffee.

Great cans with bronze lettering lined shelves on the left as you entered, a travelogue of destinations with names like songs: Sumatran Blue Lingtong, Monsoon Malabar, Mexican Chiapas Altura, Kenyan Peaberry, Brazilian Java. At Christmas, we treated ourselves to something extra special: Jamaican Blue Mountain, Queensland Skybury, Hawaiian Kona, or Kopi Luwak.

At the back were three small cramped tables for those who wanted to stop and savour, with perhaps a cake to lengthen your stay.

The rest of the shop was taken up with a curving glass counter with shelves covered in handmade chocolates. No standard brands here. Instead, a choice – of box size, type of chocolate, and filling. Collating each white cardboard carton transformed it into a delicate treasure box of individual confections nestled in tissue cases and tied with ribbon.

It was such a treat to buy these as presents, to personalise the gift, knowing that the recipient would love all the contents. No forlorn coconut bar or green triangles abandoned at the end like the standard boxes!

Me, I always go for the soft centres. I don’t like hard chocolates and I can’t bear nuts in them. But a coffee cream, a strawberry or orange fondant, or a simple chocolate truffle? Yes please.

Actually it was a Paul Simon lyric that put me in mind of this shop:
‘Why am I soft in the middle
The rest of my life is so hard’
(You Can Call Me Al)

He was singing about midlife crisis and a beer belly. But it made me think about how we can feel inadequate to cope with hardness of life.

So sometimes we coat ourselves with a hard shell as a barrier to pain. We smile. We say we’re fine. We distance ourselves from the griefs of others to protect ourselves. We keep busy, distracting ourselves from the ache of losing someone or our fears for the future. We daren’t stop and feel because we might cry and then, as one of patients said to me, ‘If I cry, I might not stop.’ We harden our hearts.

Having a soft centre seems a poor way to deal with the difficulties of life.
And yet, doesn’t God call us to exactly this?

We are meant to feel, to experience ‘life in all its fullness’. St Paul calls us to ‘be good friends who love deeply… laugh with your friends when they’re happy, share tears when they’re down’ (Romans ch. 12).

In Ezekiel (ch. 36 v. 26), God tells Israel He will ‘give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you…remove your heart of stone and put in a heart of flesh.’

And isn’t that the best soft centre of all?

5,213 MILES

While you are distant
I have been to the garden centre with my credit card
And bought a trolleyful of plants
While you are distant
I have treated myself to two new pairs of shoes –
Needed but felt the extravagance
While you are distant
I have not followed your vegetarian diet
While you are distant
I have not had to rearrange the dishwasher contents once
While you are distant
I have gone to be bed and read for as long as I wanted
Before sleep
While you are distant
I have spread across the bed and slept
Like a starfish child
While you are distant
I have woken to the pain of memories
Without your arms to hide in
While you are distant
I have cursed the eight hour time difference
When our waking routines don’t chime
And exalted at a few snatched minutes of conversation
At opposite ends of our days
While you are distant
I have counted the hours
To your return.

This post was written in response to the Five Minute Friday prompt ‘Distant’. For more great writing, visit https://fiveminutefriday.com/2019/07/18/fmf-writing-prompt-link-up-distant/

BOB, ADELE, AND THE STRENGTH OF LOVE (Five Minute Friday ‘Willing’)

I love Adele’s version of the Bob Dylan song, To Make You Feel My Love. But when I listen to the lyrics (or sing along loudly, let’s be honest!), I don’t think of romantic love, as the original may have been intended, but of the lengths I am more than willing to go to for my sons.

Have a read:

When the rain is blowing in your face
And the whole world is on your case,
I would offer you a warm embrace
To make you feel my love.

When the evening shadows and the stars appear
And there is no one there to dry your tears,
I could hold you for a million years
To make you feel my love.

I know you haven’t made your mind up yet
But I would never do you wrong.
I’ve known it from the moment that we met,
No doubt in my mind where you belong.


I’d go hungry, I’d go black and blue,
I’d go crawling down the avenue,
There’s nothing that I wouldn’t do
To make you feel my love.

The storms are raging on a rolling sea,
Down on the highway of regret.
The winds of change are blowing wild and free,
You ain’t seen nothing like me yet.

I could make you happy, make your dreams come true,
There’s nothing that I would not do,
Go to the ends of the earth for you
To make you feel my love.
There’s nothing that I wouldn’t do
To make you feel my love.

The fierceness of parental love was a shock to me when I first became a mum. And, even though my boys are in their twenties now and my parental role is more advisory than hands on, I would still ‘go to the ends of the earth for [them] to make [them] feel my love.’

That sense of protectiveness is such a deeply ingrained instinct. When life throws hardships or unfairness at them, I want to take it away from them, do some cosmic deal so that I have the problem instead of them. I’m sure I’m not the only parent who feels like that.

But some of their difficulties, many of their difficulties, we can’t remove. They have to face them, grow through them even. The thing that we can do as parents then is pray for them and reassure them that they are loved no matter what.

I think it must be the same for God. What wouldn’t, didn’t He do to reassure us of His love for us?

Embrace us? Tick.

Dry our tears? Tick

Go black and blue? Tick

Go to the ends of the earth (and hell and back)? Tick

He did that cosmic deal of taking our pain and mess on Himself when He died on the Cross and we ‘ain’t seen nothing like [Him} yet’.

When problems assail our children, we yearn as parents to give them the strength that comes from knowing they are loved.

God does the same.

He longs for us to know without doubt that we are deeply, unendingly, unchangingly loved. And never alone.

Read the song again – God’s singing it to you.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ljawHxBl_Rk