Restored (FIVE MINUTE FRIDAY)

My patient wouldn’t let me leave without a gift – well, three gifts, to be precise: a Danish pastry (which I’d not eaten with the cup of tea he’d made because of my diet), half a dozen eggs from his friend’s hens, and large wooden bowl.

It was a chunky heavy piece, hewn from a great branch, left with much of the rough uneven edges of the original tree. But it had laid unused in an old coal scuttle next to an empty fireplace for the past two years since he had downsized to a smaller property.

“Take it,” he said, “if you like it. If you don’t, I’m only going to throw it away.”

Sucker for a piece of ‘real tree wood’ (as my father used to call it) how could I refuse?

Back home, I knew it wouldn’t be difficult to restore it to its former glory. Impatient to do so and with no teak oil in the house, I found the lemon oil that my husband uses to care for the beautiful cherrywood of his guitars. Carefully and gently I wiped away the accumulated dust, grime, and glitter from the bowl’s surfaces and crannies with a damp cloth. Then, once the bowl had dried, I stroked the softly scented oil into all its smooth surfaces, leaving the crude irregular parts matt to emphasise the contrast.

It glowed. The contrast of all its curves and age lines stood out as they should. It was restored to how its creator had intended.

And I thought about what restored actually means. The dictionary defines it as when something is returned to its former condition. But there’s another definition, which is when something is given back to its original owner.

And I wondered what is required for us to be restored?

Perhaps we too need to let One who loves us and wants us to clean us up and apply not a hard varnish but a holy oil that will sink right into our very being and bring out our natural glow? We were meant to be clean, shining with His inner light, knowing who made us and to whom we belong.

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AZ384 (FLY – Five Minute Friday)

Time to share some poetry for a change this week. This one was inspired by a family trip to Gozo when my boys were younger. However uncomfortable it can be in economy class and however many flights I’ve taken, the sheer physics of flight remains magical.

AZ384 (Underneath are the everlasting arms):

We sit,

In mint-sucking anticipation of

Acceleration and lift

Like swans running across

The canal surface until

Acute angled up

We speed

Into the sky.

Our arms outstretch

Across the aisle

To each other

For reassurance,

Echoing the shape

Of our aeroplane’s wings

Or a skein of geese

Flying in formation,

We, like them,

Are steering south

Away from autumn

T’ward warmer light.

Aloft

We soar steadfastly forward

Like an optimistic

Paper dart

Launched high

Across the room

Or as my father

Used to swoop me

In exciting safety

Into bed.

Here we skim

Higher skies,

Hand holding,

Hand held,

On rising air currents

On angel wings

On the very fingertips

Of God.

 

I must admit that the first thing that came into my head for this prompt from http://fiveminutefriday.com/2018/06/07/fmf-link-up-fly/ was this great track by Toby Mac and I couldn’t resist sharing it:

 

PAUSE for Thought (Five Minute Friday)

It’s a bank holiday weekend, an extended break between working weeks, so how apt is the Five Minute Friday prompt ‘Pause’. http://fiveminutefriday.com/2018/05/24/fmf-link-up-pause/

I’ve recently finished teaching another fatigue management course, where this has been a key feature. We talk about the 5Ps of Fatigue Management, one of which is Pacing: the importance of building in breaks before you run out of energy completely, which may enable you to get more done in the long run.

But the course itself is a moment of pause for its attendees. Too often in life, when we are faced with ongoing stress (in the case of my patients, the effects of a life limiting illness), we go into ‘auto pilot’ and end up even more exhausted. Couple that with an expectation that we should be able to function at the same level of intensity and quality no matter what our circumstances, and it’s a recipe for guilt and frustration as well.

So the course gives people a chance to stop and ask questions about whether they are prioritising what really matters to them, as well as giving them practical techniques to do so. They may not change what they are doing but the important thing is that they paused and made an active choice.

And that’s the thing about pausing, isn’t it? There’s the ‘stop the world I want to get off’ pause (as my dad used to call it) that we cry out for when our lives become too overwhelming. There’s the enforced pause when illness or grief or disaster halts us in our tracks.

And then there’s the chosen pause: the holiday; the lunch break; the closing of the computer to play a mad game with the children; the morning moment in the garden soaking up the sound of birdsong before starting the daily routine; the time set aside to spend with our Heavenly Father.

Chosen pauses make a difference. We need their punctuation in our lives. We need the rhythm that they bring, to recognise and appreciate the natural ebb and flow, light and shade that enrich life. How the crescendo would be diminished without that pause before the final Hallelujah in Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus!

We need pauses. We need to choose to stop, breathe, and refocus for a moment or a day or longer. We may even need those enforced pauses to remind us Who is really in charge. And when, facing the frustrating slowing down as we near the denouement of our lives, we need to remember that it may just be the pause before the ultimate crescendo in Heaven.

Yippee! (FIVE MINUTE FRIDAY ‘Include’)

Am I allowed to be indulgent with this week’s prompt word from Five Minute Friday http://fiveminutefriday.com/2018/05/10/fmf-link-up-include-free-training-offer/ and use it to tell you some news? I hope you’ll excuse me as I do.

You see, I found out today that a piece I submitted has been accepted for inclusion in an upcoming Christmas anthology. It’s unlikely to hit the bestseller lists and it’s just one short piece among many. But it is the first time I’ll have been properly published as a writer.

The nearest I’ve come before was a short book review for a magazine letters page. And if that was exciting enough to see my Christian name in print, maybe you can imagine how I’m feeling about this: not just my name but words, phrases, sentences carefully crafted from my imagination, mulled over, edited and re-edited, until I was satisfied they made a finished whole. (Actually, that’s not entirely true as the editors have asked for a small cut, which I have willingly submitted to, trusting their experience and expertise).

I was going to write today about that age old feeling of rejection from being the last to be called into a kids’ sports team (I had plenty of practise at that) or from not being invited to join others’ games, how I still find it difficult – still fear that same rejection – whenever I go into an unknown group for the first time.

Instead, God has given me an experience of being included – literally, with other writers – and of course, it is giving me the opposite feeling, that of acceptance, of being wanted, of being good enough, of being chosen. And I am reminded of the great security I have found from being chosen to be loved by my husband and my in laws.

And that leads me on to the fact that God has chosen to love me. God wants me. God accepts me. God wants to include me in His amazing plans for life-in-all-its-fullness.

Which is an even bigger cause for celebration.

 

 

ADAPT (Five Minute Friday)

My dictionary tells me that ‘adapt’ means to ‘make (something) suitable for a new use or purpose; modify’ or to ‘become adjusted to new conditions’.

So, although I spend my work life adapting people’s homes so they can continue to use them despite their disability or helping them adjust to the changes that their conditions bring – loss of mobility, reduced energy, etc. – I’m not sure that I’m always very good at adapting for myself.

Ironic, isn’t it?

But when I think about it, there’s a massive difference between the changes we choose – deciding to move house or change jobs or have a baby – and those that are imposed on us. Certainly, none of my patients have chosen cancer or MND (ALS) or dementia so no wonder they struggle to adapt, especially when theirs is a deteriorating condition so the goalposts are constantly moving. And many of the situations I’ve struggled to adapt to are those that have been beyond my control.

However, I do wonder if I can choose to try and adapt to those imposed changes? Or, better still, to ask God to adapt me.

I remember my mum’s last year of life. She fell, broke her hip and, alongside the physical consequences, had marked cognitive loss as a result. After several months in hospital, she came home but within weeks it became clear that her condition was too severe for my dad, even with a maximum care package and lots of support from the rest of the family, to look after her at home. So she had to move into a nursing home but he chose to stay in their flat without her.

That was a choice none of us wanted to make. It broke our hearts.

My mum varied in her understanding of the situation but, in one of her more lucid periods, we talked about how she could bear being parted from Dad after 55 years of marriage, how this could possibly be right or fair when it was so difficult and painful. And we posited the questions: ‘What if God had some purpose or role for her in this nursing home? What if He had reasons for this that we just couldn’t see at the moment?’

It was a daring thought.

It didn’t dismiss the agony and heartbreak of the choice but it did offer a way forward. And that way forward was to ‘adjust to the new [situation]’ by trusting God to use it in some way and to go with her into it, maybe even to allow Him to ‘make [all of us] suitable for a new use or purpose’ through it.

Looking back, I can see some of the good God brought out of it: how loved both my parents felt thanks to the care of the staff in that home; friendships with other residents and their relatives that remain 4 years later; my growing into the role of the Mum of the whole family; how I can use my experiences to relate better to the difficulties my patients and carers have. And I’m sure that’s not all.

So perhaps that’s the lesson of adapting: that it’s not a matter of forcing ourselves to embrace change but to trust Him who knows the future, with all its possible permutations, so much better than we ever can.

Keep You and Love You or …? (Five Minute Friday: STUCK)

Do you have those traditional sayings, those to and fro set conversations that only your family uses and fully understands, comforting in their familiarity? We had quite a few growing up, often reassurances of our love for each other.

One of them was for when someone had done something foolish or mildly exasperating. I can still hear my dad’s voice as he smilingly asked:

“What are we going to do with you? Keep you and love you? Or chuck you in the dustbin?”

“Don’t chuck me in the dustbin!” I would plead.

Then might follow a light hearted debate about how practical it was to put me in the dustbin – how full it was, whether I would fit, etc.

But the exchange always ended with:

“I think we’d better keep you and love you,” and maybe, “I guess we’re stuck with you,” followed by a long cuddle.

To a stranger, this might sound an uncaring exchange but it was always reassuring for me because I knew the ultimate outcome. We might go through just the essentials of the ritual or we might tease it out at some length. But I was always sure of the end result and I knew the message of this family saying was that I would always be loved no matter what I did or what happened in my life. As I got older, we would turn it round, with me or my brother or even my children telling my parents that we would always ‘keep them and love them’.

I think of the word ‘stuck’ most automatically as a negative – to be stuck with something or someone because it/they have been forced on us; that we have no escape, no choice about it. But one of the other Five Minute Friday bloggers reminded me this week that we could use the word ‘placed’ instead https://traciecollier.com/2018/04/26/stuck-in-the-middle/. Similarly  the lyrics of the song ‘My Guy’ have been circulating inside my head:

‘Nothing you could say could tear me away from my guy,
(My guy)
Nothing you could do ’cause I’m stuck like glue to my guy.
(My guy)
I’m sticking to my guy like a stamp to a letter,
Like birds of a feather we stick together,
I’m tellin’ you from the start I can’t be torn apart from my guy.’

For a long time, I didn’t understand that analogy: ‘a stamp to a leather’ (weird pictures of postage stamps on a belt came to mind!). Of course, now I realise that it refers to a design embossed into the leather, a permanent mark that cannot be removed. Embossing isn’t something that ‘just happens’; it’s the result of a definite decision, a deliberate action. And when someone chooses to love us, and love us long term, they become a permanent mark on our lives, that remains long after they are gone. Their words, their actions, their values become woven into our lives forever.

When it comes to people, ‘stuck’ is something we choose. Keeping and loving someone is a choice, a daily choice, sometimes a moment by moment choice. Love is a verb not an adjective, a deliberate action.

I’m glad that when people look at me, they will see the permanent mark of my parents’ love embossed on my life. I pray that my husband and children will know the same security and faith in the permanence of my love for them. And I hope that all of us will know, whatever happens, that our Father God will never throw us in the dustbin but always keep us and love us.

(Five Minute Friday is a community of bloggers who, once  a week,  write on a given word for 5 minutes flat. You can find more offerings on this week’s theme here: http://fiveminutefriday.com/2018/04/26/fmf-link-up-stuck/)

 

TURN (Five Minute Friday)

I stayed up far too late last night. And all for the sake of a thunderstorm. Not because it kept me awake or frightened me, you understand, but to enjoy it…

The last few days have been unseasonably hot and sunny, like July in April. We’d eaten meals in the garden until the heat drove us back indoors. A smattering of damp air yesterday afternoon cleared the built up humidity, leaving that newly wet earth smell, fresher than clothes straight out of the laundry. Then the sun and heat and cerulean sky returned.

Strange how the weather can turn.

Late into the evening our conversation was interrupted by the loud rumble of thunder. Straightaway I was at the window, waiting for the accompanying lightening. The whole sky flickered like a faulty light bulb. And then I was counting the long moments to the next thunder clap to see how close the storm was. My dad had taught me that each second’s difference represented a mile in distance.

In fact, it was my dad who had taught me to love a thunderstorm, just like he did. This was nothing to be feared; this was a glorious show by creation to be relished! He joked that the lightning was God flicking heaven’s lights on and off and the thunder was God rearranging his furniture!

As a teenager, when a storm came at night, I would hide behind the curtain next to my bed to watch the natural pyrotechnics out the window. Now I sit my conservatory where it’s more like Ultra HD and surround sound.

How could I not stay up?

(Five Minute Friday is a community of writers who each write for 5 minutes on a given prompt word each week. More responses to this week’s prompt can be found here: http://fiveminutefriday.com/2018/04/19/fmf-link-up-turn/)

 

TOGETHER (Five Minute Friday OTHER)

As usual, with the Five Minute Friday prompt, http://fiveminutefriday.com/2018/04/12/fmf-link-up-other/  my thoughts started in one direction but ended up in another! So here’s the final results of my musings, a poem inspired by the view from my conservatory one evening, memories of my parents, and my own twenty five years of marriage:

 

I look up

As the sky saturates from royal to navy and

Two tall sycamores silhouette against the blue:

Two distinct trunks grow straight and side by side

But their canopies of ever thinning, ever reaching

Twigs and branches have grown so intertwined

That they have become a unity,

Impossible to distinguish between one and the other.

Only death –

When one goes on to bud, leaf, seed, and drop again

While the other remains only an empty silhouette –

Will individualise them once more.

 

Then I look down

At the interlocking fingers of our clasped hands.

Letting Go (Five Minute Friday RELEASE)

So it looks like we have sold my dad’s flat.

We first put it on the market over a year ago, when we had to sell it to pay for his care home placement, but it never progressed beyond initial viewings. It was frustrating at the time but, looking back, it was a blessing in disguise. By the time he died, we no longer had the financial pressure to sell so took it off the market.

This year, with a new estate agent and I guess the timing being right, it all appears to be going through smoothly. But it will still be a wrench to say goodbye to the place.

My boys have asked for time to visit the flat to do just that. One described it as a place of real significance for them. I suppose they may have even more memories invested there than I have.

My parents moved to be near us a week before my dad’s 80th birthday. Mum was 77. What courage to make such a major change at their age! But it was such a good decision. They and we all benefitted from their proximity.

A five minute blog post is nowhere near enough to tell you of all the memories packed into one simple, cosy little apartment. There are painful ones: my mother falling in the kitchen and breaking her hip; staying up all night with her on a riser recliner chair in a desperate attempt to conquer panic and find sleep; with my brother meeting my dad on the front step to tell him she had died; the repetitive notes on the dining table left by my dad to combat his failing memory; the continence supplies in the hall cupboard.

But there are plenty more joyful memories: 80th birthday celebrations for each of them; their golden and emerald wedding anniversaries; the ever present supply of jam tarts for their grandsons; sat on the floor with my head on my mum’s lap when I needed her comfort and strength; my dad’s familiar jokey catchphrases when he greeted us at the door; the flourishing selection of roses, clematis and aquilegia they planted in pots along the path and under their window (despite the leasehold restrictions!); the regular sherry and cake get togethers with the upstairs neighbours who became good friends within less than a week of meeting; the holding crosses kept under my parents’ pillows at night or in their pockets during the day, now treasured by my sons. I could go on.

It will be a sad day when we hand over the keys. But I know we have to let go and I know my parents would want us to. They would be amazed at the inheritance they have left us compared with where their lives originated – and I don’t just mean the financial security. They will want us to invest wisely all that they have left us and pray that the new owner of their humble little flat is blessed with as much peace, joy and love there as they were.

Coasting or Yearning (FIVE MINUTE FRIDAY ‘Settle’)

Sorry for such a late post for my Five Minute Friday link up. http://fiveminutefriday.com/2018/03/29/fmf-link-up-settle/

It was really late at night, way past my bedtime. But then it always is, isn’t it? Those times when your kids bring up a conversation that you know is worth giving up sleep for, when they need your support, when maybe some word you say may lodge in their minds and be of real significance to them, when they just need to talk about what is really going on in their lives. It’s never an opportunity to pass up.

I had one of those this week. And I had another interesting conversation with my other son as we drove along the motorway. That’s another opportunity to really talk with boys – when sat parallel rather than face to face, so a car is ideal. But one conversation linked in my mind with the other.

Do some people just settle for the routine of life? And if so, why? Are they truly happy with the standard expectations of get an education, get a job, get a house or flat, get a partner, get a family? Asking those difficult uncomfortable questions like ‘What’s the point?’ and ‘Why am I dissatisfied with my apparently easy life?’ are deeply unsettling.

It would be so easy to coast.

But I think that if someone is worried about coasting and asking some of these questions about purpose and meaning in life, then they are not coasting at all.

They are not settling; they are yearning.

There’s a theory about change that refers to the push and the pull of decision making. We all need something to push us – something to disquiet us about our current situation – and something to pull us – something to inspire us for the future – to stop us from stagnating.

And that’s where yearning comes in.

We don’t always know what we are yearning for. We don’t always have a clear picture of how we want things to be instead. But yearning for something better, something more – unsettling as it is – can be the first signs of actual change, like shoots breaking the soil’s surface.

But we can seek, ask and knock.

If we do, I know Who will show, answer, and open the right doors for us.

And what amazing new things He could bloom in our lives.

(Talking of yearning, check out my son’s tune of the same name:  https://l.facebook.com/l.php?u=https%3A%2F%2Fsoundcloud.com%2Fpaddy-manning-831424521%2Fyearning&h=ATOIMrOUEnQoo8PxdNj_3AtdTpALF4jxa3LVxrOI7W1kUnsCdpM6fGwS312sKO_hhqZsRPUNACoTsJyVN6tzsyQWqpleEEfm7uD2e-0mAu4yz72-Gds)