SAL

If you’ve never been to the Cape Verde islands, you’ve missed a treat. Off the coast of North West Africa but previously a Portuguese colony, it has a laid back Caribbean-style vibe. We were fortunate to go there in 2011, before mass tourism from the UK started, staying in a small mulit-mnational complex built around the Old Harbour in Santa Maria on Sal rather than one of the isolated all inclusive resorts that dominate the island now. 

When I saw the Five Minute Friday prompt this week of RELIEF, I found this poem that I wrote from our time there. Our evenings were spent exploring the great choices of restaurants – seafood and ice cream are my stand out memories.  Apart from walking the occasional day trip, our days were spent in much needed relaxation – sunbathing, swimming, fishing, reading. This poem describes those days. I hope you like it.

SAL

Heat hangs heavy in the air
Weighting me down on the sunbed
Too hot to move
Too hot to plan
Too hot to think
Deceitful wind disguises the sun’s strength
Unhampered by an overcast sky
Skin silently sizzles
Despite well lotioned defence

Oh the lightness and freedom of the cool pool’s relief
All heat and heaviness instantly forgotten
Or the sway of the sea’s hammock
As eyes rest on the soft, silver grey
Of slow motion fish
Pulled and released by the tide
As I lazily snorkel
Over their dappled world

A SACRIFICE of Praise (Five Minute Friday)

I wake to the first real winter’s morning of the season. Frost coats lawn, cars, and the curls of the corkscrew hazel and, like its cousin snow, muffles all Sunday sounds. But on the other sheltered side of the house, low light goldens the fences and new green growth continues its advancement.

Mint leaves multiply on what seemed previously dead stems. Palest pink blooms dot the edges of heather. Bulb shoots cut through the covering leaf mulch in unexpected places, having successfully evaded hungry squirrels.

A background hum of distant traffic and even more distant planes is interspersed by voluntaries of birdsong as golden as the light. A wood pigeon steadily grubbing its way along one flowerbed reminds me of yesterday’s avian visitors: a colour blocked magpie, a listening blackbird, familiar robin, and camouflaged treecreeper.

In such a setting, it’s easy for a heart to fill and overflow with praise for the Creator. Words seem superfluous as Nature itself gives grateful voice to the Great Gardener.
But it’s not always so easy or spontaneous.

Sometimes praise is a discipline or a sacrifice.

I’ve written before about how I am a natural pessimist, primarily seeing misspellings, faults, and mistakes before successes, kindnesses and blessings. During my most recent episode of depression, I’ve got into the habit of keeping a list of gratitudes in my prayer journal. And I’m learning (again) about the God who stays in the summer and the winter, the dark and the light, the panic and the calm.

Praise doesn’t come naturally. It’s an effort, a sacrifice for me.

But praise isn’t a case of ignoring the difficulties and pain and blithely singing with optimism instead. It’s about weighing the full range of evidence, holding the progress and the retreats together in my hands, acknowledging balance and subtleties. It’s about recognising the blacks and the whites and the greys, the shade that accentuates the highlights, the spatter and speckles, the spots and stripes, the whole pied beauty of life and emotions. Or, to borrow Gerard Manley Hopkins’s words further:

‘Glory be to God for dappled things’.

And even when few or no bright spots appear in the blackness. Even when that fog of fear descends and blinds me. Even when it doesn’t feel like He is there. That is the time to make a sacrifice of praise. To remember Who God is – my Father, my Friend, my Defender, my Counsellor, my Rescuer, my Finder. To turn my focus, even if just for a moment, from my circumstances to His character. To sound one blast of defiance against whatever holds me down. To stake an honest claim of:

‘I don’t know why this is happening and I hate it. But be God and show me, show the world, who You are and what You can do.’

Praise can be contrary to all our inclinations. Praise can be nothing but a dogged decision. Praise can be a giving up of giving in, of hopelessness, of anxiety and fear. Praise can be a sacrifice.

So let’s be courageous, bloody-minded. Let’s try it. And see how God responds.

End of the Year

It’s that strange in between time with Christmas Day passed and New Year’s Eve within sight.  We’ve given up celebrating all twelve days of Christmas so we don’t quite know what to do with these days as the year hastens to its end.

It’s traditional to look back on this almost over year, especially here in Blogland. I was interested to find that my most read post was KNOWNS AND UNKNOWNS written in November. It’s strangely apt for this time of year so here it is again if you haven’t read it or would like to again: https://thestufflifeismadeofblog.wordpress.com/2019/11/15/knowns-and-unknowns-five-minute-friday/.

The Queen, in her Christmas Day speech, spoke of 2019 as ‘a bumpy year’. I know how she feels. But rather than go into detail about that , I’d like to share something that has sustained me through the good and bad times.

No, I’m not going to talk about God or my family (although I echo Matthew West’s lyrics about how I ‘hit my knees and thank the Lord for Jesus and you, every day I do’). That’s perhaps, I hope, a little too obvious.

What so often sustains me is words. Writing them or reading them.

Writing poetry, blog posts, reviews, or my prayer journal. Documenting the things, large and small, that I am grateful for. Capturing and defining thoughts and feelings with ink and paper or keybaord and screen. Helps me figure things out, figure me out, sometimes even figure God out. Encourages me when others comment.

I’ve also linked up more with others through my writing by contributing to a group blog each month http://morethanwriters.blogspot.com/ and joining blog tours for book launches:

Books and articles to hide in, an escape from monotony or stress. Passing the time productively in queues and waiting rooms. Reading myself to sleep at bedtime or to conquer insomnia.  Extending my knowledge of history, theology, geography, science.  Immersing myself in the Napoleonic Wars, the forensic developments and political fallout resulting from the Marchioness disaster, the beauty and social impact of embroidery. Exploring fantastical worlds. Learning all the time from my fellow writers.

During 2019 I’ve taken part in a reading challenge and been grateful for how the discipline has both structured and widened my reading. It’s been good to share suggestions and reviews online, bonding us into friends. We’re doing it again (with new categories) in 2020. I thoroughly recommend it.

So rather than ending 2019 and looking into 2020 with the standard resolutions, I would encourage you to explore words more, whether your own or others’. Try a reading or a writing challenge – who knows what knowledge, strength, and comfort you might discover?

God bless and see you in 2020.

Liz

 

 

 

DARKNESS and HOPE (Five Miute Friday)

Well, this week’s prompt word of DARKNESS from Five Minute Friday https://fiveminutefriday.com/2019/12/12/fmf-writing-prompt-link-up-darkness/ seemed horribly apt as I woke up to the UK’s general election results this morning (although I know not everyone will feel that way). And I’ve been going through my own darkness of difficulties and depression recently. In both situations, I am deciding to focus on the opposite. This means I have been grappling with the elusive and slippery concept of HOPE so here’s one of a few poems I have written recently about it.

HOPE (2)
Hope is a small brown shrivelled thing
Papery and wrinkled
No bigger than my thumbnail
Waiting to be thrust deep hidden in the darkness.
First tearing away ivy invasion which
Stealthily and steadily threatens to
Overwhelm everything else,
Then digging and pulling out weeds,
Roots everywhere,
And stabbing the hard soil into submission
Over and over again with the trowel
Until the earth softens and gives
To make space far enough down
For hope to grow.
Covered over
Patted down firmly
With nothing to show
No evidence
Just bare earth.
An act of faith or bloody mindedness
To wait and believe
Through long cold days
That roots will spread and establish,
Find nourishment in the dark,
And stubborn shoots will spear through iron earth
Proving winter’s passing.

(There won’t be any Five Minute Friday prompts in the weeks of Christmas and New Year but I still plan to write a weekly blog post then so do come back and check them out).

PIGEON’S WING (Five Minute Friday: RUSH)

I’m late posting this week as I changed my mind about what to write and then had to fit it round family pre Christmas commitments. Thanks for being patient.

PIGEON’S WING

When you’re in the depths of despair
Or depression –
When I am in those depths –
All the energy sucked out of me
Like circulating water
Hurrying down a plughole,
Sleep chased away nightly
By worries in battalions
Mown down by the musket fire of logic
Only to be replaced by another line,
Exhausted, overwhelmed
Thoughts, tasks, actions, all jam like traffic to
A standstill, edge forward, standstill and edge again
No end in sight.

But in this enforced, unasked for gear change
I discover beauty I would have missed –
The exact leaf shade of autumnal wisteria,
The pink, blue, and lilac in a pigeon’s grey,
The moon’s corona explained by my boy
The calming rhythm of a row of knitting
The magical transformation that creates a loaf of bread –
A whole world in the small, the overlooked, the ordinary

And I wonder what really counts –
Deeds impacting many
Politics and philanthropy
Scientific discovery and invention
Career and dedication
Or knowing the exact colour of a pigeon’s wing?

Hope you like it. If you’d like to read more inspirational writing from the lovely Five Minute Friday community, you can find it here: https://fiveminutefriday.com/2019/12/05/fmf-writing-prompt-link-up-rush/

COFFEE CANTATA (Five Minute Friday ‘Full’)

It’s official: I am addicted to caffeine. To be more specific, I can’t get going without that first morning mug of warm, waking, pulse pumping, real coffee. Well, if I’m being totally honest, those first mugs plural.

And it has to be real coffee, not instant. Just as a wine lover relishes the specific flavours of different grape varieties, so I love picking out the uniqueness of coffee beans from different parts of the world. My favourites tend to be African coffees with their fruity citrussy hints, especially the rarer Rwandan beans that bring back great memories of living there.

I also have preferences about which mug I like to drink out of. Somehow it tastes better out of a high quality receptacle with a beautiful design. Sadly one of these, Royal Worcester china with bold poppies against purple, has developed a crack inside and now leaks so I can’t use it anymore.

Sometimes, oftentimes, I think I’m like that mug.

I leak.

I leak energy.

I leak resilience.

I leak hope.

I leak faith.

I leak…everything.

And it can feel like constant effort to keep asking God to top me up. Like the family laundry basket that never stays empty for long, it can feel like a constant battle to keep on top of. Sometimes it can feel like a losing battle.

But as I poured my coffee this morning, I realised I might have this metaphor wrong.
I’m not the leaking cup. I’m the coffee pot.

I’m the coffee pot that pours out energy, hope, encouragement, faith into tasks and people, my own levels depleting as I do so. I’m the coffee pot that, even though it’s a thermos, gradually loses heat over time by a natural process of conduction.

So if I’m the coffee pot, God is the mains water supply, the beans that provide the flavour, as well as the filter machine and the electricity that combine these into something steaming and delicious to give both the coffee pot its purpose and a boost to all that need it.

My husband I never get by on just one pot of coffee each day. We need a fresh refill – or more on a hard to keep going day.

And I need refilling, maybe not so much because I am leaky and broken and somehow insufficient, but because fulfilling my purpose, pouring myself out, naturally depletes me. It’s a cycle: filling, pouring, cleaning, refilling.

Being full and ready to go is ok. So is running low. We can’t be full all the time. Needing to be refilled is how it’s meant to be.

DISCOUNTS, VALUE, AND THE TWIRLIES

When I was a teenager, I had a part time job in a local supermarket as a Produce Assistant (that’s the fruit and vegetable counter to you and me). Two evenings a week and all day Saturday in an unflattering uniform, on my feet the whole time, with only a few short breaks, it was tiring and often boring but my adolescent heart loved the increased independence it brought.

Back then, most shops closed on Sundays so all the fresh stock was discounted to get rid of as much as possible at a particular time on Saturday afternoon. That was my favourite part of the job.

It was up to my manager to decide what would be marked down and by how much and mine to weigh and tag the purchases. But about half an hour before the reductions were announced, the Twirlies would arrive: a group of gregarious older ladies, keen for a bargain, who would always greet me with a smile and:

“Hello darlin’. Am I too early?”

The discounted stock tended to be a little substandard, bruised, overripe. So the Twirlies loved to bag up their chosen, perfect purchases in advance and then bring them back later for the lower pricing. It irritated my boss immensely.

But I enjoyed turning a blind eye and letting them have the bargains they craved. I guess I also liked getting one over on my boss and the company. I figured a few bargain apples and carrots would make little difference to the organisation’s budget but could make a significant one to the Twirlies, who relied on only a basic pension to get by and had learned their budgeting skill during the War.

There’s an Oscar Wilde quote that defines a cynic as someone who ‘knows the price of everything but the value of none’. And that reminds me too of the Bible story of the widow who gave the tiniest amount of money in the Temple (she may have been a Twirly in her day) but was honoured by Jesus because He saw what a significant proportion it was for her. He saw the cost and the value rather than the price.

We get our ideas of cost and value in this world terribly mixed up and upside down compared to God’s. It broke my heart in that job when I was seconded to the bakery counter where every evening we threw out mounds of bread, cakes, and patisserie – because the company refused to sell it discounted to staff or customers, let alone donate it to homeless charities who would have made such good use of it, unworried by Best Before dates. I hope that supermarket chain has a different policy now.

I’m glad some things are changing, that we are starting to reject the throwaway culture we’ve been living in too long of plastic bags, cheap clothes, food waste, and ignorance. But we’ve a long way to go. The planet is already paying for our greed and laziness and we are all losers for that.

Let’s go back to some of the values of that Twirly generation. Let’s learn to value what we have. Let’s learn to ‘make do and mend’, and to plan our meals and shopping lists, turning leftovers into something delicious. Let’s embrace reducing, reusing, and recycling. Let’s choose ethical over cheap.

Let’s consider the cost of our choices for us and others. And let’s remember value more than price.

This is my contribution to the Five Minute Friday community, who write weekly on a prompt word (COST this week) and then share the results. You find other responses to the word here: https://fiveminutefriday.com/2019/11/21/fmf-writing-prompt-link-up-cost/

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