MY DAD, THE TIME LORD (Five Minute Friday VISIT)

As I turn the corner and peep round, there he is, in his usual spot fast asleep. I crouch down in front of his comfy chair, place my hand gently on his knee and say:

“Hello Pops”.

His eye light up immediately on opening. He’s always so pleased to see a visitor.

The rest of our time together varies. Visits are frequently limited to no more than an hour as he struggles to battle ongoing fatigue. His Alzheimer’s makes it difficult for him to remember what he wanted to ask or think of things to say so the emphasis on finding things to talk about is on me. But pick the right topic, often questions about his past, and he can speak with fluidity and clarity, just like he used to.

His sense of time, especially how much of his timeline I was involved in, isn’t fixed. It’s a bit like stepping into a Tardis when I visit, with him as the Doctor and me as his Companion, as we travel back together to his childhood, his adolescence, his National Service, his early days of marriage.

Sometimes he thinks I was there, expects me to remember the old friends he grew up with, his mother (who died when I was a baby). But that doesn’t matter. Rather than remind him of the blank patches in his memory, I blame my own recall and ask him to remind me of them. Because his memory of his early days is clearer, it’s even been a chance to learn more about my unknown grandparents; I feel like I’ve had a chance to get to know them at last.

Yesterday he told me about the lettuces, runner beans, and radishes they used to grow – small details that add up over time to a richer picture – and it led to a conversation about the vegetables my husband and I are growing now, as well as the tomatoes Dad used to grow when I was a child, and an idea that we might plant up some pots together for his care home’s garden.

And so our Tardis takes sweeps us off on another journey back and forth through time. How many people find out their father is a Time Lord?

To link up with the rest of the awesome Five Minute Friday community, please visit http://katemotaung.com/ (although from next week we’ll be using the dedicated website http://fiveminutefriday.com/)

(*For those wondering, the people in the photos are as follows: 1. My parents, me and my older brother outside my childhood home probably 1970; 2. My dad  in 1934; 3. My parents’ wedding in 1958 – you can just see their mothers each next to the aisle 2nd row back; 4. My mother, my dad’s mother, and me – shortly before my grandmother’s death; 5. My dad’s parents and younger sister in 1945 – he kept this photo while he was on National Service; 6. My dad in 1927)

 

The Blessing of Taking Stock (BLESSING JAR Week 19)

It’s been one of those weekends where, thanks to migraine and back pain, the best laid plans an’ all that…well, you can fill in the rest. So we’ve had to do something different and today it meant getting on with some more gardening instead of a trip to the coast.

But I’m not sorry.

We’ve got on with a host of jobs: mowing and edging lawns, tying in pea plants, thinning out radish seedlings, planting the last of summer bulbs, weeding, cutting back an over enthusiastic Rose of Sharon and self-seeded geranium, unwinding the broken fairy lights from the pergola. We’ve been busy.

There’s still a list of tasks to tackle – the hanging baskets are in sad need of attention, next door’s overhanging laurel needs cutting back, there are summer pots to plant up, seats to be painted and repaired, and new slate to concrete in around the pond – but not now, not today. Now is the time to sit and look, to appreciate and take stock, time to pause and simply enjoy.

The bed nearest the house is a mass of white and pink floating on a sea of green. A visitor might think the colour scheme was deliberately coordinated but it wasn’t. I hadn’t thought about the colour or the timing of these last of the spring bulbs and even the unintentional survivors from before we had the garden redesigned a few years ago harmonize. They draw the eye to Clematis Nelly Moser which has, as I’d hoped, but much faster than expected, scaled the entire trunk of the Rowan covering it with candy striped blooms. Its timing is perfect – Clematis Montana Elizabeth has just finished. It has spread so voluptuously that I wonder how much of the fence will be on view next year. Next to the first butterflies of French Lavender, the first rose, an ivory one, has opened.

Our vegetables are flourishing. The recent rain has resulted in daily growth. The broad beans have sprouted generous sized leaves on thick stalks not quite high enough to tie in yet. Peas, on the other hand, are growing in almost every direction, hence the need to tether them to their supports now. Radishes in a line, needles of green showing the beginnings of spring onions, recognisable mixed salad leaves, with rocket and lettuces close behind in the growing race. The blossom on our only recently planted miniature apple trees has finished but one already has what look like green rose hips – the initial stage of actual fruit.

The pond is full from rainwater. If I wanted to, I could turn on the pump and listen to the gentle flow of the small cascade but I prefer birdsong for now. The rose behind it, which I planted in my mother’s memory, has greenfly but one brave bud despite its inauspicious positioning. The tropical- like marginals have developed new, more luminous growth.

In the long bed, some shrubs are thriving and other surviving, a few just taking their time to establish and spread. On one silver leaved bush, I notice a single convolvulus shaped flower for the first time – I wish I could remember the plant’s name. The Californian Lilac I planted two weeks ago is already showing signs of blossom, small bobbles of blue that look more purple against the lemony variegated leaves. My fern corner is prospering, taking over from the fading Bellis flowers around them. And the coiling wisteria has reached the top of its post, ready to colonise the crossbeams of the pergola.

A garden’s never finished, never complete. There’s always more to do, another season to prepare for. However, there are these times to stop and examine exactly what’s happening in it, to see what’s been achieved and what promises lie ahead. These moments – or hours – are precious, a hiatus in time, mindful and saturated. In taking the time to take stock I have found a new blessing. I wonder if I should try to apply the practise to my life too?

Postscript: I just thought I’d share the progress of the Amaryllis from last week’s Blessing post – so you can see what a blessing it continues to be. And yes, it turned out to be three blooms!

What is TRUTH? (FIVE MINUTE FRIDAY)

I found myself echoing Pilate’s question when I saw this week’s prompt. It’s one of those words that I know I use all the time but what does it actually mean? I know it’s about facts and reality but surely it has much more depth than that? What I initially thought of as simple, solid, and graspable seems more amorphous than at first glance. I wanted to pin it down so I went back to my usual habit of investigating the word’s definition and etymology.

It turns out that there is more than one origin to the word. The English word comes from a shared root with ideas of fidelity and loyalty – hence the word ‘troth’. ‘True’ may even share a common root with ‘tree’ (please forgive the pun!) because it has this sense of ‘steadfast as an oak’. It links with the Latin words, ‘veritas’ and ‘verus’, meaning sincerity and agreement with facts. But there’s also a Greek word for truth, ‘aletheia’, which means revealing or bringing something that was hidden into the open.

Now those words of Jesus (where I realise I’ve always skimmed over the middle one in the list) make sense:

‘I am the way, the truth, and the life.’

It’s not just a matter of His existence being an historical fact but this statement tells us of His faithfulness and dependability. It echoes with His other saying of being the Light of the World – for bringing light to dark places is how the hidden is revealed.

Truth is the way He lived His life. And He calls us to be and do the same.

 

AN AMARYLLIS BLESSING (Blessing Jar Week 18)

I’m not very good with house plants. I have an uncanny knack of killing them off, sooner or later. Only a small cactus and an (unflowering) orchid have survived my care.

So when I collected the large white pot with its papery desiccated bulb in long dried out compost from my dad’s flat, I’m not sure why I took it home rather than threw it in the bin.

My parents were keen gardeners and my mother had inherited my grandmother’s love of house plants. The latter’s room in the house I grew up in had every surface covered in spider plants and African Violets that she propagated herself. My mother filled the window sills of their little flat with similar and masses of indoor bulbs.

But after she died, my father’s increasing dementia stopped him remembering to water any of the pots. Poor mobility reduced his number of trips to the kitchen anyway and his carers’ duties didn’t include plant care. Over the three years since her death, all my mother’s house plants died.

This pot was the last. With little hope, I gave the earth a good soak and left it by the bathroom window. I would allow it a month or two and then throw it out, planning to recycle the pot outdoors in the garden.

Then a small miracle began to happen.

The tiniest of triangles, only a millimetre or two high, of lime green appeared near the apex of the bulb. Lifting the pot carefully to the sink tap to water it regularly now, whenever the compost felt dry, I watched it increase in size until the triangle became an actual shoot. It seemed to grow daily, a stalk thicker than my thumb. Each day, the top reaches towards the frosted light from outside, so each day, I turn the pot 180 degrees to keep the plant straight. It’s taller than the main window pane now, over 2 feet high, stretching up as if trying to escape through the ventilator.

A pregnant bud has formed and is gradually pulling apart to reveal what’s inside. At first it seemed to be in two parts, today it’s three. I wonder if that’s three different parts of the flower or three different blooms. Please don’t tell me if you know – I want to be surprised.

I could have waited for the flower to appear before I wrote this but that would have been a post about a different blessing.

What excites me about this plant isn’t just the gratitude that I haven’t killed it. There’s something about it that speaks to me of promise, of hope, of growth, that are valuable, essential even, in themselves.

My Enneagram personality type is a perfectionist. That can be a good thing in terms of striving towards high ideals but it too easily leads to inflexibility and judgementalism. It’s more helpful for me to think and define things in terms of growth than black or white, right or wrong. The recent Resilience training I did similarly advocated an approach of considering development instead of absolutes.

This plant reminds me of these truths. It is a sign of hope for my own growth and development. In this Easter season, it’s a sign of resurrection. And it’s a reminder of my mother and the legacy she has left me.

You see, this year will be the first time it’s bloomed since she died.
 

THE BLESSING OF FREEDOM (Blessing Jar Week 17)

So far, I haven’t written about political issues in this blog but politics is some of ‘the stuff life is made of’, informing and influencing much of the other ‘stuff’ in all our lives, so for this post I’m stepping out into the arena.

I’ve been thinking increasingly this week about democracy. We’ve a General Election coming up in a month’s time and this week we had local elections for our county councils. The large function hall which is my polling station was very quiet when I walked in after work, giving me time to chat to the clerk, who is an old colleague of mine. The total turnout in our area was just 40% but in Tees Valley it was as low as 21%.

I’m shocked by that. I know there are reasons for it: people are disillusioned with politicians’ integrity; there was a lack of ready information and engagement from the various parties in our town; and recent boundary changes caught many people out (including me) so the names on the ballot paper were not those we were expecting to vote for, turning a considered decision into a more off the cuff one.

But seriously? Only one or two people in every five bothered to vote?

It seems to me that our country is in danger of taking democracy (whatever your opinion of our First Past the Post system may be), that freedom to vote and make choices that will influence our own and others’ lives, for granted.

On Radio 4 this week, I listened to a report about Nepal, where the now illegal practise of separating menstruating women from the rest of the community still goes on. In one village, this means leaving the family home for the duration of their period to stay in a darkened communal room, accessed by a doorway so small the women have to crawl into it. Brand new community toilets have been built next door but women having their period are not allowed to use them; they have to go out into the fields instead, with all the potential dangers.

Can you imagine such restrictions happening here?

It seems so far away, so foreign. Yet legal limitations on making choices about our day to day lives for some of us are not as well established as we like to think. It’s only during my grandmother’s lifetime that women in the UK were given the vote in General Elections. And initially, that wasn’t in line with men’s suffrage as there were age and status limits for women. In fact, it’s only within my father’s lifetime that equal voting rights were granted.

It seems to me that freedom isn’t something to take for granted after all.

It’s a long way from last summer when, for the first time (only a few weeks after my youngest’s 18th birthday), our whole family marched into a busy polling station with great pride to cast our votes in the EU Referendum. We didn’t all vote the same way – but that’s not the point. What matters is that we remembered our right to vote is in fact a freedom and a privilege, that we could not have exercised as a whole family only 100 years ago.

I suppose that freedom means we also have the right not to exercise our vote (although if we don’t like the choice of candidates on the polling card, what’s to stop us standing ourselves?). But if we forget our freedoms or take them for granted, I think we disrespect those who fought to gain them for us and perhaps belittle those who don’t have the same freedoms as us.

So next time I read an article bemoaning the state of British politics or the poor quality of information or parties standing, I’m going to take a breath before I get cross or disheartened, and remember what a blessing it is to have such freedom of choice in the first place.

 

 

SHOULD (Five Minute Friday)

As I join this week’s Five Minute Friday link up, I’m cheating a bit by sharing a poem I wrote a few years ago but it immediately came to mind because this word was so key to it. More info about this great writing community can be found here http://katemotaung.com/five-minute-friday/.

 

NEW YEAR’S EVE

I dreaded New Year’s Eve.

Although I danced

My mind stood motionless

In the middle of the dancefloor,

Mesmerised by clock hands

Counting down the minutes,

Adding up the regrets.

Did no one else notice?

Did no one else look back

As the chimes hammered home

All the should have,

could have,

would have dones?

 

While others whirled,

Drunkenly drowning out the passing of time

With overloud music and cheering,

With raucous singing of familiar meaningless words,

And kissing of strangers,

I stood outside

Gazing at cold stars,

Searching for perspective

To hide my sadness in.

 

Now New Year’s Eves are quieter, warmer,

Less strained with painful contrast.

I still look back and wonder

Was my year well used?

But now I have my perspective

For one New Year’s Eve

Brought me you.

 

A Surprise Blessing or the Blessing of a Surprise (BLESSING JAR Week 16)

This post was going to have a different title. My husband took me away for the weekend for my birthday and yesterday we decided to avoid the crowds by ordering breakfast on room service. So this was going to be The Blessing of Breakfast in Bed. I planned to write this post later in the afternoon while he watched Tottenham play (and beat) Arsenal but instead I dosed off, feet full of miles and head full of happiness.

The evening changed my writing plans.

We were in York, city with a pub for every day of the week and my college home. My husband had booked a table at a restaurant but had decided he wanted us to go for a drink beforehand. I was feeling relaxed and content to go along with any of his plans. He was particularly keen to try the York Tap, next to the railway station and closely located for our meal; he told me he’d seen it had some good reviews on Trip Advisor.

We made our way into a noisy bar with nothing to distinguish it but a few elements of apparently original Victorian architecture. Perhaps it had some good craft beers that had attracted those reviews, which my other half would certainly appreciate. It wouldn’t have been my choice but if he was happy, I was happy.

I sat a table while he went to the bar and smiled to myself as he chatted animatedly with couple next to him in the queue. Years ago, he would have been too shy to do that; now, he brought back happy memories of my mother’s easy way of making friends with strangers. All around was constant noise and movement, people coming and going between entrance, bar and seats like tides.

Suddenly a bunch of multi coloured tulips wrapped in brown paper and cellophane were placed on the table in front of me. There was a split second in which I was ready to challenge whoever was invading our space but before I could do so, came the duet of words:

“Happy Birthday Mum!”

And there stood my sons, who were supposed to be in Lincoln or Sheffield, with unison grins mirroring their father’s, who then said to them, ‘’Here’s your room keys.” They weren’t just joining us for the evening meal, they were staying the night at our hotel so I could have their company for a whole, unexpected twenty four hours.

It turns out that I live in a family of plotters and liars.

My beloved is usually more spontaneous than forward thinking but he had brought all his work management skills to the fore over the past few weeks. The three of them had set so many false trails in conversations about Skype chats on my birthday, promised cards and present in the post, justifications for not stopping by as we passed the Sheffield turn off on the motorway, and ‘just a little something’ so I had something to unwrap on the day (that turned out to be another hotel stay and tickets in the summer for all of us to see Billy Ocean in concert, another surprise).

Plotters and liars the lot of them.

But how can I object? I’ve taken exactly the same delight in organising similar surprises for my husband. And having all my men with me on my birthday made me so breathlessly, heart-stoppingly happy.

The lengths and  trouble they went to were an indication of their love for me. I don’t doubt their love for a minute but I feel I can never take it for granted so I was surprised by such evidence of the depth of it. I remember telling them that love isn’t just a feeling, it’s a doing word – they sure proved it me this birthday – and that’s the real blessing.

MORE (Five Minute Friday)

‘Always remember you are

Braver than you believe,

Stronger than you seem,

Smarter than you think,

And loved more than you know.’

I saw the sign in a local DIY store and somehow it hit home. It’s what I want my kids to believe, especially when life treats them harshly, that they have more resources to cope and more back up than they realise.

And I want them to know the source of that courage, strength and love. Not just how many people love them, or how much we love them, but also that their Heavenly Father loves them with an unimaginably vast love, which they can rely and call on at any time. I want them to know, in all its vastness, how personal and individual it is for them, and how much more they can be – more secure, more resilient, more fulfilled – when they trust in His love for them.

I’m reminded of a book we read when they were children that described someone special and ended with the words, ‘Do you want to know what a special person looks like?’ and a page that was a mirror. Or of the Simpsons episode where Lisa develops a close relationship with an inspirational substitute teacher: when he leaves, he writes her a note that will be all she needs to know whenever she feels alone; it says, ‘You are Lisa Simpson’.

I want my children to know how special they are but I want more for them. I want them to know that they are not just special but treasured. I want them to know for sure that they are loved. I try to model that steady hope, unswerving trust, and extravagant love but I hope that, as the moon is to the sun, they realise my love (which feels enormous) is only a reflection of how much more they can find in God’s.

This post is my weekly link up with the Five Minute Friday community, hosted at http://katemotaung.com/ where we each write for 5 minutes on a one word prompt. Check out some of the other blogs on the site.

 

The Blessing of a Staycation (BLESSING JAR WEEK 15)

I’m just at the end of a week and a half’s leave with that familiar ‘wish I didn’t have to go back to work ‘ feeling. I haven’t been away anywhere (except to chauffeur sons back north) but it has felt like a proper holiday – I guess that’s what’s meant by a staycation.

So why have I felt so relaxed?

There have been a few holiday-ish activities like meals out, family get togethers, lie ins. And I’ve deliberately avoided doing (or thinking about) work, both paid and voluntary. But there’s been a comfortable rhythm about the past ten days that I think has played a key part.

I’ve still woken up at my usual 7.00am, or earlier, but no brash alarm clock has forced me up and no deadline for leaving the house chased me out. Instead I’ve had plenty of time to spend the first part of my day with God, praying and studying my Bible over a leisurely cup of coffee or two. Don’t get me wrong, I try to make this the first task of every day (I’ve promised my husband and boys that I’ll pray for them daily just like my mother did for me) but time constraints change the nature of the encounter, sometimes making it feel like a task on a To Do List rather than precious time with my Heavenly Dad.

Then there’s been a balance of physical and mental activities. I’ve read books and started planning our Silver Wedding celebration as well as walked and gardened regularly.

In fact, the garden has been a major factor in the feeling of refreshment this week. Again, it’s something I try to do weekly. It’s one of my sanity restorers – my family refer to gardening as ‘Mum’s therapy’. So it’s been great to do get outside almost every day. Even better has been working on a joint project with my husband.

We’ve talked about it for a year or two but this week we finally found the perfect raised vegetable trug. As we put it together from the flat pack it came in (and by that, I mean that he got to flex his muscles and power tools while I held pieces together – we’re a good team and it proved satisfying for both of us), I was reminded of our early days of marriage when we similarly put together nursery furniture. Happy memories – it was a warm feeling building something together again.

Today we filled the trug with earth, careful to sift out any stones, and sowed its first seeds. “I know a parable about this,” grinned my husband as we did so. On one side, in a large pot, we planted broad beans, joking about pantomimes, and on the other, in the ground, two miniature apple trees, hanging on to the last of their blossom.

By the afternoon little dots of promise that we hope will transform into radishes, spring onions, and lettuces lay safely hidden under dampened compost whilst the first of the pea seedlings had already started to curl one tiny tendril around its support. The excitement we felt at this early miracle of growth!

I’ve loved gardening for a long time, was given my own flowerbed to care for as a child, but the experience is so much better shared. It’s not as if my other half stays indoors but lawn mowing and pressure washing the patio tend to be solo tasks. It gave me so much joy to be working alongside him on the same project.

And it isn’t over. There’s space for more in our designated vegetable corner. Potatoes in bags (after they’ve been chitted of course) will be next. And something else to be found for the troughs we’ve inherited.

It’s not been a perfect, worry free break – I’m not a perfect, worry free person. But it has been a welcome change in pace and time for what/who matters most me. It has given me hope for the future. It has been a blessing.

(Special thanks to R for the photos for this post)

Keep SINGing (Five Minute Friday)

Here’s my weekly link up with the fabulous Five Minute Friday community hosted by Kate Motaung. This weeks’ prompt word is SING.

Sing, they said, and I’m immediately lost in a labyrinth of memories signposted with songs:

Rick Astley (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AC3Ejf7vPEY) encouraged and kept me determined through tough times. Kanye (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JCYAjGnvc7U) wove a bond as we waved goodbye. Take That  (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KII1ruAfvsg) filled me with pride and starry hope. Casting Crowns  (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C53GgUJ6y-Y) grounded me in perspective and belonging. OneRepublic  (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hT_nvWreIhg)  expressed my sense of intensity in adversity.

And that’s just the past 3 years.

Driving through my life, singing has kept me going, slingshotting me round each twist and turn of the labyrinth, making my way back to the beginning with echoes of songs from the centre as I travel: my mother’s lullabies and choir solos; my father’s subconscious hums and whistles whenever he was content; my teenage years filled with hymns ancient and modern, a band or two, and a couple of musicals; my husband’s youthful demo tape and self taught guitar; our private duets.

And so the labyrinth turns me back towards the outside, propelled on by ‘Will Your Anchor Hold’, ‘Sally McLennane’, and ‘Never Too Much’. One day, ‘Something Worth Leaving Behind’ will play but I won’t be there to join in – I’ll be too busy singing the Hallelujah Chorus somewhere else.