INSPIRE (Five Minute Friday)

I’m finding it hard to start this week’s Five Minute Friday post http://fiveminutefriday.com/2017/07/27/fmf-link-up-inspire/. I know what I want to say but I can’t seem to find a good introduction, a meaningful way in, a hook. I’ve rewritten this first paragraph three times. (And yes, I know that Five Minute Friday is meant to be a fast write without editing). I need inspiration.

So I looked up the origins of the word to check if it was what I thought. And there it was, to inspire means to breathe in.

It’s used medically to mean exactly that. But it comes from the idea to breathe into:

‘And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.’ [Genesis 2.7]

I read that and suddenly I picture, not a gentle flow of air wafting up the nostrils, but God leaning right over a lifeless body on the ground doing mouth to mouth. God does the first ever CPR. And if you’ve ever done CPR, even just learning it for First Aid with a Resusci-Annie doll, you’ll know it’s hard work: you have to force the air into the lungs; you have to keep going before it works (if it does – it’s rarely as successful as on TV dramas).

I think it’s same with inspiration. It’s easy to think that it’s some one-off moment and then the inspired response (writing, art, a political movement, a way of life) just flows naturally from it. But actually, it takes hard work, constant hard work over a sustained period.

But God, if we let Him, will keep breathing life into our words and our lives. And He calls us to do the same.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7rK6O0YtBRY

Of Food and Cricket (THE BLESSINGS JAR Week 27)

Apologies for another late posting in this series – but better late than never.

I had to feed my dad most of his meal.

It’s not the first time. And it may not be the last.

For a change, I’d arrived to visit him in his care home at Sunday lunchtime. He was happily surprised to see me, not realising that I visit every week. I was offered dinner with him but I knew I had it waiting for me at home.

First came a small glass of sherry, Croft Original, his favourite.

“What did I do to deserve this?” he exclaimed with delight.

“You fathered a thoughtful daughter,” I smiled in return.

It was gone in two mouthfuls, although several times later he picked up the glass again hopefully, only to put it down again disappointed, wondering where all the liquid had gone. It was difficult to tell if this familiar routine was a joke or not.

With prompting, he ate two pieces of roast chicken, chewing slowly and taking an age before he swallowed. Then he gave up.

That’s a part of dementia no one tells you about – the loss of appetite, the inability to recognise hunger or thirst, the lack of understanding of the need to eat and drink, the magical disappearance of a meal from the awareness as soon as it is out of vision. No wonder he had weight loss when he lived alone, along with dehydration, blood pressure problems, and eventually kidney injury. Here in the care his weight is stable, his intake and blood pressure well controlled, and his diabetic state reduced to pre-diabetic for the first time in decades.

But it is heart breaking to see him lose his enjoyment of food, this man who adored his wife’s cooking, which she adapted specially for him, for his tastes, whims, and health needs.

I toyed with the idea of just leaving him with his decision to eat no more, thinking this was the dignified adult way, but I couldn’t get rid of the thought that he didn’t have the mental capacity to make this decision so it was actually kinder to try and feed him.

He let me do it. I didn’t force food through his lips. But I did persuade him to eat more than he would have chosen left to his own devices. I spooned mouthfuls of potato puree, then Yorkshire pudding and gravy, into his mouth, helpless to escape the memories of feeding my children as babies just as he must have fed me. I left the vegetables that I knew he would have previously avoided but talked him into trying a dessert he never used to eat – profiteroles – on the basis that they had dark chocolate on them, his favourite. Sadly, although he ate them, he couldn’t taste the chocolate.

It was turning into another dispiriting visit.

Then I remembered the photos in my bag that I had brought with me. His glasses are still missing and his sight limited but some photos sparked recognition – his parents, his favourite teacher, the cricket team he played in for 25 years. And then I found an old typed sheet, the annual report from 1969 by the cricket club secretary, detailing all the bowling and batting statistics for each player.

As I read them out, I saw the spark of intelligence and understanding back in his eyes. He was able to put full names to many of the surnames, explain who they were related to, comment on how good or bad a score was. He smiled at the memories of old friends and idyllic summer weekends. He remembered the park that had been their home ground, talked of how I had never stayed to watch the game but always headed off to play in the paddling pool instead, discussed how he had passed his love of cricket on to my brother.

The last half hour of my visit sped by. It was wonderful to see him animated again.

When it was time for me to leave – Dad was tired again, wanting his afternoon nap, and I was hungry – at least my heart wasn’t as heavy. It is hard work visiting my dad, seeing him reduced from the man he used to be. I miss him. But there are these moments, minutes even, when with the right prompt, he is restored again. So I will try to hold onto them and count them as blessings

COLLECT (Five Minute Friday)

Lighten our darkness, we beseech thee, O Lord; and by thy great mercy defend us from all perils and dangers of this night. (Book of Common Prayer, Evensong, Second Collect, for Aid Against Perils)

Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people; that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works, may of thee be plenteously rewarded; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen (Book of Common Prayer, Collect for the 25th Sunday after Trinity/the Sunday before Advent)

Kate Moataung is very clever in her choice of prompt words for Five Minute Friday http://fiveminutefriday.com/2017/07/20/fmf-link-up-collect/  (or Six Minute Saturday as it’s become for me this week). I wonder what word you heard when you read ‘collect’ this week?

I didn’t expect my thoughts to turn not to chauffeuring children or the accumulation of objects but to the Book of Common Prayer, to late evenings and the approach of Advent. But that’s where my head went.

I found myself remembering these prayers. At some point in the Anglican part of my spiritual journey, I must have learned these – perhaps at school or university, perhaps in the church we belonged to around wedding and babies.

Now I pray the first when my grown up boys go out partying or when life feels full of the darkness of stress or uncontrollable burdens. The second has become an integral part of our annual tradition of making Christmas puddings as close as possible to Stir Up Sunday (named after the Collect itself).

I used to make them every year with my mum, always more than we needed so we could give some away to extended family or to sell at the church bazaar and save one for the following Easter. Most memorable was the evening when my husband and I took all the ingredients in to make them with Mum in her nursing home for what was to be her last Christmas. Staff asked to join in and the mixture had to be taken round every resident in the lounge to join in the stirring and wishing. How many memories were stirred up too.

Now I make them with my niece and we still use my great grandmother’s recipe, which I’ve passed on to her in her first personal recipe book. But always with carols in the background and this prayer somewhere in the process.

And that familiarity is the great strength of these collects. They both automatically fit a set situation – evening or Advent – but also when we can’t find the words for a challenging or unfamiliar situation. Memorising prayers like these or Bible verses can prove to be the scaffolding that holds up our faith when its walls and foundations are shaken by trying circumstances. Repeating and chewing over the familiar words reveals further depths.

Rhythm. Poetry. Meaning. All in just one sentence.

THE BLESSING OF THE BIRDS (The Blessing Jar Week 26)

Sometimes blessings are hard to find. Not because life has been terrible but just ordinary. Routine carries on, carrying us along with it: work, driving, cooking, shopping, laundry, Boys’ Brigade. Even simple pleasures can feel routine: that first sip of real coffee in the morning, pottering about doing small jobs in the garden, baking a fruitcake successfully after adapting the recipe. Unsurprising problems add tedium to the mix: a slow to respond computer, a traffic jam, plans confounded. The intimacy of prayer fades as the rest of the day takes over.

But even in the dullness of the ordinary and routine, if we stay attentive, opportunities to ‘stop the world and get off’ even momentarily, may still come our way.

I had one of those moments on Sunday early evening. After a weekend of catching up domestic chores, indoor and out, I was finishing off lots of little tasks in the garden – tying up errant growth of roses and clematis, pulling up salad leaves gone to seed, deadheading the buddleia – and wondering when I was going to see some blooms on the flourishing leaves of the summer bulbs I’d planted or the recent geraniums I’d potted out. At a time when gardens should be bursting with colour, mine seemed frustratingly reticent, despite all my efforts.

I’d just harvested the last of the peas and some lettuce for a salad to accompany the nut roast I’d got cooking in the oven when I saw him. Well, it could have been a her actually, I couldn’t tell.

There on the upper part of our water feature, which turned on becomes a running cascade but without power forms puddles unless the sum evaporates them, stood a young thrush (I think). He jumped in the water, just the right depth for him, fluffed up his feathers, and began to wash himself, splashing droplets all around as he wriggled in his watery version of the Twist.

Suddenly he froze. Something had caught his notice and he halted, alert for danger. He looked around then, once he was reassured, started fluffing, washing, and splashing once more.

Then he stopped again, still as a tree. He’d spotted me watching him, creeping closer for a better view. I mirrored his stillness, waiting. He jumped to the edge of the rocks, ready to fly away, but changed his mind, turned around and hopped back down to his ablutions.

Within a minute or two, he was gone.

But for those few moments, I had been absorbed, taken out of my own ordinary world and into his. There was just something beautiful about this commonplace bird, cleaning and cooling off in the evening sunlight There was something joyful in his exuberance, something hopeful in the continuance of the natural world going about its daily business.

And then I remembered early in the week, holding my coffee as I gazed out the window first thing in the morning. It had been raining all night. The garden glowed with the wet. And birds were flocking to it for refreshment, more than I had seen in previous days of hot dry sun. A whole family of blackbirds, sparrows camouflaged against the ground, a young thrush not yet in distinctive adult colouring (maybe my bathing friend), a pair of magpies (there’s joy for you), and wood pigeons, their flapping wings and tree landings heard before they could be seen.

My garden might not be full of bright hues for me but it had plenty of food, water, shelter, and opportunity for these feathered beauties – none of them exotic or outstanding, just ordinary, routine visitors. But they gave me the blessing of a few minutes respite from my ordinary and routine.

‘Consider the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your Heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than them?’ (Matthew 6.26)

And it strikes me that if I can look at birds with such benevolence, can feel blessed by their presence when I have no emotional connection to them, maybe, when He watches me, God might find me a source of blessing too, because He loves me. I hope so.

COMFORT Food (Five Minute Friday)

Five Minute Friday is a community of bloggers who get together weekly to write for (literally) five minutes on  a prompt word. They’re a great source of support and encouragement and I recommend you check them out at http://fiveminutefriday.com/2017/07/13/where-do-you-find-comfort/

Why, when I saw this week’s prompt, did I immediately think of food? Perhaps it’s because I’d been listening to a radio interview this morning with a cook who has written her first book of recipes inspired by her nanna’s, simple dishes which she described as those that everyone loves and feels comforted by.

I know, rightly or wrongly, that I do turn to food for comfort in times of stress. So when I saw ‘comfort’, I thought of cheese on toast, eaten meltingly hot from the grill, dipped in cooling tangy ketchup. I thought of bittersweet chocolate biscuits – has to be dark chocolate on digestive, nothing else – served with cold refreshing milk.

Both of these were late Friday night suppers in my early teens, tucked into after nearly two hours of swimming lessons. A light tea earlier on, to make sure I had the required energy but didn’t get cramp in the water, needed supplementing by the time I came home, and I devoured these whilst the whole family crammed into every chair in our front room to watch Pot Black on the TV. No Sky or even a video recorder then so 9.00pm was the tight deadline to keep to. Even my grandmother watched, although my parents thought she didn’t understand the game, just enjoyed the colourfulness of the snooker balls.

Maybe the real comfort is in these safe, happy, familiar memories of childhood and family, that sense of sharing and being loved. Perhaps certain foods are a way to access those feelings again.

It’s easy to focus on the thing itself, the food, and assume that is the comfort I need but surely the true source of the strength I seek is the knowledge that I am held safely, that I am not alone, and that I am loved.

‘The eternal God is your refuge and underneath are the everlasting arms’ (Deuteronomy 33.27)

(I couldn’t write a post about food and love without including a picture of some of the amazing cakes my best friend has made and comforted us with over the years. I wonder if God bakes cupcakes?)

THE BLESSING IN THE MOMENT (Blessings Jar Week 25)

My apologies for posting this so late – it’s been a very busy week. Thanks for your patience.

We’re standing near the top of a grassy slope; well, not standing, more balancing, balancing because it’s hard to dance on a slope without falling over, and right now nothing is going to stop us dancing.

I look into the faces of my sons – we can’t stop grinning at each other as we sing. We’re probably completely tuneless except we can’t hear ourselves for the noise of everyone around us also singing. My older son sways and steps from one foot to other in time with the rhythm; his brother proceeds in clipped precise movements.

My husband edges closer as our dance moves mimic each other in old patterns from the past as I find myself simultaneously here in the present place and yet also back in a hotel in Windsor, at a works Christmas party, and in a London club on another night out decades ago. Once again, I’m smiling at him across the dance floor in Ritzy’s or the Carlton Club or Manhattan Heights before we were married. But we’re also here, now, in Lincoln Castle, mirroring each other and bumping hips crazily to exactly the same tune as then.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-n3sUWR4FV4

And the glory of it is that I don’t care. I don’t care if my dancing is good or bad. I don’t care if it’s dated or inappropriately modern for someone my age. I don’t care what other people think. I don’t care what I look like, whether my hair is behaving itself, or if I’ve chosen the right dress, or how fat I’ve become. When I’m dancing with him, I just feel confident and happy, caught up in the joy of the moment. Once more, we are a couple of dancing infernos.

Another song starts, a quieter one, and he draws me into his arms to step and turn as we hold each other. So many slow dances just like this: the night we met, our wedding day, at the end of an evening at home. My head rests in its familiar place on his shoulder as if design or erosion over time has formed the perfect jigsaw fit.

We open our arms and our sons join us in the dance. The words of love don’t just apply to romance and I tell them of how they remind me of the day each of them were born.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GAjInKiOkqo&spfreload=10

Dusk has crept up on us without our noticing, highlighted by the artificial glowworms of mobile phone screens filming the event. For second, I feel sorry for those so busy recording the event that they’re not fully participating in it. Their memory of it will be reduced to a few inches of a 2D screen but mine will be in glorious 5 Senses, All Immersive Technicolour in my brain.

One song blends into another. Five thousand people are pulled up onto their feet by the magnetism of the music. Arms aloft, we become an extension of the band as we sing in unison (everyone knows all the words). It becomes a call and response of the lines of the chorus between singer and crowd, repeating over and again like gospel worship in church.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9f16Fw_K45s

And it does remind me of church, and Spring Harvest and Greenbelt, as we’re all united in song and purpose. And it propels me forward as I wonder if this is what worship around the Throne with an angelic choir will be like? Is this joy and sense of past, present and future all blended together what eternity feels like?

Is this a taste of Heaven? Oh I do hope so.

PLAY (Five Minute Friday)

Linking up again with the wonderful blogging community at http://fiveminutefriday.com/2017/07/06/link-up-play/ where this week’s prompt for 5 minutes of free writing is ‘Play’.

What’s the difference between work and play?

I was awake really early this morning, properly awake, so I spent the first hour or two in the cool shade of the morning, planting up annuals and dotting them around my garden to provide some extra pops of colour while my sprouting summer bulbs have yet to flower.

I felt light and happy and totally absorbed.

Isn’t that a description of what play feels like? And yet, in my head, I’m more likely to file gardening under ‘work’ than ‘play’, even though it’s so enjoyable and I get so much satisfaction from it. But it feels more like play – it’s as if I’m a child colouring in the black and white outlines of a page to turn it into a rainbow of a space over and over again, each time slightly different.

Sometimes in my job I get the same sense of satisfaction and creativity from solving a problem for a patient. Sometimes we forge close bonds from working closely together over quite a period of time and we can end up sharing laughter as much as agony. But I absolutely wouldn’t consider this to be play.

Or am I wrong to think of work and play as two completely separate entities? In child development theories, play is seen as a child’s work.

When I’m in my garden, I feel like I get a tiny taste of what creation must be like for God, the sheer delight of it. No wonder He saw at the end of each period that ‘it was good’. In C.S. Lewis’s ‘The Magician’s Nephew’, Aslan sings Narnia into being with the same playfulness and purpose. Gerard Manley Hopkins describes Christian living in this way:

‘For Christ plays in ten thousand places,

Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his

To the Father through the features of men’s faces.’

Perhaps play is more an attitude of heart, a willingness to look for the joy in each moment and each activity, to be willing to reflect Christ like light dancing on ripples in whatever we’re doing.

 

 

THE BLESSING OF AN APT WORD (Blessing Jar Week 24)

It’s hard work visiting my dad in his care home. Conversation is difficult for him to initiate or sustain so the onus is on us to find topics he can engage with and to keep the dialogue going without him feeling defeated by his memory loss. As he tires increasingly easily and the dementia takes further hold of his mind, the task becomes ever more challenging. At times, it’s easy to return home feeling drained and disheartened.

We try different ways of involving him but success is unpredictable. Sometimes a photo will catch and hold his attention for a short while. Other times, he struggles to recognise what or who it depicts. A few weeks ago, he enjoyed looking at pictures my husband took of birds at a local zoo and it prompted talk of birdwatching on holiday and cameras he had owned. Another time, old family photos failed to register more than a passing glance.

Last week, my younger son and I took him into the garden, where we planted up a trough with herbs together. He joined in, but only with cajoling and could not recognise plants long familiar from every garden he’s kept. But something registered because at the end he was keen to ensure the trough was placed where it could be easily seen from the conservatory.

I’ve wondered if he is better at certain times of day but been proved wrong. An hour’s visit has become the maximum he can tolerate before he needs to sleep.

The staff have encouraged us to take him out. We managed that once, with a bit of effort – a short trip to a local garden centre to choose some plants for my birthday. With no wheelchair trollies available, we had to improvise and Dad hid behind a little jungle as we balanced our purchases on his lap. For the duration of the outing he was alert and engaged even if he was exhausted by the time we returned.

On other days, I’ve struggled to get him to talk at all. Once, one of the other residents spent more time chatting with me than he did. And if I’m tired it’s even more difficult – my brain grapples to keep the conversation going against long silences. Sometimes I’ve just sat and stroked the back of his hand, words unfound.

When he was in hospital, I would often read the set Bible passages and prayers from the Methodist lectionary. It was a comforting way to end the visit. Since he’s been in the care home, he’s always refused this.

Until now.

Today, as we sat in the care home conservatory, away from the noise of the television, we noticed a Gideon Bible on the windowsill. This time, when I proposed reading something from it as it was a Sunday, Dad agreed. We decided to look up the suggested reading for jobhunting as my older son, also visiting, is looking for one. That took us to the words of Philippians Ch.4 about being content in every situation because ‘I can do all this through Him who gives me strength’ (a). And I thought how apt these words were for Dad too.

Then Dad chose his favourite Psalm (23) for me to read and I chose mine (Psalm 121) for my son to read. Dad commented on the promise these each hold out to us. We named our favourite Gospel stories – Peter’s betrayal and reinstatement; the calming of the storm; the miraculous catch. Dad spoke of how frightening hearing wind and waves instantly obey Jesus must have been. I mentioned one of my favourite songs with the words:

‘Who am I,

That the voice that calmed the sea

Would call out through the rain

And calm the storm in me?’ (b)

And Dad said how that was probably an even bigger miracle than the original.

Finally, we read from Romans about God ‘working all things together for good for those that love Him’ (c) and how ‘nothing can separate from us the love of Christ’ (d). Again, Dad noted the promise of these words.

By this time, he was ready for bed so we left him in the care of the nursing staff. But we left remembering more words from the Bible, another promise, when Jesus assured his disciples that ‘where two or three gather together in my Name, there am I with them’ (e).

So we left with an echo of the preacher and Bible student Dad used to be. We left with reassurance of his faith still intact, the core untarnished by dementia. We left knowing that we didn’t leave him alone. We left under a blessing.

(a) Philippians 4.11-13

(b) ‘Who Am I?’ by Casting Crowns

(c) Romans 8.28

(d) Romans 8.38-39

(e) Matthew 18.20

Five Minute Friday: THE BLESSING OF DEPRESSION

Well, as I’m in the middle of a year long theme of finding a weekly blessing to blog about, I thought for this week’s Five Minute Friday link up I’d share again the most read blog post from my Blessing Jar series so far. God certainly threw me in at the deep end with this challenge but here’s what I wrote in February about what I was and am learning: https://thestufflifeismadeofblog.wordpress.co m/2017/02/19/the-blessing-of-depression-blessing-jar-week-7/

  

 

 

 

You can find other great blog posts at the Five Minute Friday link up here: http://fiveminutefriday.com/2017/06/29/count-your-blessings/