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

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

Have a read:

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Embrace us? Tick.

Dry our tears? Tick

Go black and blue? Tick

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

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

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

God does the same.

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

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

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

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A DESERT TRANSFORMED by Tracy Williamson

There are some devotionals that are full of interesting facts that deepen your knowledge. There are others that challenge and stretch your thinking to take a bigger, hopefully more divine, view of the world. And then there is ‘A Desert Transformed’, which feels like curling up with a familiar friend, who always knows the right things to say when you are being battered by life.

Tracy Williamson has written forty personal messages of hope to sustain you through difficult times, be they traumas or times of barrenness.

The theme is always one of encouragement and how much God loves you. She brings Bible study, lessons learned in her own life, reflective exercises, and loving personal messages from God. Here’s just one:

‘You are my beloved friend and I love you with an “everlasting” love. Open the door of your heart afresh to me today and I will come in and share a meal with you, and we can enjoy being together again. We can laugh, and even cry together. To be with you is my greatest joy and always will be.’

There is much to be applied from this book. It’s got me reconsidering my attitude to my job after a disappointment left me resentful. It’s encouraged me to welcome rather than dread a new day. It’s turned my eyes to the goodness and power of my Heavenly Father instead of giving in to the cold grip of anxieties and fear. A very apt reading on Fathers’ Day enabled me to hear Jesus’ comfort and reassurance.

Tracy has ears clearly tuned to God’s voice and a gift for passing those words on to encourage others. Reading this book has left me feeling that I now know her, me, and God better.

A Desert Transformed would be a great read for the forty days of Lent but don’t wait that long. You can buy it here (among other places): https://www.amazon.co.uk/Desert-Transformed-Discovering-Wilderness-Devotional/dp/1908393904/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=a+desert+transformed&qid=1562879791&s=gateway&sr=8-1

(I received a copy of A Desert Transformed in return for an honest review. These opinions are entirely my own).

RISE (Five Minute Friday: ‘Take’)

Sometimes I’m inspired to write something new and sometimes I do a search through other poems and pieces for something that includes the prompt word for Five Minute Friday http://fiveminutefriday.com/community/. This week it’s the latter.

This piece was sparked by a plane trip – I find those aeroplanes great spaces to write in (so much time to fill) and so many metaphors to find in the whole concept of air travel. I wrote it some time after my mum’s death (strange how pain can be such a spur for poetry), coming across it again when I went through an old prayer journal from those years. Grief and regret can lie heavy with me but I try to hold onto the hope and renewal that God offers.

In my head, this sounds like a hymn but I am no musician – so if anyone wants to collaborate and would like to compose a tune for it, let me know.

RISE

From runway soaked in rain’s steel rods
We rise up blind through storm dark clouds
To vistas clear, perspective blue
Into the light to be with You

Despite the dark You are my light
Beyond the clouds You lift me up
Whatever loss You fill the space
You take my burdens, dry my tears

When I forget Your calm and peace
When I cannot see Your clarity
Reach out Your arm and take my hand
Lift me up to where You are

When clouds roll in of deep despair
When grief lies heavy on my soul
Take hold my hand and lift me up
To Comfort’s throne where I know love

WORLDly Ambitions

Apologies for such a late posting for Five Minute Friday https://fiveminutefriday.com/2019/06/27/fmf-writing-prompt-link-up-world/ but better late than never, as they say.

The other day my husband and I were talking about the ambitions parents have for their children: financial security, good health, to continue family traditions. Some of these we may have made obvious to them, others we only realise when our own anxieties kick in as we see our children deviate from the path we expected.

Of course, expectations are very different to hopes and ambitions. As our children grow older, the former can become chains holding them back from becoming all that God made them to be and preventing us from having an adult relationship with them.

Expectations are narrow and constraining, full of oughts and shoulds. I think they have their root in fear: if a child doesn’t find a certain type of job, live in a certain place, manage their money in a certain way, we are afraid they will suffer the same hardships we did or not have the security we found. The trouble with parental expectations is we want to live our children’s lives for them.

But hopes, and even ambitions, can be held more lightly. They come from the values that underpin our own lives, values which our offspring pick up from observing our behaviour and not necessarily from listening to our words. It’s an adventure to see which ones they latch onto and practise themselves.

And I do have an overriding ambition for my sons: I want them to leave the world a better place for them having been in it.

How they do it, I leave up to them and God. It can be in a big way – one son used to harbour plans for going into politics and now cares for the animal world by being a vegan. Or it can be in a small way – I see his brother live out kindness and thoughtfulness in his daily careful listening to others. I don’t think God measures large and small as we do.

And I guess I’m passing on the same ambition that I have for myself.

I watched my parents live what would have appeared small, insignificant lives. They did nothing newsworthy, were not well known outside their locality, apparently made no major impact on a grand scale. But every day they loved: they faithfully prayed for friends, family and the world; they gave regularly to church and charities; they welcomed people into their home – for tea, for meals, to stay; they were a place to hide, a shoulder to cry on, a mouth full of thoughtful wisdom for old and young; they passed on their faith by living it out.

They made a difference to my world – and to those around them. And I don’t think God measures significance as we do.

So that’s my ambition in life, as well as the one I want to pass on to my boys. And to be honest, my world is already better for having them in it.

Please Choose an Egyptian Hieroglyph* (FIVE MINUTE FRIDAY: QUESTION)

My family loves acquiring ‘useless’ information, random facts that will probably never have any practical application in our lives. For example, did you know that crows hold funerals?

OK, I’ll admit, occasionally they do come in useful. In my work I come across a number of people who cry but feel guilty about ‘showing such weakness’. So it’s been a reassurance to gently point out that tears lower blood pressure and not weakness at all.

But the most frequent use for our family repository of random facts is quizzes.
You’ll regularly find us gathered together around the TV, watching The Chase or Only Connect or University Challenge, shouting out the answers as if we are part of the show. Or, almost every month, for over a decade, we’ll be huddled around a table at our local football club’s quiz night, exchanging banter with the MC, delighting or despairing over our score, and joining in with enthusiasm with the halftime meat raffle even though half of us are vegan or vegetarian!

My beloved and I went to the first of these quiz nights, a fundraiser for the club, with friends. Then, unable to find babysitters, we took our children along to another occasion, who enjoyed it so much we didn’t bother with babysitters after that. Another friend joined us, who then brought his sons. And then we noticed other whole families coming – it seemed we had started a trend.

Over the years, we’ve been joined by colleagues, our sons’ friends, girlfriend, my dad (not even Alzheimer’s could prevent his enjoyment), and even once by one of my patients turning up out of the blue! Our boys form their own teams now. It’s become such an integral part of their lives that our eldest has celebrated two birthdays there – I won’t forget having to make an 18th birthday cake large enough to feed the entire Quiz Night audience of over 60 people!

All those random facts binding a team, a community together, delighting in the range of experience, age, interests and skills that make for a great team resource. All those differences proving a strength when brought together for one common goal. All those useless pieces of information gathered together and finding a purpose for their existence.

There’s a metaphor here for how a family, a church, a community should be. Knowledge is power, it’s said, but how much more glorious if it’s also collaborative and fun!

(* In case you don’t know, this is one of the catchphrases from the ‘fiendishly difficult’ BBC show Only Connect. It’s great and somewhat addictive! Find out more here: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00lskhg )

What My Father Taught Me (Five Minute Friday: GOAL)

In days well before SatNav, my father would study his beloved Road Atlas of Great Britain, meticulously planning our route to our holiday destination. Every junction, every roundabout, every turning was documented into detailed instructions on a sheaf of A4 paper, tucked into the atlas (every map page also numbered) for my mum to read out to him as we travelled.

I was fascinated by those maps and that book. I begged my dad to let me navigate for a change.

Eventually he allowed it. I felt so honoured. And those journeys sped past as I read the directions whilst following our progress in the atlas, looking ahead to give my dad more detailed information of what was coming up, landmarks that would indicate how far we’d travelled, distances to the service stations so we could choose where to stop for lunch or a toilet break.

I knew I was a far superior, or at least far more enthusiastic, navigator than my mum.
But my greatest moment came on the occasion when unexpected roadworks blocked our planned route.

Dad wanted to stop so he could work out a detour. But I, hastily flicking back and forth between the various pages, confidently reassured him that I could plot our new course as we travelled.

And I did. We successfully arrived at our destination with minimal delay.

And, more importantly for me, I knew that I had won my dad’s trust.

Maps and navigation became ‘our thing’. He talked to me about how he had learned to navigate by the stars in the Air Cadets. We pored over maps of all kinds just for the fun of it, comparing the different Ordnance Survey symbols. I found his favourite Christmas present ever: a book of alternative routes between M25 junctions during traffic jams!

It’s Fathers’ Day and I can’t help thinking about my dad today. Not just how much I miss him. But how he taught me that even if our ultimate Goal remains out of sight or our planned route gets diverted, to keep looking at the Map and trusting the Great Navigator of our lives.

PURPOSE

I think my life’s purpose is
To learn to love
And to learn to love well.

At first I only had to
Reflect and imitate the love shown me.

Then after some tentative steps
I gave myself in baptism to
The full immersion of my whole self
Given to another.

Now I practise the
Daily
Hourly
Minute by minute
Prioritising of others’ needs
Before my own.

It isn’t always easy
I don’t always feel like it
I frequently fail.

And yet this is my life’s purpose:
To learn to love
And to learn to love well.

Here’s this week’s link up to Five Minute Friday community. The prompt word this week is WELL. You can find more great writing here https://fiveminutefriday.com/2019/06/06/fmf-writing-prompt-link-up-well/

My NAME is… (Five Minute Friday)

Yesterday my name was Unfulfilled, Bird Wrangler.
Tomorrow my name will be Sojourner, Hope, Freedom Grasper.
In my dream my name was Astronomer Royal, Frontier Breaker, Wordspinner.
Some think my name is Lazy Dreamer, People Before Appearances, Bigheart, Anxious, Not-My-Mother.
God knows my true name: Promise. Grace.

I wrote this a few years ago as a creative writing exercise from Poemcrazy https://www.amazon.co.uk/Poemcrazy-WOOLDRIDGE/dp/0609800981/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=poemcrazy&qid=1559328830&s=gateway&sr=8-1 (it’s a great book – I’d recommend it). That last line refers to the meaning of my actual Christian names.

It’s strange: as I read it again, I’m caught on that last word.

I used to think of Grace in terms of elegance, beauty of form and coordination of movement. I remember as a child the huge disappointment I felt when I overheard my mother explain to the ballet teacher that she was sending me there, not because she saw some latent talent in me for dance, but ‘to learn some grace and stop falling over so much’. Grace seemed such an inappropriate, unreachable name for a child so clumsy as me.

Now I think of the theological definition: God’s favour given to me, ‘generous, free and totally unexpected and undeserved’ (Catechism of the Catholic Church). And I wonder at the wonder of being loved.

I recollect that first joyful knowledge that my husband chose to love me and soak up the continued joy that he continues to do so. I ponder the ongoing fact that my in-laws choose to do the same. I mull over my sons’ devotion, undiminished by adulthood. And I rejoice in these examples and reflections of God’s own gift of love.

These days, I feel well named – my life is full of unearned love.

But today I found out that Grace is a translation of the Greek ‘Charis’, which means something that brings delight, joy, or happiness. And it turns me outwards. How can I be this, truly earn this name? It needs further consideration beyond the five minutes of this post…

(And the postscript to this is that a few days later, I have fallen down the stairs and sprained my ankle – so much for those ballet lessons! I clearly need more grace in my life.)

What’s in a name? (FMF Promise)

When I worked in Rwanda, children’s names were chosen for their meaning. I remember one girl with a lot of older siblings simply called ‘Nine’ and another, in anticipation of the traditional dowry, ‘A Cow Will Come’.

People were given nicknames with specific meanings too. There was Pastori, who set up and ran the daily Bible study for patients and carers. And I was given the Kinyarwanda name ‘Musabyimana’, translated ‘we asked God for you’.

To be honest, I was never sure if that was ‘asked for’ in the sense of my needing prayer or being an answer to prayer, but I appreciated the sentiment either way.

My own Christian name was chosen by my then six year old brother just because he liked it. But Elizabeth actually means ‘promise of God’. Again, I’m not sure if that suggests I should rely on God’s promises or am God’s promise in some way. One is a great reassurance, the other quite the responsibility.

Search in the Bible and you’ll find God makes – and keeps – a lot of promises. One I hold onto for myself and my loved ones, especially when life proves tough or unpredictable is: “I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans to prosper you, to give you hope and a future.”

If my name is ‘God’s Promise’, doesn’t that hint at the same hope Jeremiah reports?

We talk of someone showing promise, of their potential to be and do something remarkable or skillful. There is Divine DNA, God-seeded talent and fruit, in me. My name tells me so.

So what if I am called to be a fulfilment of one of God’s promises?

What if we are all Elizabeths, all God’s Promise?

You can find more inspirational writing on the subject of ‘promise’ here: https://fiveminutefriday.com/2019/05/16/fmf-writing-prompt-link-up-promise/

PRACTICE (Five Minute Friday)

As I checked the time as I reached the halfway point of my walk I realised I was a long way from being as I fit as I used to be, as fit as I want to be, or as fit as I need to be for the midnight charity walk I’ve signed up for in July. The message from my aching knees and sore hips was that I need this practice.

I promised to do it a few months ago but it’s only now, with just two months to go, that I’ve started to exercise seriously. It’s a good job I have – there’s still time to build up my stamina for the ten miles of sandy up and downhill trek along the North Downs and Pilgrims Way in aid of the hospice I work for https://www.pth.org.uk/events/steps-under-the-stars/. Today I managed half that distance, along pretty flat tracks along the local canal and river paths.

At first, I thought I could knock a good half hour off the estimated time given for this walk, going by my previous walking speed. Halfway round, I had a reality check. I’ve been out of the habit of long walks for some time and my deconditioning showed. I need practice, regular practice.

I became very aware of my body as I walked: the familiar knee pain coming and going, the tension in my shoulders gradually easing as my posture improved, the contrast of warm core with cold skin in the fresh spring rain, my sore throat from mouth breathing, my increasing hunger.

At times, I forgot the whole exercise premise and operated purely on a sensory basis. Despite much of the path being squeezed between waterway and busy dual carriageway, the abundant plant life was absolutely lush (in both English and Welsh senses). Sudden colour broke up the verdant green. I counted birds – terns, Canada geese, swans, great tit, magpie, robins, even a treecreeper.

I felt the difference in surface beneath my trainers as I negotiated between bumpy gravel, hard tarmac, and squidgy mud. The temperature and light varied as sun and clouds played hide and seek with the rain. Sound alternated as birdsong competed with traffic roar, sometimes as loud as an angry storm.

It was glorious. At one point, I confess I threw my arms wide to soak it all up like a child revelling in the excitement of so much.

But it also proved a mental challenge. There were moments, usually uphill, when I wondered if it was worth it, if I could succeed in my ten mile goal with this level of fitness, when it felt like slog rather than enjoyment, when only the thought of lunch kept me going. I dithered about whether I want to do that final walk with a speed objective or as a mindfulness exercise, if either is possible.

I became philosophical, wondering whether the meandering path, as river and trail interweaved like maypole ribbons, was indicative of my life. I thought about the unexpected places of rest God provides along the way. I marvelled at the beauty of a copse created from the unlikely foundations of an old filter bed for a sewage works and considered what miracles of transformation the Great Designer could do in my life. I noted the lesson of the river not always visible but evidence of its provision in the abundant life all around me.

I used to describe myself as a ‘practising Christian’. Both senses of the term work for me, i.e. in actions not just in name, but also as one who hasn’t got things right yet. It’s not just the walking I need to practise more.

If you’d like to read more or join in the fun of five minutes of free writing every week, you can find out more here: https://fiveminutefriday.com/2019/05/09/fmf-writing-prompt-link-up-practice/