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/


I spent just one day in Albania.

Back in October 1990, it was an innovative day trip to offer holiday makers. But a visit to a communist country was an exciting prospect to someone brought up on Cold War thrillers and stories of my civil servant brother having to formally declare such travel.

So I got up in the dark for the early boat crossing from Corfu Town and felt myself the intrepid traveller to have Albania’s stamp added to my passport. I was intrigued by the prospect of seeing the world’s first officially atheist nation finally opening its borders to the outside world.

Clearly, the Albanian Tourist Board was keen to put on a good show. We were whisked by coach from an unspoiled Roman amphitheatre to mile upon mile of industrial fish farm, pride oozing from every syllable of our guide’s commentary. We struggled through a multi course wedding feast in a local town hall with incomprehensible speeches and traditional dancing.

Little did I realise what a turning point 1990 would be. That December, student riots led to the fall of communism and by 1992, a Democratic government was elected. Those same years were a turning point for me too as I moved and got married. My trip faded to a curious but unique memoir.

When I got the chance to review The Migrant by Paul Alkazraji, I remembered that visit, fascinated to learn about how the country has developed since.

The novel takes us specifically to the period of the Greek financial crisis, one of Albania’s immediate neighbours. This fiction, set in a very real time, gives a human face to the issue of economic migration. It’s easy to watch news reports or read bare facts without being moved or understanding the individual cost of political decisions; it can all seem very far away and irrelevant – this book changed that for me. It gave me an insight into how criminal gangs so easily take advantage of vulnerable migrants.

The book follows the search for a young man who has left his family to cross the border to find better prospects in Athens. Alban’s story personalises the promise and danger of illegal immigration, the temptations that can suck a young man into gang culture, but it also gives hope for escape and new life. However, there is a cost.

This is a tale of bravery and sacrifice, of the lengths love will go to for someone else, particularly Christian love. It is a costly love for the rescuers and those back home.

There is a welcome ambiguity to the characters in The Migrant, both Albanian and Greek. Heroes and villains question their actions. Alongside the physical journey, several figures travel a moral and spiritual path with choices to be made about which branches to take. Redemption and restored relationships lie ahead with the right choices.

I couldn’t put the book down during the tense action scenes: Alban’s precarious journey over the mountains; jeopardy in the hotel room; the group’s perilous escape. And at least one storyline is left open to further development so I’m hoping there will be a follow up novel.

I would sound one note of caution. I made the mistake of not realising this was a sequel so was slow to feel invested in the main characters and confused initially by a couple of key names. Motivation and story arc make much more sense if you read Paul’s previous novel, The Silencer, first. So do read both – they are excellent page turners – but just do it in the right order!


Paul Alkazraji is the author of ‘The Migrant’, a thriller set against the background of the European Migrant Crisis, and published by Instant Apostle on 15 February 2019. Paul worked as a freelance journalist in the UK from the mid-nineties. He was published in Christianity Magazine, The Christian Herald, The Church Times and The Baptist Times among other publications, and his travel articles were also published in The Independent.
Paul’s first book Love Changes Everything, a collection of seven testimonies, was published by Scripture Union in 2001, and his second, Heart of a Hooligan, a biography of ex-football hooligan Dave Jeal, was published by Highland Books in 2000. His third book Christ and the Kalashnikov, a biography of missionaries Ian and Caralee Loring, was published by Harper Collins in 2001. The Silencer, a thriller set in Albania, Greece and Turkey, was published by Highland Books in 2012.
Paul has lived and worked with the church in Albania for fifteen years. He likes listening to music, being by the Aegean Sea or Ohrid Lake, and skiing – when the snow comes!

(DISCLAIMER: I received a free copy of The Migrant in order to write this review)

The OPPORTUNITY to Rest (Five MInute Friday)

I used to be an owl but somehow I’ve turned into a lark.

Most mornings, around six o’clock, I stir, lying luxuriously in that glorious in between time of not asleep yet not quite awake. Realisation spreads through my mind and body that I am not going back to sleep so I get up quietly, trying not to disturb my husband, and go downstairs to make coffee.

It’s become my habit to take the coffee straight out into the garden and listen to the birdsong in the freshly waking world. As summer creeps nearer, it’s no longer the full orchestra of the dawn chorus but a choir no less, blackbird taking the soloist’s part, with jackdaws and wood pigeons on percussion.

I tune out the background hum of early traffic and concentrate on the birds. I feel the wet grass on my flipflopped feet and the warmth of the mug in my hands, watch the sideways light hit fence and plants with gold, and absorb the change and growth all around me.

It’s easy to let thoughts crowd in, To Do Lists for the day ahead, jobs that need doing in the garden, worries about people I love. It’s easy to concentrate on the task of trying to relax and be mindful instead of just letting it happen.

‘Be still and know that I am God’, I remember the Psalmist says.

It’s obvious to focus on ‘still’ and ‘know’ as verbs, states to be achieved, things to do. But today it’s the word ‘Be’ that stops me.

Still is something to be not to do.

So I stand, facing the rising sun open handed, half feeling, half seeing the play of light on my closed eyelids, sensing the interplay of cool breeze and growing sun warmth on my skin, listening to the avian choir above and for a few Sabbath minutes, just be.

(Watch out for an special extra post from me on 8th May – I’m excited to be part of The Migrant Book Tour, helping to launch Paul Alkazraji’s latest novel. Do come and find out more!)

TOUCH (Five Minute Friday)

When I have no words
Let muscle, bone, skin speak
Stretch forward to imprint
Through sheer pressure
Of chest and arms
Strength, love, hope
Or lightly, finger on finger,
By osmosis
Or electrical current
Transfer the message
That you are not alone
A transference of molecules
To pump thorough your veins
Spark through your neurons
And permeate your heart, your head
With the missive
Slowly saturating your body
That I am with you.

More posts inspired by this week’s prompt can be found here: https://fiveminutefriday.com/2019/04/25/fmf-writing-prompt-link-up-touch/

LACK (Five Minute Friday)

That cold empty ache, like I couldn’t catch my breath even though I was breathing normally, filled my chest, spreading into my head and stomach.

The severity seemed to come out of nowhere, out of proportion. I was on the last half mile to work, thinking about writing a response to an old poem as I waited for the last set of lights to change, when my calm logic and hopeful thoughts were washed away and replaced with this void, this ache.

And I felt again the awfulness of the loss of my dad.

I just longed for him to be here still.

When my mum died, for a long time I knew exactly how long it had been, down to the week; once I even counted the number of days and hours since her passing. But with my dad it was different, timescale vaguer, as if I had become slightly immunised against grief.

So I was caught unawares by this feeling.

I just wanted him here again. I wanted his smile to twinkle at me in some shared mischief. I wanted the bristle of his moustache as he kissed me. I wanted to knock on his door and hear one of his welcoming catchphrases. I wanted to climb on his lap, lean my head on his shoulder, and feel his strong arms protecting me from the overwhelming world outside and in.

Most of all, I felt the sheer lack of him.

That’s not the end of the story, not a complete a picture of my life or even my day, I know. I could tell you of the Heavenly Father who is always present to me, who my earthly one pointed me towards. I could tell you of the wonderful others in my life who echo my dad so I am never without that manly love.

But for those few minutes, as the lights changed to green and I drove up the hill to the car park, continued through the barrier to my spot, until I stepped out of my car to start my working day, for those few minutes, I just missed him.

(Linking up to the weekly inspiration and shared writing @ https://fiveminutefriday.com/2019/04/11/fmf-writing-prompt-link-up-lack/)


…Elsewhere, swathes of colour flash
Around the great donation boxes.
Strong footsteps assert their way to the front.
Silken embroidered robes are swept aside
As, with a flourish,
A fat purse is rustled out of deep folds of fabric.
Each gold and silver coin spangles in the sunlight
Before falling individually into the box
With satisfying clang:
The larger the donation the larger the audience
Necessary for the performance.

Nervously waiting
Until all the great donors are gone
(Reassuringly patting the plumpness
Of their spare purses)
A dowdy figure quickly, almost furtively,
Approaches the boxes.
Her hand brushes the opening
So fleetingly that no one notices,
Except One,
Who hears the imperceptible clink of two tiny coins
And acknowledges with approval her private sacrifice.
She leaves with empty pockets
But a full heart…

This is an excerpt from a longer piece I wrote but it just seems to fit this week’s Five Minute Friday prompt well

Measuring, Maths, and Marigolds (FIVE MINUTE FRIDAY)

Inchworm, inchworm,
Measuring the marigolds.
You and your arithmetic
You’ll probably go far.

When my older son applied to do maths A level at college, he gave his reason as ‘because maths explains how the world works’. When I heard this, I replied with bemusement:

“Well, it’s never explained it to me!”

Words have been my gateway to understanding not numbers. Literature, art, psychology, theology – these are the subjects that explained the world and how it works to me, not maths.

And yet, and yet…

Looking back, I remember the science that satisfied (and frustrated) me the most was physics. To my pragmatic brain, this was where maths proved useful and practical. I still remember the example our teacher gave us to work out which would cause the most pressure, and therefore a bridge to give way, an elephant or a lady in stilettos? I also remember countering his results because they had not allowed for some of the woman’s weight also going through the soles of her shoes!

The other day I recalled my O level physics exam where we had to work out the centre of gravity for a shape, when I looked at a patient’s deformed spine and pelvis and realised why they had balance problems.

I guess there’s no one academic subject that explains how the world works. Standing alone, they are each incomplete.

Inchworm, inchworm
Measuring the marigolds
Seems to me you’d stop and see
How beautiful they are.

Just as the inchworm in the song, we can measure and quantify our world as much as we like, but we also need to stop to appreciate and contemplate and wonder, at the micro and macro beauty around us. And maybe at that point, we can move on to considering not just how the world works but why.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fXi3bjKowJU Check out Danny Kaye in ‘Hans Christian Andersen’ singing the apparently simple but compositionally complex ‘Inchworm’.

https://fiveminutefriday.com/2019/03/28/fmf-writing-prompt-link-up-measure/ for more inspired writing on the theme of ‘Measure’.



The REWARD of a Boys’ Brigade Captain

I feel almost like a surrogate mum.
As I usher the boys into the hall with a whispered, ‘You can do it.’
As I shrug, ‘It’s no big deal,’ from the sidelines to minimise a marching mistake.
As I surreptitiously give them a thumbs up when a tricky bit goes right.
As I sit at the back of the room, miming ‘Smile!’ as they sing.
As I press my lips together to stop it escaping while they search for a quiz answer.
As I stand strategically at the back of the hall for them to project their dramatic efforts towards.
As I note with surprise that even the wriggliest boy has suddenly developed statue like qualities for Inspection.
As I watch them go up to collect
Certificate after certificate
And finally
The overall trophy.
With heart fit to bursting
And stupid grin plastered to my face
(trying not to gloat over the other teams),
This is my reward

SHAMELESS PLUG! If you’d like to know more about Boys’ Brigade, as a volunteer or parent, check out: https://boys-brigade.org.uk/

(Linking up with the fabulous Five Minute Friday community http://fiveminutefriday.com/community/ )



World Poetry Day 2019

Here’s a bonus post as it’s World Poetry Day. I wrote this a while back but I hope you like it.


What if
I swept back the curtain
And let God’s light announce itself,
Illuminating all the dancing dust motes
Of triviality that clutter my vision
And settle into layers of lethargy?

What if
I pried open the window
And allowed His Spirit to breeze through,
Blowing away the cobwebs and stale smells,
To freshen every corner with the scent
Of His green growth and Spring hope?

What if
I unbolted the door
And invited His Son in to dinner
(Nothing fancy, just me and
Whatever’s in the back of my cupboards)
So we became friends?

What if
I let God in?

(On my way to work, I drive past a church which always has an ‘inspirational’ poster on its noticeboard, sometimes corny, sometimes clever, sometimes straight to the point like this one – a simple photo of light streaming through a window with the words ‘Let God In’).