DISAGREEment

You and me

Might disagree

On politics and belief:

Whether the EU

Is good for you

Or just a fishing thief

You and me

Might disagree

How best protect the Earth

With vegan diet

Or peaceful riot

To bring about rebirth

You and me

Might disagree

On priorities and spending

On taxes paid

And foreign aid

Best times for lockdowns ending

You and me

Might disagree

On masks and vaccination

If Twitter trolls

Really do have souls

On law and immigration

You and me

Might disagree

On football loyalty

On booing fans

And transfer plans

On republics versus royalty

But if you and me

Can disagree

And apply consideration

To what’s behind

The views we find

A contraindication

And if you and me

Can disagree

With kindness and respect

If we both listen

As we share our vision

We can widen this effect

Then you and me

Can disagree

With hope for home and nation

Find common ground

Let grace abound

In whatever situation

Five Minute Friday is Community of free writers. You can find more great stuff on this week’s theme here: https://fiveminutefriday.com/2021/06/10/fmf-link-up-disagree/

Sports Day (Five Minute Friday: SLOW)

I hated School Sports Day.

It was torture as far as I was concerned.

I simply wasn’t designed for running. I mean, I had all the necessary appendages: they just didn’t propel me forward as quickly as everyone else’s. 

So I always came last. In. Every. Single. Race.

I couldn’t work out why speed eluded me so there was no way of improving. Years later, someone told me about sprinting on the balls of your feet, but by then, everyone had given up on me athletically.

It was humiliating as a child to cross the finish line yards and yards behind everyone else. On the one hand, I knew everyone noticed – that’s why my classmates groaned and picked me last for any team – but on the other, I felt completely alone – the race was already over by the time I finished and all my efforts went unacknowledged.

Years later, I still don’t run. Now I have the excuse of dodgy knees and pelvic floor.

But I do help out at an annual Sports Day and love it.

I love it because it’s different.

It’s a Boys’ Brigade event. Held at a local athletics track, children from 5 to 18 have the opportunity to compete on proper facilities, with everything from sack races for the littlies to 1500m for the older ones. It’s still a competition, complete with a trophy ceremony at the end.  But the atmosphere is nothing like my School Sports Days of old.

Boys make friends with each other across the different companies (teams) during the events.  They stuff themselves with sweets from the tuck shop and sometimes have to be reminded to finish what they’re eating before competing. They play spontaneous games of football and play on bouncy castles between events. Families picnic around the spots field and make a day out of the event.

The boys stand along the inside of the track, cheering all their team mates on, no matter what position they’re in. While a lad who regularly competes for his county may win a distance race to natural acclaim, other boys or staff jog and walk alongside the lad who is over a lap behind and on the point of giving up. They go at his pace, they encourage, and as he enters the final straight and speeds up into a sprint he didn’t know he had in him, they match him stride for stride, as the crowd’s cheers grow and the finish tape is stretched out again, just for him. The noise is as loud for him as for the one who came first.

My youngest trained for and ran a half marathon. It was the same there.

We shouted from the side of the road as he set off, hurried across the course to halfway to do the same, and screamed with excitement from the stands as he entered the stadium. I doubt he heard us (although he knew we had promised to be there) but his last hundred metre burst earned him a mention over the public tannoy.

There were athletes present using this as practise for a full marathon. There were seasoned runners. There were newbies. There were charity runners. They were of all abilities but all were equally cheered on and valued for their achievement.

The writer of the Letter to the Hebrews in the New Testament says:

‘Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, we must get rid of every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and run with endurance the race set out for us, keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.’

And I think of us, trying our best to run a good race on earth, even when we feel ill suited to the task, or weighed down by troubles or own weakness. Let’s remember that we are being cheered on by those that love us up in the stands.

And let’s listen out for that One Particular Voice in the crowd Who always believes in us, always encourages us, always helps us keep going.

Or perhaps we’ll realise He’s been running alongside us all along.

Every week the Five Minute Friday community free write for limited time inspired by a given prompt word. It’s also a fantastically supportive groups for writers. You can find more inspirational writing here: Community – Five Minute Friday

RECOVER? (a Five Minute Friday post)

My patients don’t recover.

Sounds like the opening line of a thriller about a serial killer, doesn’t it?

But actually, I work in palliative care, so it’s just a fact.

I mean, there are the exceptions: those sent home from hospital for their remaining days who plateau and regain some function for a while. There’s even the occasional patient who unexpectedly improves, who we have end up doing old fashioned rehab with, going from bed bound to transferring to an armchair to standing and walking again. These are joyful moments: for them, their loved ones, and for me.

But we don’t see many like that.

I listen silently as a husband tells his wife she’s going to get better soon and hope he won’t turn to me for confirmation. Sometimes I wonder if she knows the truth but goes along with it for his sake. Sometimes I wonder if he knows the truth but says otherwise for hers. Sometimes I wish they would just tell each other what’s in their hearts. Sometimes I don’t. Sometimes I think maybe they don’t need to.

My job is not to give them false hope but neither is it to shatter their coping strategies. My job is to walk beside them, reassuring them that they are not alone in the dark. My job is to listen, to hold hands, to catch tears.

My job is to be Jesus for them.

(You can find more writing inspired by this week’s prompt word RECOVER here: FMF Writing Prompt Link-up :: Recover – Five Minute Friday )

A LADIES’ EXCUSE ME (Five Minute Friday)

My mum, in her younger days, loved to go dancing. And I loved her stories of it, especially when decades later I discovered the night club where I spent many a mutually exhilarating and disappointing Saturday was the ballroom she experienced similar evenings in.

Dancing was more formal then: foxtrot, quickstep, tango. And always with a partner.

There were never enough men, she told me, so women frequently danced with each other. That’s how she was able to teach me the basics of the waltz so well – because she was used to dancing the man’s part as well as the lady’s. And of course, it was always up the man to ask a woman to dance; she could only wait and hope to attract an invitation. And then she politely had to either enjoy or endure the experience to the end of the music.

With one exception.

The Ladies’ Excuse Me.

In this situation, there were designated moments when the dancing stopped mid song and a lady could leave her partner and ask another to dance. The gentleman was not permitted to refuse – and his previous partner was abandoned to find someone else.

I suppose I could say I met my husband this way.

It wasn’t at a ballroom but at a much less glamorous New Year’s Eve disco above a local pub. My friend and I ended up dancing with him and his brother respectively but I decided my partner was a bit young for me so when the next song came on, announced we were swapping, giving no one else an opportunity to argue.

Looking back, it was a rather harsh and unkind way to treat my friend and his brother. But I can’t entirely regret it as here we are, over thirty years later, still dancing together.

I wonder though if there might also be a Jesus’ Excuse Me?

I wonder if God sometimes uses circumstances, harsh or lovely, to tap us on the shoulder and get our attention, as an invitation to start dancing with Him?

I wonder if God sometimes sits on the edge of our dance floor, watching our clumsy or studied attempts at elegance, longing to take us in His arms to show us His easy flowing steps if we only let Him lead?

But He waits to be invited. And we always have the choice to turn Him down.

It’s up to us.

But oh where saying yes might take us!

Still dancing

But I’m In The MIDDLE Of Something!

My boss tells me I am a Completer-Finisher.

And she’s right. I feel happier if, at the end of the day, I have ticked off all the tasks on my To Do List. That feeling of satisfaction from knowing that I have achieved all that I set out to do is so, well, satisfying. I can go home at peace, sure that I have done my bit, left everything neatly sorted or in process for the next person to take up, and I don’t need to think about work again until the next day.

Interruptions are the enemy.

And yet I work in one of the most unpredictable areas of healthcare. Patients deteriorate suddenly. Equipment isn’t always immediately available. Colleagues need support. Unexpected requests appear in emails. The telephone rings. Families change their minds about what they are ready to accept. New referrals flood the waiting list, all urgent.

Ironic, isn’t it? You’d think, after working in palliative care for so many years, that I’d have learned by now.

But it’s hard to switch off something so ingrained in my personality. I suspect it’s because it gives me a sense of control, albeit an unrealistic one.

A wise counsellor advised me to take the time to distinguish between the things I can control and the things I can’t.

I can’t control the number of referrals, the trajectory of a patient’s illness, the number of phone calls or requests, the influences that lead to families’ decisions.

But I can prioritize cases and assess if some would be better referred elsewhere. I can leave space deliberately in my diary for urgent interventions. I can respond to requests for help with courtesy and kindness. I can listen and sympathize whilst explaining the options. I can choose to take my lunchbreak and finish on time most days, knowing the work will still be there tomorrow. I can decide what to tell myself at the end of a frustrating day.

I can also choose to see the interruptions as an equally important part of the job.

And maybe that’s something worth remembering throughout the rest of our day?

What if interruptions are sometimes God bringing something important to our attention.

I’m not advocating throwing out the To Do Lists. But I am suggesting, if you’re like me, introducing some flexibility in attitude.

For example, my family know I try to have a daily prayer time each morning. A cup of coffee, a little time in the garden, then curled up in my prayer chair to journal my interactions with God and read something spiritually stimulating. But if one of them starts taking to me then, I don’t shush them; I’ve learned to put my pen down and listen because that might be what God wants me to hear most at that moment. It might even be what and who He wants me to pray about.

It’s not our To Do Lists that need completing and finishing. It’s His.

Every week the Five Minute Friday free write for limited time inspired by a given prompt word. You can find more inspirational writing here: Community – Five Minute Friday

SHE

What makes a She?

Is it that second X chromosome?

Or the missing testosterone flush

That turns embryos from female to male?

Is it the presence of a vagina,

A womb?

Is it a certain balance of hormones?

The burgeoning of breasts,

The experience of periods,

The ability to bear children?

Is it a difference in brain function,

A talent for multi tasking

But a lack of spatial awareness?

Is it being better with words?

Working more collaboratively?

Is it preferring pink and Barbie

To blue and Lego?

Is it being a home maker,

Enjoying cooking

And keeping a tidy house?

Is it being softer, kinder, more compassionate?

What if I

Am born with XXY?

What if I

Can’t have children?

What am I

After menopause makes

Hormones more androgenous?

What if I

Don’t conform to

These cultural expectations?

What if I

Don’t fit into an average

Centile of ‘female’ skill?

What if I

Hate housework,

Love building things,

Fall easily into anger?

What if the

Me inside

Doesn’t match the

Me outside?

Am I not

Still She?

And if we are all

Made in God’s image,

Isn’t God also

In some way

She?

(This post links with FMF Writing Prompt Link-up :: She – Five Minute Friday

Not an Easy REMEDY

I belong to a Facebook group for people who went to my old school. I’ve discovered old friends there, been to a reunion as a result, and exchanged reminiscences with many. Many of my school memories are painful – I avoided contact after leaving for many years – but contacts renewed through this group helped rebalance my feelings about school as it reminded me of the good times too.

Recently revelations have been shared far more traumatic than mine, with legal implications. I won’t go into details – sadly, you can probably guess the nature of them. Initially everyone was very supportive. But then an almighty online row exploded in the group after a request for help was turned down; misunderstandings, accusations, and a public meltdown have led to a full split. About half of us (so far) have left (or been removed) to join an alternative group.

As a result, many people have started sharing their own negative experiences of school, something that wasn’t part of the culture of the previous group. Some are shocking, heart breaking; others have had less long lasting effect, perhaps more typical of all teenage experience. 

I can’t help thinking, as I read the responses of sorrow, support and openness to the idea that our school days weren’t some golden soft focus idyll after all, that there is some possibility of healing from such honesty and acceptance. When I read that others had tough times at school too, I don’t feel so alone or strange in my own experience.

Old familiar words echo in my mind:

“The Truth shall set you free.”

But I think it needs to be both truth told and truth heard. It needs to be shared truth.

Fear can keep us from hearing someone else speak a truth. Fear that reminds us of wounds we have not yet faced. Fear that our wounds may overwhelm us, consume the lives we have built up to conceal them.

Fear can keep us from admitting the truth. Fear that it will destroy us.

When really truth will clear the ground to make a space to rebuild from the wreckage. It’s not a quick and easy remedy for deep hurts. But speaking the truth and listening to the truth can be the first two steps on the path to healing and wholeness.

(This is written as part of the Five Minute Friday link up. More posts on the theme of REMEDY can be found here: Five Minute Friday Writing Prompt Link-up :: Remedy – Five Minute Friday)

Crash, Bang, Wallop!

I was walking down the steps, carefully I thought, when my foot suddenly met air instead of stone and slipped from under me. A crash, a bump, and an expletive later, and I ended up with bruises, scrapes, and two painful ankles.

At least I wasn’t in as bad a state as the large pot of tulips I’d been moving: terracotta broken into several pieces and tulips homeless. My day seemed as ruined as my pot.

But I was wrong.

Ok, plans for a coastal walk that evening had to be abandoned. However, acceptance, kindness, and painkillers led to a lovely time of relaxation: listening to music, reading, making plans, sewing seat cushions.

Two days later, bruises are changing colour, ankle pain receding, and I’ve felt up to gardening again. The tulips have been replanted to keep a palm company. The ceramic shards have been stowed away to use for drainage in future planting scheme. Nothing is lost; purpose merely changed.

I read this in Jeffrey Johns’s The Meaning in the Miracles this week:

“wounds are not cancelled but they can be transfigured, as God’s unbreakable love shapes us.”

And seeing this week’s Five Minute Friday prompt ‘Broken’, I can’t help thinking again of our Kintsugi God, Whose own wounds weren’t eradicated but became an integral part of His identity and Who has the ability to transfigure our cracks and breaks with His gold love into something even more beautiful.

Under Pressure

I’m standing in the garden first thing, as is my weekday routine, taking stock of the plants and wildlife around me, a time just to be with God quietly and appreciate our joint work, when my youngest surprisingly comes out to join me. Surprising because it’s rare for a student to be up that early. But he’s leaving this morning to go back to university after five months at home because of pandemic restrictions.

We stand together, each with a coffee in one hand and the opposite arm around each other, looking and appreciating.

Then we talk about the mulching I’ve started and a discussion I’ve been involved in with other local gardeners about the benefits of horse manure. My mother, as a child was sent round the streets to follow the rag and bone man’s cart with a shovel and a bucket to collect the droppings and bring them home for her grandfather’s roses.

Who would have thought that excrement could be so beneficial?

Although it does need time to rot down and process into good fertilizer and compost, which feed the soil with an abundance of nutrients, all beneficial for growth.

Sometimes life feels full of manure. Our own, others’, life and world events. In this last year, I’m sure many of us have felt like we’re wading through the stuff.

But if we process this ‘excrement’, learn from it, look for the good and the lessons in it, it has the potential to produce growth in us too.

My family, my youngest perhaps in particular, has had to deal with a lot difficulties – a lot of manure – in the last couple of years: trauma, mental and physical illness, bereavement. It’s been immensely painful and frightening at times. But we’re coming out of this heavily mulched ground stronger and more vigorous – as a family we’ve become closer, our communication more open and honest, learned new coping skills and better self-care; we’ve all grown up.

And I’m reminded that diamonds are formed in conditions of great heat and pressure, then often moved to the earth’s surface by traumatic events.

So if you’re feeling that your life is full of manure or pressure at the moment, hold on.

Look to the Expert Gardener, the Jewel Maker. God, if you let Him, won’t let your terrible circumstances be meaningless. At some point, you may find that He was using them to grow something stronger in you.

Something as strong and beautiful as a diamond.

Good Friday 2021

It feels quietly different this year.

Last night, we resumed our traditional family Maundy Thursday Passover type celebration as the beginning of our Easter holiday. Shivering, despite the throws provided, under a new gazebo in the garden as we’re only allowed to meet outside at the moment. But the joy of being back together after our only ever separation for this in last year’s first lockdown warmed our hearts if not our bodies. The grape juice flowed (two of us didn’t drink). New Lebanese recipes devoured with relish. Familiar words and familiar actions united us again.

Today is softer, gentler.

Listening to a Good Friday reflection. Considering Rev. Richard Coles’s modern Stations of the Cross on Twitter. Savouring the smell and taste of freshly made hot cross buns.

I find myself quietly absorbed in building an Easter Garden for church. It’s hard work. I forage odd pieces of slate from our pond to make a cave tomb, spare top dressing for a path. I raid the wood store for straight thick twigs. Large leftover pine cones serve as very unBiblical shaped trees. Cutting artificial grass offcuts to size hurts my hands.  Trimming the twigs and twining them together to make crosses almost moves me to tears. I carefully and reverently fold up a small piece of crepe bandage to place inside the tomb to represent the folded graveclothes left in place.

Afterwards I notice new leaves on our dwarf apple tress have unfurled to reveal blossom buds waiting to pop. The stems of miniature pear, plum and cherry trees, only planted last year when they resembled no more life than a set of walking sticks, are smothered in tiny grey, lime or emerald shoots. Muscari spread their sapphire hue around the beds. As tete a tete daffodils fade, numerous tulips are waiting to take their colourful place. White narcissus glow like soft lanterns among the shrubs.

It’s as if the garden is waiting to burst into full glory on Easter Day.

And I can’t focus on lament, on death and dying, this day, this year.

Because somehow, maybe alongside the vaccine rollout and a staged loosening of pandemic restrictions, just like the buds in my garden, the world, despite its continued failings, seems tinged with hope to me.

We are looking back on Friday, knowing Sunday is coming. We know this too shall pass. We know the story hasn’t ended yet. We know God hasn’t finished with us yet.