When you can’t sleep, write a poem…

No FMF post from me this week, I’m afraid. An exhausting week at work, coupled with extra family responsibilities and a sleepless night, defeated any creativity in me.

However, that sleeplessness reminded me of a poem I wrote on a similar night so I thought I’d share that with you instead:

INSOMNIA

Insomnia creeps out

Insidious

Like a cockroach

From behind the skirting board

Then scuttles up the bedposts

To pinion me awake

Sleepiness is driven away

By heart race, heart thump, heart burn

But tiredness stubbornly remains

Useless regrets for that second glass of wine

And curry

Kickstart my brain’s nocturnal talent

For turning thoughts into worries

Exasperated I surrender

To the too familiar routine

Decamping to the sofa

Hoping for solace in warm milk

And a lonely sleeping bag

 

 

Five Minute Friday: TEAM

Some of you know that I’m an Occupational Therapist, working in a team of 4 part timers for our local hospice. One of our strengths is how we’ve all come to this speciality via different routes, bringing different skills and expertise.

One came with a background in neurology and wheelchair services. She’s led our work with patients with MND and is a great resource when it comes to seating and postural support. Another worked in dementia care, contributing to the design of a specialist In Patient room and has introduced therapeutic horticulture to the hospice. My third colleague brings experience in teaching students on placement, which is now established in our department. And me? I’m known for my background in mental health so have co-written the hospice wide guidelines of assessing depression and anxiety.

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It would be easy to feel intimidated by a colleague’s easy expertise in an area I’m not confident in. But our differences in skill and knowledge really are a strength because we see them as a resource rather than a threat. And that diversity brings opportunities for learning for us as well as better treatment for our patients.

A conversation with my husband about a challenging issue this week made me think about our different experiences of family life as we grew up. But it was those differences that brought added insight to the situation, a more rounded view of it, and a potential solution. Our differences help to make our marriage a good team.

Of course, differences alone don’t do that. Whether a marriage partnership or a work team, we do also need a shared purpose and shared values. But embracing the differences helps make the team better.

It also occurs to me that perhaps the concept of the Trinity is similar: one shared purpose but different roles within? It needs more consideration but maybe God’s a team too?

HELP: Driving Tests and Beyond (Transferred from Five Minute Friday)

‘I lift up my eyes to the hills:

Where does my help come from?

My help comes from the Lord,

The maker of heaven and earth’ (Psalm 121)

For nearly 30 years, I’ve referred to this as my Driving Test Psalm. It was the set reading on the morning of my 4th attempt to get my full driving licence and it seemed to speak directly to that event:

  • Not letting my foot slip (on clutch or brake)
  • Preserving my coming in and going out (of gears and junctions)
  • Being the shade on my right hand (as if sat behind me all through the test)

Now I seriously didn’t take this as some miraculous promise that I would pass this time round but it did calm my nerves to know that I wouldn’t be on my own in the car with the examiner. And that did have a beneficial effect on how I drove that day. So I was extremely pleased later on to make the one call I ever made to his work, to tell my dad that I’d finally passed.

The timing was spot on. I believe God had been busy in the meantime, preparing others so that it was just the right time for our family that I gained this skill.

But I don’t believe God’s help is some kind of magic formula for success. His help is of the coming alongside type, the encouragement to keep going, the knowledge that we are not alone. I run various groups at work to help patients manage their symptoms better and, no matter what education and techniques I can pass on, the most regular positive feedback is from meeting others going through the same thing, who know what it’s like, and relieve the sense of loneliness.

And this is the help God promises. He knows what we’re going through is like and he will be our constant companion urging us on. Knowing we’re not alone – isn’t that the help most of us want?

BUILD: Confessions of a Secret Country Music Fan (Transferred from Five Minute Friday)

 

My kids like to watch (and laugh) at an obscure Irish Country & Western Music channel – it’s an interesting and somewhat niche musical culture. But they were shocked when I asked them not to channel surf past one music video because I want them to play it at my funeral.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=awjH_CqOgX0

It’s Lee Ann Womack’s ‘Something Worth Leaving Behind’ and it sums up my hopes for my life: that whilst I accept that I won’t make any major mark on world history, I can build a future legacy of love for those I leave behind.

It’s why I pray for my boys (sons and husband) every day. And that’s a legacy left to me by my late mother.

But futures and legacies don’t just happen; they need building: foundations built (thank you Mum) then daily bricks and mortar added, otherwise the project stagnates. Sometimes plans change or need extending. And it can be hard work.

I have a friend with five children, whose house is always untidy. She told me once that cleaning her house was less important to her than building memories for her children. I think she has her priorities right.

So, when my funeral comes along, I hope, with God’s help, that I have a built a legacy of love for my boys to take into the future and that, on that day, they can listen to a country song with affection.

‘Hey baby, see the future that we’re building.

Our love lives on

In the lives of our children.

That’s something,

Something worth leaving behind.’

PROTECT (Transferred from Five Minute Friday)

This is my second attempt at this week’s FMF prompt. I wasn’t unhappy with the first but ‘protect’ is a big subject, prompted a lot of thoughts, and I wanted to write something meatier, something that wasn’t just about me. So here goes.

I love language – old and new words, finding out where words and sayings come from. So I looked up the origin of ‘protect’ and it’s from the Latin meaning ‘to cover in front’.

That automatically made me think about soldiers and shields: how a shield acts as defence against enemy attack but it also assumes we’re in a battle in the first place. Being protected doesn’t exempt us from danger, from ‘the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune’.

Shields of protection can come in human form. When my boys were babies, I became hyper protective and would physically place myself between them and any perceived danger – I would always walk roadside on the pavement or put myself between them and any suspicious looking stranger.

And that makes me think of God as my shield, my protection. He doesn’t magically make trouble or difficulty or even danger go away but He faces it with me, stands between me and it, covering me like a policeman on a raid, enabling me to move forward to attack the threat. The day before He died, Jesus prayed ‘My prayer is not that You take them out of the world but that You protect them from the evil one’ (John 17.15) – and there we are again, not an exemption from a trouble free life but a promise of protection in it. It’s a prayer I’m echoing for my boys as they leave home this autumn.

And I’m also reminded of a version of St Patrick’s Breastplate which I pray daily for myself and for my boys during their exams, for Jesus to be our shield – not just in front but more like the Roman Tortoise formation:

‘Christ as a light illumine and guide me

Christ as shield overshadow me

Christ under me

Christ over me

Christ beside me on my left and my right

LOSE (Transferred from Five Minute Friday)

Losing by degrees. That’s how it feels sometimes with my dad. Dementia is stealing him gradually from us, turning him from parent into child, pushing me into a role I don’t want,

Losing his ability to remember leads to other losses. He is losing the ability to make decisions, first complex, now simple. He has lost the ability to solve problems. He has lost his love of reading along with his ability to concentrate. Unable to shave accurately, take himself to the barbers, pick out his favourite tie to wear, he has lost his smartness. Needing help with the toilet, he has sometimes lost his dignity.

I have lost the dad I grew up with.

In his place sits a wartime teenager who ignored air raid warnings to watch dogfights in the sky and who stole ingredients from the school chemistry lab to build experimental explosives. Sometimes in his chair sits a child who lived through the horrors of malnutrition in the Depression, sent far away to children’s home to recover. Sometimes it’s a young man in his first job, telling of his girlfriend’s 21st (and not my mum).

I miss the man whose strong arms signalled security for me as I reach mine round him.

WANT (Transferred from Five Minute Friday)

I’m sat in my beautiful garden, surrounded by birdsong and burgeoning plants that should fill me with hope and a sense of purpose. And all I want is for the world to stop so I can get off.

I want to escape. I want to hide. Perhaps that’s what I’m doing in the garden: hiding in clear sight, so well camouflaged by the ordinariness of being here that no one can see me (except the midges which are feasting on my bare legs).

I’m tired, Lord, really tired, Tired of being the sponge soaking up so many other people’s problems. Tired of the downward dipping rollercoaster ride of being a carer. Tired of being the responsible, sensible, practical, understanding one.

I know there is good stuff in my life. I know there are days when I do feel fulfilled, when I feel I’ve achieved something tangible with my time and effort. I know there are times, some of them very recent, when I have felt truly happy and blessed. I know I have a loving family and supportive friends. But today is not one of those days.

I want it to stop. I want to get off this endless carousel.

But I do feel less heavy for having told You this, Lord. Is this what it means to lay my burdens at the foot of the Cross? You’ll have to show me how to leave them there though. Or give me a better backpack for carrying them. All journeys need a place to stop and rest for a few moments. Perhaps pouring this out on paper here in the garden is mine.

 

Ducks! (Five Minute Friday: HAPPY)

‘Happiness has very little to do with where our feet are – and a whole lot to do with where our hearts are’.

Jennifer Dukes Lee’s comment http://jenniferdukeslee.com/ in Kate Motaung’s FMF blog this week http://katemotaung.com/ really hit home for me. Recently back from holiday in Fuerteventura, our happiness had been threatened by two things: an traumatic accident for my son on our second night resulting in urgent dental treatment (and I do thank God for wonderful holiday reps and a great dentist), which shook us all; and falling back into my old habit of counting the days to our leaving rather than enjoying the days we were in.

So I’d expand Jennifer’s comment to say that happiness also has a lot to do with where our heads are.

And that, to a great degree, is a choice to make.

Now I don’t believe in muffling emotions such that they become toxic or leaving difficult situations unprocessed. But I can choose how much time I spend mulling over guilt about the past or anxieties about the future. If I get the balance wrong, I miss out on my opportunity for happiness right now.

I remember going for a walk in a park with my husband a few months before we got married. In the middle of pouring out all my worries and concerns about our planned wedding and how I knew my focussing on all these was spoiling the anticipation, he suddenly said’ ‘Ducks!’

I literally stopped in my tracks. What was he on about? Wasn’t he listening to me?

He then explained. There was a family of ducks waddling up for a swim on the lake we walking alongside, looking really cute and adorable. ‘Just look at them for a moment.’ I did – and couldn’t help smiling.

‘There, if you hadn’t stopped focussing on the future for a minute, you would have missed the ducks.’

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‘Ducks’ became a codeword for us. If I got into too much of a future-facing mode, he would just say ‘ducks’ and I’d remember that walk, stop my train of thought, and notice what was happening around me right there and then. It became a prompt to count my blessings instead of over anticipating future troubles or over analysing past actions. And when I did, I found there was much more to be happy about than I had realised.

I don’t believe there were ducks in Israel 2000 years ago but a Man my husband reminds me of sometimes said something similar:

‘Consider the ravens: they do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much valuable are you than birds! Who of you by worrying can add one hour to your life?’

It only takes a moment to stop and look.