CUT (Day 30 Write 31 Days)

When I was 7 years old, I fell off a climbing frame in the school playground. It was a new design at the time – 4 pieces, each a different colour, that could be bolted together in a variety of combinations so that it was like getting a new climbing frame each time. They’re not provided to London schools anymore – my fall sparked a safety enquiry because I cut my finger and head on one of the bolts, badly enough to require stitches in hospital. I still have the scars.

Growing up, I was very self conscious about them. One marks a line above my left eyebrow, missing my eye by no more than an inch. More pronounced is the one on the side of my left ring finger, snaking across the joints like a railway on an Ordnance Survey map. I thought for a while that it would mar my wedding day because of its key position.

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And perhaps I’m more aware of my scars because of the memory associated with them. I remember being harried by Sandra Allen to jump and swing from the overhanging bar of the frame before I felt ready. I remember my headmaster taking me in his car to pick my mum up from home and then ferry both of us to the Casualty Department of the local hospital. I remember the argument when the impatient doctor mistook my mother for a school dinner lady and tried to get her out of the treatment room. I remember how he didn’t explain what he was doing. I remember the pain when a nurse later tried to remove the stitches, only to discover an infection caused by the doctor not cleaning the wound adequately. It was a momentous event at the time for me, an intense memory still.

But I’ve learned to live with my scars. And by that, I mean that I’ve learned that others don’t notice them as much as I do, that everyone has scars of some kind, and to look at them in perspective with the rest of my appearance. They seemed so prominent, so large when I was young; now they seem much smaller, insignificant.

I suppose I’ve also put them into perspective with the rest of my life. I’ve had quite a few trips to Casualty with the rest of my family – for fractures, a suspected aneurysm, falls, as well as several less serious issues – so my trip for just 15 stitches in total can be seen for the minor injury it was.

And I guess such perspective is useful for a lot of things. I’m not so different to others as I sometimes think I am. My issues are not as important as I think they are at the time. As I have got older, I have become more sure of the knowledge that I am loved, that I don’t need to earn it, and that my scars don’t prevent it. Or to put it another way, by adapting a Bible verse: ‘Love covers over a multitude of scars.’

 

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It’s not a DATE! (DAY 29 Write 31 Days)

 Let’s get one thing straight, shall we? Jesus is not my boyfriend, ok? So when today’s prompt suggested that I go on a date with God (by lighting a candle and reading my Bible), it just felt weird. When it comes to a romantic relationship, God gave me a lovely husband for that; the relationship I have with God is different and so it should be.

It’s like some modern worship songs that I feel uncomfortable singing. Don’t get me wrong, I love Jesus, but as a brother, friend, Saviour, and captain, not as a boyfriend. My husband says it’s as if these songs have taken an ordinary ballad and just replaced the noun ‘love’ with ‘Jesus’. (Try it for yourself with something like Barbra Streisand’s ‘Evergreen’ or Wet Wet Wet’s ‘Love is All Around You’ to get the idea).

There are romantic images in the Bible: Hosea’s self sacrificing love for his wayward wife; Christ’s bride, the Church. But these are images of God’s loving relationship with His people not with an individual. And of course, there is the Song of Songs – some argue that this is also a metaphor for God’s love for his people but I’ve always read it mainly as an erotic love song between two human beings.

I was reminded of a verse from it today, one that my brother and his wife had piped on their wedding cake. Gazing at the power and listening to the brute roar of the confluence racing, lemming-like, towards the immense drop that is Niagara Falls, it seemed apt to recall, ‘many waters cannot quench love; rivers cannot sweep it away.’

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Perhaps my problem with today’s prompt is my British meaning of the word ‘date’. I need to remember what seems to be a more American interpretation that implies just a specific time put aside for two people to do something together, as in a play date or a Daddy-daughter date. And perhaps that’s the important thing – to put aside a specific time to be with my Heavenly Father, just like I do with my earthly one.

I’m just not going to call it a date though.

 

When EATing doesn’t work (Five Minute Friday/Day 28 Write 31 Days)

I don’t know when I’m going to post this because I’m writing sat on an Airbus taxiing towards take off, about to cross the Atlantic to New York. With the difference in time zones, my Five Minute Friday is likely to last 29 hours.

As we wait, I’m wondering what the meal will be – lunch, dinner, tea, in what combination. From past experience, I hold out little hope for the quality. But at least we were given a free bottle of water as we boarded so the basics are covered (although the lid is too tight for me to remove).

Back home, my dad is surviving his fourth week of hospital meals; we note how long he has been an in-patient by the fact that the rota of choices has returned to the beginning. During visiting times, I helped him with his menu orders. It’s a strange system, trying to decide what he will want to eat in 2 days’ time. And it’s harder because of his dementia.

One less well known symptom of dementia is its effect on eating. Dad never ate a wide range of food before but now his diet is particularly restricted. He refuses to eat almost any vegetables and frequently turns down even old favourites; he won’t eat sausages any more. A daily Fybogel is necessary to keep him ‘regular’ and unobstructed.

His sense of taste has changed too, deteriorated such that all savoury meals require lashings of salt to give them any flavour. No wonder, when asked, he so often doesn’t fancy anything.

It’s all made worse by dementia’s final blow to eating: his inability to recognise hunger or thirst and his not knowing if he hasn’t finished a meal if it’s interrupted. So all Dad’s meals have to be supervised with plenty of prompting to encourage him to eat and why.

Is it any wonder that he’s lost over 13kg in the last year?

However, along with some weight gain since he was admitted to hospital, there is a light in this cloud that darkens what used to be such a pleasure: Dad’s day centre. Alongside the quizzes and activities, jokes with the staff, and an enjoyable bus ride there and back, this is the one place Dad eats well (better even than when he comes to mine for Sunday roast). Sat at a table with friends, the social occasion prompts Dad to eat, to eat well, and to finish his meal each time. Admittedly, he still doesn’t eat vegetables so they don’t serve him any but fill his plate with meat and potatoes. What matters is that he eats and he enjoys eating in this setting. I think the old fashioned menus must seem comfortingly familiar to him, bringing back fond memories of his mother’s and his wife’s cooking.

*******

Back on the plane, the cabin crew are bringing round menus (a welcome change to my last journey): Tabbouleh salad, then a choice of Teriyaki chicken, Beef chilli, or Mushroom pasta bake, followed by raspberry and white chocolate cheesecake, and finally Afternoon Tea. It all sounds surprisingly appetising. And, even if it isn’t, as I do know when I’m hungry and have fully functioning tastebuds, I’m not going to take this airplane meal for granted.

 

BOUQUETS and Brownie Points (Day 27 Write 31 Days)

As I came home from work yesterday, I was listening to a radio feature called ‘Homework Sucks’. http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00p2dfq Questions from parents and children are sent in to be answered by the audience, some serious some more lighthearted.

Last night’s questioner asked about brownie points – whether they can cashed in and if so, how, as well as requesting tips on accumulating them with his wife.

I had to smile. Didn’t he understand that his reward for his brownie point collecting behaviour was a happy wife and the knowledge that he had brought this about? Of course they can’t be cashed in – the accumulation of points is the reward in itself!

And as for how to earn more brownie points, that’s easy – it’s all about thoughtfulness and time spent in that.

I’m blessed with a husband who likes to buy things for me – perfume from Duty Free when he’s been abroad for work, a trip to a dreamt of restaurant for a special birthday, a bar of my favourite chocolate when I’ve had a bad day. And he has bought me plenty of flowers in our 30 or so years of history together. But he is as likely, in fact more likely, to buy me a bouquet just because it’s Tuesday or he saw some when he was shopping and thought I’d like them, as he would for a special occasion. He buys them just because he knows I love getting flowers (especially when I’m dieting as they are a calorie and therefore guilt free treat!).

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You see, it’s not the size of the bouquet or the amount spent on it that earns brownie points. It’s the fact that it’s proof he spent time thinking about me and what might make me happy. I’d go so far as to say that anyone can buy roses for Valentine’s Day because it’s hard to escape the reminders but only a truly thoughtful man brings home sunflowers from a midweek supermarket shop to say thank you for all his wife’s day to day care of the family.

I know I’m blessed to have that kind of man.

Many years ago, I stole a saying from Dr Phil and adapted it for my own use, usually with my sons. But I have a version I say to my husband and it goes like this:

‘I’m sure God has made some great husbands but He gave me the best one’.

 

Allons-y! (CONFRONT Day 26 Write 31)

31 Days (26) CONFRONT

When I was in 6th Form at school, only four of us took A level French and we developed a unique sense of humour within the small class. An old schoolteacher had set up a subscription to the satirical Punch magazine and we loved its ‘Let’s Parler Franglais!’ column, a bowdlerised version of the two languages that made little sense in either.

One afternoon, when asked by our tutor as we arrived, ‘Comment allez-vous?’, instead of replying the conventional ‘Ca va’ or ‘Bien merci’, my friend Paul adopted a fatigued expression and responded in an exaggerated English accent, ‘Je suis un peu sous le temps’. Consternation filled our teacher’s face at this unexpected answer as she had encouraged us to research and use modern French idioms. Word for word it meant ‘I am a bit under the weather’, a phrase for which there is no meaning in French.

Another time, we delighted in teasing the school choir members by trying to persuade them that the Latin word ‘factum’ was the root of the French ‘facteur’ and therefore the anthem they were practising, Christus Factum Est, should be translated as ‘Jesus is a postman’.

I still love playing with words like this.

So when I saw today’s prompt word, ‘confront, I was very tempted to define is as ‘to scam someone near a beach’ (a con being a scam or confidence trick and front meaning the part of a coastal town facing the sea).

But, of course, the word really means to face up to and deal with a difficulty. Its origins are in the Latin literally meaning ‘heads together’. It must be where we get our phrase of ‘head to head’ meaning a contest or the saying ‘to face a problem head on’.

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And that’s so true of problems or difficulties: we have to face them, look at them closely and directly, if we want to solve or overcome them. Avoidance and denial are not solutions; they are only delaying tactics.

Fears and anxieties are the issues I try to avoid confronting but I know that this behaviour only makes them grow while I turn my back to them. I need suitable  weapons in order to go head to head with these, weapons like trust in God (Proverbs 3.5-6), thanksgiving to Him (Philippians 4.6-7), and courage (Joshua 1.9). And it will take practise and training for me to learn to wield these weapons effectively. Time to face up to it.

Allons-y!**

 

(*’How are you?’ ‘I’m OK’ ‘I’m well, thank you’)

(**Let’s go!)

Teddies Ahoy! Or On a Scavenger Hunt with God (SIGNS – Day 25 Write 31 Days)

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‘Go on a scavenger hunt with God – look for signs of His presence.’ http://cdn.creativeandfree.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/40-Days-of-Tiny-Adventures-List.pdf

We’ve been on both treasure and scavenger hunts with our Boys’ Brigade lads. One summer night, my son carefully laid a trail of paper fish, cunningly stuck to trees, lamp posts, street signs and all sorts for the boys to find and follow to the ‘golden treasure’ of a hot fish and chip supper. We’ve followed a commercial treasure trail around a nearby town to find the letters to a clue word to send off for a prize. Other times we’ve given the boys lists of things to find within a set area: in the local park we’ve given them each a match box to fill with as many different items as possible; we’ve asked them to find something of every colour of the rainbow; we’ve given them lists of natural objects to find – smooth, prickly, hard, soft, round, spikey; but my favourite so far has been the Teddy Scavenger Hunt.

For this, pairs of boys with an adult were given a list of things for their teddies to do and bring back photographic proof. The list included things like:

  • Teddy travels
  • Teach Teddy to cross the road safely
  • How high can Teddy go?
  • Teddy loves flowers
  • Indian Teddy
  • Chinese Teddy
  • Thirsty Teddy
  • Fun Teddy

Photos came back of teddies at bus stops, on the top of slides, up trees, against billboards, checking the menus at local Indian and Chinese restaurants, with teddy size cups in coffee shops, and on a motorised Peppa Pig ride in the mall. I’m not sure who had the most fun – boys or adults.

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But do you know the difference between a scavenger hunt and a treasure hunt? The latter relies on following a trail of clues to find a hidden object whereas the former consists of collecting, usually within a time limit, a series of miscellaneous objects.

So a scavenger hunt with God? What would be the miscellaneous signs on our list that would reveal His presence?

My mum had an uncanny knack for spotting beautiful things in unlikely places whilst doing something else. She’d stop to look at the sunset, delight in daisies growing in the verge, listen to birdsong outside the open window. Perhaps we too should actively and purposefully look for God in the beauty of creation.

During a busy or stressful day, that can be hard. But all is not lost. We can look back for the signs of God along our way. I’ve had a day like that but, home very late, if I take the time, those signs are there:

The moment I stood at the window admiring my neighbour’s tree gradually turning from green to gold to scarlet reminds me of God’s artistry. A call from my husband abroad and texts from my sons at the other end of the country tell me I’m loved and remind me God is never distant. Finally getting to the end of my To Do list at work prompts gratitude for time and the opportunity to help others. A meal out with colleagues shows me community, growing friendships, and encouragement.

When I look back, God has been all around me.

So I can try to be intentional in looking for Him or I can be retrospective in acknowledging Him. Either way, He’s there and the signs aren’t miscellaneous at all.

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GLOBAL (Day 24 Write 31 Days)

It’s a different world to the one I grew up in. Or, more accurately, it’s a different life I’m living. The nearest I got to a holiday abroad was a school day trip to Boulogne in my teens. I was 22 before I ever got an aeroplane. But now I’m off to New York in a few days, for the third time; I’ve driven across Europe, Valentined in Venice, and holidayed on the islands of the Canaries, Minorca, Gozo, and Cape Verde; oh, and there’s the small matter of working in Rwanda for a while.

There’s something inspirational about flying. Pen and journal have become a regular part of my hand luggage. Here’s the result of one journey:

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AZ384 (Underneath are the everlasting arms):

We sit,

In mint-sucking anticipation of

Acceleration and lift

Like swans running across

The canal surface until

Acute angled up

We speed

Into the sky.

Our arms outstretch

Across the aisle

To each other

For reassurance,

Echoing the shape

Of our aeroplane’s wings

Or a skein of geese

Flying in formation,

We, like them,

Are steering south

Away from autumn

T’ward warmer light.

 

Aloft

We soar steadfastly forward

Like an optimistic

Paper dart

Launched high

Across the room

Or as my father

Used to swoop me

In exciting safety

Into bed.

Here we skim

Higher skies,

Hand holding,

Hand held,

On rising air currents

On angel wings

On the very fingertips

Of God.

BLOWOUT – Celebration Time, Come On! (Day 23 Write 31 Days)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3GwjfUFyY6M

‘Buy balloons, make cupcakes, celebrate God today! Give Him thanks for all He’s done in your life’.

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That’s the instructions from today’s 40 Days of Tiny Adventures with God (https://steynfamily.net/2015/07/40-days-of-adventure-with-god/).

When I first looked at this, the last thing I felt like doing was celebrating with a blowout: my father is still in hospital with further problems; I was up at 5am today to take my husband to the airport for his work trip to Colorado; and I have the prospect of my first week of being in the house entirely alone (previously I still had my sons living at home when their dad went away).

But I am aware that I have plenty to thank God for. So I thought I’d make a list:

I am thankful for having a great husband, who works hard and brings home enough money to support our family, keep us in comfort, and be generous to others. I am thankful for 30 years of him being in my life and 24 years of marriage to him. I am thankful that this trip will be a break from the routine for him and that he will get some well earned downtime while he’s in America. I am thankful that his company has re-routed his trip to allow for me to join him later on in New York for a mini road trip together and a longed for family reunion.

I am thankful for modern technology that allows us and our boys to stay in touch so easily, no matter the distance. I am thankful for Facebook, mobile phones, and Skype in particular. (When I worked in Rwanda many years ago, my mum had to wait 2 weeks to get a letter to find out that I’d arrived safely!). And I am thankful that all my precious men want to stay in touch regularly.

I am thankful for God’s direct word to uphold me this morning – for Diana Jordan’s Radio 2 show, The Sunday Hour, playing as I drove back from Heathrow its comforting songs and these words from Romans: ‘For I am convinced that nothing can separate us from the love that is in Christ Jesus’ and especially ‘neither height nor depth’. It reminds me that while my beloved is up in the air on 3 different plane journeys over the next 24 hours and I am down here on the ground, Jesus is holding onto both of us. I am thankful, similarly, for the early service at church today: for my old friend, Marion, to sit next to; for the beautiful stained glass windows that spoke to my heart of hope and God’s presence; for the words of the hymns that were just spot on for my situation.

Even in the midst of a stressful time, there is a lot to be thankful for.

Maybe I will make some cupcakes after all – I can always take them into work tomorrow.

wp_20151018_07_18_26_pro(Wish I could make cakes as good this – but these poppy cupcakes were courtesy of my lovely best friend, Liz)

 

OFF: Hanging By A Thread (Day 22 Write 31 Days)

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How many times have I sewn a button back on to a pair of trousers, a shirt, or a coat? (Jeans are always the worst). It’s a bugbear of mine that so many clothes come with the barest amount of cotton to hold buttons in place so, with basic regular use, they soon start to detach.

The button looks so dejected in its precarious position, held in place only by the buttonhole itself and the remaining thread wound tightly round.

I know how that button feels, hanging onto normality or sanity by only a few threads.

Sometimes life feels overwhelming. My Nan always used to say that troubles were like London buses – they never come alone! Or as Shakespeare puts it:

‘When sorrows come, they come not single spies, but in battalions.’ (Hamlet, Act 4, Scene 5)

Stresses can wear away the threads that hold us in place.

I found going away to university unexpectedly difficult, calling it homesickness, as if I just missed home. But it was more that I felt completely at sea, away from all that was familiar and gave me security. Those foundations that I relied on without realising until then were 200 miles away, with only the thin threads of weekly letters and occasional phone calls to hold me to them.

It was the Christian Union, with its echoes of the familiar, where I found more threads to reinforce and rebind me to confidence again, where I found friends who accepted and understood, made me feel at home in this new place, and who became more than just acquaintances.

It’s such a small word – ‘off’ – but we all need to be ‘on’, to belong rather than unattached and unsupported. Jesus said:

‘I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing…As the Father has loved me so have I loved you. Now remain in my love…that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.’ (John 15:5,9,11)

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We need to get that sewing kit out and make sure we stay attached.

 

 

Day 21 Write 31 Days/Five Minute Friday: PARK

Pymmes Park was my running away place when I was a child.

To be honest, I didn’t run very far as we lived opposite the entrance and it wasn’t just as a child – the last time I ran away there, I was 26 years old. I gave my fiancé quite a shock when I walked out over mistakes that had been made in the printing of our wedding Orders of Service. But my parents recognised my behaviour of old and sent him to find me after half an hour, knowing that even though I had needed to get away I also wanted to be found.

The park was a safe place for me, a real escape from four walls when life hemmed me in. If feelings or a situation overwhelmed me, the park was where I fled. Angry, heartbroken, or burdened, I stomped the paths around the lake until I found an unoccupied bench set back in one of the alcoves of the stone wall in which to hide.

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I suppose happy memories of so much of my childhood spent there (I viewed it as a natural extension to our small garden) amassed into a great sense of security associated with being there. I spent weekends and after school with my best friend on the swings, roundabouts, slides and the dangerous witch’s hat in the playground. Throughout the years we walked all our different dogs there: chased squirrels, caught water rats, and practised for shows. We played tennis on the public courts, kicked through leaves knee deep each autumn, and I dreamed of bridal photos under the cherry and almond blossom.

In the summer, a concrete paddling pool dug deep into the ground was filled increasingly dirty water, pedal and rowing boats could be hired, and most excitingly the Summer Theatre opened for everything from pantomime to ballet. For a while, there was a domestic zoo – until hooligans killed the animals (it was rumoured for Christmas dinner purposes). And the highlight was the annual funfair that set up its stalls and rides for one short week, although my parents quickly tired of the noise and litter that accompanied it.

I don’t have a park to run away to now, even though I still sometimes feel the urge to escape life’s stresses. It’s what my dad calls ‘Stop the world, I want to get off’. But I have something, someone else to give me that same sense of security and relief if I choose to take His escape route. Or as the old hymn puts it:

‘Rock of Ages, cleft for me,

Let me hide myself in Thee’.