“I thank my God every time I remember you.” (A BLESSING ON MOTHERS’ DAY 2017)

I was reading Bible passages about mothers this morning, thinking about how much of the Hymn to the Good Wife (Proverbs ch. 31 vv. 10-31) described my mum, when this verse from Philippians ch. 1 v. 3 stood out to me. Mothers’ Day is no longer straightforward for me but I want to concentrate on gratitude rather than loss. So here are some poems I’ve written over the years that echo this verse.

 

This first poem I wrote many years ago. For my tribute at my mum’s funeral, I could do no better than read this:

THE MOTHERING OF MANY

The mothering of many

The foreign student far from home

The son’s friend whose own mother died

The daughter’s friends who turned to her for advice and wisdom

The Sunday lunch guests who came to a morning service alone but left in a family

The gentle offering of mothering to a motherless girl

The ability to share the mothering moments of her own children with others

 

O root of all motherhood

True Mother of life and all things

Let me be a mother like her

My door and arms always open

To my own and to those You send

Give me listening ears, a wise heart, and welcoming arms

Let me set free my own children to warm the hearts of others

 

Make me a mother like her

Make me a mother like You

*****

When I became a mother, I looked to my own for help and advice regularly. She was such a shining example that I worried about how I would cope without her. So I asked her how she had got to such a place of wisdom. This poem is based her reply.

YOU WILL BE THE MUM

You will be the mum.

One day you will be the mum.

You will wake up and find that you have become

The pillar that holds up the roof;

The hearth that warms the house;

The electricity that lights their way home.

 

Your arms will be strong to comfort and uphold;

Your head will have infinite space to hold everyone’s secrets;

Your ears will be able to listen to anything;

Your words will be full of well-earned wisdom.

You will be the mum.

 

You will be the one they turn to

When their hearts are broken,

When life overwhelms them,

When they don’t know which way to turn,

When they need your experience to fall back on.

 

As each day passes

With each new joy or challenge

You are being shaped, stretched, filled, until

One day you will be the mum:

The centre of gravity;

The sun around which all generations rotate,

Your pull holding them all in place as they spin through their own orbits.

 

You will be the mum.

*****

And whilst I have lost my own mum, I am still blessed with a lovely mother in law, who has enriched my life with another type of motherly love.

MOTHERS DAY (for Val)

There are the mothers

Who spend nine months

And a day of pain

To give us life itself

 

There are the mothers

Who steer us

Through stormy waters

From toddlerhood to teenage

 

And then there is you.

 

I joined your family

Through someone else’s choice

Yet every day

You give me the precious gift

Of choosing to love me

 

And as these days

Have become years

Your choice has filled

Gaps in my heart

 

And we have woven

A web of strength between us

For our beloved man

And for each other

*****

I have much to remember and thank God for.

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EMBRACE (Five Minute Friday)

(Here’s my regular link up with the lovely FMF Community at http://katemotaung.com/ )

All this week, my mind has been flooded with thoughts of my mum. It’s Mothers’ Day on Sunday but my mum died three years ago and the anniversary was only a few weeks ago. So it’s not surprising that this week’s FMF prompt sparked more memories of her – she loved a cuddle and offered them generously.

I can still remember the softness of her body that moulded to mine whenever we snuggled up. She told me God had deliberately designed her that way for exactly that purpose.

Nowadays my favourite embraces are from my husband and sons. The former always leaves me feeling protected and secure in his strong arms. My eldest son, at 6ft tall, tucks me comfortably under his shoulder with a laughing smile as I wrap my arms around his waist. It reminds me of my dad’s embrace when I was young.

My younger son went through a stage of refusing cuddles, much to his more demonstrative brother’s disappointment. Instead he developed his own signature move we nicknamed the Head First Hug, where he would lean only his face in until cheek to cheek and allow just one arm to go around his shoulders. It wasn’t a standard embrace but it was his and that was always welcome.

I miss my boys’ hugs now they don’t live at home.

But these words from the Bible are playing in my mind, that:

The eternal God is your refuge, and his everlasting arms are under you’ (Deuteronomy 33.27).

and Jesus’ words:

‘How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings’ (Matthew 23.37).

So these promises remind me that my whole family, wherever we are, however separated by time and space, always have Someone’s embrace ready and waiting, where we will find security, love and home. We just have to snuggle up.

THE BLESSING OF FRIENDS (Blessings Jar Week 11)

I love belonging to the Five Minute Friday blogging community. http://katemotaung.com/ Writing to such a deadline sparks creativity in unthought of directions and keeps things tight. However, because of the no editing rule, sometimes I end up rather dissatisfied with my efforts and this week was no exception because I felt I had dwelt too much on the negative and therefore written an unbalanced piece. https://thestufflifeismadeofblog.wordpress.com/2017/03/17/friend-five-minute-friday/

Reading it back a day later, I’m not so sure of that judgement but, in my continuing attempts to be a more glass-half-full person (which is one of the key reasons for this Blessing Jar series), it seems apt to consider the blessings I’ve had from friendships.

I’ve started to think about what exactly the bonds are that hold a friendship together, what makes one friendship last and another drift, why some friendships can be taken up again in a matter of minutes despite miles and years in between and some never progress beyond politeness.

I think the first things that lead to friendship are time and opportunity. We start to become friends with those we do things with – school, work, church. But it needs more than that for a friendship to develop. We need commonalities, similar experiences to discuss, those moments when we suddenly realise, ‘Oh, you too?’.

From 4 years old this glamorous lot were playing together in each others’ gardens and walking to school together with us mums. Now they are all at university but we mums are still friends.

I remember that moment with my friend, Lizzie. For a while we’d just nodded at each other as we walked the same route to drop off and pick up our kids from school before we actually spoke to each other. But it was when we discovered that we had both lived abroad for a while that I felt we ‘clicked’. We went on to discover and develop a host of other shared characteristics – husbands whose work took them abroad; children in the same years at the same schools; a love of travel, good food and nice wine (admittedly that’s actually moved on to a shared love of gin now!); the loss of our mothers; and the caring for increasingly dependent fathers. All these have woven a web of friendship bonds between us.

And cocktails, we also like to swap cocktail recipes!

But there’s another element required for a friendship to last and that’s effort. Going back to work, volunteering at Boys’ Brigade, and an increasing amount of time spent looking after my father – all worthwhile and properly prioritised activities – reduced the time and energy I had to spend with my friends. And a friendship without deep roots won’t survive such neglect. A good friend will understand when other concerns must take precedence but all friendships are like plants and need attention. So I’m glad to be back in the routine of coffee with the other mums on my estate. It nurtures my soul and helps keep me sane.

Of course, the way to tell a true friend is by the way they act, especially when times are tough. There was Jeni, who understood when I had depression that I couldn’t cope with large social events but organised something small and manageable so I didn’t miss out on a special occasion. Simone helped set up the catering on the day of my mum’s funeral. Liz listened endlessly on the phone when I was miserably sick with hyperemesis through both my pregnancies.

Liz has kept my family supplied with her wondrous cakes for a very long time.

And for a proper friendship, as Kath writes on the Glimpsing Glory blog http://glimpsingglory.blogspot.co.uk/2017/03/whats-in-name.html for the same Five Minute Friday prompt, there has to be equality – otherwise it’s not friendship but a different relationship altogether. Friends have no superiority or one sidedness but take it in turns to hold each other up. I’ve been glad to hold my friends up with a listening ear or the benefit of my professional knowledge because I know my own turn has either just passed or is about to come round. As the song says:

‘Lean on me

When you’re not strong

I’ll be your friend

I’ll help you carry on

For it won’t be long

‘fore I’m gonna need

Somebody to lean on.’

Finally, I think what pulls and holds friends closest together, no matter the distance or time between meeting, is shared values. This is what enables us to pick up where we left off straightaway with some. My best female friend lives nearly 150 miles away but put us on the phone together or in the same room and none the miles or months matter. Not bad for a couple of women who, having had the other bigged up by our families before we met, originally decided not to even like each other! Our faith and mutual history has forged elastic bands of friendship between us that stretch but don’t break.

Reunited with old school friends, Elaine and Kiren, last year

In the end, I guess it’s a combination of these factors that creates and establishes friendships. Some will last a season and others a lifetime. Looking back, I can see I have a lot of friendships to thank God for sending my way and I have indeed been blessed.

 

FRIEND (Five Minute Friday)

Welcome to the weekly link up with the fabulous Five Minute Friday Community at http://katemotaung.com/) This week’s word is ‘Friend’.

Strange how I’ve found it so difficult today to write about such a simple word – perhaps because it’s such a big subject or perhaps because it has reminded me of the many times when I’ve found it hard to make or keep friends.

I think growing up it felt as if many of my friendships came readymade. I don’t remember where I met my first best friend. I know our mums were pregnant and under the same doctor together, that we lived only a few doors from each other, and automatically walked to both playgroup and primary school together. Kerry was quite a forceful character and I just followed her lead. When we went to different secondary schools, with less time naturally spent together, I guess we had less in common and drifted apart as she became less available.

Outside of school, much of our family life revolved around church where other close friendships seemed to happen naturally. It was just expected that the children of my parents’ friends became my friends – and they did, some of them much more lasting. Apart from these, in my teens I think I drifted from one friendship group to another, never quite feeling like I fully belonged. In 6th Form, most of those I thought were my friends let me down whereas others I’d considered more acquaintances proved kinder and more accepting. The unwritten social rules proved confusing and at times hurtful.

Moving two hundred miles away to college, I was glad to have a fresh start where I could be known for who I was, without history or known relations, but I found it so difficult without all my familiar supports to back me up. My self confidence completely deserted me for the first few weeks.

Things improved from there though. I’d read somewhere that the way to make friends was to be a friend, to take the initiative, treat anyone I met as a potential friend, not to wait for invitations but to give them out. And it worked.

It’s a lesson I continue to apply as an adult. In a new situation – conferences I’ve gone to on my own, new jobs, holidays, meeting my husband’s work colleagues – I’ve learned to take a breath, remember that others may also be feeling nervous (but that we’re all good at hiding it!), and make the first approach. I remember to take an interest in others, to ask questions about them and let them talk. I’ve also learned that I am better one to one or in small groups so to play to my strengths and that it’s ok to take time out when I find large gatherings a bit overwhelming, regather my equilibrium and then take the plunge into the social occasion again.

Of course, it’s easier now because once again I have great back up: I know that my team of male cheerleaders (husband, sons) will always be onside and the company I love best. And their love and friendship is an echo of the ultimate Friend who reminds me that ‘You need never feel alone when God’s prayer away’. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rVkJsyNmtpY)

The best cheerleaders a girl could have – and I had to choose this photo as it is St Patrick’s Day!

BLESSING AFTER BLESSING: The Blessing of BB Camp (Blessings Jar Week 10)

I’m sorry this post is so late – blame it on busyness and exhaustion. I spent from Friday night to Sunday night at Boys’ Brigade Camp, with my days lasting from 6.30am to 10.30pm, and I’m still recovering.

But I drove home from Camp with such a glow in my heart and a renewed enthusiasm for the work we do at BB. Yes, it had been hard work with a few frustrations along the way but there had been so many moments of joy, fun, hope, and encouragement that they sparkled in my mind like diamonds in the rain.

I won’t forget the Challenge Course for a long time. After a convoluted route there, pretending to be ninjas and ‘hiding’ as trees/bushes/letterboxes from any adults we encountered, we reached a series of assault course type obstacles in the woods with extra mud (the activity leader brought buckets of water to ensure there was plenty!). Nor will Pete*, who didn’t want to spoil his Hollister hoodie so borrowed my fleece to wear instead – my bright cerise pink fleece, the one he spent the rest of the weekend trying to persuade me to photoshop a different colour in the pictures I took.

I won’t forget either the sense of achievement on the boys’ faces when they succeeded in an activity, many of which involved negotiating a very high object (a climbing wall, a tower, a pole) and then trusting a rope of some kind to come down (e.g. a zip wire). On Saturday Jake* quietly refused to go on the giant swing because he didn’t like it last year but was so proud of himself on Sunday for jumping off the very top of the trapeze and the power fan for the first time.

Not all the boys managed all the activities 100%. Fear of heights (or fear of hitting the ground hard, as my husband would describe it) overcame some of them. The others had to learn patience as a boy froze on one of the pieces of equipment. They started to learn which words encouraged and which ones didn’t. But there was always at least one to reassure that boy when he came back down again feeling the odd one out for not doing everything the others had. I have a picture in my mind of two of them sheltered from the rain, hugging for several minutes until they felt better.

Then there was the joy of seeing BB staff’s skills, old and new, in action. AJ used his previous experience as a children’s party entertainer to tell the story of the Feeding of the 5000 with his magic bag’s endless supply of chocolate coins. That certainly held the boys’ attention! Tom led a Bible Study and prayer on the story of Jesus Calming the Storm, the first time he’d ever done something like this – but it won’t be his last.

And I can’t miss out Eric – the PGL leader assigned to us for the whole weekend. This 19 year old never flagged, despite the long hours he worked. He asked to join our Bible studies as he was a Christian himself and joined in himself at our final group prayer, giving the boys another example of what BB calls ‘true Christian manliness’. He combined energetic enthusiasm with quiet authority in a way I’ve seen few lads of his age do. This was a man doing a job that totally matched his gifts.

A weekend like this always gives us staff a chance to see another side and get to know the boys better. One quiet boy hardly stopped talking. A ‘sensible’ one turned out to be quite the mischief maker. I learned how important extended family was to one lad who I know has had a difficult upbringing. I was entertained by another’s card tricks at Seniors Night on Saturday. So at our final Bible study, as we took it in turns to pray (silently or out loud), I looked around the circle and felt a much stronger bond and concern for these boys than before, having had an insight into their worlds outside BB, and that consequently my prayers would be so much more accurate and heartfelt.

I told parents in a follow up email yesterday that it’s a real privilege to take the boys on Camp. But it’s more than that: it’s a real blessing.

(* names changed)

ABANDON (Five Minute Friday)

Here’s my weekly link to the Five Minute Friday blog community where we write for 5 minutes on a prompt word. Check out the other talented writers in this community here: http://katemotaung.com/

It’s strange day today: roles are reversed. I’m the one packing to go away for a few days and he’s the one who’s chosen to stay home so he can have few more hours with me and see me off when I leave.

How many times have I said goodbye for his work trips? How many early hasty airport drop offs with views of the sunrise through suppressed tears on my return drive home? How many too fast loading of luggage into a taxi’s boot? How many feelings that he’s mentally gone before he physically left later that day?

I always delayed sleeping the first few nights, trying to avoid that too cold, too big, too quiet bed, until eventually the advantage of sleeping diagonally became the silver lining in this cloud. Only the warmth of his return to it brought the bed back into its welcome secure proportions again.

I remember how much the children missed him, the questions I had to field about why Daddy’s job took him to other countries away from them. And I remember how hurt and confused he felt on his return when these two little people refused to speak to him for the first few days because they were still cross that he had left them for a while. Presents were either refused or quickly snatched before turning their backs on him and marching out.

And now it’s me that’s going. And there will be no children in the house to distract him, no chance of a Boys’ Night In watching their favourite movies and having takeaway, only work and a visit to his father in law.

It feels strange. It feels a bit like I am abandoning him, even though I’ll only be 12 miles away.

But I am reminded of our early days, before we married, when we lived miles apart, only together at weekends and not always that. We wore matching gold pendants, two halves of a broken heart with the word MIZPAH on it. It really references a border dispute between a man and his father in law but the Bible verse held hope and comfort for us:

‘The Lord watch between thee and me, while we are apart one from another.’ (Genesis 31.49)

May it be true again this weekend.

 

THE BLESSING OF TOGETHERNESS (Blessing Jar Week 9)

It’s been dreich day – only the Scots word will do – grey and overcast from the start with drumming rain settling into a steady dampness that doesn’t quite feel enough to require a waterproof but seeps gradually into cold insistence.

I spent most of the afternoon tramping muddy paths through the forest, catching up on news and plans and thoughts with my older son. We bent our way through a re-creation of a World War One trench and balanced on the edges of thick viscous puddles to preserve his insubstantial footwear. I’d walked the same trail with his father and brother yesterday but this time there were no shafts of sunlight falling photogenically through the pines to distract us; picturesque views were masked by the drabness of the weather.

But I felt so content and thankful for this straightforward pleasure of walking and talking.

On the way back, we bought apple sauce (no chutney to be found in the little shop) for us all to eat with slices of spicily peppered pork pie followed by warming mugs of tea. Another pleasure.

wp_20170305_12_39_46_pro-3(Who needs a birthday cake when you can have a birthday pork pie?!)

Yesterday I drove with my younger son to fetch his brother, a scenic journey through typical English countryside of rolling fields and over the 40p toll bridge (with its smiling attendants) for the flooded River Trent. We listened to his choice of music and he drew my attention to the beautiful words of a poem at the end of ‘Sun of Jean’ by Loyle Carner where a mother refers to her ‘scribble of a boy’. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kf1tvf4Sw6A We relished in a joint love of rhythm and words well used. I asked his advice about an issue I need to resolve at Boys’ Brigade and he was able to help me.

And I valued the sharing of ideas and opinions and information.

Today we have celebrated their dad’s birthday a day early (before they have to return to jobs and lectures). The boys, knowing their father so well, have bought cards that only the three of them would understand the joke, laughter filling the room. My beloved has read with appreciation the message painstakingly written in the card from his father in law, knowing the time and effort involved to do it, as well as in wrapping his present. Personal gifts, all lovingly chosen with his preferences and personality in mind, he has enthusiastically unpacked and will duly treasure. And the rest of us have enjoyed the afternoon-long smile on his face.

Tonight there will be takeaway curry and a film as we all sit round the long purple sofa. It doesn’t really matter how good the film is; the fact that movies are our family’s thing is what matters.

Our one indulgence of this celebration weekend away will be the hot tub: out on a wooden deck overlooking the woods, foaming with warm volcanic bubbles, lit by a slowing changing rainbow, and preferably with a contrasting outside atmosphere of cold, rain, or preferably both. But much as I love the decadence of the hot tub, the real joy will be in doing it together as a family. Yes, there may be wine shared, something fizzy quite possibly (all in suitably safe plastic glasses I hasten to reassure you), but it is the joint experience, the building of memories that is the true gift.

This weekend has been all about the blessing of togetherness

PURPOSE (Five Minute Friday)

In the last year of my mum’s life, especially when she was overcome with health problems, I remember my dad saying that his purpose in life was to look after her. It didn’t matter that she wasn’t living with him by then or that the practical looking after was done by others. She was his purpose.

So it was devastating for him when she died. Not only had he lost the woman who had been the love of his life for over 55 years but he lost all sense of his role in life. I have lost count of the times I have heard him pray to God to ‘take me now’ because of this.

Since his recent move into a care home, I haven’t heard that. He is distracted and engaged by the new things around him, in particular by the friendliness (and prettiness!) of the nursing staff. He is making new relationships alongside maintaining old ones because of the proximity and accessibility of the home.

Perhaps he is finding a purpose again.

And I am reminded of the apt promise of Psalm 145.14, which Dad and I read together when he was in hospital last month:

“The Lord will uphold those who fall.”

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(And here he is, showing just how engaged he is in his new home!)