MORE (Five Minute Friday)

‘Always remember you are

Braver than you believe,

Stronger than you seem,

Smarter than you think,

And loved more than you know.’

I saw the sign in a local DIY store and somehow it hit home. It’s what I want my kids to believe, especially when life treats them harshly, that they have more resources to cope and more back up than they realise.

And I want them to know the source of that courage, strength and love. Not just how many people love them, or how much we love them, but also that their Heavenly Father loves them with an unimaginably vast love, which they can rely and call on at any time. I want them to know, in all its vastness, how personal and individual it is for them, and how much more they can be – more secure, more resilient, more fulfilled – when they trust in His love for them.

I’m reminded of a book we read when they were children that described someone special and ended with the words, ‘Do you want to know what a special person looks like?’ and a page that was a mirror. Or of the Simpsons episode where Lisa develops a close relationship with an inspirational substitute teacher: when he leaves, he writes her a note that will be all she needs to know whenever she feels alone; it says, ‘You are Lisa Simpson’.

I want my children to know how special they are but I want more for them. I want them to know that they are not just special but treasured. I want them to know for sure that they are loved. I try to model that steady hope, unswerving trust, and extravagant love but I hope that, as the moon is to the sun, they realise my love (which feels enormous) is only a reflection of how much more they can find in God’s.

This post is my weekly link up with the Five Minute Friday community, hosted at http://katemotaung.com/ where we each write for 5 minutes on a one word prompt. Check out some of the other blogs on the site.

 

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The Blessing of a Staycation (BLESSING JAR WEEK 15)

I’m just at the end of a week and a half’s leave with that familiar ‘wish I didn’t have to go back to work ‘ feeling. I haven’t been away anywhere (except to chauffeur sons back north) but it has felt like a proper holiday – I guess that’s what’s meant by a staycation.

So why have I felt so relaxed?

There have been a few holiday-ish activities like meals out, family get togethers, lie ins. And I’ve deliberately avoided doing (or thinking about) work, both paid and voluntary. But there’s been a comfortable rhythm about the past ten days that I think has played a key part.

I’ve still woken up at my usual 7.00am, or earlier, but no brash alarm clock has forced me up and no deadline for leaving the house chased me out. Instead I’ve had plenty of time to spend the first part of my day with God, praying and studying my Bible over a leisurely cup of coffee or two. Don’t get me wrong, I try to make this the first task of every day (I’ve promised my husband and boys that I’ll pray for them daily just like my mother did for me) but time constraints change the nature of the encounter, sometimes making it feel like a task on a To Do List rather than precious time with my Heavenly Dad.

Then there’s been a balance of physical and mental activities. I’ve read books and started planning our Silver Wedding celebration as well as walked and gardened regularly.

In fact, the garden has been a major factor in the feeling of refreshment this week. Again, it’s something I try to do weekly. It’s one of my sanity restorers – my family refer to gardening as ‘Mum’s therapy’. So it’s been great to do get outside almost every day. Even better has been working on a joint project with my husband.

We’ve talked about it for a year or two but this week we finally found the perfect raised vegetable trug. As we put it together from the flat pack it came in (and by that, I mean that he got to flex his muscles and power tools while I held pieces together – we’re a good team and it proved satisfying for both of us), I was reminded of our early days of marriage when we similarly put together nursery furniture. Happy memories – it was a warm feeling building something together again.

Today we filled the trug with earth, careful to sift out any stones, and sowed its first seeds. “I know a parable about this,” grinned my husband as we did so. On one side, in a large pot, we planted broad beans, joking about pantomimes, and on the other, in the ground, two miniature apple trees, hanging on to the last of their blossom.

By the afternoon little dots of promise that we hope will transform into radishes, spring onions, and lettuces lay safely hidden under dampened compost whilst the first of the pea seedlings had already started to curl one tiny tendril around its support. The excitement we felt at this early miracle of growth!

I’ve loved gardening for a long time, was given my own flowerbed to care for as a child, but the experience is so much better shared. It’s not as if my other half stays indoors but lawn mowing and pressure washing the patio tend to be solo tasks. It gave me so much joy to be working alongside him on the same project.

And it isn’t over. There’s space for more in our designated vegetable corner. Potatoes in bags (after they’ve been chitted of course) will be next. And something else to be found for the troughs we’ve inherited.

It’s not been a perfect, worry free break – I’m not a perfect, worry free person. But it has been a welcome change in pace and time for what/who matters most me. It has given me hope for the future. It has been a blessing.

(Special thanks to R for the photos for this post)

Keep SINGing (Five Minute Friday)

Here’s my weekly link up with the fabulous Five Minute Friday community hosted by Kate Motaung. This weeks’ prompt word is SING.

Sing, they said, and I’m immediately lost in a labyrinth of memories signposted with songs:

Rick Astley (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AC3Ejf7vPEY) encouraged and kept me determined through tough times. Kanye (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JCYAjGnvc7U) wove a bond as we waved goodbye. Take That  (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KII1ruAfvsg) filled me with pride and starry hope. Casting Crowns  (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C53GgUJ6y-Y) grounded me in perspective and belonging. OneRepublic  (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hT_nvWreIhg)  expressed my sense of intensity in adversity.

And that’s just the past 3 years.

Driving through my life, singing has kept me going, slingshotting me round each twist and turn of the labyrinth, making my way back to the beginning with echoes of songs from the centre as I travel: my mother’s lullabies and choir solos; my father’s subconscious hums and whistles whenever he was content; my teenage years filled with hymns ancient and modern, a band or two, and a couple of musicals; my husband’s youthful demo tape and self taught guitar; our private duets.

And so the labyrinth turns me back towards the outside, propelled on by ‘Will Your Anchor Hold’, ‘Sally McLennane’, and ‘Never Too Much’. One day, ‘Something Worth Leaving Behind’ will play but I won’t be there to join in – I’ll be too busy singing the Hallelujah Chorus somewhere else.

A two thousand year old blessing (Blessing Jar Week

I’m exhausted. It’s no wonder really. I’ve barely slept for two nights. Everyone told me to rest up yesterday but how can you, when your mind won’t stop racing? Last night, every time I drifted off the dreams started: shouting and hammering, blood dripping in the darkness; someone screams and I wake up heart thumping to the same harsh rhythm.

So I’m giving up on sleep and rest now. I’m better off getting up and doing something, even at this hour. I’ve got to do something, get away on my own, go do the one last thing I can for him. I’m going to finish off properly the rush job the others did the day before yesterday. I’ll take plants, a watering can, and a little trowel to make it look beautiful, cared for, loved, just like he was.

It’s so early it’s still dark. The streets are cool and quiet, no one about, such a contrast to the last time I was here. My bag’s heavy but I don’t care. I just want to get there, do what I came to do, say what I want to say in private, pour it all out to him…as if he could still hear me.

When I get to the cemetery gate, weirdly it’s unlocked and slightly ajar. And where are the security guards? Not that it matters; in fact, it makes things easier for me – I hadn’t thought about how I’d get in before I left and at least there’s no awkward questions about what am I doing there at this hour.

Cautiously – I don’t want to trip or fall into anything – I make my way to the grave. It’s not easy to find in the dark, especially with no headstone yet to mark it. I’m looking for some freshly mounded earth but when I get to the place – and I know this is the right place – I’m stopped in my tracks. The grave’s been desecrated. All that’s there is a gaping hole. The lid of the coffin and has been flung to one side and there’s nothing in it!

Oh my God! I’m filled with horror. After all that’s happened, where on earth is he? What have they done with him? Haven’t we gone through enough?

I drop my things and hare back to the others. The boys will know what to do.

Well, they just run off to see if I’m right, not made a mistake. Mind numb and legs turned to jelly, all I can do is trudge after them.

By the time I get back to the cemetery, they’re already on their way back. I ask them if they know what’s happened but they just ignore me and keep walking. They have strange looks on their faces. The big man’s dumbfounded, scared even. But littl’un looks like it’s his birthday and he’s just been given the best present ever. There’s a stubbornness in both their expressions too, as if they’ve had a disagreement.

I watch them pass me and then carry on to the graveside. My things are still there and, anyway, I want to know what’s happened to the body.

It’s beginning to get light now as I get to the grave. I’m vaguely aware of birdsong around me. A bold blackbird forages for food within a few feet of me, strewing leaves and mulch in his wake. A squirrel runs up the fence and sits momentarily next to a pigeon. I’m concentrating on these mundane details to avoid looking at that hole in the ground.

But it has to be faced so I edge forwards and glance down into it again, to check that I haven’t been imagining things.

Then I get my second shock of the day. The grave isn’t empty at all. Through my tears, I can see two figures, one at each end, with a thermos and steaming cups of tea. Perhaps they’re gravediggers on their break – or grave robbers – although there’s no sign of their spades.

They glance up at me.

‘Why are you crying?’

Well, if they are grave robbers, or gravediggers, they might be the ones who’ve moved him. So I tell them that the body has been taken and I don’t know where it is. But I get no reply. They just stare at me, as if I know the answer to my own question.

This is too much. I’m beginning to doubt my own sanity.

I turn away and there’s another figure in front of me. Oh Lord, it must be the groundsman. The work day has well and truly started and I’ll get no peace to grieve now. Although how can I grieve if the body’s missing?

‘Why are you crying?’ he asks.

Why do people keep asking me that? It’s a cemetery! Who wouldn’t be crying here? But he carries on:

‘Who are you looking for?’

And I think to myself, that sounds a bit more helpful, maybe this guy knows where the body is? So I ask him.

He’s quiet for a moment and I’m aware that he’s looking at me with concern, really looking at me, but with a slight smile hovering at the edge of his lips. There’s only one person who ever looked at me like that. I’m thrown by the resemblance.

Then he says one word and that clinches it: my name. He says my name. Like he knows me. And I realise that he does know me. He knows me better than anyone. He’s the only one who ever knew me.

And the smile at the edges of his lips spreads right across his face as my mouth opens in amazement and wonder.

‘Oh! It’s you!’

I throw myself into his arms and he holds me in that bear hug of his. It’s like coming home.

After a little while, he gently takes me by the shoulders to look at me and speaks again.

‘We can’t stay here forever. There’ll be time for all this later. But you can’t keep this to yourself – I need you to go tell the rest of the family. Tell them I’m off to see our Dad.’

Reluctantly I let go of him, but I’m heartened by the promise that there’ll be more time, and I start to realise that I can’t be so unkind as not to share this with the others. They need to know what’s happened. They need to see what I’ve seen. They need to know the good news, this amazing, wonderful, incredible news.

I’ve got to let them know.

 

EMPTY (Five Minute Friday)

It’s a big word, empty.

Strange how such nothingness can be so vast.

Or it can be small but devastating.

 

Empty reminds me of the hole left in my life

by the death of my mother.

Empty reminds me of how depression

sapped me of motivation and energy,

leaving me void of feeling,

a big black terrifying blank.

 

But empty also reminds me of

a cleared room before decorating,

a white canvas ready with easel, brushes, and paints laid out before it,

a vase waiting to be filled,

bare earth before planting,

the last Resurrection Egg in the box.

 

Empty is the moment before something new.

Empty is a place to begin again.

Empty is the potential for anything.

Empty is a tomb on Sunday morning.

Empty is the garden where we meet Him.

(This is my weekly link up with the Five Minute Friday community hosted at http://katemotaung.com/).

 

THE BLESSING OF A DIFFERENT ANGLE (Blessing Jar Week 14)

If anyone had seen me, they would have wondered what I was doing: lying on my back, knees bent, gazing up at the sky through the canopy of the Rowan tree above me. They would have assumed I was doing nothing but if anyone had asked me, I would have replied: “I’m paying attention.”

It was a glorious view. The new leaves, in the pattern of ferns, wobbled in the imperceptible breeze against a perfect baby blue sky. The silvered trunk stretched up into a veritable tangle of branches. If I looked carefully, I could just see the promise of blossom in clusters of tiny buds here and there. Two plump bees inspected them hopefully for pollen. Far above, a plane traced twin trails across the blue and, a little closer a group of terns, far from the coast, hovered, then sped away.

The spring symphony of birdsong in full surround sound, the beginnings of the dusk chorus, encircled me. I recognised the double coo-cooing of the wood pigeons and the tapping percussion of a woodpecker. But an unseen call and response duet remained a mystery. From a few gardens away, came the echoing repeat of my neighbour’s grandchild laughing. The bumbling of bees hummed in and out of the concert.

I could feel the fronds of untrimmed lawn under me, cool and sleek against my aching back and shoulders. And as I turned my head, I got a close up, side on view of the bed where I’d just dug in some rose and clematis feed. A morass of bulb life, some spent, some blind, some on the verge of bloom, formed a dense undergrowth, a miniature jungle – beneficial for keeping the clematis roots chilled (no wonder it was flourishing, scaling the Rowan’s trunk to head height in only its second year). Delicate allium flowers nudged their way through the verdigris and lime green leaves as dwindling narcissi towered over with bobbing faded heads.

Fascinated by this miniature scene, I sat up and edged my way forward to sit on the step next to my herb patch for a similar height view. Tiny golden tips edged the forest green of thyme leaves. Jungly mint’s former attempts to take over the whole patch were  suitably constrained by the boundaries of its buried pot. Rosemary waited for warmer temperatures before it sent up new growth but lavender was already on its way. A clump of grassy chives sprouted like a Mohican hairstyle. I knew the familiar fragrances that would be released if I reached out and rubbed any of these plants between finger and thumb – I could smell them in my mind. I started to think of recipes I could use them in this summer: mint lemonade, lavender scones, tartare sauce.

Gardening is mostly done from above, standing or kneeling. But this gave me a child’s view of the world again, or an ant’s. For once, I gazed at the side or underneath of things and found new beauty. It made me stop and listen, take notice and touch, remember and smell, imagine and taste.

All this from 15 minutes’ rest. It was worth paying attention. But I would have missed it if I hadn’t succumbed to that mattress of lush jade grass.

And now I’m thinking about how Jesus looked at life from an unusual angle: how He told us the best faith is simple and childlike not complicated and grown up; how good leadership comes from being a servant; how latecoming workers in a vineyard got paid the same as early birds; how He was known as a friend to publicans, tax collectors, and prostitutes rather than to the great and the good; how His death brought life in all its fullness.

In fact, I wonder if Jesus’ whole life was a means of giving us a new angle from which to view and engage with God? Many of us see God as presiding over the earth from far off. Remember that song Bette Midler sang, ‘From A Distance’ (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EC3FW_RU-GI), or Salvador Dali’s depiction of the Crucifixion hovering high above the world, ‘Christ of Saint John of the Cross’? (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christ_of_Saint_John_of_the_Cross)? But I don’t believe God ever wanted that. We are meant to be in immediate relationship with Him, ‘walking in the Garden [together] in the cool of the day’ (Genesis ch.3 v.8). That’s why ‘The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighbourhood’ (John ch.1 v.14 The Message), so that we could see what God is like up close and personal, a side by side view.

Looking at something or someone from a different angle changes our perspective and relationship with them. We notice previously unseen details, consider new possibilities, but only if we take the time and pay attention.

Today’s the beginning of Holy Week. It seems to me that it’s a good time, whether God is a familiar or unfamiliar figure in our lives, to look at Him in Jesus from a fresh angle, to pay Him some attention, and see what blessings come our way as a result.

 

It Would Have Been ENOUGH (FIVE MINUTE FRIDAY)

Recently my boys have had interesting time explaining to their friends why they have to be home next week for Passover when we’re not Jewish. It’s a tradition we started when they were small after I read about Michelle Guinness’s habit of embedding faith in the family home rather than a church building on a Sunday. And it has become as important a family event as Christmas for us. More on that in another blog post, I think.

I was reminded of part of the traditional words from our Passover Haggadah by this week’s Five Minute Friday prompt. After we list the 10 plagues leading up to the escape from Egypt as well as any modern day plagues we endure, we list a host of ‘if onlys’ about what else God did at that time, each followed by the response ‘It would have been enough’:

If God had only brought us out of Egypt, slain their firstborn, given us their wealth, divided the sea, satisfied us in the wilderness, brought us to Sinai, or brought us to the Promised Land, without any of the ‘added extras’ (crossing the sea on dry land, feeding with manna, giving us the law, building the Temple), each would have been enough.

I wonder sometimes how often I really do appreciate each of God’s actions as sufficient or whether I take His generosity for granted? But I also wonder whether each of these things listed would have been enough for God? After all, His generosity is extravagant not mean spirited. It is not in His nature to only do ‘just enough’. Look at the Feeding of the Five Thousand with its twelve baskets of leftovers!

I suppose the way to avoid complacency is by gratitude. This section of the Haggadah ends with the reminder of ‘how much more must we go on thanking God for His great mercies to us.’ Or as the hymn puts it:

‘The steadfast love of the Lord never changes.

His mercies never come to an end.

They are new every morning, new every morning.

Great is Thy faithfulness, O Lord,

Great is Thy faithfulness.’

GRACE, a blessing over food (Blessing Jar Week 13)

‘Dear Father God, thank You for this food and for this chance to be together. Amen.’

At the corner table by the window of a Spanish restaurant, it was a moment of shared private gratitude, quietly spoken in public. Spread over the table in front of us were tomato drizzled patates bravas and chorizo, two types of paella, two salads, garlic soaked mushrooms, crispy fried squid, and sea bass dressed with raspberry vinaigrette. Homemade mint lemonade flavoured with mango or passionfruit waited to wash it down.

But everything paused for the familiar words before we dug in.

A family tradition established over decades and generations, it would be easy not to pause within the pause, to take the time to both think about the meaning of the words and to mean the meaning. Perhaps because we are less frequently a family of four now, when we do meet (and that almost always involves a meal), I have a deeper sense of appreciation. These words my husband prays with no introduction, a simple reminder of the presence of Another at every meal we eat, also link us to past generations who taught us the habit with much the same words. I hope my boys continue the habit, alone and when they have their own families.

It was a delicious meal, with personable helpful waiting staff, a relaxed reunion of our little family in a convivial atmosphere. We appreciated the skill in the cooking and new flavour combinations. We were grateful for a whole day of togetherness in the Spring sunshine – chatting in the car, sharing falafel wraps and whirly ice cream in a park, enjoying the view of a host of hellebores and daffodils painting the grass with colour, a cup of tea in our son’s digs, finishing with this meal in an evening still full of light since the clocks went forward.

It’s easy to take the everyday for granted, to forget what a blessing it is to have daily food, let alone in such creative abundance, and loved ones to share it with. I’m learning this year, as I fill my Blessings Jar, to stop and take notice of the big and the small, the momentous and the moments. I’m learning to be mindful of these blessings of the ordinary. Our daily habit of saying grace reminds me to do this too.

DEFINE (Five Minute Friday)

Apologies for the late posting link to Five Minute Friday at http://katemotaung.com/. I’ve been away for the weekend (more of that in my next post) and didn’t take my tablet with me. I wrote the post on my phone but sadly couldn’t post from it. Hope it was worth the wait.

I love to know the definitions of words – in the past, perhaps because defining a word meant precision and exactitude; it gave it clear boundaries, put it in a nice neat box. When I worked in mental health, one of my clients, with extreme OCD, would question almost every word or phrase I used – there was no room for sloppiness or throwaway remarks with him: it provoked too much anxiety.

But language is more slippery, more tricksy than that. Having studied French and R.E., I learned that often there is no direct translation for words. Or they can have multiple meanings, the context needing careful study to deduce it. Or in poetry it can be an advantage to play with ambiguity of definition.

And I love that.

I love learning the etymology of a word, which brings depth to its meaning. I love a thesaurus, the multiple alternatives bringing a breadth of meaning.

Words are birds, swooping and soaring like swallows, not caged like canaries. We can pin them down like a Victorian butterfly collection and admire their precise detail or we can let them fly, letting our minds and hearts adventure with them to unthought of sources of nectar.