OVERCOME (Five Minute Friday)

For some great inspirational writing, come and join this great blogging community at http://fiveminutefriday.com/2017/10/26/overcome-day-27/.  Anyway, here’s my contribution to this week’s prompt:

It’s been a really hard week at work. There’s been a particularly difficult patient situation, taking up much more time, energy, and emotion than most. And I’m exhausted, so exhausted that all I’ve felt up to doing when I get home has been to grab some food and flop in front of the TV for the rest of the evening.

I had an interesting conversation with my husband about it. When I told him I anticipated a difficult day ahead, he said:

“Aren’t all your cases difficult? Surely in your work, it reaches a point where your patients’ problems just can’t be solved?”

I should add for those who don’t know that I work in palliative care. So he is right, in a way, that I can’t solve the inevitable problem of having an incurable disease for my patients.

But most times, I can solve the problem that I’ve been called in to address: how to get off a toilet more easily, how to move about in bed without help, how to take a full part in a daughter’s wedding for someone who’s wheelchair bound and needs hoisting, how to prioritise the demands on someone’s reduced energy.

Overcoming problems is my job.

However, my husband’s questions made me think about the criteria required to do this. And I came to the conclusion that all my solutions are useless without a patient and carers who are willing to try them and an environment conducive to them. That’s not the case with the situation this week – so that’s why things are going wrong and I’m getting so frustrated.

It’s making me think too about how I am with God and His solutions though.

Can I have some control over the environment in which I find myself? Maybe.

Can I decide whether to follow His directions or not? Absolutely. And how much less stressful would my life be if I were more compliant with the Great Overcomer’s solutions?

I think I’ve got some listening and obeying to do.


The UnDISCOVERed Country (Five Minute Friday)

My family have been Star Trek fans for a long time – when we had a cat, we named him not after the Russian author but the Star Trek character, Chekhov. And this week’s prompt word made me think of the title of one of the films: The Undiscovered Country.

It’s meant to be a Klingon phrase referring to the future.

I like that idea, that the future is a place waiting to be discovered and explored.

It can be daunting to realise that we are not in control of everything that is going to happen to us. I’ve been reminded of that this year, how events have not been exactly as I would have predicted. There had been talk for years of the need to extend our work hours, so much so that I had come to believe it would never actually happen, yet here I am working fulltime at last. I thought we would be celebrating my dad’s 90th birthday this year but he died exactly two months short of it.

However, as Christians, we can have confidence that, whilst we do not know for sure the path our lives will take, the future that lies ahead of us, we have a Trailblazer who has gone ahead and marked the way for us to follow. We just have to keep our eyes open for His signposting.

And we can be confident that our future, with all its possible twists and turns, opportunities and calamities, is not just known but held by the One who loves us most. An old song I remember from Sunday School puts it this way:

‘For I know who holds the future

And He guides me with His hand.

With God things don’t just happen,

Everything by Him is planned.

So as I face tomorrow,

With its problems large and small,

I’ll trust the God of miracles,

Give to Him my all.’

In my experience, He doesn’t always show us the path very far ahead. It takes faith and trust to say, as did Christina Rossetti in ‘Lead Kindly Light’:

‘one step enough for me.’

But if we do put our trust in His leading and dedicate our way to Him, I believe we will find that Undiscovered Country turns out to be Aslan’s very own land and our own true home.



I think it was my mother in law, or perhaps her mother, who, when a child complained of a leg or tummy hurting, would reply:

“Well, at least it proves you’ve got one!”

It would be easy in this series of blessings just to count the things that have made me happy. But that doesn’t make them blessings. It would be easy this week just to list the events that have brought me satisfaction, excitement even. And they may well have been blessings. But the resultant feelings aren’t evidence that they were blessings.

In fact, it would be easy to look back at the difficulties and challenges, the stresses and frustrations of this week and feel that I have been sapped rather than blessed. Or at least to weigh the pleasing against the disappointing in order to judge, on balance, if this has been a blessed week or not.

Although there have been highlights (going to my first local writer’s group would be one, a successful first session of a new course I’m running at work another), much of this week has been spent listening to others who are in pain. And my heart has ached.

The ache of missing my father has not been far away at times either. I wrote a new poem, which although satisfying and cathartic in some way, also brought my grief to the surface both as I wrote it and each time I reread it:

I drove past the road to the crematorium today.

I didn’t mean to.

I took a wrong turning

And had to find another route to work.


The wide rising road turned gully ambush

As military memory sent soldier scouts

To line my way

With brown direction signs

Among the lamp posts, school noticeboards, and advertising hoardings.


And I no longer travelled in the driving seat

But a captured passenger in a limousine,

hand holding, senses heightened,

babbling nonsense to fill the unreal bubble,

Following a flower filled hearse.


Back in my Skoda

A cold clenching squeezed my sternum

As they spoke on the radio of your favourite rugby team

That you will never watch again.

But, as my mother in law would say, at least it proves I have one. And I think she is right. The heartache that I feel at my loss or others’ pain is proof that I have a heart and that it is working in the compassionate way for which it was designed.

So even when I or someone I love is going through grief or difficulty, I can hold onto the fact of blessing whether I feel blessed or not. And I can thank God for both the good and the bad and the good in the bad. And I can even say (at times – I’m not that mature a Christian yet!):

“The Lord gives and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.”

INVITE (Five Minute Friday)

Here’s this week’s 5 minute free write (no editing, no over thinking, no worrying about perfect grammar or spelling) on the prompt word ‘Invite’ linked to the Five Minute Friday community at http://fiveminutefriday.com/2017/10/12/writing-life-invite/.

Two weeks after my father’s funeral, we threw a party for our Silver Wedding anniversary. We thought about cancelling after he died but remembered his words that ‘life is for the living not the dead’ and decided to go ahead. We felt like we needed something positive to look forward to after the long gap between his passing and the formal farewell.

We’d spent a lot of time and energy in advance organising our party: we hired a hall and a band, bought and made decorations, sourced food and drink, designed invitations. But because of Dad’s death, those invitations were sent out later than originally planned.

Perhaps that’s why so many people turned it down.

They all had valid reasons – prior commitments, holidays, childcare issues, one who was about to give birth! The ones I found most frustrating were those who didn’t reply at all, even with reminders. It was dispiriting and disappointing, at a time when I was in sore need of reassurance and encouragement.

I knew we had invited more than the hall’s total capacity, going on the principle that a quarter to a third would be unable to come, but when more than half refused the invitation, I found myself identifying with the host in the Parable of the Great Feast. I started to wonder if we would have to go out on the streets to invite strangers too.

And I began to wonder how God feels when we ignore His invitations? Whether it’s to the Ultimate Great Party He has planned or to those daily alone times with Him.

Now, don’t get me wrong, we had a fabulous celebration in the end. We were surrounded by a good number of lovely friends and family we were so happy to share it with.

We danced, we sang, we laughed, we collapsed in smiling exhaustion afterwards. And maybe we appreciated those that came more because others didn’t.

But to refuse (or ignore) an invitation has an impact. I learned that with this event. So I will try to be thoughtful in future in my response to the ones that come my way, human or divine.

The Blessing of Boys’ Brigade (THE BLESSING JAR)

It was one of those mornings when I didn’t want to go to work.

After a restless night’s sleep, I woke from the middle of disturbing dreams of desperately searching for someone in a crushing crowd, with anxiety still caught in my throat. That sense of unease transferred to the day ahead and was hard to shake.

Work proved to be another challenging day in a week of challenging days. Complex cases with too many unknowns making decision making unclear. A growing list of referrals to address whilst launching a new project. That new project started but without the proper systems in place so inefficiencies and confusion running amok. Miscommunication about transport arrangements so diplomacy needed to smooth ruffled feathers. Extra meetings to fit in. Parking problems.

And then there were what we call the ‘heart-sink’ patients – those whose circumstances are dreadfully sad, whose condition is deteriorating at a rate they and their families struggle to cope with, for whom our visits are full of bad news they don’t want to hear. We deal with plenty of sadness in palliative care but these are the ones that get to us most, where we have to take a deep breath and really gather our resilience before we knock on the door.

It was a day nothing out of the ordinary but sometimes, feeling as tired as I did, it felt like wading through treacle. Especially as it was my long day – when after a short break back home, I was out all evening where I volunteer with Boys’ Brigade. It can be hard to dredge up the energy and enthusiasm after a difficult day at work.

But I’m glad I did.

It was another full-on evening with our Junior Section (8 to 11 year olds). This year we’re celebrating the centenary of the founding of this section nationally and working our way through 100 Challenges. This week was based on food challenges – preparing a 3 course meal, decorating a cake, trying food and drink from another country, and holding a 100th birthday party.

But trying to direct a bunch of boys this age feels like trying to herd cats. Their attention span is limited, their thought processes random, and they don’t seem to have a volume control. It was chaos, organised chaos most of the time, but crazy cacophonous chaos all the same.

It was glorious.

In the middle of this, I was called out to chat to a mum whose family is going through a distressing time. She wanted to tell me how it is affecting her boys and also to thank me for the prayers our Boys’ Brigade company and church are praying for the family.

Later, our Church Families Worker came in to take ‘Devotions’. We’re working our way through the Lord’s Prayer this term and were up to ‘Give us this day our daily bread’. She sat the boys down in a circle, talked simply about the meaning of the request, and shared pieces of bread for them to eat as they silently prayed it themselves. It was a holy moment.

But looking back, it was all a holy moment. God was in the exuberance of games and cooking, in the making a new boy welcome, in the support of a family, in the sharing of a staff member’s recent wedding photos, as well as the sharing of bread and prayer. The Boys’ Brigade Object speaks of ‘the advancement of Christ’s Kingdom among boys’ and I came away from that evening feeling like we accomplished that mission.

And those boys, full of energy at the beginning of their lives, are a great counter balance to my job.

And whilst this post is about the blessing that Boys’ Brigade brings, now I start to think about how He was with me all though my day, from morning dreams to daytime drudge as well as into exuberant evening. How the whole day was a holy moment. And the most sure and steadfast blessing is always that of His presence.

Can I recommend another blogger? Paul Phillips writes beautifully about life and his most recent post is also on the theme of God’s blessings. You can read it here: http://www.hestakenleave.com/2017/10/basking.html

My STORYteller (Five Minute Friday)

My Dad was a story teller and a lover of tales.

I remember our 3 weekly trips to the library followed by cosy afternoons, curled up together, each with a cup of tea, deep in a book.

But my favourite stories were always real, the ones from his own life. And he went on telling them well into old age as Alzheimer’s brought the past closer, revealing stories he’d never told before, perhaps previously edited for a daughter’s ears.

There were poignant stories of shocking poverty growing up in the 1930s: how he saw his mother get down on her knees to ask God for food to give her family because she had none, followed by a knock on the front door, opened to reveal a loaf of bread on the doorstep.

There were tales of boyhood adventure: climbing trees, crossing a forbidden road by means of an underground stream, staying out during wartime air raids to watch the planes; plaiting his sleeping dad’s hair to his chair.

Probably my favourites were of his time in the RAF. Perhaps they gave me my love of travel (although Dad would say that ‘itchy feet’ were a family trait). They’ve certainly come in handy for relating to patients with an armed forces background. And some key Arabic phrases he remembered came in useful for getting rid of some persistent tradesmen on holiday in Tunisia one year.

I loved his stories of the fantastic food at his basic training camp in Lincolnshire, thanks to bartering with local farmers and an Italian PoW who was an ex chef in a top hotel being in charge of the kitchens. I loved his stories of being a military policeman in the Middle East: going on camping trips to hunt for smugglers across the border; learning to swim in a tank in the middle of the desert; guarding Earl Mountbatten’s plane through the freezing cold night because the Viceroy had fallen asleep on it and couldn’t be disturbed; repairing an anonymous broken down car by the side of the road and being invited to the local sheikh’s wedding as a reward (guess whose car it was?).

And when visiting with my teenage sons, he had our full attention with a story prefaced with the startling words, ‘Did I ever tell you about the time my life was saved by a brothel madam?’!

But that’s one to share with you another day.

Yes, my dad was a story teller and a lover of tales.

A Lifetime of Blessing (THE BLESSING JAR)

Time I returned to counting my blessings each week after I hope an understandable break, when words have been hard to find. Today would have been my Dad’s 90th birthday if he’d lived just two months more. I really thought he’d make it. Anyway, I’m resuming my account of the blessings that have been sent to me by sharing the tribute I gave at his funeral, which gives a flavour of the great blessing he was. It’s a rather long post but then, he lived a long life and he filled mine with good things.

Dear Dad – Pops,

How do I do justice to your nearly 90 years of a life so well lived? How do I put all your stories into just one tribute?

I sat in my garden to write some of this and, as I looked at the roses we planted in memory of you and Mum and our miniature apple trees inspired by the ones you used to grow, I was reminded that, like you, Father God is a gardener too. And that your life was full of His fruit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control – so I’ll use these to try and sum up what you mean to me.

I’ll start with the most important, LOVE:

You loved lots of things:

  • Astronomy
  • Photography
  • Crosswords
  • Finnish Spitz dogs
  • Gardening
  • Maps
  • Cricket
  • Rugby
  • Genealogy
  • Birdwatching
  • 20th century history/current affairs

You loved people:

  • You loved Mum, so much: 55 years together
  • You loved us, your children – and not just me and Dave, but Rob and Debbie, Shola and William, and all those people you and Mum unofficially adopted over the years, from Rene Merrick (a widow with no family) to Albert the tramp (who you had stay with us for a while).
  • You loved your grandchildren, so enjoyed spending time with them – on the floor watching Thomas the Tank Engine for hours on end with a young Jamie, discussing in obscure detail interwar history with Paddy for his GCSE and A level, telling stories of your youth to Mark, always drawing visitors’ attention to Becky’s photos with such pride.
  • You loved your extended family, especially your sister Jean, and your cousin Leon, more like a brother.
  • You loved your many friends; you had so many despite describing yourself a loner

Most of all, you loved God, ‘Father’ as you called Him. Your whole life was based on your walk with God. It was the bedrock.

Then there’s JOY: When I picture you, Dad, my first thought is always of the twinkle in your eye. Your cheeky sense of humour never left you, your whole life. You were a practical joker from an early age – as boy, plaiting your sleeping dad’s hair to the back of the chair, as a dad and grandad, hiding cutlery at family meals when we glanced away from the table.

You were full of mischief. You taught me to climb trees and when you found me using that skill to scrump apples from my Uncle Jim’s neighbour’s garden, your reaction was to lean over the fence to grab the ones I couldn’t reach, and then lie to Mum and Auntie Vera about where they’d come from. When I confessed to getting caught paddling in the ornamental pond in Pymmes Park before the park keeper told you, Mum was really cross but you just laughed.

And how can we forget your inventive revenge on the neighbour who continued to have noisy midweek parties late into the night? You faced our loudspeakers right against the shared wall, turned the hifi up to full volume, and played bagpipe music. I’ve never seen a party clear so quickly.

You delighted in language: the daily newspaper crossword; French for speaking privately to Mum (although my O and A levels in French rather put paid to that!); toasts in Gaelic; and swearing in Arabic. You were particularly pleased that the few key phrases you taught me and Rob came in useful for getting rid of some persistent salesmen when we holidayed in Tunisia!

And in your last years, you charmed nurses with compliments about their hair in comparison to your baldness, made cheeky comments about the bare bottoms of statues at the garden centre, and when told to behave yourself always happily reminded us that ‘there are two ways of behaving – well and badly’!

And yet, Dad, you also had a great sense of calm and PEACE about you. You recognised when I was down but you didn’t try to solve my problems for me. You would ask me if I was having one of those ‘Stop the World, I want to get off’ times and then just listen or quietly keep me company until I felt ok. You were good at that because you knew what it was like to go through tough times, even depression, yourself.

I think your love of astronomy helped too. I remember us taking our dog for a walk on clear summer nights and then lying down in the middle of a sports field to get a better view of the constellations, you telling me the Greek myths behind them, pointing out planets and double stars. It gave us a great sense of peace and perspective – until the dog got fed up and started jumping on us to get walking again.

You were a PATIENT man too. When I was ill and feeling weak, you would wrap my arms around your waist and place my feet on yours to walk me between bedroom and bathroom. I felt so safe there. When I spent a whole family holiday confined to bed with scarletina, you read to me, distracted me with stories of your younger days, and bought birdwatching guides to give us something to do and make the most of the view.

You worked out a system for the weekly shop: you would rewrite Mum’s list in the order of the shelves as you walked around the supermarket to be more efficient. Trouble was Mum saw the list more as a rough guide than a detailed map, a shopping trip as an adventure in exploration and social opportunities rather than a task. And as for when they changed their displays round! Poor Dad, you weren’t so patient then – but you did revel in how quickly you could do a shop when you went on your own.

You were always a KIND and generous man. You’d known real poverty in your life – growing up in the Depression with your dad out of work for years and being thrown out of the family home brought massive hardship: deformed feet where they couldn’t afford to buy you new shoes, your mum down her knees praying for some food, being sent away to a children’s home for months to improve your health, a baby brother who died of malnutrition.

But I think it was these experiences that made you so kind and generous to others. You were often anxious about money, fastidious about living within your means, but what you had, you willingly shared, even to the point of sacrifice. As well as tithing to church and regularly supporting charities that were dear to your hearts, you and Mum quietly gave financial support to anyone you knew was in need. You loaned your car to Dave’s friend and even coughed up for the repairs when Colin crashed it.

You were generous in time and hospitality – hosting church house groups, always ready with a listening ear and praying heart for whoever needed it, welcoming strangers to dinner no matter how unexpected (6 friends Dave and I brought back at 2am from holiday stands out in particular).

Then there’s GOODNESS: You were always a man of such integrity. You did things with your whole heart and you did them right. It didn’t matter how big or how small the task. It went completely against the grain when NatWest automated their cheque clearance system and you were told to finish your day’s work without completely balancing the books accurately.

You willingly did our Cypriot neighbours’ tax returns for them. You didn’t just research and buy a Finnish Spitz, you became a founder member of the breed society. You got up early on Sundays to wrestle with the Edmonton Methodist Church boiler. You served on numerous committees, however tedious, stayed late to build stalls for the church bazaar, quietly prepared for and washed up after Communion. Off your own back, you studied hard to understand your Bible and faith better and put that work into the sermons you preached and discussions at House Groups.

And I grew up with such an example of love and FAITHFULNESS from my parents. I heard you tell my mum that you loved her every day. You walked and sat together holding hands your whole lives. You called her your ‘little wife’ and tucked her under your arm, your difference in height fitting together perfectly. You gave up all the money you’d carefully saved for years for a telescope of your own to buy her a re-engagement ring when her original had to be cut off in A&E after an accident, and not just any ring but the emerald she’d always longed for. You set the bar for my expectations for romance, you know. Your last ever words to me were that you loved me.

I also spent my whole life with your example of faithfulness to God. It would be easy to think that faith came easily to you because you grew up in a Christian family embedded in their local church. Heck, there’s even a brick at Edmonton Methodist Church with your initials on it! But faith wasn’t always easy. You hinted at particularly dark days around the time of your RAF service and I gave you a hard time when I was younger about how much time you gave to church. But I witnessed your faith reignite when I was a teenager; I saw increasingly what an anchor your relationship with God was for you – on one of my last visits, we read favourite Bible passages and you commented on how precious these promises were to you; I saw what strength and comfort your faith gave you, strength and comfort that you passed on.

If I wanted to know what Father God was like, I just had to look at my dad.

Someone told me recently you were ‘a true Christian gentleman’. And that’s what you were – a gentleman and a strong but GENTLE man. You were always polite and courteous to others, rarely lost your temper, quietly enjoying friendships whilst maintaining that Mum was the social one.

She called you her ‘knight of the gentle hands’ because your soft stroking of the inside of her wrist would soothe worries, ease pain, and lull her back to much needed sleep. It worked on me too.

Dad, you learned discipline in Boys’ Brigade, Air Cadets, and the RAF military police. At least I assume you did, alongside all the high jinks you also got up to at those times. I remember your pride at being there to see Jamie receive his President’s and Paddy his Queen’s Badge at BB Displays, and your stories of staying out to watch dogfights over London in the War during air raids (instead of heading for a shelter), as well as learning to swim in the desert or going on ‘brothel patrol’. You certainly learned discipline and SELF CONTROL through sport, playing cricket for your club for 25 years, boxing in the RAF, picking up some judo along the way (teaching me some key moves for self defence), and practising Canadian Air Force exercises on a daily basis for many years.

You used to say that the only spiritual gift you had was the ‘gift of administration’. And you were certainly an organised man. Finances and budgeting were carefully and diligently maintained. Family holidays were always booked in January for the end of May. Routes were meticulously planned. I think one of your favourite Christmas presents was a book of alternative routes between junctions on the M25 for avoiding traffic jams!

We saw your diligence in the family history you put together – I’ve inherited such a collection of family charts, certificates, and stories all the way back to 1700. And you didn’t take the easy online option but made but day long trips to the record offices to physically work your way through parish indexes. I remember our trip together to the Reading Office after you discovered that our much prized Scottish roots were from no further north than Berkshire.


All that fruit, Dad. And the fruit of your life lives on. You see, when I look around me, I still see you:

  • When I see the integrity and generosity with which my husband conducts his life, I am reminded of you.
  • When I watch my brother listen patiently and with careful attention to others, I am reminded of you.
  • When my eldest, at the same 6ft 1, tucks me under his arm for a cuddle, I am reminded of you.
  • When my youngest debates current affairs with such detail and insight, I am reminded of you.
  • When I see my niece’s photography skills, I am reminded of you.
  • When my nephew applies his mathematically logical approach to a subject, I am reminded of you.
  • And when I look in the mirror, when I stop to consider what would be the kindest way to deal with someone, I pray I am always reminded of you.