Please Choose an Egyptian Hieroglyph* (FIVE MINUTE FRIDAY: QUESTION)

My family loves acquiring ‘useless’ information, random facts that will probably never have any practical application in our lives. For example, did you know that crows hold funerals?

OK, I’ll admit, occasionally they do come in useful. In my work I come across a number of people who cry but feel guilty about ‘showing such weakness’. So it’s been a reassurance to gently point out that tears lower blood pressure and not weakness at all.

But the most frequent use for our family repository of random facts is quizzes.
You’ll regularly find us gathered together around the TV, watching The Chase or Only Connect or University Challenge, shouting out the answers as if we are part of the show. Or, almost every month, for over a decade, we’ll be huddled around a table at our local football club’s quiz night, exchanging banter with the MC, delighting or despairing over our score, and joining in with enthusiasm with the halftime meat raffle even though half of us are vegan or vegetarian!

My beloved and I went to the first of these quiz nights, a fundraiser for the club, with friends. Then, unable to find babysitters, we took our children along to another occasion, who enjoyed it so much we didn’t bother with babysitters after that. Another friend joined us, who then brought his sons. And then we noticed other whole families coming – it seemed we had started a trend.

Over the years, we’ve been joined by colleagues, our sons’ friends, girlfriend, my dad (not even Alzheimer’s could prevent his enjoyment), and even once by one of my patients turning up out of the blue! Our boys form their own teams now. It’s become such an integral part of their lives that our eldest has celebrated two birthdays there – I won’t forget having to make an 18th birthday cake large enough to feed the entire Quiz Night audience of over 60 people!

All those random facts binding a team, a community together, delighting in the range of experience, age, interests and skills that make for a great team resource. All those differences proving a strength when brought together for one common goal. All those useless pieces of information gathered together and finding a purpose for their existence.

There’s a metaphor here for how a family, a church, a community should be. Knowledge is power, it’s said, but how much more glorious if it’s also collaborative and fun!

(* In case you don’t know, this is one of the catchphrases from the ‘fiendishly difficult’ BBC show Only Connect. It’s great and somewhat addictive! Find out more here: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00lskhg )

Advertisements

What My Father Taught Me (Five Minute Friday: GOAL)

In days well before SatNav, my father would study his beloved Road Atlas of Great Britain, meticulously planning our route to our holiday destination. Every junction, every roundabout, every turning was documented into detailed instructions on a sheaf of A4 paper, tucked into the atlas (every map page also numbered) for my mum to read out to him as we travelled.

I was fascinated by those maps and that book. I begged my dad to let me navigate for a change.

Eventually he allowed it. I felt so honoured. And those journeys sped past as I read the directions whilst following our progress in the atlas, looking ahead to give my dad more detailed information of what was coming up, landmarks that would indicate how far we’d travelled, distances to the service stations so we could choose where to stop for lunch or a toilet break.

I knew I was a far superior, or at least far more enthusiastic, navigator than my mum.
But my greatest moment came on the occasion when unexpected roadworks blocked our planned route.

Dad wanted to stop so he could work out a detour. But I, hastily flicking back and forth between the various pages, confidently reassured him that I could plot our new course as we travelled.

And I did. We successfully arrived at our destination with minimal delay.

And, more importantly for me, I knew that I had won my dad’s trust.

Maps and navigation became ‘our thing’. He talked to me about how he had learned to navigate by the stars in the Air Cadets. We pored over maps of all kinds just for the fun of it, comparing the different Ordnance Survey symbols. I found his favourite Christmas present ever: a book of alternative routes between M25 junctions during traffic jams!

It’s Fathers’ Day and I can’t help thinking about my dad today. Not just how much I miss him. But how he taught me that even if our ultimate Goal remains out of sight or our planned route gets diverted, to keep looking at the Map and trusting the Great Navigator of our lives.

PURPOSE

I think my life’s purpose is
To learn to love
And to learn to love well.

At first I only had to
Reflect and imitate the love shown me.

Then after some tentative steps
I gave myself in baptism to
The full immersion of my whole self
Given to another.

Now I practise the
Daily
Hourly
Minute by minute
Prioritising of others’ needs
Before my own.

It isn’t always easy
I don’t always feel like it
I frequently fail.

And yet this is my life’s purpose:
To learn to love
And to learn to love well.

Here’s this week’s link up to Five Minute Friday community. The prompt word this week is WELL. You can find more great writing here https://fiveminutefriday.com/2019/06/06/fmf-writing-prompt-link-up-well/

My NAME is… (Five Minute Friday)

Yesterday my name was Unfulfilled, Bird Wrangler.
Tomorrow my name will be Sojourner, Hope, Freedom Grasper.
In my dream my name was Astronomer Royal, Frontier Breaker, Wordspinner.
Some think my name is Lazy Dreamer, People Before Appearances, Bigheart, Anxious, Not-My-Mother.
God knows my true name: Promise. Grace.

I wrote this a few years ago as a creative writing exercise from Poemcrazy https://www.amazon.co.uk/Poemcrazy-WOOLDRIDGE/dp/0609800981/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=poemcrazy&qid=1559328830&s=gateway&sr=8-1 (it’s a great book – I’d recommend it). That last line refers to the meaning of my actual Christian names.

It’s strange: as I read it again, I’m caught on that last word.

I used to think of Grace in terms of elegance, beauty of form and coordination of movement. I remember as a child the huge disappointment I felt when I overheard my mother explain to the ballet teacher that she was sending me there, not because she saw some latent talent in me for dance, but ‘to learn some grace and stop falling over so much’. Grace seemed such an inappropriate, unreachable name for a child so clumsy as me.

Now I think of the theological definition: God’s favour given to me, ‘generous, free and totally unexpected and undeserved’ (Catechism of the Catholic Church). And I wonder at the wonder of being loved.

I recollect that first joyful knowledge that my husband chose to love me and soak up the continued joy that he continues to do so. I ponder the ongoing fact that my in-laws choose to do the same. I mull over my sons’ devotion, undiminished by adulthood. And I rejoice in these examples and reflections of God’s own gift of love.

These days, I feel well named – my life is full of unearned love.

But today I found out that Grace is a translation of the Greek ‘Charis’, which means something that brings delight, joy, or happiness. And it turns me outwards. How can I be this, truly earn this name? It needs further consideration beyond the five minutes of this post…

(And the postscript to this is that a few days later, I have fallen down the stairs and sprained my ankle – so much for those ballet lessons! I clearly need more grace in my life.)

What’s in a name? (FMF Promise)

When I worked in Rwanda, children’s names were chosen for their meaning. I remember one girl with a lot of older siblings simply called ‘Nine’ and another, in anticipation of the traditional dowry, ‘A Cow Will Come’.

People were given nicknames with specific meanings too. There was Pastori, who set up and ran the daily Bible study for patients and carers. And I was given the Kinyarwanda name ‘Musabyimana’, translated ‘we asked God for you’.

To be honest, I was never sure if that was ‘asked for’ in the sense of my needing prayer or being an answer to prayer, but I appreciated the sentiment either way.

My own Christian name was chosen by my then six year old brother just because he liked it. But Elizabeth actually means ‘promise of God’. Again, I’m not sure if that suggests I should rely on God’s promises or am God’s promise in some way. One is a great reassurance, the other quite the responsibility.

Search in the Bible and you’ll find God makes – and keeps – a lot of promises. One I hold onto for myself and my loved ones, especially when life proves tough or unpredictable is: “I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans to prosper you, to give you hope and a future.”

If my name is ‘God’s Promise’, doesn’t that hint at the same hope Jeremiah reports?

We talk of someone showing promise, of their potential to be and do something remarkable or skillful. There is Divine DNA, God-seeded talent and fruit, in me. My name tells me so.

So what if I am called to be a fulfilment of one of God’s promises?

What if we are all Elizabeths, all God’s Promise?

You can find more inspirational writing on the subject of ‘promise’ here: https://fiveminutefriday.com/2019/05/16/fmf-writing-prompt-link-up-promise/

PRACTICE (Five Minute Friday)

As I checked the time as I reached the halfway point of my walk I realised I was a long way from being as I fit as I used to be, as fit as I want to be, or as fit as I need to be for the midnight charity walk I’ve signed up for in July. The message from my aching knees and sore hips was that I need this practice.

I promised to do it a few months ago but it’s only now, with just two months to go, that I’ve started to exercise seriously. It’s a good job I have – there’s still time to build up my stamina for the ten miles of sandy up and downhill trek along the North Downs and Pilgrims Way in aid of the hospice I work for https://www.pth.org.uk/events/steps-under-the-stars/. Today I managed half that distance, along pretty flat tracks along the local canal and river paths.

At first, I thought I could knock a good half hour off the estimated time given for this walk, going by my previous walking speed. Halfway round, I had a reality check. I’ve been out of the habit of long walks for some time and my deconditioning showed. I need practice, regular practice.

I became very aware of my body as I walked: the familiar knee pain coming and going, the tension in my shoulders gradually easing as my posture improved, the contrast of warm core with cold skin in the fresh spring rain, my sore throat from mouth breathing, my increasing hunger.

At times, I forgot the whole exercise premise and operated purely on a sensory basis. Despite much of the path being squeezed between waterway and busy dual carriageway, the abundant plant life was absolutely lush (in both English and Welsh senses). Sudden colour broke up the verdant green. I counted birds – terns, Canada geese, swans, great tit, magpie, robins, even a treecreeper.

I felt the difference in surface beneath my trainers as I negotiated between bumpy gravel, hard tarmac, and squidgy mud. The temperature and light varied as sun and clouds played hide and seek with the rain. Sound alternated as birdsong competed with traffic roar, sometimes as loud as an angry storm.

It was glorious. At one point, I confess I threw my arms wide to soak it all up like a child revelling in the excitement of so much.

But it also proved a mental challenge. There were moments, usually uphill, when I wondered if it was worth it, if I could succeed in my ten mile goal with this level of fitness, when it felt like slog rather than enjoyment, when only the thought of lunch kept me going. I dithered about whether I want to do that final walk with a speed objective or as a mindfulness exercise, if either is possible.

I became philosophical, wondering whether the meandering path, as river and trail interweaved like maypole ribbons, was indicative of my life. I thought about the unexpected places of rest God provides along the way. I marvelled at the beauty of a copse created from the unlikely foundations of an old filter bed for a sewage works and considered what miracles of transformation the Great Designer could do in my life. I noted the lesson of the river not always visible but evidence of its provision in the abundant life all around me.

I used to describe myself as a ‘practising Christian’. Both senses of the term work for me, i.e. in actions not just in name, but also as one who hasn’t got things right yet. It’s not just the walking I need to practise more.

If you’d like to read more or join in the fun of five minutes of free writing every week, you can find out more here: https://fiveminutefriday.com/2019/05/09/fmf-writing-prompt-link-up-practice/

THE MIGRANT by PAUL ALKAZRAJI a Book Review

I spent just one day in Albania.

Back in October 1990, it was an innovative day trip to offer holiday makers. But a visit to a communist country was an exciting prospect to someone brought up on Cold War thrillers and stories of my civil servant brother having to formally declare such travel.

So I got up in the dark for the early boat crossing from Corfu Town and felt myself the intrepid traveller to have Albania’s stamp added to my passport. I was intrigued by the prospect of seeing the world’s first officially atheist nation finally opening its borders to the outside world.

Clearly, the Albanian Tourist Board was keen to put on a good show. We were whisked by coach from an unspoiled Roman amphitheatre to mile upon mile of industrial fish farm, pride oozing from every syllable of our guide’s commentary. We struggled through a multi course wedding feast in a local town hall with incomprehensible speeches and traditional dancing.

Little did I realise what a turning point 1990 would be. That December, student riots led to the fall of communism and by 1992, a Democratic government was elected. Those same years were a turning point for me too as I moved and got married. My trip faded to a curious but unique memoir.

When I got the chance to review The Migrant by Paul Alkazraji, I remembered that visit, fascinated to learn about how the country has developed since.

The novel takes us specifically to the period of the Greek financial crisis, one of Albania’s immediate neighbours. This fiction, set in a very real time, gives a human face to the issue of economic migration. It’s easy to watch news reports or read bare facts without being moved or understanding the individual cost of political decisions; it can all seem very far away and irrelevant – this book changed that for me. It gave me an insight into how criminal gangs so easily take advantage of vulnerable migrants.

The book follows the search for a young man who has left his family to cross the border to find better prospects in Athens. Alban’s story personalises the promise and danger of illegal immigration, the temptations that can suck a young man into gang culture, but it also gives hope for escape and new life. However, there is a cost.

This is a tale of bravery and sacrifice, of the lengths love will go to for someone else, particularly Christian love. It is a costly love for the rescuers and those back home.

There is a welcome ambiguity to the characters in The Migrant, both Albanian and Greek. Heroes and villains question their actions. Alongside the physical journey, several figures travel a moral and spiritual path with choices to be made about which branches to take. Redemption and restored relationships lie ahead with the right choices.

I couldn’t put the book down during the tense action scenes: Alban’s precarious journey over the mountains; jeopardy in the hotel room; the group’s perilous escape. And at least one storyline is left open to further development so I’m hoping there will be a follow up novel.

I would sound one note of caution. I made the mistake of not realising this was a sequel so was slow to feel invested in the main characters and confused initially by a couple of key names. Motivation and story arc make much more sense if you read Paul’s previous novel, The Silencer, first. So do read both – they are excellent page turners – but just do it in the right order!

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Migrant-Muthena-Paul-Alkazraji/dp/1909728985/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1557066386&sr=1-1

Paul Alkazraji is the author of ‘The Migrant’, a thriller set against the background of the European Migrant Crisis, and published by Instant Apostle on 15 February 2019. Paul worked as a freelance journalist in the UK from the mid-nineties. He was published in Christianity Magazine, The Christian Herald, The Church Times and The Baptist Times among other publications, and his travel articles were also published in The Independent.
Paul’s first book Love Changes Everything, a collection of seven testimonies, was published by Scripture Union in 2001, and his second, Heart of a Hooligan, a biography of ex-football hooligan Dave Jeal, was published by Highland Books in 2000. His third book Christ and the Kalashnikov, a biography of missionaries Ian and Caralee Loring, was published by Harper Collins in 2001. The Silencer, a thriller set in Albania, Greece and Turkey, was published by Highland Books in 2012.
Paul has lived and worked with the church in Albania for fifteen years. He likes listening to music, being by the Aegean Sea or Ohrid Lake, and skiing – when the snow comes!

(DISCLAIMER: I received a free copy of The Migrant in order to write this review)

The OPPORTUNITY to Rest (Five MInute Friday)

I used to be an owl but somehow I’ve turned into a lark.

Most mornings, around six o’clock, I stir, lying luxuriously in that glorious in between time of not asleep yet not quite awake. Realisation spreads through my mind and body that I am not going back to sleep so I get up quietly, trying not to disturb my husband, and go downstairs to make coffee.

It’s become my habit to take the coffee straight out into the garden and listen to the birdsong in the freshly waking world. As summer creeps nearer, it’s no longer the full orchestra of the dawn chorus but a choir no less, blackbird taking the soloist’s part, with jackdaws and wood pigeons on percussion.

I tune out the background hum of early traffic and concentrate on the birds. I feel the wet grass on my flipflopped feet and the warmth of the mug in my hands, watch the sideways light hit fence and plants with gold, and absorb the change and growth all around me.

It’s easy to let thoughts crowd in, To Do Lists for the day ahead, jobs that need doing in the garden, worries about people I love. It’s easy to concentrate on the task of trying to relax and be mindful instead of just letting it happen.

‘Be still and know that I am God’, I remember the Psalmist says.

It’s obvious to focus on ‘still’ and ‘know’ as verbs, states to be achieved, things to do. But today it’s the word ‘Be’ that stops me.

Still is something to be not to do.

So I stand, facing the rising sun open handed, half feeling, half seeing the play of light on my closed eyelids, sensing the interplay of cool breeze and growing sun warmth on my skin, listening to the avian choir above and for a few Sabbath minutes, just be.

(Watch out for an special extra post from me on 8th May – I’m excited to be part of The Migrant Book Tour, helping to launch Paul Alkazraji’s latest novel. Do come and find out more!)

TOUCH (Five Minute Friday)

When I have no words
Let muscle, bone, skin speak
Stretch forward to imprint
Through sheer pressure
Of chest and arms
Strength, love, hope
Or lightly, finger on finger,
By osmosis
Or electrical current
Transfer the message
That you are not alone
A transference of molecules
To pump thorough your veins
Spark through your neurons
And permeate your heart, your head
With the missive
Slowly saturating your body
That I am with you.

More posts inspired by this week’s prompt can be found here: https://fiveminutefriday.com/2019/04/25/fmf-writing-prompt-link-up-touch/

LACK (Five Minute Friday)

That cold empty ache, like I couldn’t catch my breath even though I was breathing normally, filled my chest, spreading into my head and stomach.

The severity seemed to come out of nowhere, out of proportion. I was on the last half mile to work, thinking about writing a response to an old poem as I waited for the last set of lights to change, when my calm logic and hopeful thoughts were washed away and replaced with this void, this ache.

And I felt again the awfulness of the loss of my dad.

I just longed for him to be here still.

When my mum died, for a long time I knew exactly how long it had been, down to the week; once I even counted the number of days and hours since her passing. But with my dad it was different, timescale vaguer, as if I had become slightly immunised against grief.

So I was caught unawares by this feeling.

I just wanted him here again. I wanted his smile to twinkle at me in some shared mischief. I wanted the bristle of his moustache as he kissed me. I wanted to knock on his door and hear one of his welcoming catchphrases. I wanted to climb on his lap, lean my head on his shoulder, and feel his strong arms protecting me from the overwhelming world outside and in.

Most of all, I felt the sheer lack of him.

That’s not the end of the story, not a complete a picture of my life or even my day, I know. I could tell you of the Heavenly Father who is always present to me, who my earthly one pointed me towards. I could tell you of the wonderful others in my life who echo my dad so I am never without that manly love.

But for those few minutes, as the lights changed to green and I drove up the hill to the car park, continued through the barrier to my spot, until I stepped out of my car to start my working day, for those few minutes, I just missed him.

(Linking up to the weekly inspiration and shared writing @ https://fiveminutefriday.com/2019/04/11/fmf-writing-prompt-link-up-lack/)