Kiss It BETTER (Five Minute Friday)

It’s the time of year. The drop in temperature, the icy wind, maybe even the ongoing lack of daylight had all served to bring on the familiar.

“My lips are sore,” I complained as I got in from work, the dryness and chapping having become painful by the end of the day.

“Here,” said my husband, before I could open my lip salve, “let me kiss them better.”

Suddenly, I was in one of those moments when time freezes and simultaneously plays the present in slow motion along with a hundred memories: my mum kissing the dressing on my knee after I’d fallen over in the playground yet again; my grandmother kissing the top of my head after another bout of tonsillitis-induced vomiting; me kissing my boys, on so many occasions, as I promised them that the pain of illness or injury or heartache would come to an end.

Sometimes kissing something better really does work. Research has shown that kissing and physical affection releases oxytocin, which modulates inflammation and promotes wound healing, as well as reducing anxiety, and promoting bonding and a feeling of wellbeing. It counters stress hormones and rebalances our immune systems.

And then I am reminded of that old hymn, ‘Here is Love Vast as the Ocean’, with one of my favourite lines as it refers to the crucifixion in these terms:

‘And heav’n’s peace and perfect justice
Kissed a guilty world in love.’

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v8YOPj5TnUM

So Jesus’ death, reconciling us with God, bringing us back into His arms of love, was His way of kissing us all better.

It’s lovely to be back with the Five Minute Friday community of writers with the first link up of 2019. For those of you who are unfamiliar with them, we’re an international bunch of Christian writers, who respond to a prompt word with 5 minutes of flash-writing each week. You can find out more here: https://fiveminutefriday.com/

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And the winner is…

Actually, it remains a dead heat for the three most read posts but, having spent a morning helping my husband put up a TV on a wall bracket, this seems the most suitable to share again:

https://thestufflifeismadeofblog.wordpress.com/wp-admin/post.php?post=768&action=edit

His DIY skills are so much better than mine – I spent most of the time just holding things in place. But I’m happy win his ‘Best Supporting Actress’ Oscar any time. Here’s to doing things together and expanding our horizons for a long time to come.

Happy New Year everyone!

BOOKS OF THE YEAR

One of the great joys of being a writer is that I can indulge my favourite pastime of reading and call it educational! My husband may label it more of an addiction than an interest and, at times I’m sure, rather regrets introducing me to Kindle – it may have reduced clutter in our house and weight in our holiday suitcases but it has also extended my book buying habits to 24/7!

Seriously though, I do believe that reading does my own writing good, whether by osmosis, inspiration, or direct learning of technique. A piece of description that transports me so that I am lost in another time or place, precise words that speak specifically to me in my situation and give me graspable hope, a story that challenges me to rethink how I see the world: these give me something to aspire to, to reach for in my own small way, as I gradually find my voice and path as a writer.

Wendy Jones in the Association of Christian Writers Facebook group passed on a Reading Challenge for 2019 (see the end of this post if you’d like to join in), which I’m going to try as a way of expanding my reading repertoire and keeping it fresh. But it also made me consider the books I’ve read over the past year and search for patterns and highlights.

Looking back, there have been works that, once hooked by one novel, I have devoured en masse. I have returned to and enjoyed the, sometimes harrowing but always engrossing, social issues stories of Jodi Picoult. Influenced by my increasing time there, I have discovered the light hearted Cornwall Mysteries by Janie Bolitho. And I was engrossed by the honesty of what can be an ignored or over simplified subject in Christian fiction – that of unfaithfulness – in Paula Wiseman’s Covenant of Trust series.

There have been disappointments too: books I bought and haven’t made or found the right time to read (some I have to be in a certain state of mind for); a book that just wasn’t what I expected and gave up on (perhaps I’ll try it again in 2019); another from an author I’ve long admired but felt the subject matter just wasn’t as universally interesting as it clearly was to them personally; and one book I really wish I hadn’t bothered with (which I kept reading because it was a local author and in the hopes that it would improve – it didn’t).

However, there have been exciting new authors I’ve been glad to discover – Kate Humble (Thinking On My Feet), Robert Macfarlane (Landmarks), Mike Gayle (The Man I Think I Know), Sally Magnusson (The Sealwoman’s Gift) – and old favourites to return to, either in a familiar and much loved book or something new – Corrie Ten Boom (The Hiding Place), Wendy Jones (Antiques and Alibis), Cynthia Ruchti (Miles Form Where We Started), Robert Galbraith (Lethal White).

I love my fiction but I’ve also found fascinating biographies to read (AN Wilson’s CS Lewis: A Biography), new and old poets to relish (Lem Sissay’s Gold from the Stone, Seamus Heaney’s New Selected Poems), and inspirational Christian teaching to learn from (The Practise of the Presence of God in Modern English by Brother Lawrence, Marshall Davis).

Looking through my list (another advantage of Amazon Kindle!), three books stand out from this year for me, books that will stay with me, that have held me transfixed, deepened my faith, and that will stay with me as I continue to work out their impact in my life:

1. The Overstory by Richard Powers
I picked this, using the Man Booker shortlist as a source for quality writing whilst also searching for books that would stretch me, that didn’t fit my usual criteria to read. I am so glad I read this one. It begins as a series of short stories (not a usual genre for me), each varied but complete in itself, joined only by an underlying theme of trees. But then, it gradually builds up speed and takes off. I don’t want to tell you too much because I want you to read this book and to enjoy where it takes you unexpectedly as much as I did. For me, this was a fantastic example of how well you can learn astonishing facts from a work of fiction. The array of characters, the thread(s) of the story(ies) pulling me on – it was one of those books I stayed up late to see what happened next and yet didn’t want to end. I will admit that reading it on holiday, staying in a lodge in a forest, probably made it even more real (and that’s another thought to explore: how the setting in which we read may influence our experience) but this book has left me with so many new amazing ideas and facts about nature that I am having to rethink how I see and interact with creation, a process that is still ongoing months after finishing the book.

2. Undivided: Coming Out, Becoming Whole, and Living Free from Shame by Vicky Beeching
This is another book whose effects I am still ruminating on. A brave autobiography of the Christian singer songwriter struggling and coming to terms with being gay, in a world that sees her faith and sexuality as contradictory. It’s a shocking story of prejudice and intolerance, of the damaging and devastating impact of sincerely held beliefs and teaching on individuals, however well meant. But it’s also a story of hope and understanding. It is not a story of experience over theology for Vicky, an Oxford theology graduate, is a woman of integrity and describes her detailed Biblical and Church history studies that contribute to the integration of one with the other. So why did this book resonate with me so much this year? Because this is also the year one of my sons came out as bisexual. I have become increasingly more aware of what science is learning about gender and sexuality, I want to understand his world better, and it is time that I re-examine in detail and with an open mind the Biblical teaching on this and its overriding principle of love. One reviewer of this book described it as ‘a must read whatever your theology’ – I’d agree.

3. God Among the Ruins: trust and transformation in difficult times by Mags Duggan
If I had to pick one book as the most impactful for me this year, it would be this one. Why? Because this book was an absolute lifeline throughout one of the most difficult times I’ve ever had. I wrote out whole passages of it in my prayer journal to think over (and over again), to return to when waves of despair overwhelmed me. It is full of beauty and wisdom, written from real experience of doubt and darkness, but it held out the long rope of hope and, hand over hand, pulled me back into the strong arms of the One who never lets go. It was a book to read slowly and savour bit by bit, to ponder the words and carry out the end of chapter exercises over time. It’s rich stuff and needs to be taken morsel by morsel. I bought the book after hearing Mags talk at a Woman Alive conference, little knowing how much I would need her words so soon after. She writes as she speaks – with lyricism, deep personal knowledge, honesty, and love. If you are going through a tough time and need a companion who knows how it feels, who can gently but firmly help you up and shine a torch to help you onward, try this book. I thoroughly recommend it.

So that’s my reflections on the books I’ve read in 2018. It doesn’t include the blogs I follow, to name a few:

http://morethanwriters.blogspot.com/
https://postcardsfromheaven.co.uk/author/promisepainter/
http://www.hestakenleave.com/2018/12/between.html
https://blessed-are-the-pure-of-heart.blogspot.com/2018/12/your-dying-spouse-557-christmas.html

You can find more lists of 2018 books here: http://katemotaung.com/2018/12/17/books-i-read-in-2018-book-recommendations/ or I’d really love to hear what you’d recommend for the coming year in the Comments (especially if they meet any of the criteria for the 2019 Reading Challenge!).

Happy New Year and happy reading!

********************

2019 Reading Challenge:

Read a book…

1. A friend or family member recommended
2. Based on a true story
3. That has won an award
4. Set in your home state or province
5. With a blue cover
6. With a one word title
7. Written by a male author
8. Originally published in a different language
9. With a number in the title
10. That is an author’s debut novel
11. That has at least 500 pages
12. Written by a new-to-you author
13. Independently or self-published
14. Chosen strictly due to the appeal of the cover
15. Set during WWII
16. Written by an author with the same initials as you (middle initial not included)
17. That you can finish in a day
18. With a protagonist with the same occupation as you (if you never worked, choose an occupation that you would have liked to have had, or wish to have)
19. Outside of your comfort zone
20. That has been made into, or is in the process of becoming, a movie
21. With a coming of age story
22. With either, north, south, east, or west in the title
23. Published this year
24. Set in the mountains or wilderness
25. That is humorous

Most Read Post of 2018 is…?

It’s traditional at this time of year for us bloggers, taking a Christmas/New Year lull, to look back and repost what has been our most read piece of writing in the year.

It’s certainly thought provoking to see which ones have attracted the most attention. Did I come up with more eye catching titles? Did the pieces engage readers’ emotions more? Were these subjects that were more universal? Did I find something unique to say? Did I simply post them at a time of day when more people saw them?

However, when I checked my stats for, there’s a 3 way draw for most popular. It seems over indulgent to repost 3 so I’m handing it over to you.

There’s still one more day of 2018 left so below are the links to all 3 most popular posts. Please let me know in the Comments which you’d like to see reposted and that’s what I’ll put up tomorrow before the year ends (I’ll be going by GMT for the that).

https://thestufflifeismadeofblog.wordpress.com/2018/04/28/keep-you-and-love-you-or-five-minute-friday-stuck/

https://thestufflifeismadeofblog.wordpress.com/2018/05/11/yippee-five-minute-friday-include/

https://thestufflifeismadeofblog.wordpress.com/2018/02/04/agree-five-minute-friday/

Thank you.

IMMANUEL: God WITH Us (Five Minute Friday)

I was struck this morning by something I read in my daily Bible reading notes, Day By Day With God:
‘Even God, the creator of the universe, never planned to do it all on His own. He fully intended to draw us round Him, a family bearing His name, transforming the world with His love.’ (Lyndall Bywater)

And I started to think about that word, that name for Jesus, which is repeated so frequently at this time of year: Immanuel, God-With-Us.

God-With-Us: The Great and Mighty God, bigger than anything else, infinite, beyond imagination, moved into our neighbourhood, pitched His tent next to ours, came to live a finite human life in all its mess and glory, and constrained Himself to our limitations, to be our brother and friend, to identify fully with us.

God-With-Us: Knocking on our door, all He needs is an invitation in, God doesn’t look at how untidy our lives are, how ready we are or not. We don’t earn the right to the company of the King of kings. Our nationality, our social status, our gender, our sexuality – none of it matters. God loves us, all of us, and wants to be with each of us.

God-With-Us: (And this is the bit I never noticed before!). God wants us partner with Him in the great and glorious plan to make this earth we live on a better place. He gives us the strength to be different, better people. He wants us to do it with our fellow human beings and with Him. He commits to us and we commit to Him as we move forward hand in hand. We can’t do it without Him and He won’t do it without us. We’re a team!

Let’s remember this during the Christmas season and beyond. It’s about God Himself translating His Word into a language we understand – that of an actual human life. It’s about us inviting Him in so we can live life in all its fullness.. And it’s about Him and us working together in partnership, facing whatever comes our way together, spreading the love and expanding the Kingdom wherever He takes us.

May we all know the excitement, comfort, and strength of God-With-Us.

STILL Here (Five Minute Friday)

I’m cheating this week by using a poem I wrote some time ago. Actually, I think it wants to be a song but I lack the musical skill to write a tune and arrange a tune – any offers?

If you want to read more inspirational writing on STILL, you can find them here: http://fiveminutefriday.com/2018/12/13/fmf-link-up-still/

Still Here

We didn’t make it the first time round
A brilliant spark
But we couldn’t sustain the flame
Too young
Too black and white
We didn’t know strength comes from compromise

But I’m still here
So are you
Is the spark enough to see us through?
No one ever lived up to you
No one made me feel like you do
So I’m still here
How about you?

When life went wrong for me you were the friend
Who stood strong
Took my side
Eased my pride
Defended my truth to the end
Made me open my eyes and look at you again

And I’m still here
So are you
Is the spark enough to see us through?
No one ever lived up to you
No one tried to understand me like you do
So I’m still here
How about you?

Looking back I can see things have changed
From fireworks
To bonfire flames
But you still stand at my side
Watching our children with pride
Love lives on
Burning strong

And I’m still here
So are you
Sparks aren’t enough to see us through
But no one ever lives up to you
No one ever loves me like you do
So I’m still here
And so are you

Love lives on
Burning strong
Feed the fire

Finding the BALANCE (Five Minute Friday)

I love my yoga class but there’s one aspect that often leaves me frustrated rather than calm and focused: the balance. I’m just not very good at it. I’ve never been good at balancing since a child: handstands collapsed; headstands were a mystery; hopscotch a trial; bike riding mastered only at the grand age of 20!

But I’m working on my balances in yoga. And sometimes I glimpse a hint of progress.
My favourite is Tree (they all have evocative names). One knee bent and pointing to the side, sole resting on the opposite calf (the more advanced have it against the thigh or groin), hands move from a prayer pose in front of the heart to outstretched above the head in a Y, fingers reaching out like twigs growing towards the sky.
I practised it on holiday in front of the double height, floor to ceiling windows, looking out to a view of silver birches and spruce trees. There are techniques to help the pose: tighten your core muscles; fix your gaze on something ahead. I stared at the trees I was trying to mimic.


And it helped.

I realized that I was trying to stay rigidly still so the almost constant wobbles of my supporting foot felt like failures and I would often tip out of the balance. But the young birches in front of me moved, swaying or flexing in the wind like its dance partner. So I relaxed and allowed the readjustments of my foot, imagined I was a tree reaching up and out to the light. And I found I could maintain the pose for longer.

My balance improved.

Of course, the other reason the trees could bend with the breeze was because their roots were deeply secure in the firm ground. Which reminded me of the Story of the Two House Builders or the Anchor that keeps us steadfast because it is ‘fastened to the Rock which cannot move’, no matter the storms that threaten to overturn us.
The key to achieving balance in our lives, as we learn to bend rather than break in turbulent circumstances, is to make sure that our roots are secure. And the best way to do that is to have them ‘grounded firm and deep in the Saviour’s Love’. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UQQO8v-0VBo

Matthew 7.24-27 and Hebrews 6.19

 

ONE (Five Minute Friday)

It was the first time we had met. As we sat on the end of the bed, in between sobs, she told me of her battle to get her ninety year old husband’s condition diagnosed and her distress at his deterioration; how she struggled to help him into bed because of her painful arthritic knees awaiting imminent surgery. But all her focus was on making things better for him.

“Well, we have to look after both of you,” I responded. “After all, with fifty eight years of marriage together, you come as a unit.”


And we set about making a plan.

That’s often a key part of my job: not just to try and make life more bearable for my patients but also for their families. Their lives are so closely entwined, their well being so affected by each other’s, that it makes sense – support each and then they can better support each other. We need to honour and respect their ties and work with them.

But it’s true for all of us, whatever situation we are in. We live not just as individuals. We’re all part of some group: couple, family, work team, church, neighbourhood, nation, online community. Our ties may be strong or weak, expressed or silent, present or past, but we are bonded to each other nevertheless.

“We’re one but we are not the same
We carry each other, carry each other”

My thoughts are back with the lyrics I quoted in last week’s blog post: one but not the same. How else could we carry each other? Different strengths, different histories, different reactions, different gifts, different stages on the journey. God puts us together with these differences so we can take it in turns to support and learn from each other.

We come as a unit. Let’s not forget that.

Five Minute Friday is an online community of writers who respond to a weekly prompt word and free write in (approximately, for me!) five minutes flat. If you’d like to read more or want to give it a go yourself, here’s the link: http://fiveminutefriday.com/2018/11/15/fmf-link-up-one/

(Some of you will recognise the wedding photo from a previous post of mine – it’s of my own parents’ wedding, who reached 55 years of oneness)

I Don’t Want to be a BURDEN (Five Minute Friday)

One thing I’ve noticed about my family is how much we try to protect each other from pain and distress. Sometimes that’s a good thing, done out of love – my mum and I delayed telling my dad about the lump in her breast until it was confirmed as cancer and a treatment plan put in place because we felt that with his memory problems it could only cause him unnecessary anxiety if we didn’t have all the facts to tell him at once.
But sometimes we do it more out of fear – that our loved ones won’t be able to cope or that telling them makes the situation too real for us or that it is a sign of weakness to be unable to cope without support – and the price we pay for protecting them is too high. We are afraid of being a burden. So we keep going independently no matter the impact.
Strange, I do a job that promotes people’s independence and yet independence can be so isolating and impossible, so unachievable. Over the years of my career, I have come round to a different view: that we are designed not to become independent but interdependent. We should take it in turns to ‘carry each other’ as Johnny Cash sang so movingly in ‘One’. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CGrR-7_OBpA
Heather Fignar (#3 link http://www.heatherfignar.com/2018/11/burden-five-minute-friday/in this week’s Five Minute Friday http://fiveminutefriday.com/2018/11/08/fmf-link-up-burden/) reminded me of this, especially the lyrics of Richard Gillard’s ‘Servant Song, the first two verses in particular:

Brother let me be your servant
Let me as Christ to you
Pray that I may have the grace
To let you be my servant too.

We are pilgrims on a journey
We are brothers on the road
We are here to help each other
Walk the mile and bear the load

But it’s more than that. If we let others support and even carry us when we are weak, we give them a great gift with our trust in them.
As my mum grew older, as her health deteriorated, she became dependent on me for both practical matters and major decision making. It was heart breaking to step into the role of mothering her. But it was also her last and most precious gift to me because that is how she taught me to become a mother like her.


And as dementia claimed more and more of my dad’s mind, as he regressed to a naughty schoolboy alternating with an exhausted frail man, again my heart broke as our roles of parent and child reversed. But there were gifts to be found even in this: the chance to see exactly what he had been like way before I was born, to learn more of his and our family’s history as the past became clearer than the present to him, to learn to be more patient and gentle – just like him.


It was hard and painful but they were never a burden. For how could I ever balance out the amount of love and caring they had done for me for so much of my life? Their dependence became their training ground for me to grow up.
But the training continues. As my sons become adults and as my marriage goes on, I, we, are still learning the strength and trust that comes from openness and taking it in turns to lean on each other.
‘My yoke is easy and my burden is light,’ said Jesus.
I’m not so sure about that when I am struggling through difficult times. But I do know that He has given me companions along the way. Sometimes we can completely take the weight, like the friends who carried their paralysed friend to Jesus for healing. Sometimes we can lighten each other’s load for a time with a listening ear, some distraction, or practical help. And sometimes we can help others build their spiritual muscles and grow more of His fruit in their lives by being their weight training equipment ourselves.

Repeat and repeat and repeat (Five Minute Friday)

So I’m doing a spring clean of my kitchen cupboards, even though it’s November! I have some untidy habits so I can’t see if I really need to order more or not; I buy more or different just in case when we haven’t finished the original supplies; plus I’ve recently given up alcohol so it seemed pointless to keep hold of our previous amount and better to donate the unopened bottles to the work Christmas raffle.

As I’m checking Use By dates, sorting waste into macerator, recycling, or bin, then cleaning the shelves and putting the slimmed down number of items back, I’m struck by a number of things:

• The memories evoked by the smell of flavourings or icing colours I’ve used: the blue and white Danny Rose birthday cake for my ardent Spurs fan; the purple and yellow Spiro the Dragon cake for his video game playing brother; cinnamon and citrus for so many Christmas puddings and mince pies for family and work colleagues.

• The regrets for the things I didn’t cook: the coconut liqueur for the tropical trifle meant for a dinner party I was too ill to attend; the crystallised and stem ginger for a long forgotten cake recipe; the black cherries in Kirsch for a luxurious pudding never made.

• And further regrets for the waste: why on earth did I buy and then not use 6 boxes of vegetable suet or 5 tubs of candied peel? Perhaps I fell for some supermarket deal for a multi buy. Why didn’t I give away those 2L Pepsi bottles left over from our anniversary party last year? And how frightening it is to see the amount of plastic used in food wrapping and thinking of the effect that will have on our environment, my own culpability for that.

• The possibilities for future recipes out of what I have left: what could I make with four packets of dried cranberries? There must be a Caribbean bake I can use the muscovado sugar in. And how many cupcake recipes can I come up with to use up all my different size muffin cases?

(Halfway through)

It all feels like a metaphor my psychological and spiritual life. I think of how many times I have crammed something in that I don’t need; how many opportunities I have wasted; how I let the good memories get all muddled up with the rubbish; or how I prefer to mentally shut the cupboard door and ignore the growing mess of unresolved issues until there simply isn’t space for any more and I have to take action.

It’s hard work spring cleaning – and clearing out one cupboard only makes me more aware of the others that also need sorting. It’s painful sorting through memories, evaluating what should be kept and what should be discarded, and letting go of regret.
But it’s also good. I feel somehow lighter and as if things are more manageable. There’s a sense of satisfaction of a job well done and plans to go forward. It’s a lot like therapy.

I know that I’m likely to slip into those old habits again. I’ve always been better at blitzing than daily tidy ups. I will need to repeat the process of sorting though both my physical and psycho-spiritual messes over and over. But thank goodness for the people and the God who help me do so and never give up on me.