I’ll Be Seeing You (FIVE MINUTE FRIDAY ‘Familiar’)

‘I’ll be seeing you
In all the old familiar places
That this heart of mine embraces
All day through…
And when the night is new.
I’ll be looking at the moon,
But I’ll be seeing you.’

To be honest, as soon as I read this week’s prompt word, the echoes of this song swirled around the corners and pockets of my mind like low lying mist in the early morning.

It was published in 1938, became popular during the Second World War with British and American military personnel posted abroad, and covered by a multitude of artists.

But it’s those last two lines that resonate with me:

‘I’ll be looking at the moon,
But I’ll be seeing you.’

With darkness falling earlier and earlier now, there’s been a clear silver sliver of a moon suspended in a sable sky over the villages I drive through on my way home from work this week. And every time I see it, I think of my Dad.

He was a keen and knowledgeable amateur astronomer, a member of the British Astronomical Association for longer than I can remember, his expertise entirely self taught through books, articles, and TV’s The Sky at Night. His interest began as a teenager in the Air Cadets, learning aircraft identification and navigation by the stars, and he never stopped looking up. I grew up with his tales of Greek mythology, full of mortals transformed and gods commemorated in constellations, as bedtime stories, retold whenever we walked our dog at night.

The sky was one great map of history and future opportunity rolled into one for him. He saw there man’s spiritual and scientific quests as well as the glory and creativity of God.

So for the whole of my life, I’ll be looking at the moon but I’ll be seeing him, and thanking God.

 

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A Lady’s EXCUSE Me (Five Minute Friday)

Welcome to another link up with the great Five Minute Friday community at http://fiveminutefriday.com/2017/11/16/fmf-link-up-excuse/ writing on the prompt word ‘Excuse’ (although I have to admit that I went over):

“Excuse me, sorry, excuse me,” I mumbled as I wove my way through the small pockets of space between the waiting crowd in the foyer from the Ladies towards my husband near the bar.

Such a British phrase and attitude – to apologise for my presence in a place I’ve a perfectly good reason to be in. And also a phrase that’s full of shorthand for what I really mean, in this case it’s something along the lines of:

“I’m sorry to ask you to move but I need to get past you to reach my husband. He has our tickets, you see. No, I’m not trying to jump the queue to get to the bar, I’m just trying to get to him. Yes, perhaps I should have gone to the toilet before I came out but it’s better to go now than in the middle of the performance – that would be even more impolite and they might not let me back in. Sorry to disturb your conversation by asking you to move slightly to one side so I can move a couple of steps in the direction I need to go. Yes, it is very crowded in here and I know I’m invading your personal space. What a poor design for this theatre to make everyone wait in one area. Surely it has another bar upstairs? Oh it does? And that’s just as packed? Sorry, sorry. Please let me get past, I’m starting to feel claustrophobic and I really need to get to my husband.”

It was the same phrase I used as we made our way through the narrow gap to our seats in the theatre itself, navigating our way past knees and handbags. This time it was shorthand for:

“Sorry to ask you move so we can get by. Yes, we should have arrived sooner and got to our seats before you and then you wouldn’t need to move at all. Is that your bag on the floor? I’m really trying not to tread on it. Is it ok if I nudge it out of the way? Thank you for standing up to let me past. I’m trying really hard to achieve that perfect balance of squeezing past you without actually touching and yet not falling over the row of seats in front, honestly. Why have you done that weird half stand? You’d make more space if you stood properly upright plus it would be easier on your knees. I know, I’m inconveniencing you by asking you to move at all, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.”

And then there’s all the other full meanings of “Excuse me”, depending on tone and inflection. There’s the “Excuse me?” that means “I’m sorry, I don’t understand what you’re saying.” Or the elongated “Excuse me?” – usually with raised eyebrows – to indicate that my children have said something wrong or outrageous and I’m now waiting for an explanation or an apology. Or the “Excuse me!” sarcastically shouted at a fellow driver when they’ve caused me to swerve or brake suddenly. (My best friend’s mum, in her dog collar, on the receiving end of poor driving used to follow it up with calling out the window, “I can do you a good deal on funerals – you’ll probably need it, driving like that!”)

It’s amazing how much meaning and emotion can be behind one small phrase.

I think we use similar shorthand when we ask God to excuse us, that is to overlook, pardon, and forgive our sins. I love the words of the Prayer Book which perfectly summarise our sorry state where we confess to God:

‘We have sinned against you and against our neighbour

In thought and word and deed,

In the evil we have done and in the good we have not done.’

Given the opportunity to pause, we can mull over the specifics that hide behind these words. But God hears the detail and understands the intention when we pray these words with sincerity, just like my fellow theatre goers understood the shorthand as I negotiated my way past them.

Sometimes we need stock phrases and familiar words, like ‘Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner,’ when our own seem utterly inadequate or our feelings overwhelm us.

And we need, perhaps even more, the reassurance of God’s simple reply:

“Your sins are forgiven.”

A Time For SILENCE (Five Minute Friday)

I admit it, I’m cheating this week because I’m unwell. Instead of a five minute free write, this week’s Five Minute Friday’s prompt reminded me of a poem I wrote about my older son last year. So here it is:

GRADUATION

Sometimes the heart is so full

there are no words.

Sometimes the heart is so full

it can only be expressed in an open mouthed O of wonder.

Sometimes the heart is so full

love threatens to charge out your chest overflowing your mouth with silence.

Sometimes the heart is so full it hurts

and the only route available for the ache to spill out is tears.

Sometimes the heart is so full

that cheering, whooping, clapping seem utterly inadequate.

Sometimes the heart is so full

that no one can see how proud I am of you.

Sometimes the heart is so full

there are no words.

 

The Mum (Five Minute Friday NEED)

I was listening to a radio show in the car this week where a comedian said,

“However old you get, you will always need your mum”.

She continued into quite a funny routine about her own relationships and a news story about a 98 year old woman who had moved into a care home to look after her son, who already lived there.

But I only half listened. You see, I agreed but I was distracted by the question of what happens when, like me, you don’t have your mum around anymore?

My mum was a huge influence on my life. She was the example I followed as a parent and the friend I shared my joys and troubles with. She was an ear to listen, a cuddle to find comfort in, a daily warrior in prayer for me. She was where I went when I wanted to rant and offload about work or home. She was where I would always find a joyous twinkling smile and a welcoming cup of tea. She was Fun and Wisdom and Constancy. She held me in place like the sun does the planets in our solar system.

She was The Mum for all our family (and beyond), such a positive maternal force that I despaired of ever being able to live up to such a standard when my time came. So I asked her once,

“How will I ever become the mum of the family like you are?”

She thought about it for a moment then replied,

“Don’t worry. One day you’ll just wake up and find that you have become her.”

She was right (of course she was – she was The Mum). One day, I found myself looking back at recent events and realised that I had indeed become The Mum. My sons, now accelerating their way through the teenage years, came to me for support ranging from recipes to relationship break ups, just like I had with her. Not just them but now my parents turned to me for backing: I was the one Mum confided in when she found a lump in her breast and I was the one who brought Dad home after he failed a driving assessment. The world had shifted – now I was the one with the gravitational pull holding the other generations in place.

The next few years, more precious than I knew at the time, proved plenty of painful practise in being The Mum. One son off to university. Mum hospitalised after fracturing her hip. Dad’s dementia worsening. Mum ending up in a care home where she died.

However, whilst I still ache with the loss of my mum, I look back on those distressing last years with gratitude. That final dependence on me was her last, and perhaps one of her greatest, gifts to me: it was her way of handing on her mantle. I can see that gradually God had been training me, giving me increasing opportunities to stretch and build my mum muscles so now I can say with confidence that I am The Mum.

It wasn’t the kind of training I would have chosen but it was the kind I needed. It was the answer to the original question I had asked my mum but then ‘your Father knows what you need before you ask him’ (Matthew 6.8). After all, who could be better in teaching us parental love?

I’ll end with something I wrote for my mum for Mothers’ Day and read as my tribute at her funeral. It’s still my prayer:

 

THE MOTHERING OF MANY

The mothering of many

The foreign student far from home

The son’s friend whose own mother died

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

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

The gentle offering of mothering to a motherless girl

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

 

O root of all motherhood

True Mother of life and all things

Let me be a mother like her

My door and arms always open

To my own and to those You send

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

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

 

Make me a mother like her

Make me a mother like You

 

 

 

 

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.

 

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.

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.

DEPENDence (Five Minute Friday)

Here’s my weekly link up of 5 minutes free writing with this encouraging community. If you’d like to read more, here’s the link: http://fiveminutefriday.com/2017/09/28/five-minute-friday-link-up-depend/. Anyway, this is what this week’s prompt word made me think about, although it’s based on something I wrote for myself last year:

Floating in the cool refreshment of our holiday villa pool, it strikes me how strong water is. It supports my weight as easily as it does the discarded pigeon feather a few feet away. All I have to do is relax back into it and it holds me up completely.

And that’s the secret, of course: to relax and trust the water. If you tense up or thrash about, you’ll sink through it.

It’s like water is the opposite of a Newtonian fluid, which requires force to cause it to ‘solidify’ and bear weight. The water is gently strong as it holds and supports me, moulding to my shape as it softly cocoons my underneath.

I feel, I am, at home in the water: peaceful, unselfconscious, relaxed.

And I am reminded of being ‘held in the everlasting arms’ where I also have the choice to try to hold myself up, fight, and end up sinking. Or I can let myself relax back, trust Him, and find myself easily supported by His fluid grace.

ACCEPT (Five Minute Friday)

Seven weeks and three days ago my dad died.

So much of life has happened since then but I’m not sure if I’ve accepted it or not.

So I looked up what ‘accept’ actually means:

  1. To consent to receive
  2. To give an affirmative answer to
  3. To believe or come to recognise as correct
  4. To tolerate or submit to

No, I haven’t consented to, given an affirmative answer to, believed or recognised as correct, or tolerated the fact of my father’s death.

Now that doesn’t mean I’m in denial. Nor does it mean that I am in permanent distress. I am getting on with my routine, working hard, looking after my family, running Boys’ Brigade, even celebrating our Silver Wedding. I wake up ready to face the day as usual.

But then that moment of remembrance catches me – he’s gone. Or in the middle of the day, I come across someone who doesn’t know and have to explain why I’m not quite my normal self. Or I suddenly recall that I can no longer ask him any questions about our family history, or hear him tell his Air Force stories any more, or lean into his chest for another cuddle, or hear him say he loves me.

No, I haven’t accepted this new reality yet of a life without him. I don’t want to.

One day I will.

But not yet.