Do ADJUST Your Set (Five Minute Friday)

We’re all having to do a lot of adjusting at the moment, aren’t we? Staying at home or working differently, changes to routine and priorities, finding other ways to communicate and spend our time. Not knowing how long this will be for.

To be honest, we’re not used to it.

In this digital world, we press a button and it’s done. Email sent. Photo shared. Channel changed.

Remember the old days? Old TV sets or radios? You turned a knob to switch it on, carefully twisted a dial to tune in to each channel, maybe even balanced precariously with an indoor aerial to catch the signal and get the clearest picture. The slightest inaccuracy in a twiddle too far or wobble in balance and all you got was fuzzy lines and static.

It feels like that is where we are now.

There’s no press button, instant adjustment to this new world of pandemic and precautions, restrictions and redefinition. The news, the guidelines keep changing, evolving like a virus itself – it’s hard to keep up.

So we keep adjusting that dial, fine tuning our actions and reactions to each new day’s new challenges, constantly learning new ways of living.

It’s hard work. Stressful. Exhausting. We’re not good at change. And here we are, forced to repeatedly change our ways.

But there is One Constant. One Who never changes. One Who is the same yesterday, today, and forever. And yet One Whose trademark is renewal and new starts.

One Who gives us His strength when we come to the end of our own. One Who shows us hope when we run out of our own. One Whose endless supply of love is available to sustain us and ours at all times, day and night.

One Who is only a prayer away – as quick as a press of a button. And Whose peace is there waiting for us if we adjust our dial to His frequency.

 

LESS is more

Playing with words for this week’s Five Minute Friday post:

They say that
Less is more
But I’m not sure
For who wants to be
Charmless
Faceless
Hopeless
Faithless?
Nevertheless
There are times
I want the world to be
Harmless
Changeless
And I wish I were
Fearless
Even
Reckless.
It seems
The less there is of me
The more room there is
For You.

Come and join us at the Five Minute Community here: https://fiveminutefriday.com/2020/03/12/fmf-writing-prompt-link-up-less/

Times and TABLE (Five Minute Friday)

I remember the day we bought it.

Newly married, some relatives had ignored our gift list and rolled up a surprising amount of cash in a flower vase instead. So we headed to our first vintage shop and treated ourselves to a matching dresser, fiddle back chairs, and a glowing pine table.

Fast forward twenty five years to a larger house, the chairs and dresser are still an integral part of our dining room. But the table, battered by dinners and drawings, tantrums and homework, surpassed by the need to host more guests, lays dismantled at the back of the garage, buried by garden cushions and fitness equipment.

From time to time, my husband pleaded to get rid of it but I couldn’t bear to abandon the wedding wishes and memories etched into it, hoping at the back of my mind that there would come a time when it would come in useful again.

Today, turn your eyes two hundred miles westward and you’ll find a quaint kitchen diner in a 1930s cottage, perched on a hillside with harbour views. Sanded down and top waxed, legs painted a fashionable off white, the old table has found a new home where its proportions fit perfectly and it coordinates beautifully with mismatched pale wood bar stools and restored Ercol dining chairs.

Once more, it is at home.

In a world that celebrates Marie Kondo’s minimalism, there’s something to be said for a little bit of hoarding and holding on for future use, for repurposing and reimagining, for integrating old and new.

And I wonder if that can be true for us too?

Sometimes I feel like that table in the garage, battered and beauty lost, outstripped by something someone younger and more modern, purpose gone. Sometimes I’ve endured the harsh sanding away of the scars left by the damage life has brought me. Sometimes I’ve been forced into stillness to resoak in the goodness that had slowly leeched out of me, to gradually build up a new protective coat against the daily elements. Sometimes I’ve been brought to a fresh place to flourish in a life I hadn’t envisaged.

Renewal and resurrection – as true for tables as it is for us.

To Think of Others BEFORE Myself

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.

I wrote this poem last year and I was pretty satisfied with it. But, reading it back now, while I’m still recovering from a period of depression, I realise the sentiment, and the theology is incomplete.

One of the reasons I have lacked resilience to deal with unexpected traumatic events has been that I have been increasingly running on empty. Putting others’ needs always above my own has gradually depleted my reserves until I ran out completely.

It’s a particularly easy trap for a Christian to fall into. We believe in service and unselfishness and sacrifice.

Were you a Brownie who learned the Brownie law:
‘Think of others before yourself and do a good deed every day’?

Or do you remember the acronym for finding joy as prioritising needs in in this order?
1. Jesus
2. Others
3. Yourself

My trouble was that by the time I had done my morning prayer time (Jesus), then worked beyond my designated hours without a break (Others), and looked after my family (more Others), there was no time, let alone energy, to do anything for Your/Myself.

I’ve been challenged to look at this differently.

What if J-O-Y is better viewed as a triangle than a list? With Jesus at the top, Yourself and Others on a level at the base?

The Message translation of Jesus’ reply about what the most important commandment is this:
“‘Love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence.’ This is the most important, the first on any list. But there is a second to set alongside it: ‘Love others as well as you love yourself.’” (Matthew 22.37-8)

‘Love others as well as you love yourself’. Not better than you love yourself. Not before you love yourself. But as well as you love yourself.

How well can you love others if you don’t love yourself much?

One great reassurance I’ve had whilst being ill has been the frequent reminder that I am God’s child and He loves me very much. And that He loves me because of who I am to Him not what I do for Him. So if I want to be like Him, how can I not reflect His love for me? How can I not take good care of someone He loves so much?

My counsellor repeats that self-care is essential if I also want to care for others – I need to prioritise it and make space for it. Sometimes that means uncomfortable, unfamiliar choices: saying no, delegating to someone else.

But looking after myself, making time for what does me good – yoga, gardening, resting – plus working more slowly, in a more considered way – taking a few moments to think before automatically saying yes or offering help – these will all make me better at my job, better as a wife, mother and friend. It means I will have more energy to do what I am called to. It means I won’t deprive others of growth and success. It means I will set a healthy and realistic example.

Or, as RuPaul puts it:
“If you don’t love yourself, how in the hell you gonna love somebody else?”

Can I have an Amen?!

(Writing again this week from a prompt by Five Minute Friday https://fiveminutefriday.com/2020/02/27/fmf-writing-prompt-link-up-before/ )

This Was Not What We Imagined

With my mind elsewhere today, I’m sharing a poem I wrote a while ago that I think fits this week’s Five Minute Friday prompt of RISK.  I love considering the parallels between our modern experience and Bible characters; it brings the characters closer, personalises them.

This was not what we imagined
This was not how we expected pregnancy to be
The timing all wrong
Me with my new job
And you before your wedding day
We had no preparation for the anguish and distress
My nonstop vomiting exacerbated by anxiety
Your risk of rejection and scandal driven disgrace
But we each had our Elizabeth
Our place and voice of refuge
And we thanked God for her

It was not the birth we hoped for either
No familiar faces surrounding us (except his)
Only the support of strangers
No security of homely surroundings
But unkind smells of disinfectant or dung in the darkness
I ached for a window in that long night
For a glimpse of the natural world outside
Of sky, of starlight
You had your Starlight
But did you get your glimpse outside
Of the universe on tiptoes outside your door?

When I needed help
God sent me a tall smiling doctor
With a voice to believe in
And an Alien faced midwife banshee shouting
God sent you men more used to delivering livestock
With a story of angel song
Still ringing in their ears
But your little lamb had already arrived

And after the excitement of announcing our boys’ arrivals
Telephone for me, celestial choirs for you
We found that first moment of stillness
Babe in our arms well sated
And we wondered
And pondered
God’s good guidance
And possible plans

 

SAMARITAN OR NOT?

The end of the week, the end of our journey, just our little hill to go. Storm Dennis continues to pour down on the windscreen and in rivulets down the tarmac as we squeeze carefully up the narrow twists and turns in first gear. It’s a bit more challenging than usual but manageable.

Or so we think.

At the steepest, tightest bend the headlights catch a woman on all fours and a man trying to lift her up. There’s no way round them so we have to stop. We consider getting out to help but attention quickly returns to the car as my handbrake is failing to hold it against the combined force of gradient and rain slicked road. I daren’t take my foot off the other brake. I can manage this hill forwards but there’s no way I can reverse safely down.

Eventually she staggers over to a small parking space and we struggle past, a slightly worrying burnt smell coming from my clutch. We think again about going back to help as we unload in front of the steps up to our house but, by the time, I come down from our own parking space further up the hill, others have gone to their aid.

 (Here’s the road in the daytime. At the top of the view is the sharp bend left where the woman fell and between the house and the blue and white fence is where we had to stop). 

The experience left me thinking about the Parable of the Good Samaritan from the viewpoint of the passers by.

I wonder what their reasons for avoiding helping were. Did they think the man by the road was drunk so not worthy of help? But is that a valid reason? Did they have others waiting at their destination, relying on them, so any delay by rescuing this man would have caused distress or harm to someone else who needed them?

It’s easy to cast the priest and Levite as simple villains, self righteous or afraid. And to assume that we would never behave like that because we know the lesson from this familiar story so well.

But human behaviour is rarely as straightforward as in a short story, even one told by Jesus. How do we balance the needs of more than one person who needs us at a time? Does God call us to be a neighbour to everyone? Or does He call us to particular needs and people?

I don’t have the answers to these questions. I’d love to hear your thoughts. But I am grateful for an experience that has made me confront a familiar parable from a different angle, even if I haven’t reached any conclusions yet.

This post was written as part of this week’s Five Minute Friday Link Up with the prompt ‘experience’. Find more here https://fiveminutefriday.com/2020/02/13/fmf-writing-prompt-link-up-experience/

The Parable of the TALENTs

I wonder if God smiled to Himself at the first telling of the Parable of the Talents, knowing that the English translation of the word for money would have a second meaning? So, rather than consider how we manage our finances, we can’t help but hear the story in terms of what we do with our God given skills.

How do we invest and multiply our gifts? Or are we guilty of hiding and burying them? And do we realise that God wants us to grow what he has given us?

But how do we do that?

Well, I guess, first of all we need to recognise what we have been given. So it’s worth asking ourselves what has been put in our hands and laps. Is it time or finances? Is it a dining table or a spare room? Is it an aptitude for numbers or art? Is it a love of gardening or languages? Is it a joy in seeing others succeed or in the natural world?

As a young Christian, trying to work out my direction in life, I was given the wise advice to look at what I was good at and what I loved doing as a starting point. Even the parable talks about ‘each according to his ability’. God isn’t a spoilsport so go with your abilities and see where it takes you.

But to make the most of what God has given us, we need to invest it and invest in it. We need to put time and energy and discipline in. No one became a great musician or led church worship well without practising. Likewise, I can’t become more patient  without frequently forgiving other drivers or a good listener without giving my family my full attention when they talk. It’ll be hard at times but with continued application, taking the opportunities that come our way, our talents will grow.

Sometimes we can feel that we have few talents, few resources to invest. We think it’s only the great that really counts. But God doesn’t see size, fame, or significance as we do. He is a God who loves small things, seeing such significance and potential in them. He loves a widow’s last pennies, mustard seeds, and a boy’s packed lunch. He loves a child’s pocket money donation to charity, a prayer said, a cup of tea made with care.

He takes our small investments and honours our attempts to use them in His service. And then He multiplies them. Seeds grow into vast trees giving shelter to a range of wildlife. A couple of fish sandwiches more than feed an enormous crowd. The exhaustion and pain of caring for a loved one with dementia turns into a precious gift and memory. A few encouraging words act as someone’s  lifeline.

We don’t always see such results. But God does. And when He sees us making the most of the talents He has given us, that definitely makes Him smile.

Joining in again with the fabulous Five Minute Friday community on this week’s prompt of TALENT. Find more here: https://fiveminutefriday.com/2020/02/06/fmf-writing-prompt-link-up-talent/

LIFE in All Its Fullness

2019 wasn’t an easy year for me. Illness, depression, disappointment have blanketed out much of my good memories from it. But if I search hard enough, there were bright spots too: trips to Cornwall, family celebrations, renewal in our garden, progress in my writing. It reminds me of something Martin Luther King said:

‘But I know, somehow, that only when it is dark enough can you see the stars’.

That light may be far off but the darkness makes you appreciate it more. And, to be honest, during my time off work, I feel that, strangely, I have learned and gained so much, as if pain has proved to be an uncomfortable but rich fertiliser for growth.
It’s made me think about that statement Jesus made:

“I came to give you life – life in all its fullness.”  (John ch 10 v 10)

When life goes wrong, our (or certainly my) natural reaction is to complain about the unfairness of it. It’s as if we think the norm to be happiness and straightforward progression in life, not just as an expectation but as a right. So when something dreadful happens it comes as a shock and an affront to us.

But if we look around us, some form of tragedy comes to everyone. A job loss. A relationship breakdown. Illness. Death.

Now I’m not trying to minimise pain or grief or trauma. But what if ‘life in all its fullness’ includes the mix of ups and downs? What if there are lessons to be learned and riches to be found as much in our difficulties as our successes? What if our journey in life is meant to go through both hills and valleys? And, rather than stamping our foot like an angry child against it, what would acceptance of both positive and negative look like?

Thinking about this reminds me of Michael Henchard compared with Donald Fairfax in Thomas Hardy’s The Mayor of Casterbridge. Or contrast Jean Valjean and Javert in Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables. It is the height and depth of their experiences and emotions that give Henchard and Valjean the richer lives, unlike Fairfax and Javert, who live respectably but emotionally stunted without empathy for others. Of course, Valjean experiences redemption that forever redefines him and enriches his life.

Perhaps that’s the secret to experiencing ‘life in all its fullness’ – allowing God to constantly remake us and enlarge us, accepting all joys and pains as His gifts whilst looking for the blessing in both, and walking hand in hand with Him through the hills and valleys, appreciating the view from both.

Joining the weekly Five Minute Friday community writing from a shared prompt word. Jpin the party here: https://fresh.inlinkz.com/party/07330876dfa144f08a472aabe52c4e02.

SAL

If you’ve never been to the Cape Verde islands, you’ve missed a treat. Off the coast of North West Africa but previously a Portuguese colony, it has a laid back Caribbean-style vibe. We were fortunate to go there in 2011, before mass tourism from the UK started, staying in a small mulit-mnational complex built around the Old Harbour in Santa Maria on Sal rather than one of the isolated all inclusive resorts that dominate the island now. 

When I saw the Five Minute Friday prompt this week of RELIEF, I found this poem that I wrote from our time there. Our evenings were spent exploring the great choices of restaurants – seafood and ice cream are my stand out memories.  Apart from walking the occasional day trip, our days were spent in much needed relaxation – sunbathing, swimming, fishing, reading. This poem describes those days. I hope you like it.

SAL

Heat hangs heavy in the air
Weighting me down on the sunbed
Too hot to move
Too hot to plan
Too hot to think
Deceitful wind disguises the sun’s strength
Unhampered by an overcast sky
Skin silently sizzles
Despite well lotioned defence

Oh the lightness and freedom of the cool pool’s relief
All heat and heaviness instantly forgotten
Or the sway of the sea’s hammock
As eyes rest on the soft, silver grey
Of slow motion fish
Pulled and released by the tide
As I lazily snorkel
Over their dappled world

A SACRIFICE of Praise (Five Minute Friday)

I wake to the first real winter’s morning of the season. Frost coats lawn, cars, and the curls of the corkscrew hazel and, like its cousin snow, muffles all Sunday sounds. But on the other sheltered side of the house, low light goldens the fences and new green growth continues its advancement.

Mint leaves multiply on what seemed previously dead stems. Palest pink blooms dot the edges of heather. Bulb shoots cut through the covering leaf mulch in unexpected places, having successfully evaded hungry squirrels.

A background hum of distant traffic and even more distant planes is interspersed by voluntaries of birdsong as golden as the light. A wood pigeon steadily grubbing its way along one flowerbed reminds me of yesterday’s avian visitors: a colour blocked magpie, a listening blackbird, familiar robin, and camouflaged treecreeper.

In such a setting, it’s easy for a heart to fill and overflow with praise for the Creator. Words seem superfluous as Nature itself gives grateful voice to the Great Gardener.
But it’s not always so easy or spontaneous.

Sometimes praise is a discipline or a sacrifice.

I’ve written before about how I am a natural pessimist, primarily seeing misspellings, faults, and mistakes before successes, kindnesses and blessings. During my most recent episode of depression, I’ve got into the habit of keeping a list of gratitudes in my prayer journal. And I’m learning (again) about the God who stays in the summer and the winter, the dark and the light, the panic and the calm.

Praise doesn’t come naturally. It’s an effort, a sacrifice for me.

But praise isn’t a case of ignoring the difficulties and pain and blithely singing with optimism instead. It’s about weighing the full range of evidence, holding the progress and the retreats together in my hands, acknowledging balance and subtleties. It’s about recognising the blacks and the whites and the greys, the shade that accentuates the highlights, the spatter and speckles, the spots and stripes, the whole pied beauty of life and emotions. Or, to borrow Gerard Manley Hopkins’s words further:

‘Glory be to God for dappled things’.

And even when few or no bright spots appear in the blackness. Even when that fog of fear descends and blinds me. Even when it doesn’t feel like He is there. That is the time to make a sacrifice of praise. To remember Who God is – my Father, my Friend, my Defender, my Counsellor, my Rescuer, my Finder. To turn my focus, even if just for a moment, from my circumstances to His character. To sound one blast of defiance against whatever holds me down. To stake an honest claim of:

‘I don’t know why this is happening and I hate it. But be God and show me, show the world, who You are and what You can do.’

Praise can be contrary to all our inclinations. Praise can be nothing but a dogged decision. Praise can be a giving up of giving in, of hopelessness, of anxiety and fear. Praise can be a sacrifice.

So let’s be courageous, bloody-minded. Let’s try it. And see how God responds.