The Lost Children of South Sudan – a recommendation

APOLOGIES: THIS EVENT HAS HAD TO BE POSTPONED. PLEASE LOOK OUT FOR AN UPDATE WITH THE RESCHEDULED DATE. BUT IN THE MEANTIME, WHY NOT BUY THE BOOK OR VISIT LIVINSGSTONES ANYWAY?

My lovely friend and fellow writer, Letitia Mason, will be at LivingStones Christian Centre in Fleet, Hampshire, today to sign copies of her book, The Lost Children of Cush. It’s a great read, really evocative descriptions of Africa (which I particularly recognised from when I worked in Rwanda), and a moving account of the impact of trafficking in today’s world.
It’s the first in a series about how this affects one family as well as the British charity workers who come alongside them.
So why not come along and meet Tish and buy a copy for yourself?

For those of you who aren’t local, the book is available to buy at https://www.amazon.co.uk/Lost-Children-Maria-South-Sudan-ebook/dp/B07CSJ2HB2/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1541240774&sr=8-1&keywords=letitia+mason or https://www.amazon.com/Lost-Children-Cush-novel-South/dp/1548221333/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1541240845&sr=8-1&keywords=letitia+mason

You can also find out more about the series and South Sudan itself on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/MariaofSS/ or on Tish’s blog https://mariaofsouthsudan.wordpress.com/

 

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Autumn Forest MOMENTs (Five Minute Friday)

Sorry for the hiatus in posts – I’ve been away. But I’m really glad to back with the great Five Minute Friday community  http://fiveminutefriday.com/2018/10/25/fmf-link-up-moment-day-26/ and you’ll see I have still been writing: this week’s response to the prompt word is a series of extracts from the observations I kept. It’s amazing the amount of absorbing detail in one simple view.

Monday
On the evening of our arrival, I walked out onto the deck to look at the view. Once again, we back onto the forest but there’s only a limited view because of the darkness. Instead there’s a wall of silver birches dancing to the wind’s command, flouncing their skirts to their own tarantella, trunks bending Spanish style in a paso doble. Even the rustle of leaves sound like a thousand castanets. There’s very little ‘fall’ here yet. The birches are still mainly green with a few golden highlights against the darkness of the increasingly early nights.

Tuesday
In the morning it’s all change. Same trees, same shapes, but only a breeze and suffused with golden sunrise. The white trunks shine and tall pines are revealed behind. As I look around, I notice the variety in colour of tree trunks – even the pines vary: few are the traditional brown of a child’s drawing; they are deep bronze red and silvered lilac and all shades in between, depending on how the light catches them.

Wednesday
Today I’m awake first. So I’ve found my usual morning place of the deck.
At first, it’s the palpable sense of stillness and silence that surrounds and holds me like the cold air itself. (Maybe there’s a word for this crispness). The trees in front of me are completely unmoving. It’s as if the air is too cold or not awake enough to produce even the slightest breeze. My breath floats gently away from me like a wispy cloud.
But it’s deceptive this stillness and silence.
And there is movement. Two squirrels scurrying and leaping along the bouncing branches, shaking the very tree tops in their hurry. Or if I look very closely, at the very edge of a couple of frond-like twigs, hanging over a natural entrance to the forest, the end few finger leaves are swaying just the slightest. So the air must be moving. In fact, when I exhale, my mist breath always drifts off to my right not straight upwards.

Thursday
It’s grey when I wake up. At first, I think the drops on the outside table are dew again but when I step out from under the overhanging roof, I realise it’s raining. At first it just seems like a damp freshness in the air but then I hear the percussion – mainly tings on the metal barbecue. Strange how I can hear the rain more easily than see it – the drops must be very fine. But even in the grey and rain, the gold of the changing silver birches glows with light, as if they have a secret inner source, although it’s actually low sunlight still getting through.

Friday
It rains most of the day so I retreat to my cosy corner at the kitchen table with its view over the deck to the forest.
The leaves on the silver birches, especially the one directly in front, which I’m starting to think of as ours, are becoming more and more yellow instead of green. Some are speckling brown. In the high wind, many are torn off violently and thrown away.

Saturday
Inside again this morning before we go out for the day, the weather dark and blowy outside. No golden morning light today. But I notice an almost transparent insect climbing up the window beside me. Its wings are like delicate glass with subtle veining like leaves and its body a pale lime green, like some kind of elongated greenfly. It’s beautiful. When I realise it’s on the inside, I get a jug and some paper to gently trap it and then release it outside, back where it belongs.

Thursday
Our last full day and I haven’t been writing every day because, well that doesn’t matter.
But what a change in the scenery outside: we’ve watched the autumn take hold. The silver birches are now more gold than green, their leaves increasingly sparse as they’ve surrendered them to the wind and the ground. They remind me of humans with our hair going grey and falling out as we age too.

SHARE the Love (Five Minute Friday)

My mum bought me a book as a present out of the blue once. It was called ‘The Five Love Languages’. https://www.amazon.co.uk/Love-Languages-Secret-that-Lasts-ebook/dp/B00OICLVBI/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1538925638&sr=8-1&keywords=five+love+languages I cringed a bit at the title, if I’m honest, but I read it all the same.

Its premise was that there are four basic ways of communicating love but that each of us is only proficient in one or two. Problems can arise in relationships when we don’t speak the same language, so we can end up thinking we’re not loved because we don’t ‘hear’ their method of communication. Or we can feel frustrated when our expressions of affection don’t ‘translate’ for them.

My beloved and I are a classic combination of opposite ‘love languages’. Just as he had a natural flair for German at school whereas I found French came much more naturally, so his communication styles tend to be service and gifts, whereas mine are words and physical contact.

So he buys me flowers because it would have been my late dad’s birthday or just because he hasn’t bought me any for a while and wants me to know I’m appreciated. He diligently keeps our finances in order, empties the dishwasher, and is quick to offer lifts to our boys no matter how far or what changes it might mean to his own plans.

I, on the other hand, can’t let any of men leave the house without a goodbye kiss or go to bed without a goodnight hug. I make a point of frequently saying to them, out loud or via text, how much I love them and am proud of them.

What we have had to learn though is to become multilingual – to recognise each other’s prime language and remember to translate, and to learn to speak it ourselves. So he will give me a cuddle because he knows it makes me feel reassured and I will make sure all his shirts are laundered so he will start the day knowing he is cared for.

And I guess that’s the point for all of us who want to show any kind of love to others, our own or God’s: it’s no good just spouting away in our own language, repeating the same words ever more slowly and loudly like an ignorant and arrogant Englishman abroad – we simply won’t be understood. We all need to become linguists if we want others to know their true worth.

After all, wasn’t that exactly what God did when ‘the Word became flesh’?

 

Potential Eden (FIVE MINUTE FRIDAY)

It’s early Sunday morning and no one else in the house is up. Drawn by the freshness of the autumn sunshine casting pools of gold among the shadows, I divert my morning prayer time to the garden.

What a beautiful, peaceful, perfect place to be first thing: the light, the birdsong, the noisy rush of water, the warming taste of coffee against the cool air, the creamy smoothness of my journal pages, and all the signs of life in the garden – the recently planted showing signs of being established now, the further outstretching of old plants, the continued neon flowering of a fuchsia, the unseasonal tiny honeysuckle blooms and spring bulb shoots, the new growth on plants I’d thought lost completely to this summer’s heatwave.

It’s an Eden of a place where, as I breathe it in, my mind and soul find peace and rest.

There are plenty of jobs to be done (I’m making a mental list!) but that doesn’t detract from the peace. In fact, it strikes me that if the original Eden was a garden, there would always have been jobs to do there too. That’s the nature of a garden.

So Eden – perfection – isn’t necessarily a final finished product; it’s a process, an attitude, a sense of contentment in the ongoing task of ‘intermingling all things together for good’. Perfection is not in the completion; it is in the doing.

God placed Adam in the original Eden to be His fellow gardener and carry out all the tasks required by the changing seasons, to respond to the changes that result from different weather and ongoing growth. And now He has placed us in the Edens of our lives and circumstances surely to do the same. Eden is not a finished product but an ongoing process of discovery and adaptation and active shaping of our world in full partnership with God. What an amazing privilege and opportunity!

 

COMPLETE (Five Minute Friday)

My mum used to wear an acid yellow sweatshirt with an enormous green tortoise on the front. Above were the words: ‘Please be patient…’ and on the back: ‘…God hasn’t finished with me yet’! She loved that sweatshirt. It was warm and comforting in more ways than one.

I loved it too. As a grey haired, little old lady, it looked quite incongruous on her but it so suited her personality and the yellow was as bright as her smile. The words gave her hope and now they do the same for me.

My personality type is such that I like things to be finished, complete, perfect. I like getting to the end of the day with all the things on my To Do List ticked off. I like a novel that finishes with all the loose ends neatly tied up. I can’t leave the house in the morning for work until I’ve got everything else needed done. I can’t leave a piece of writing (my own or others’) with spelling mistakes or misused apostrophes.

Who am I kidding? It’s not that I ‘like’ things to be like that; it’s nearer to I ‘need’ them to.

So I live with the constant awareness of my own shortcomings, my mistakes, and how many times I miss the bullseye.

However, over the years, I have been learning to view my life in a less black and white, all or nothing way. And I remember that sweatshirt of my mum’s because the message is for me: be patient with myself because God hasn’t finished with me yet. And that gives me such comfort for now and hope for the future.

I have learned that I am God’s Work In Progress, beautiful and meaningful in itself but still being written and edited ready for that final publication.

I am His garden, carefully planted and tended but needing constant weeding, sometimes battered by the elements and needing replanting, sometimes overgrown and needing cutting back, sometimes reaching the end of one purpose and needing a complete redesign to meet a new one. And whatever work needs doing, there is always growth and beauty to be found: a plant that has defied the heatwave to bloom, bulb shoots that have broken free of their cold earthly prison, pale pink apple blossom that has miraculously developed into scarlet baubles of fruit, a rowan tree with its year after year store cupboard of berries for the birds, the symphony of the wind and rain chasing through the trees, the stark elegance of plants’ skeletons against the snow.

God is still working on me and one day I will be complete.

The Five Minute Friday community is a group of writers who gather together to encourage and equip one another. Once a week, we have a blog link up, each writing on the same prompt word for five minutes. You can find out more here: http://fiveminutefriday.com/community/

CROWD (Five Minute Friday)

I can’t pretend that this only took 5 minutes to write. I was sat in the back of our car as we took our son on the two hundred mile journey back to university, losing track of time as I wrote, inspired by the rap music he loves and sometimes writes himself, attempting to capture some of its rhythm and internal rhyme in my own poetry:

I don’t like crowds:

Crowds are loud and leave

Me cowed as confidence

Leaks so I’m unable

To speak and knees

Become weak as my

Stomach is squeezed by

The Big Freeze

Breath sucked out by

The vacuum of this room

Full of people, this crowd

I don’t like crowds

 

But then I remember I’m

Not the sole member

Of this party that entered

The gloom of this room

I brought my security

Tall filial minders

Sentry reminders

Of strength and protection

Love and affection

That stiffen my spine

And hold my head high

Look this crowd in the eye

 

And then there’s the man

Who keeps holding my hand

And by some process of osmosis

I can feel the glow of the flow

Of his belief in me, in us

Filling my nervous

Spaces, changing

The hostile faces

He has my back

Keeps me on track

Won’t let me wimp out

Though I don’t like a crowd

 

So I take a deep breath

Plunge in, fake a smile

And after a while

It can’t overwhelm cos

I belong to a realm

That’s made of us four

And I know the score

My foundation is grounded

In our quattro nation

Each side of the square

Bearing its brother

My head won’t stay bowed:

I brought my own crowd

 

Other inspirational writing on the prompt word CROWD can be found at http://fiveminutefriday.com/2018/09/13/fmf-link-up-crowd/ .

STORM (Five Minute Friday RAIN)

Welcome to this week’s contribution to the wonderful Five Minute Friday community. More on this weeks’ prompt can be found here: http://fiveminutefriday.com/2018/09/06/fmf-link-up-rain/ .

I have to admit my own post wasn’t written in 5 minutes because it’s an edit of something I wrote a couple of years ago. Hope you like it anyway:

STORM

Midnight and the room sits heavy with too still air.

And then, like the flourish of a conductor’s baton,

an electric shock of lightening shorts from behind the curtain

and the timpani section begins its overture:

The bass drumroll of thunder;

Wind through the trees like the brushing of cymbals;

Percussion of rain striking different notes as it falls

on paving slabs (a tap),

or puddles (the triangle),

or next door’s laurel leaves (a muffle thud),

or the conservatory roof (a whole drum kit);

The increasing tempo as the gutter increasingly overflows in ever faster flow.

I open two ventilators, just a couple of inches,

and the sense of release is tangible.

The sounds of the rain flood into the room.

Cooler air seeps in behind.

Then I lie awake listening to the storm’s symphony.

I could shut it out again to find quietness for sleep

but instead I let this rough music be my lullaby.

RUSH (Five Minute Friday)

During the summer holidays a rash spreads across the road network of traffic cones, holes, and temporary lights. It’s aimed at reducing disruption, when the number of cars is less than usual, but it never seems to be finished in time for new school term.

Four sets of roadworks have sprung up between home and work for me but the worst are the gas pipe repairs at the T junction of our own road with the main one. It’s close to a more major junction, initially with three way traffic lights in action. But that meant no lights at our own junction so it felt precarious to venture into a gap in the flow because of reduced visibility over the bridge and round the nearby bend.

It was a relief when lights were also installed at the end of our road, although it meant the delays got longer. And that has worsened as the roadworks crept up our road too. Large holes have appeared in the verges, surrounded by plastic barriers that spill onto the tarmac. Signs and traffic cones have trespassed along the gutters. Portaloos have been erected in the road itself. Various parked vans have further infringed on the width of the carriageway. And not all drivers queue in the most appropriate places, blocking oncoming traffic.

It feels like negotiating an obstacle course. And next week, when parents usually park here to drop their children off at the local schools, will probably be worse.

But I figure I have choice in how I deal with this enforced delay in the rush hour:

I can sigh impatiently at the inconvenience, harrumph at the thoughtless parking, tut at others’ poor driving skills. Or I can allow a little extra time for my journey so I don’t feel stressed, remember the benefits of a safe and working gas supply, take some moments to pray or enjoy the music on my car stereo. My reaction and therefore my experience is up to me.

I think sometimes God sends roadworks into our lives too. Disasters happen. Inconvenient as the timing may seem, essential repairs are just that – essential. Scheduled repairs need to be scheduled. The work may take longer than we’d like. We may be diverted along a different route or delayed in our journey.

It can be utterly frustrating as our lives come to an apparent standstill.

But God knows what He is doing, even if He, like the workmen, may not seem very visible. And in His roadworks we can also choose what attitude to take.

 

LOYAL (Five Minute Friday)

Soon after I started my first job post university, my dad developed depression and was put on long term sick. My plans to move out were abandoned so that I could stay and support both my parents through this.

One of my clearest memories of that time is of sitting on the stairs with my mum as she talked about how hard it was to interact with my dad, how he spurned offers of help or sympathy, and particularly how easily he snapped at the most innocuous comment followed by a sinking into abject guilt. We walked on eggshells most of the time, not knowing how he would react. And, most painfully for my mum, he simply withdrew from all company and contact for the majority of the time.

However, there was one presence he could tolerate, even welcomed: our dog, Rhauaridh*.

My mum had insisted that Dad continued to take the dog for his regular evening walk. Where we lived in London there was a reputation for assaults and muggings, so it wasn’t considered safe for a woman to go out alone after dark. With my brother away at university, that left Dad. The daily dog walk became the anchor to his routine, made him exercise and leave the house, even the occasionally have a short interaction with other dog walkers; it was a lifeline.

Throughout the day, when Dad shut himself away in our back room to just sit on the sofa for hours, the dog would patiently curl up next to him, head on his lap. He said that Rhauridh’s* was a comforting but completely undemanding presence. Dad needed company but found human conversation or questions too much whereas the dog provided just what he needed. It was as if he knew that Dad was ill and had found the most effective way of telling him that he wasn’t alone.

(pronounced ‘Rory’, it’s Scots Gaelic for ‘the red one’)