A ROUTINE DAY? (Five Minute Friday)

‘How do you break the cycle of busy?’ asked Kate in her blog post for Five Minute Friday http://fiveminutefriday.com/2018/03/22/fmf-link-up-routine/ this week. Automatically I thought of the fatigue management course that I teach, principles like the Five Ps and Four Ds. I was itching to getting home from work to write about these tips.

I was two and a half hours late finishing and missed my lunch break.

So much for my pearls of wisdom!

But when I look at back at the day I realise my problem wasn’t the principles not working but a case of not practising what I preached. So here’s how I did and perhaps we can all learn from my mistakes:

  1. PLAN: OK I did make a To Do List at the start of the day but I completely underestimated how long tasks would take and left no time for unexpected demands.
  2. PRIORITISE: Instead of doing the most urgent tasks first, I got distracted by something else, spent too much time on it, so ran out of work hours for more important things.
  3. PACE: The only time I left the building was to collect my lunch from my car. And then I ate it at my desk. What can I say? Everyone needs a break, including me, and I shouldn’t feel guilty about taking one.
  4. POSTURE: Is it any wonder that my shoulders ached after spending so long at a computer? Everyone needs to move and change position – do I need to repeat myself again?
  5. PERMISSION: Well, everyone makes mistakes so I am not going to beat myself up about this. I will remind myself that I am human but I belong to a God who wipes the slate clean and lets me start again. And a new week starts on Monday.

And as for the Four Ds – I’ll save those for another post when perhaps I can tell you about how I got those right!

(And my very lovely other half had one of these waiting for me when I got home!)

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TIRED (Five Minute Friday)

TIRED (FMF)

The first couple of months of this year were exhausting for me. I was really struggling. There were non stop demands at work: an overwhelming number of new referrals, complex and emotionally draining issues to solve for my current patients, plus the extra responsibilities of a supervising a student and contributing to a research project taking up precious time. Add to that a weekend taken up by a son’s sudden illness two hundred miles away and the anniversary of my mother’s death, it was no wonder I felt like I was running on empty.

But one morning, as I was reading Mark’s gospel chapters 5 and 6, I noticed Jesus and his disciples going through much the same thing.

They were crazily busy: travelling back and forth across the lake, moving from place to place to teach, healing needy person after needy person, whilst dealing with the grief of a family death (John the Baptist). Jesus was rejected and criticised by His own community, had a much needed break interrupted by the demands of others, faced another storm disrupting travel, and then yet more needy people to help immediately on reaching shore again.

It sounded so much like my life!

It certainly helped to know that He knew what I was going through. But I also decided to look more closely to see if His approach to stress was better than mine to help me cope better. This is what I found:

  1. He didn’t stay where He wasn’t wanted. For me, this translated as not taking on tasks that others (e.g. my boss) didn’t want me to.
  2. He delegated work to others. So I looked at what I could give my student and volunteers to do and, when triaging my new referrals, I directed referrals to other services where possible.
  3. He arranged breaks but responded flexibly to need. I realised I needed to plan time off but not be rigid in my thinking if plans went astray.
  4. He took His team somewhere remote to get away. This gave me hope of recovery time for my planned holiday away. It also challenged me to think about getting away mentally at times by doing something completely different, especially getting away from screens perhaps by doing more knitting or reading in my evenings.
  5. He took physical exercise outside – climbing a mountain, crewing a boat. I got back out in my garden after realising this – planting out some colourful pots, clearing leaves, starting the post winter tidy up. I’m also considering some regular walking, perhaps aiming for a long distance charity walk.
  6. He made sure He did get some time alone with His Heavenly Father. And I was encouraged to keep going with even a short period of daily prayer and Bible reading helps.

You know, it’s easy to read the Bible and not realise how practical it is. This reminded me of how much the detail of our lives matters to God and how He longs for us to live our lives well. Now I just need to apply what I’ve learned on a long term basis.

 “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” (Matthew 11. 28-30 The Message

(This is my weekly, albeit late this week (!), link up to the Five Minute Friday community. You can find more on this prompt here: http://fiveminutefriday.com/2018/03/08/fmf-link-up-tired/)

Je Ne Regrette Rien (Five Minute Friday)

‘Regrets? I’ve had a few,

But then again, too few to mention.’

You know, I don’t get either of these lyrics. I’m a what-iffer, constantly questioning whether I could have handled things better, especially when it comes to other people. Could I have been a better parent, therapist, friend? If something goes wrong, was it my fault? Could I have prevented it? It’s felt especially true this week.

Reflection on performance is a key part of my job; continuous professional development is an expectation. And without regular self examination, the Christian life stagnates or deteriorates.

But it can be an unsettling way to live – like walking on snow that subtly shifts under each tread, it’s hard work. I can become frozen by circuitous analysing and catastrophising, unable to move on. Sometimes I remind myself that ‘The only real mistake you make is the one you don’t learn from’ but even that can become a pressure rather than a comfort.

But there are other wise words I can remember and hold onto, like:

‘Wait. Give it time,’

‘Stuff happens,’ and

‘I’m not in control of everything – He is.’

And, just like the thaw which is starting in my garden, even in the most frozen conditions, I will see that there is hope still pushing through my uncertainty.

The Beauty of a Sunset (Five Minute Friday)

To be honest, I’m struggling with this week’s word prompt – it feels too daunting, too big. What can I say about it that’s original or new or even interesting? My usual aids of looking up definitions or quotes haven’t helped either. Maybe just writing and seeing where it takes me will.

What I’d prefer to do with this post is just make it visual: show you photos of my children, the miniature irises pushing through the hard, frosty earth in my garden, landscapes I’ve gazed at, flowers my husband has bought me, or a glorious sunset.

Actually, sunsets are what I’ve been thinking about this week. It was the anniversary of my Mum’s death so I’ve been thinking back about her life (what a truly beautiful person she was) and the last months leading up to her death. It was a stressful intense time, painful and hard, but somehow there was glory in it.

For me, that was when I properly grew up and became a real adult, when my own resources were stripped away so I had to fall completely back onto my relationship with God for answers (He didn’t give many but did listen to all my questions and turmoil).

For my mum, her deteriorating health stripped away her independence and self-reliance, her physical capability and her mental agility. To be honest, near the end it seemed to strip away much of her personality too as she withdrew further and further from us. As she gave up her mantle of motherhood, I picked it up.

The dying process was like a reversal of her earliest years. It was heart breaking but somehow balanced. Birth and death. The sunset to balance the sunrise. And aren’t those times the ones where we find the most intense beauty?

 Back aching

You lay back in bed

Your arms reaching out

To hold me

In the first few minutes of my life.

Back aching

I bent over your bed

My arms curving round

To hold you

In the last hours of yours.

WHY? (Five Minute Friday)

Here’s my response to this week’s prompt word ‘why’ from the talented Five Minute Friday community. Check out others here: http://fiveminutefriday.com/2018/02/15/fmf-link-up-why/

Both times I was pregnant, like the Duchess of Cambridge, I had hyperemesis. That means that I spent months of my pregnancies leaning over the toilet bowl vomiting. At my worst, I was being sick every 20 minutes. It meant I couldn’t work, my second time I couldn’t look after our little boy, and I couldn’t even get out of bed because my stomach muscles were so weakened and my blood pressure so low.

It was one of the most miserable times of my life. Nothing like the golden glow I had expected from the media and friends, just a ghastly grey pallor. I lost two and a half stone in the initial four months of my first pregnancy. Frustrated by a lack of response from my local doctor’s surgery (just another neurotic first timer they thought) and panicking at symptoms I couldn’t control, I felt a complete failure as a mother before I’d barely begun.

Lying in a hospital bed attached to a drip (thank God for my mother who took my GP in hand and got me admitted under the care of my obstetrician), with no apparent cause for my illness (except that dehydration following my doctor’s inaction had worsened it), and medication only having a minimal effect, I despaired. I wondered why this was happening to me. I railed at God: why was He letting this happen to me?

To my great frustration, He didn’t answer my questions. In the stillness of the dark, I only felt a quiet voice whisper. “I’m here. I’m with you”. It was one of the most comforting and yet irritating responses I’d heard to anything.

And yet…

And yet it was enough. It was the turning point in my pregnancy.

And by that, I don’t mean that my hyperemesis miraculously stopped. It didn’t. I was eventually discharged from hospital and the vomiting gradually decreased in frequency but continued well into my 6th and 7th months.

No, what changed was that I started to experience a small sense of peace and reassurance. And that was enough.

After the birth of my first son, my doctor told me my experience had been ‘bad luck’. After my second he told me that this was unfortunately ‘my pattern’. Later on, I found out that my aunt had been the same, so I came the conclusion that I had inherited some genetic tendency to hyperemesis.

But knowing a cause, a logical reason, for it didn’t help. I still felt (feel) some inadequacy as a mother and I mourned the lost opportunity of having more children (I couldn’t put my young family though that again). The only thing that helped was that still small voice saying, “I’m here. I’m with you”. The same words my parents used when I was ill as a child and the same I said to my own children in similar circumstances. Perhaps it’s the best and only real reassurance we can offer someone in distress.

But the knowledge that I was not alone or abandoned changed my attitude. When hyperemesis struck once more in my second pregnancy, it was still miserable but instead of asking God why, I begged Him to make sure the experience wasn’t wasted or pointless. Looking back over the years since then, I can see that He more than answered that prayer (but that’s another story or more).

The thing is, that although our natural inclination is to cry “Why?” and “Why me?” when disaster comes, I’m not sure that a reason helps. Working in palliative care, seeing that death and suffering in one form or another comes to all of us, I have more of a tendency these days to ask, “Why not?” and “Why not me?”

The thing that does help is knowing we are not alone, knowing that our God is not a distant being looking down on us like ants in only interested observation but walking through the darkness with us, up close and personal (if we will let Him), familiar with suffering Himself. He is the hand to hold on hearing bad news. He is the ear to listen to all our troubles. He is the arm around our shoulders to strengthen us. He is the gentle whisper in our ear, “I’m here. I’m with you.”

AGREE (Five Minute Friday)

“It’s really lovely,” said one of my husband’s colleagues, “after all the years you’ve been married, how you still like doing things together.”

He told me the comment last night over a restaurant dinner before going to see Suggs, the Madness lead singer, on a tour of storytelling and songs. https://www.facebook.com/events/1758670877765422/ It was my Christmas present to him. In fact, we’ve developed a habit of buying experiences rather than material gifts for each other – they’re longer lasting, living on in our memories way after the event. And we had a great time.

Part of me wants to respond to his friend’s comment with: “Of course we like doing things together!” But, when I look at the number relationships I’ve seen break up, I think that’s less a matter of automatic compatibility and more to do with making conscious choices.

It’s easy to be lazy and just do things we as individuals prefer. It takes more effort to agree to try something someone else chooses and give it a real chance to see if we enjoy it too.

I’ll admit that there are times, especially after a busy day at work, for example, when I don’t want to spend my evening watching a noisy football match. But by agreeing to join my beloved at concerts or even in front of the TV, my life has been enriched. Through him, I have discovered the comedy of Stewart Lee and the music of Eels and Nick Cave. I’ve learned how much knowledge of musical history my husband has and gained an insight into his emotions from the lyrics he treasures.

And it works both ways: he’s enjoyed classic musicals and the Hampton Court Gardening Show, which has led to more shared interest in our own garden.

The thing is, there is so much to admire in him – he is a man of considered taste – so why not trust his judgement and agree to take a risk of discovering something new to share, to build further strands of strength between us, made up of shared experience and memories?

‘Behold, how good it is when brothers (or spouses!) agree to live together in harmony.’

Find other posts prompted by the word ‘agree’ here: http://fiveminutefriday.com/2018/02/01/fmf-link-agree/

 

Control v. SURRENDER (Five Minute Friday link up)

Surrender – it’s a dirty word, a scary word, to someone like me who likes to be in control of every detail of my life, who finds security in planning and reassurance in things falling into place exactly as I’d envisaged.

So why do I work (and take great satisfaction) in the messy, totally unpredictable world of palliative care? Where no day ever turns out the way I planned and weeks regularly end in longer rather than shorter To Do Lists.

Take this month, for example: I’ve had to fit in urgent home visits to patients at 4pm on Fridays, leaving me finishing work late (again) far from our office base and even further from home; a new group cookery course we’ve spent much time preparing has been decimated by illness to only 2 or 3 attendees; waiting lists and caseload have expanded like a balloon; a colleague has handed in her notice and another is off sick so I have to cover some of their work too; random roadworks have sprung up across the county making me late on visits; simple referrals have turned out to be much more complex; and the only way to catch up on the subsequent notes and actions has been to miss other commitments.

And yet I glory in this work! Part if me loves the unpredictability of it all! I’ve told my current student, with a smile on my face, that no day turns out the way you expect it to in palliative care. How can there be such contrast in me?

Perhaps I’m better at surrender than I think. I do what I can in this job to bring some control back into their lives for my patients, to give them choices and enable them to achieve what’s important to them. Sometimes giving them control means giving up my own.

I have to put others’ priorities before my own (unless there is an issue with mental capacity or safeguarding), remembering that even if I am an expert, the job is to give patients the information about what is available to them so they can make a decision on whether they want it or not. It’s frustrating when I know that the help or equipment they decline would make life easier for them. But it’s more important to surrender my own need to control a situation, to offer my expertise as an open handed gift rather than forcing it on them, and to let them make the choices they still can.

WELCOME BACK! (Five Minute Friday – INTENTIONAL)

I practise yoga once a week after work on a Tuesday. It helps me stretch out muscles cramped from driving between patients’ homes and hunched over a computer writing up those visits, as well as de-stressing mentally.

Sometimes our yoga teacher talks at the beginning of ‘setting an intention’ for the session. I suppose it’s just another way of saying to come up with a personal aim or focus for the session but somehow it’s a gentler, kinder ambition than a specific objective and therefore easier to succeed at.

I’ve had a long break from this blog – Christmas, New Year, a chest infection, too tired, and then just out of the routine, plus lacking an intention for it. With the end of 2017, I came to the end of my year’s series of the Blessing Jar weekly posts. I’ve been meaning to review them and write about that, thinking that it would lead to inspiration for a new series but I haven’t found or made the time and I’ve got stuck, lacking ideas and not finishing anything I have started.

I’m not one for New Year resolutions these days – too easy to be over ambitious, unrealistic, and then fail. But I have quietly started to read my way through The Message version of the New Testament in the mornings, alongside returning to Stormie O’Martian’s books to pray for my husband and sons. I’ve seen a lot of those ‘Bible in a Year’ schemes and wanted to do them but felt daunted by the commitment (I’ve tried before) so not having a deadline seems more achievable. I suppose that’s a form of ‘setting an intention’.

I’m trying to eat a little healthier too but without making a big deal or an actual diet of it. And I’m hoping to get back to swimming again. Or maybe that’s a bit over ambitious!

But I think it’s a matter of being intentional in my writing. I need to set an intention of writing for my blog each week again. Perhaps I don’t need to be too specific (yet) about topics and I certainly don’t need to keep holding up my recent failures to finish a piece or post something. – I just need to remind myself that I am still a writer and do it.

 

Different but the Same (FIVE MINUTE FRIDAY)

Christmas will be different this year with my dad gone.

But, to be honest, last year was different too. With my eldest living 200 miles away and having to work Christmas Eve and Boxing Day, we decamped to his house in Lincoln, went to the longest Midnight Mass ever at the Cathedral, made do for cooking and dining in his limited facilities, and had a wonderful time.

The two years before that were different, adjusting to Christmases without my mum. There have been Christmases I’ve worked, Christmases I’ve volunteered with the homeless or the lonely, Christmases with children and without, the Christmas my brother joined us to share his nephew’s first one to make a change after a difficult year and the alternate Christmases shared with a divorced friend when he’s without his children, Christmases spent with anything between two and eight of us, and more than one Christmas struggled through with illness.

Boxing Days with my husband’s family all crowded into my sister in law’s small flat have come and gone. Pre Christmas family meals in a pub have had their season. The churches and the services we attend have varied. The time for eating Christmas dinner has moved. The menu for Christmas dinner has altered. The favourite TV Christmas special has changed.

Some traditions have continued over time. We still have stocking presents for all and they are opened with everyone piled on our bed first thing, no matter how old or tall our children get or how many people are staying in the house. Christmas dinner preparation is always a shared affair. And if distance separates us, family phone calls make up for it in some way.

But the most constant in all our Christmases is the Origin of it all, ‘the reason for the season’. And He doesn’t change. He doesn’t go out of fashion. He doesn’t grow up and make His own family traditions. He doesn’t move away. He doesn’t leave us.

He came and ‘pitched His tent among ours’, got involved in all the glory and mess that is our human life, and holds out His hands to invite us to all the glory and adventure that is life in Him. He is ‘the same yesterday, today, and forever’. And He loves a good celebration.

HAPPY CHRISTMAS.

The Blessing of Tradition (THE BLESSING JAR)

I’ve spent the last two weekends getting on with my usual pre Christmas baking. So far I’ve made a Christmas cake, two Christmas puddings, three batches of mincemeat, and over sixty mince pies. It’s part of the Advent preparations that I love.

I first made a traditional Christmas cake in the early years of marriage, having discovered how much my beloved liked fruit cake. Making them for him led me to delicious recipes full of moist fruits barely held together by cake mixture rather than the dry crumbly ones of my youth with the occasional dried sultana that horrified your mouth like a dead fly. And I became a fruit cake convert.

Gaining confidence, I decided to try making mincemeat for another of his favourites – mince pies – and again found something to enjoy with him. These tasted so much better than the over sweet claggy concoctions from the shops. I felt especially proud baking a batch for him to take in for his work team each year.

The Christmas puddings, however, are a much longer tradition. I can’t remember how old I was when I first joined my mum in making them. The same recipe every year from the 1937 GEC cookbook that my great great grandmother used, passed down through the female generations of our family. Now I make them with my niece.

They are never made alone and we never make just one. The original recipe is for 14lb of puddings! And my early memories are of making one for the family and giving the others to be sold at the church bazaar. Over the years, I’ve given the extras away to extended family and friends. The last one I made with my mum was in her nursing home when my husband and I took all the pre weighed ingredients in one evening, watched by fascinated staff who’d only ever had shop bought, and then the mixture taken round every resident in the lounge so all could have a stir and a wish. We gave the extras that year to those same staff to take home.

My mum taught me a lot about the value of traditions. But what I learned best from her about them is, like a good recipe, that they should be a guide not a fixed set of instructions to follow slavishly. Mum never put alcohol in the Christmas puddings when I was a child whereas I reverted to the original with its Guinness (in honour of joint family roots in Dublin) and a spirit that varies from year to year. (Once, after everyone had gone to bed, I secretly added to my mum’s mixture the only alcohol we had in the house – Malibu!) My mum always replaced the candied peel, which she disliked, with chopped dried apricots. I have both but swap almonds and glace cherries with dried cranberries.

Traditions should be made to fit the people and not the other way round. I learned this lesson most clearly from her the year I got engaged. I had assumed that I would travel back to London for my last Christmas Day with my parents and brother and, similarly, that my fiance would be with his family. But he had concluded that, with his flatmates in Devon and Wales, as we were now engaged, this would be our very first Christmas together, just the two of us. I didn’t know how my parents would react to the change. However, my mum in all her generosity and wisdom, merely said, “It’s time to make your own traditions now.”

And that’s the thing about traditions – they are made and adapted and personalised. They might look like a fixed point in the landscape but they are meant to be molded and weathered by the changing seasons and the river of life.

This Christmas is another transition as we face it for the first time without my dad. Routine changes once again – no more presents or cards to buy for or from him; no more extra mince pies to make because he didn’t eat Christmas pudding; no more opportunities to spend with him over the holiday period, or any other time.

So I’m holding on to those flexible family traditions, reminding myself that one Christmas is never exactly the same as the last – and that it’s not meant to be because life is not meant to be static. And I will hold onto my mum’s wise words, adapting them slightly (knowing adapting things is a family tradition in itself) to say once again, “It’s time to make new traditions now.”