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.”

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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.”

 

The Blessing of Bed (THE BLESSING JAR)

Sometimes you have to go without something to appreciate it – at least, I do.

Last weekend, we held a sleepover at church for the 8-11 year olds in our Boys’ Brigade Company. They played pool and table tennis, made chocolate pizzas, did a quiz, and watched a film late into the night. Finally, it was time to settle down for some actual sleep, the boys in the church hall, the leaders each in a side room.

I retired to our Rainbow Room, used throughout the week for meetings, U3A sessions, and small youth group activities. It also had the advantage over the hall of having carpet tiles. And I had come well prepared – after all, I’ve done this before. I had my husband’s new, thick exercise mat; my cosy, brushed cotton lined sleeping bag; a pillow; and my long fleece dressing gown for an extra layer if needed. I even had my Kindle just in case I couldn’t sleep.

I wasn’t expecting any difficulties. I’ve slept in more uncomfortable surroundings, even fully clothed (complete with hat) when camping outdoors in November. I’ve slept in this room for previous indoor camps before.

But I was wrong. It was one of the worst night’s sleep I’d had in a long time. Carpet and mat seemed to make no difference as I struggled to find a position that didn’t dig into my hips or thighs or shoulders. My pillow instantly shrank to half its thickness and seemed determined to spend the night escaping from under my head. The light in the corridor (which we’d left on for the boys to find the toilet) flooded my room with unwelcome brightness, fooling my brain into thinking it was daytime. Unfamiliar noises, even though I told myself they were just the pipes after the heating had been turned off, kept bringing me to a state of alertness.

I was glad of my Kindle. I read a lot of my John le Carre book before finally dosing off.

But it wasn’t to last. Around 3am, I woke for no obvious reason. I went to the loo, snuggled back into my sleeping bag (which I’d moved into a darker corner away from the intruding light, simultaneously trapping my pillow against the wall), and once again returned to the saga of no comfortable position, disturbing sounds, and a brain that had switched off sleep mode. Surrendering to wakefulness, out came the Kindle again as I followed the exploits of George Smiley for another two hours before finally falling asleep again for the last thirty minutes or so before my alarm went off.

The following night, I was back in the comfort of my own capacious double bed with its elegant brass frame. Two fluffy pillows moulded perfectly to my neck and head. The mattress and topper gave just the right level of support to my curves. A double layer duvet wrapped me in a cocoon of warmth. The bed linen was freshly laundered, soft and scented against my skin. Only the faint outline of the closed door pierced the sleep inducing darkness. And the comfort of that familiar body next to mine filled me with reassurance and security. Bliss.

This was a bed full of memories: where my youngest was nursed as a baby; where both children found refuge when sick; where I was woken early by the phone to be told of my mother’s death; where everyone’s Christmas stockings and birthday presents are always opened first thing in the morning. Its history, our family’s history, wraps around me like an old, well loved dressing gown.

Such a welcome difference.

And I realised how often I take it for granted or don’t appreciate it at all. Even if insomnia attacks at home, I can decamp to a generous and very comfortable sofa with plenty of warm bedding. I considered my bed and my home with renewed gratitude.

With Advent about to begin, I also started to think about what it was really like for Mary and Joseph, trying to sleep in an unfamiliar environment with a brand new baby. How cold and hard was the floor of an animal enclosure? What about the noise, let alone the smell? How many disturbances from sleep by that child who needed feeding or changing? How many disturbances when the animals needed feeding or mucking out, let alone strange visitors?

No pillows or sleeping bags or camping mats for extra comfort for them. No Kindle for distraction.

The trouble is we have romanticised the story, sprinkled the stable with tinsel and glitter, and turned the whole thing into a pastoral idyll. We have magnified Mary and Joseph into saints or reduced them to characters in a children’s play. We have ignored the reality of it, turned away from the cold and the dirt and the smell, forgotten the fatigue and fears of new parenthood.

What if we try to imagine the modern equivalent – giving birth and making do in a garage?

I gave birth in the safety of a local hospital, then within a few hours brought my infant son back to our lovely brass bed and our warm centrally heated house and our fridge full of food and my parents staying for a few weeks to support us. No such comforts for Mary and Joseph.

And no such comforts for a lot of people in the modern world.

We’re trying a new tradition this Advent, a Reverse Advent Calendar. It’s a simple cardboard box, to which we will add one item per day, and give the finished result to our local Foodbank. It’s not much. But it’s an attempt to celebrate the truth of this season, to remember the God who didn’t just come for a sleepover but who moved into the neighbourhood, and to do something for others as a means of serving Him. I might not be able to give Mary and Joseph a bed for the night but I can make sure Jesus, in the form of someone else, has enough to eat and the toiletries He needs.

“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me… whatever you did for the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” (Matthew 25.34-36 & 40)

So NEAR and Yet So Far (Five Minute Friday)

Check out all the other great writers at the Five Minute Friday community here http://fiveminutefriday.com/2017/11/30/fmf-link-up-near/.  Five minutes of free writing on a given word, no editing, no over-thinking, no worrying about perfect spelling or grammar, just write.

Here’s my contribution this week:

I’m facing Christmas with mixed feelings this year, my first without my dad. I feel a bit silly saying that though. After all, I’m a grown woman with a husband, adult children, and decades of our own family Christmas traditions behind me. But my parents were always part of our Christmas, even if it wasn’t always on the Day, so my first without either of them, grateful as I am for the rest of my family, feels bittersweet and just a little bit empty.

I guess that’s the thing with grief. You’re managing fine, getting on with life just like you know your Lost One would want you to, when suddenly a heart sink catches you unawares or a cold aching in your very centre settles in like a week’s worth of bad weather.

There are times when I find myself thinking, ‘Oh, I must phone Mum and tell her about that,’ only to realise that she isn’t here to phone anymore. Or something happens and I can feel my Dad smiling at it, except he isn’t.

I am blessed in the knowledge and experience of parents who loved me, who loved me well and long. Sometimes it’s as if that love lingers on, hovering just behind my shoulder, or waiting to envelope me in a hug, or echoed in my sons’ faces. At other times, even their memory feels very far away and the ache is hard to bear. Or I am so absorbed with the rest of my life that I forget them and their absence for a while.

Sometimes I think this push-pull of grief is similar to my faith experience. Sometimes Christ feels very close – my prayer life flourishes, church services inspire, Bible readings shout with words personal to my situation. But at other times, Heaven remains silent, distant, or I push Him away, too busy with my own priorities.

This Advent, I pray that I ‘will draw near to Christ’ and hope that ‘He will draw near to [me]’.

 

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.

 

The Blessing of Sacrifice (The Blessing Jar)

Let me tell you the story of a young man.

Named after his father James, the middle child in a large family, he started life in Aldershot, Hampshire, before moving to North London where he grew up. His mum came from Cornwall and his dad from Ireland. They’d met when the latter had been stationed in Plymouth with his regiment, the Royal Devonshires, and ended up in hospital there.

By the time young James came along, the family had lived in Salford, Dublin, Colchester, Cork and back to Dublin, following that same regiment wherever it was posted. Rumour has it that they moved to London because his dad wanted to avoid being sent abroad, probably to Burma, without his family. So he went AWOL. They even started spelling their surname differently to avoid detection and arrest, leaving the younger children with a different name to the older ones.

Life seemed settled with James’s dad and older brother, Tom, getting jobs as gunmakers at the local factory. But then tragedy struck. First his dad and then his baby brother died within a year of each other. James was 12.

When he was 15, Tom got married to Emma, and soon James was uncle to a baby niece. Some years later, Emma gave birth to his namesake, another James to add to the family.

When he was 18, our James signed up. The family needing the security of another reliable wage, he became a regular like his dad had been, but not in the army – no, James became a Royal Marine, ‘Soldier an’ Sailor Too’ as they were known. He was assigned to the Light Infantry, Portsmouth Division, fulfilling the traditional roles of shipboard security, boarding parties, and small scale landings. He was proud of the Brunswick Star, with all its hallmarks of the Corps – globe, laurels, anchor, crown, ‘Gibraltar’, and the motto ‘Per Mare Per Terre’ – that he wore on his white helmet on ceremonial occasions. Only men of proven good character were allowed to enlist – his credentials had been fully checked with the Police and his former employer first.

By the outbreak of war, with 6 of his planned 12 years’ service behind him, James was an established Marine, having earned his 1st and 2nd Good Conduct medals. The Corps was sent to defend key ports, where their actions enabled the army to move forward and extend their flank to establish a fighting front. However, this success came at a price: 300 men from James’s battalion were taken prisoner. Soon the Corps was preparing for another key amphibious attack, its location a secret.

But James, along with 224 other officers and men, was assigned to a newly commissioned minelayer, HMS Princess Irene. Built at Dumbarton, 5900 tons in weight, at 120 metres long with a beam of 16 metres and a draught of 5.2 metres, she could travel at up to 22.5 knots.

After two successful mine laying trips, the vessel moored back at her base at Saltpan Reaches in the Medway, between Port Victoria and Sheerness, ready for a refit and loading with a new consignment of 500 mines – that’s about 150 tons of high explosives. These were contact mines, detonated by a ship passing over them.

On the morning of 27th May, it was busy for James and his fellow Marines. Only 3 officers had been given leave to go ashore so all the rest of the crew were on the two mine decks, finishing priming the mines which had been brought down by barge from Upnor and Woolwich. Each mine had to be fitted with a primer and a detonator, which they’d started the day before. Also on board were a party of 88 Petty Officers from Chatham and 76 dock workers, who were helping to repair and ready the ship for her departure on the 29th.

At about ten past eleven, first one and then another flash, each followed by a 200 feet column of flame, shot up from amidships. A few minutes later, there was an enormous explosion and the whole ship blew up into the air, spreading debris, body parts, and chaos over a 20 mile radius.

It killed all those on board bar one, the crew of a barge alongside, a little girl playing innocently in a garden on the nearby Isle of Grain, and our James. He was just 26.

Rumours of sabotage abounded but a later official Royal Navy enquiry found that it was an accident, probably caused by a faulty primer but with implications of the work being carried out in too much haste and by untrained men. Such a senseless waste of life.

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

So why am I telling you this story? And why am I calling it a blessing?

Well, you’ve probably guessed that this isn’t a recent event. James was born at the beginning of the 20th century and died in the First World War. His isn’t a story of great daring and heroics, not like his fellow Marines who went on to earn their reputation of ‘first in last out’ at the notorious Gallipoli. His is an ordinary story of a man working hard for his family, just doing his job, and losing his life in an horrific industrial (albeit military) disaster. They were one of the lucky families – at least there was a body (or enough of one) for them to bury in their local cemetery back in North London.

James’s death might not be as a result of some great battle in the First World War but it still remains a great tragedy of that War. His death was still a result of that War. His was a dangerous military occupation and he paid the ultimate price for someone’s inexperience and pressure to finish by a deadline.

But I am reminded of the honour and heroism of all men who enlisted at that time, whether just for the war or, like James, a regular in the armed services. They joined knowing the risk, knowing the ultimate sacrifice they, and their families, might have to make.

Men and women continue to make that choice. Whole families continue to make that choice generation after generation. I’ve had a great great grandfather and two grandfathers in the army, a father, uncle and three cousins in the Royal Air Force.

We’re blessed to have our military personnel, flawed human beings as they all are, who are willing to take that risk for the sake of others, willing to be sent to dangerous places to do their jobs at any time at the drop of a hat or the sound of a bugle, knowing they might pay the ultimate price. I don’t think I could ever be that brave but I thank God for those who are.

So why the story of James in particular? Well, I nearly didn’t mention my military relatives also include a great grand uncle who was a Royal Marine. James’s baby niece was my grandmother.

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 Blessing of Ordinary (THE BLESSING JAR)

It’s been an ordinary weekend, nothing exciting or significant or eventful has happened. It’s just been ordinary, pleasant but ordinary.

It started with takeaway and a movie, curled up on the sofa with my Beloved. Nothing deep and meaningful, just Wonder Woman and a curry. Next day we walked up to our high street to do some chores and treated ourselves to breakfast in a favourite Italian café.

He came home to watch the football and I went to a friend’s house for coffee and cake, a fundraiser for her daughter’s college fashion show. The usual neighbours were there, friends for many years, and we talked about the usual subjects, updating each other on our children’s lives, the only difference being that now the stories have moved on from school and college to university and jobs.

Then I went to my dad’s old flat to read the meters and go through the inevitable post that still comes even three months after his death. In the evening, another friend came round for dinner. We talked, shared a beer, and watched Strictly until he fell asleep, as he always does.

Today, I’ve caught up with jobs – Boys’ Brigade admin, laundry, sorting out the linen cupboard, a legal letter to write. The rest of the day should include a walk in our local nature reserve, church, and a Skype call with our sons.

So it’s proving a very pleasant but utterly ordinary weekend. So much so that I may have lost some of you with mediocrity of it all!

But, the joy of the ordinary!

And I think it’s because we haven’t had many weekends like this in the last year.

Sometimes that’s been for lovely reasons – a holiday, a concert, a party, guests staying, birthday weekends away. So those were extraordinary weekends which I am also grateful for.

Other times it’s been down the nature of our current season in family life – helping sons move accommodation, university drop offs and pick ups, trips to visit them. My husband regularly has to work Saturdays, leaving only Sunday together with little time and energy to fit in those things we want to do together. These weekends are not unexpected or unfamiliar but neither are they fully routine. So not ordinary either.

And, of course, so many weekends in the first half of the year were dominated by my father’s changing situation, first with frequent trips to A&E, then hospital visiting hours, and finally afternoons spent in the care home with him. Just as we were starting to get into a regular pattern – looking at old photos, a little bit of simple gardening, a trip out – he died and a whole new readjustment began.

So to have a two day weekend full of ordinariness feels like a real blessing. There’s time to do the things we want and need to do with no rush. There’s space in our heads to think and talk. There’s a sense of pace and balance.

Oh, there are things I know I won’t get around to. Another layer of fallen leaves in the garden that I probably won’t clear this weekend. Some studying that I promised myself but will probably delay. After I’ve done an online grocery order this evening, I might get on with the knitted blanket that I’ve had on the go for about a year now but if I just end up watching the Strictly results show, I won’t beat myself up.

Somehow it feels like time is moving a little more slowly than usual. It’s a sense of Sabbath I suppose.

I realise that I have learned this year not to take ordinary for granted. Ordinary is precious. But you only know that when it has been taken away from you. So I am grateful for the blessing of this ordinary weekend. I hope it’s not the last.

 

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