Stopped in our tracks…

Covid-19 is a devastating tornado sweeping the globe, but amidst the black news there are golden moments in the eye of the storm. We have seen and heard stories of selfless humanity, where hands are held, and hearts are touched.

Destructive as the pandemic is, there is the potential for us all to discover constructive outcomes.
Being stopped in our tracks can nudge us to evaluate our priorities, and change direction.
It can prompt us to switch off our inner autopilot, and notice our ingrained patterns of thought and behaviour.

As a believer, I sense God at work in my depths. Rooted to the spot, I can no longer avoid the invitation to a profound connection with our Creator, who longs to redeem, restore and renew.
Truth is, I’m finally getting to grips with anorexia nervosa which I’ve been struggling with for most of my life.
Like a parasitic worm, it took hold of me in a dysfunctional childhood and although for over forty years I’ve been breaking segments off, its fangs have remained embedded in my inmost being.

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Until now.
It was the stark truth that my low weight would impair survival if I caught coronavirus, that brought things to a head, and I chose to wrench myself from the fangs’ grip.

The new path is unfamiliar. Old habits die hard and I need cheering on!
Whereby lies another challenge. As someone who has had to be independent, I’ve been self-reliant to a fault. But I’m turning over a new leaf and being brave.
To quote Charlie Mackesy in his book ‘The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse’:

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Needing to receive, need not stop us giving. Although I’m a ‘backroom’ writer rather than a front-line worker, I hope that I am continuing to encourage and support others through my words, both written and prayed.

Let us all help each other in the midst of these challenging times, to be brave and change for the better.

Truth is… Anyone who is joined to Christ is a new being; the old is gone, the new has come (2 Corinthians 5:17)

Who to choose…

I had to choose between my partner and the postman last week – and truth is, the postman came first!
But there’s more than what the headline might suggest. It’s a story about the provision of God that encompasses us, if we become aligned and attuned to God’s Spirit.

With the implications of covid-19, my partner and I are at ‘high risk’ so we’ve been in complete isolation for over a month. Our postman’s deliveries have therefore become the highlight of our days. It’s wonderful to be connected to family and friends through the contents of our letter box.

On Thursday evenings in the UK, from the safety of our homes, many of us clap our hands together to applaud the courage and commitment of National Health Service staff and other key workers.
As we applauded on Maundy Thursday, our postman came to mind, and I realised I wanted to give him something to show appreciation of the difference he makes to our daily life.
Being a maker and baker I would ordinarily bake a treat, but with coronavirus in the mix, an alternative was needed.
Fortuitously, I’m a panellist for an organisation evaluating the performance of the UK postal service, and I’d just been sent a little ‘thank you’ gift of mini Easter eggs. As I’ve been unable to go shopping for over a month, I’d intended to give these to my partner as an Easter day surprise, but it suddenly seemed that the postman should be the happy recipient.
It was a hard decision, postman or partner, but choosing the postman felt right.

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Fast forward a few days, and just after sunrise on Easter Sunday, my Hearing Dog alerted me to a doorstep delivery. I got up, opened the door, and discovered that some lovely friends had left a packet of mini Easter eggs. So my partner had Easter eggs after all!

It brought to mind a Postman Pat story that was much loved by one our offspring when she was three.

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The line I recalled was:

“The Lord doth provide.”

Thirty years later, the archaic language amuses me, but blow the dust off, and yes, God does provide if we all have open hands to give.

Truth is…  You can be sure that God will take care of everything you need… (Philippians 4:19)

Behind closed doors…

The Easter weekend is a transition from darkness to light, but the first followers of Jesus must have wondered what on earth had happened on Good Friday. They didn’t realise what Sunday morning would bring, so they were huddled behind closed doors, bewildered, confused and fearful.
Actually, this may reflect life for us today, amid coronavirus.

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Maybe like me, there have been times when you’ve been fearful about separation, sickness or shortages.

But all stories have a beginning, a middle and an end. And the best way to fully understand a story, is to read it from cover to cover, sitting with the chapters that give enjoyment, and the parts where deeper, more challenging truths unfold.
Truth is, I’ve skipped or skimmed chapters, when a story has felt slow going or unsettling.
But in doing so, I suspect I’ve missed out on some silver linings, and maybe the same is true of self-isolation and social distancing.

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When I was medically advised to isolate, I wanted life to fast-forward. I wanted of all the familiar landmarks of my weeks to return – quickly. But I soon realised (again!) that much of life is about living in the middle.
We miss so much if we hanker after what has passed, or contort ourselves in an attempt to see what’s round the corner. We don’t notice what’s right under our nose – that person in need of an encouraging message, that moment of humour to share, that skill waiting to be discovered…

The disciples didn’t know that the risen Jesus would come alongside them, behind closed doors, on that first Easter Sunday. As believers we are blessed by his Spirit with us. It doesn’t mean we escape any anxious times in the middle chapters of life, but we are promised the Spirit’s presence and peace. God is truly our refuge and strength, behind the slammed doors of covid-19.

So today, and tomorrow, and in the days after, I for one, am going to live in the present moment, and live it as well as can be expected. How about you?

Truth is… When they call to me, I will answer them;
    when they are in trouble, I will be with them. (Psalm 91:15)

Better out than in…

Here in the UK, the line from the government is to ‘stay home… save lives’ to minimise the spread of coronavirus, so for those of us who are not key workers, we best keep ‘in not out’.

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It’s opposite to the “better out than in!” line that may accompany noises from our inner depths, yet there is something positive to be found in both directives.

Our responses to the current situation, which has brought so many changes, can be quite revealing.
Something I’ve always struggled with, is ‘being’ rather than ‘doing’.
I’m a natural ‘doer’, so this is a huge opportunity to realise in a deeper way, that self-worth doesn’t depend on what we ‘do’, but on who we ‘are’. Yes, using our unique set of gifts and skills is part of our call as human beings, but what misplaced needs am I looking to be met, when I ‘do’ for others?

Truth is, I have a deep need for significance (don’t we all!) but this is an opportunity for me to drop my endless ‘to do’ list, and discover in a deeper way, that ‘being’ with God, is just as important as ‘doing’.

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Suddenly my empty diary seems like an invitation to let God plan my days – an opportunity to let ‘quiet spaces’ last for as long as God fills them with thoughts to explore.

Further, with open ended time, some stuff that I’ve been avoiding has surfaced from the depths.
The saying ‘better out than in’ can be applied here! So I’m discovering (yet again) that being honest and real with God is liberating.

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Hurt, frustration, guilt, shame, can all be powerful jailers.
But nothing is news to God so bringing it out into the open allows God to sort out with me, all my mixed-up feelings, and I can move on. Something along the lines of:

‘forgive what we have been, help us to amend what we are, and direct what we shall be…’

Rather than viewing our days in isolation as a ‘problem’, may we see them as an ‘opportunity’…

Truth is… Come back and quietly trust in me, then you will be strong and secure (Isaiah 30:15)

It’s the little things in life…

It’s Bake Off season at the moment!
– The ‘Great British Bake Off’ is a television baking competition that takes place in ‘the tent’ (a marquee). A baker’s dozen compete against each other in a series of rounds, with a contestant being eliminated each week.

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It’s become such a popular series, that there’s an additional weekly programme, ‘An Extra Slice’, which takes a humorous look at the week’s round and features the eliminated baker.
I found this week’s edition unexpectedly moving, and it got me asking myself what makes life meaningful?
– Home-baked cakes could be one answer!
But actually, if we stop to notice, it’s the little things in life that can make a big impact.

This week’s eliminated baker was a young man, Jamie, who in just two episodes has endeared himself to many:

You can tell how old a Bake Off viewer is, simply by whether they want to marry Jamie, or adopt him! (Twitter)

Jamie appeared to be without guile, and when asked by Jo Brand (the Extra Slice host) what he would miss most, he said:

“…the small things, like the little pack lunch boxes”

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He could have highlighted many alternatives, such as being on camera or being with the celebrity judges, but no, his instant response was ‘the small things’.

Jamie also got me thinking about what constitutes ‘success’.
It’s refreshing to watch someone who keeps things in perspective, and the filming of his time in the tent, captured this well.
Later, when Jo questioned him about the 3D biscuit guitar he’d made (that contributed to his elimination) he said:

“It was the best I’d ever made, so I was really pleased about it.
Obviously compared with the other biscuit sculptures it wasn’t in their league, but I was happy with that”.

Truth is, I can fret about my perceived failures. But God only calls us to do the best we can and to be happy with our good efforts. So let’s treasure Jamie’s attitude, for:

The only thing we can agree on in the UK in highly divided times, is how much of a national treasure Jamie is! (Twitter)

Truth is… Mean spirited ambition isn’t wisdom James 3:14

Enough is enough

With autumn approaching, it’s the time of year when people often say, ‘Where did the summer go!’
I know I feel a mix of fulfilment and frustration – I’ve enjoyed those moments when I’ve picked flowers from the garden, but many things I’d hoped to do, haven’t got done.

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I’m left with a ‘to do’ list that’s as long as ever, and truth is, rather than feeling refreshed and restored by the so-called summer break, I’m feeling weary and wonder if I’ll have the reserves to see me through the winter.
But enough is enough!

As a believer, in my right mind, I trust that God is enough. With God’s nudges, and God’s enabling, we are all able to do what truly needs doing. But sometimes our thinking gets clogged up.
Some people are susceptible to hardening of the arteries, but many more live with a condition of the mind that’s been dubbed ‘hardening of the oughteries’!
– Perfectionism or feeling a need for acceptance or approval or admiration, can make us feel we ought to do this or that or the other, and the opportunity for God’s grace to flow freely is restricted.

So when we feel overwhelmed by the apparent demands of life, it’s worth being honest and declaring to God “enough is enough”. For if we then loosen our resentments, disappointments and frustrations, we may well sense God responding: ‘enough is enough – I am more than enough!’

Jesus says he is the ‘bread of life’, and urges his followers to pray for daily bread.

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Bread gives us strength, and Jesus wants us to discover this in more ways than one!
Jesus also shows us what can happen when we give thanks, and look to God rather than ourselves, for sustenance in life. He took five meagre loaves, gave thanks, and then was able to feed a multitude of hungry people.

Maybe if we recognise what we have available to us, and hold an attitude of gratitude, we will discover that in God’s hands, we have more than enough!

Truth is… “My grace is all you need, for my power is greatest when you are weak.” 2 Corinthians 12:9

Keeping it for best

I like charity shops – there’s something satisfying about giving items a new lease of life.
But something that always catches my eye are items still in their original packaging – maybe someone saved them for ‘best’, and sadly that time never came.

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Going to charity shops therefore reminds me of the importance of making good use of what we’ve got, not only in terms of our possessions, but also of our attributes and abilities.

It’s been said that ‘life isn’t a dress rehearsal’ – we only get one life, and it’s for living!
Truth is, sometimes a fear of failure keeps me in the wings and prevents me from taking my place in life. However, if we wait until we’re completely sure that we’ll succeed in whatever it is we want or need to do, then probably we’ll miss our cue.
So I’m learning that rather than waiting for self-doubt to diminish, it’s better to ‘just do it’.
We don’t have to be perfect. Actually, some of our best moments are probably ‘unscripted’, when we step out into new scenes and discover new roles.

As well as noticing unused items in charity shops, under-used items also catch my eye.
In the theatre an understudy is seldom used, but none of us are understudies in the theatre of life. As Judy Garland said:

“Always be a first rate version of yourself,
not a second rate version of someone else.”

We therefore need to take on our true character, and live it out fully.
I believe that God has made each one of us, and that if we realise God’s hopes for us, life will be more fulfilling.
Seeing a lovely, but barely used, mug on a charity shop shelf when it might have brought much everyday pleasure, is a reminder to make the most of each day by being more fully our true selves.

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Let’s not be mugs!

Truth is… God has given each of you some special abilities; be sure to use them to help each other, passing on to others God’s many kinds of blessings 1 Peter 4:10

If you go down to the woods today…

I’ve just returned from a walk in the woods with my daughter, and she pointed out something I’d never noticed:

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I’ve always thought I was quite observant, but this sign had completely missed my notice despite the fact I’d walked past it countless times! And it’s got me thinking – what other things have I not noticed? Maybe there are other interesting things I haven’t spotted, or more importantly, perhaps I’m not noticing things that need my attention.

This sign on the tree was obviously nailed there years ago, but over time the bark has covered it and now the message – which I presume was some kind of warning – is lost.
My guess is that familiar routines and habits can sometimes blind us to what needs our attention. Also, we learn through our mistakes, but over time lessons can be lost as we slowly slip back into old ways. Our conscience becomes dulled, and like the bark growing over the sign, there are no warnings.

Truth is, I need my conscience to keep me on the right path. When the sign was fully visible, it probably directed walkers to keep to the footpath and not wander off course. I need that reminder daily in my life!

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I believe that God hopes that each one of us will respond to the Spirit’s nudges. Doing this will keep us on the right track, where we will positively discover that we are truly significant and secure in God.
Although I was brought up to fear an angry judgemental god, I now sense that God wants us to keep on track for our own good. We don’t have to do anything for God to delight in us, but if we’re off course, we’ll prevent ourselves from knowing this delight.

So the message nailed to the tree is a reminder to keep on track, by being alert to my conscience. May we all ‘nail it!’

Truth is… Let us put everything out of our lives that keeps us from doing what we should. Let us keep running in the race that God has planned for us. Hebrews 12:1

It’s good to talk…

Having an Assistance Dog is a good conversation starter – Marshall, my Hearing Dog, breaks the silence in medical waiting rooms and cuts through the tedium of queues. He’s always up for making new friends and gets people talking. Sometimes people ask me about him, curious as to what exactly a Hearing Dog does, while other times people share something of their own story. His readiness to ‘connect’ brings out the best in people, and his waggy tail seems to spread cheer.

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I’m fortunate to live in a friendly town where people greet each other in passing, but not everywhere I’ve lived has been like this. It’s a shame that sometimes suspicion, judgement or prejudice have silenced people. Humans are inherently social, and when we block normal interaction, we can end up isolated.

Recently there was a knock at our door, and a stranger began: ‘I’m sorry to trouble you, but…’ – He’d driven past and was really interested to find out more about our timber carport as it was ‘just what I’ve been looking for!’
I suggested he gave me his email address so I could send him relevant links. The following morning, I had a lovely reply:

Thank you for being so helpful and human. It was a pleasure to meet someone kind and friendly who understands what can be achieved if we talk to each other. 

I hadn’t done anything remarkable, I was just being human, but his words rang true – ‘what can be achieved if we talk to one another’.

Talking and listening can bring benefits all round. This truth was highlighted in a British Telecom advertising campaign, and thirty years later, the strapline ‘it’s good to talk’ is vernacular.

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Truth is, I was taught to be very wary of strangers, but the risk of stranger-danger is minimal compared with the benefits of connecting. We benefit too, when we connect openly with God. Being honest allows God to give us wisdom.
It’s good to talk (and listen!) Let’s never doubt the positive impact we can have on others, and God can have on us.

Truth is…‘Listen! I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in…’
Revelation 3:20

Beauty or beast…?

Our inner beauty isn’t always obvious to us – our perceived inadequacies can make us feel ugly. We can be very harsh on ourselves, and years of critical self-talk can result in us feeling insignificant, unsuccessful and insecure.

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Truth is, I went for years without questioning my inner critic. The monologue about my inadequacies was unceasing – because I never challenged it.

We can get so attuned to our inner critic that we don’t hear or doubt, what other trusted people – and God – have to say. And so we paint black & white pictures of ourselves that miss the beauty and colour that others see in us!

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A positive way forward can be to focus on ‘opposite action’ where we notice the distorted thought and act otherwise. So ‘I can’t’ becomes ‘I can’ – and it’s not necessarily about adding to a ‘to do’ list!
Just as important, is taking time ‘to be’. Self-care isn’t necessarily selfish – we all need to take time ‘to stop and stare’.

What is this life if full of care, we have no time to stand and stare…    (W H Davies)

‘Being’ and ‘doing’ in ways that challenge distortions will help us to paint a more accurate picture of ourselves.
Not a perfect portrait, but one with colour and detail – and the odd smudge here and there! The truth of the matter is that none of us is perfect, but we’re all significant and secure in God’s sight.

This can be hard to believe, when our perception of ourselves may be distorted by past or present experiences of relationships. Many interactions are based on transactions, and if we feel our worth is dependent on what we do, we can be ‘people pleasers’ and life can be an endless search for approval and acceptance. But God offers us a different experience. If we start believing that God’s love is unconditional and that the Giver delights in us for who we are, we will naturally want to grow into truth.
So let’s believe the truth at the heart of the matter, and start to see a fuller picture.

Truth is… ‘You are precious in my sight, and I love you’ Isaiah 43:4