Keeping in time…

Keeping in time isn’t something I find easy. That’s why I don’t play an instrument!
While the musical ability to keep in time isn’t essential in everyday life, in other ways, keeping in time is important.

Keeping in time with the beat of our Creator makes for a more harmonious life. When we come in at the right time, with the right power behind the note, we will be able to play the part that has been written especially for us. We will be part of a whole, part of the composition orchestrated by God.

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There’s something comforting about a beat. It takes us to the heart of the matter, which I believe, is that we each matter to God.

A vivid memory from my childhood, is of a bereft puppy who found comfort in the ticking of a travel clock placed under its mat. I was told this was because it resonated with memories of its mother’s heartbeat.
Are we not the same? Truth is, I feel bereft at times, but if I keep close to God, there’s a heart-felt union.

God’s beat is steady, unwavering even when we make a mess of things.
It’s been said that there’s nothing we can do that makes God love us less, and nothing we can do that makes God love us more. God’s love is unchanging. Like a metronome, it sets the rhythm and helps us keep in time.

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If we can listen for the beat of God’s heart, we will find ourselves deeply connected with God. As St Augustine said:

“Our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you”

This connection is what enables us to become our true selves. It is the source of courage, of wisdom, and of selfless compassion. Attuned, we will be able to move in time with God’s Spirit. The song that comes to mind is Graham Kendrick’s ‘Teach me to dance’, so in my head I’m singing

…Teach me to move in the power of your Spirit
Teach me to walk in the light of your presence
Teach me to dance to the beat of your heart…

Truth is… Come near to God, and he will come near to you. (James 4:8)

Four candles…

If you’re familiar with The Two Ronnies (a UK comedy) you’ll know the humour contained in the words ‘four candles’.
In the sketch, a hardware shop keeper and customer become increasingly frustrated by misunderstandings. Word play and homophones result a series of wrong items being proffered, including ‘four candles’ rather than the required ‘fork handles’.

Something similar has happened to me. Last year we had exterior work undertaken to improve access to our home. Late one morning, one of the team tapped on the door and asked if he could borrow a fork.

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Handing him a garden fork, he broke into laughter and said “I meant a fork to eat my pasta lunch with!”
The incident caused a lot of hilarity that day, and I still laugh when I think about it.

We all misunderstand things at some point. Sometimes it can inject humour into a situation, but other times it can send us round in circles.
I believe that our inner compass directs us to look for God, know God, love God and be at peace. But how often do our misunderstandings of the nature of God lead us to avoid God, reject God, fear God and be discontent?

The Jesuit priest, Gerry Hughes, defined sin along the lines of

‘not letting God be the God of tenderness, love and compassion that God is’

My life was profoundly changed by these words. As a vulnerable 7-year-old in an austere convent boarding school, I had been led to believe that God was an angry wrathful character who tolerated no mistakes. It was a massive misunderstanding, and thank goodness, I later encountered a completely different image of God. A God who delights in each one of us, and who longs for us to become our personal best through God’s fresh starts, encouragement, nudges, and affirmation.

So I’m reminded to keep checking that I’m on the right track, and when I’m not, to realign myself.
Maybe I’ll light four candles, remembering that we are each loved by God – Father, Son and Spirit…

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Truth is… Neither death nor life, neither the present nor the future – there is nothing in all creation that will ever be able to separate us from the love of God.
(Romans 8: 38-39)

 

Spot the difference…

Hearing Dog Marshall had his first bus ride with me this week. The driver initially questioned his presence, but as soon as I pointed to his ‘Hearing Dog’ jacket, he was welcomed aboard!

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What we wear says a lot about ourselves. Uniforms are obvious examples. They allow us to identify someone’s job and their position. When I was a student nurse our caps had one, two or three stripes denoting how many years training were under our belts!
Mufti isn’t a word commonly used nowadays, but what we wear off-duty can communicate a lot too. We use clothes to reflect our personality, or present the image we would like others to see.

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As a deaf person I look for information in someone’s appearance. It gives me clues about what might be important to the person, and what interests they might have.  What do they look like they’ve just been doing, where might they be going to, what stage of life may they be at, and so what kind of things might they start talking about? It enables me to prepare myself for a conversation and attune to words they may use. Being deaf requires the rapid processing of visual information…
However, there is a danger, and that’s making misassumptions. I guess we all make rapid evaluations of people, but it can be easy to get it wrong. Hence

‘never judge a book by its cover’

Truth is, regrettably I have done this. The tough looking guy who looked anything but a gentle giant, the marathon runner who looked like they’d find a stroll in the park tough going, the graduate who without mortarboard and gown, took me by surprise. Whoops, whoops and whoops.
It reminds me to hold lightly to first impressions, and to spot the difference between outer appearances and inner qualities, and to look for the gems within everyone.
Yes, what we wear says a lot about us, but it’s never the whole story. So no more jumping to conclusions, and mistaken identities…

Truth is… If you only look at us, you might well miss the brightness. We carry this precious Message around in the unadorned clay pots of our ordinary lives.
2 Corinthians 4:6-7

Behind the scenes…

Recent events have reminded me that just because we can’t see something happening, doesn’t mean that it’s not happening!
People I know are in various stages of waiting – waiting to move house, waiting to hear the outcome of an interview, waiting for something to happen. Waiting can be hard.
It’s hard when there’s not much we can do, other than ‘sit back and wait’.
It’s hard when the only answer to ‘how long’, is ‘as long as a piece of string’.
It’s hard when we fear we may have been forgotten.
But a front door will open, a job will be found, and ‘it’ will happen – even if different to what was expected.

My wait for a Hearing Dog has recently come to an end. Marshall isn’t the Labrador I was hoping for, but as a spaniel he’s a much better fit in our small home and on my small lap!

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Being different to what was expected, he reminds me that I don’t always know best.
I’m also reminded that we often have no idea what’s going on behind the scenes.
Marshall is just over two years old, which means that for all this time his training as an Assistance Dog has been going on – even though I had no inkling!

As a believer, I see God as the producer, director and prompt of our story – but it’s not a play, it’s for real.
Sometimes we will be on cue, but other times the scripts we write for ourselves mean that we lose the plot. Maybe our self-doubts or our self-interests, our hurts or our arrogance, nudge us to be other than our true character.
The good news is that even this doesn’t mean that the curtain falls and it’s over.

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The story can be amended, but we need to respond to God’s prompts – which can be challenging and often include forgiveness. That’s why it’s good to regularly return to the original script and realign ourselves.

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To quote a prayer I return to regularly:

You God, promised us nothing by way of success, recognition, possessions or reward. ‘These things will come at the right time when you walk with me’, you said.
(Iona Community)

So much goes on behind the scenes…

Truth is… You will hear His voice behind you, saying ‘This is the way, walk in it’. (Isaiah 30: 21)

Nudges…

I haven’t been writing recently as I’ve been busy bonding with a new partner.
Just over a month ago I had the news that a possible ‘match’ had been found for me, and the invitation to meet him…

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Yes, ‘him’ is a dog.
I’m deaf, and I’ve been waiting for an Assistance Dog for over two years, so imagine my delight at the prospect of a first meeting to see if there was a spark between us!
There was, and with the basics in place, ‘Marshall’ moved in and a trusting relationship is resulting.
Truth is, I’m learning a lot from him…

A successful partnership has trust at its core. A Hearing Dog trusts a deaf person to notice and respond to what it is communicating through its nudges, and the person trusts the dog to be with them 24/7. Like any meaningful relationship, it’s rooted in trust.
Isn’t this what God longs for us? That we trust God to be with us, and respond knowing that our best interests are at heart.

For Marshall and me, the nudges are all important. Marshall has been trained to nudge my leg with his nose and lead me to what needs my attention.

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His nudges are gentle yet firm, and always for a reason. He urges me to follow him, and in doing so, I find out what I need to know.
Isn’t this the way of God? That if we respond to the nudges we sense, we will discover more of what life is about.
For in doing what we have been gifted to do, and in being who we are blessed to be, we will find connection and fulfilment.

It is true that:

in giving we receive

Giving is about filling the space that has our name on it.
Marshall does this – and without looking for the approval of others. My affirmation of him is sufficient. But he only receives this because he keeps close to me, and senses my affection.
Isn’t this the same for us? If we are to sense deep affirmation and love, we need to keep close to God.

Truth is…. There is more happiness in giving than in receiving. (Acts 20:35)

 

What on earth…

In the last few weeks several people have shared with me, their uncertainty as to what on earth they should be doing. Life seems to be raising lots of ‘what/where/when’ questions.

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Truth is, I ask myself the same questions. I don’t have a recognised job, but I am occupied from dawn to dusk; I don’t receive much in the way of recognition, but deep down I think I am doing the right thing; I don’t have promotions to secure, but does this really matter?
Years ago, I worked for the Iona Community, and a line from one of the liturgies imprinted itself on my mind:

You [God] promised us nothing by way of success, possessions, recognition, or reward.
‘These things will come at the right time when you walk with me’ you said.

‘God’s timing’ isn’t about some puppeteer pulling strings, but about us being receptive and responsive, no strings attached. It’s not about bargaining, but believing.

So, what are some answers to ‘what on earth’ questions?

First, I believe that God’s approach to our road trip through life, is often different to ours. I’m the kind of person that likes to know where I’m going and how, but God seems to favour last-minute arrangements.

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And for good reason. It gives God positive opportunities to provide for us. It’s not for nothing, we are urged to pray ‘Give us today our daily bread’ Matthew 6:11
‘What on earth’ is about putting our gifts, abilities, and resources to best use. It’s not about recognition or reward, but filling the gaps we see and finding fulfilment in this.

Next, I believe that we hold within us, the answers to our ‘What on earth’ questions. Other people can listen, reflect back, and encourage, but we have to recognise God’s day by day itinerary for ourselves.
A piece of advice that I follow, is that when unsure of what you’re meant to be doing, go back to God’s last clear signpost, and take it from there.

Third, I believe that when we feel we’ve hit ‘the wall’, it’s not the end of the road.

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Maybe something was right for us when we first set out, but now the landscape has changed.  Or maybe we made a misguided choice to begin with. Whatever, I believe that nothing is beyond the touch of God.
But it’s not a magical touch, it’s an enabling nudge – urging us to become more fully our true selves.

Truth is…  Send your light and your truth, may they lead me. (Psalm 43:3)

 

‘EYE CAN TALK’ – a silent soul emerging…

This week I watched Locked-in Boy on BBC iPlayer from the series ‘My Life’.
It’s the story of Jonathan, who spells out words by using his eyes to pick out each individual letter displayed on a board.

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I found it a deeply moving programme. Truth is, it made me cry, it made me smile, and it most importantly, it made me think…

Words. We take them for granted, and without a cost attached, we can open our mouths without thinking.
But watching Jonathan spell out each word, letter by letter with his gaze, puts speech into perspective.
– It gives a completely different meaning to the phrase:

‘spelling it out!’

There’s a point in the programme where his mother, Chantal, says:
“He spelt out ‘i— l-o-v-e—y-o-u’. He’s chosen to write that, and that makes such a difference because you know that’s exactly what he wants to say.”
How different our exchanges with strangers, friends and family might be, if we knew that the words they were saying to us, and us to them, were carefully chosen.
How different it would be, if our words were really thought-full.
– It gives a completely different meaning to the expression:

‘choosing your words!’

In the programme we see (teacher) Sarah and Chantal enabling Jonathan to communicate with the Government Minister for Vulnerable Children & Families. Jonathan campaigns for children to have the opportunity to be taught to read and write, no matter what their disability. It has from his own experience of being denied opportunities by Authority, that this Teach Us Too call has arisen. He spelt out to the Minister “I come as a voice for the voiceless”.
He truly does, and to quote Sarah: “[he] doesn’t make a sound, but has such a lot to say”.
– It gives a completely different meaning to the expression:

‘finding your voice!’

We need people to help us find our true voice. People who believe in us; people who can see locked-in potential; people who enable and encourage. And we need to be that kind of people, to others.
Towards the end of the programme we see Jonathan meeting his champion author, Michael Morpurgo. It is an intensely moving scene. Both show one another deep respect. It’s the stuff of real, connected humanity.
Mr Morpurgo later says: “Meeting you that day has left its mark on me. It’s a memory I shall hold dear for the rest of my life.”

I’m not surprised. Jonathan’s faith shines out from his face, and his poems.
Although a trauma resulted in him being born with cerebral palsy, with many challenging effects, there is a huge ‘but’ in his life: “I never let it hold me back… I don’t know how long I’ll live, but I’m determined to make the most of my life… I’m going to make every moment count”. His blog is testament to this!
Jonathan surely understands the meaning of life in all its fullness…

Truth is… I have come in order that you might have life, life in all its fullness.  (John 10:10)

 Lost and found!

Sometimes I forget the crucial thing!
Recently I went to buy a gift for someone – and forgot my purse.  However, going home to retrieve it, I found something of far greater value. On the tarmac in a car park, lay a Pandora gift bag, tied up with its distinctive silk ribbon.

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Inside was a smart box, and inside that, a sparkling ring. It was clearly ‘a gift for giving’ and had no doubt, fallen from someone’s shopping bag.
I scanned the area hoping to see someone searching up and down the rows, but there was no one fitting a ‘distressed shopper’ profile, so I took my find to the local Police Station.

Over the next few days, I wondered whether there had been a happy ending, and happened to tell the story to my daughter. “Oh goodness” she exclaimed, “someone’s just posted on Facebook ‘help, I’ve lost a Pandora ring…’”.
An exchange of messages resulted, and the owner and ring were reunited!

All this got me thinking about the ‘gifts’ we have, and whether we’ve lost any of them, momentarily or for longer?
Gifts come in all shapes and sizes. They may be skill based – rooted in what we ‘do’, or personality based – arising from ‘who’ we are. In a competitive, performance driven society ‘do’ can flatten ‘who’, yet as human beings, it’s our humanity that can make the biggest difference to others.
So are any of our gifts like a like a ring that no one gets to see, because it’s in hidden in a box? Or maybe we haven’t even recognised some of them?

Truth is, I’ve sometimes compared myself with others and found myself wanting. I’ve found myself ‘wanting’, as in lacking their abilities, and wanting, as in yearning to be like them.

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But as a believer, I know that this is contrary to what God wants. God has made each of us to be unlike any other, and we will find true fulfilment when we are fully ourselves – precious, gifted and enabled by God.

So, the ring that was lost and found, is a reminder to come out of the box and sparkle…

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Truth is… You are precious in my eyes (Isaiah 43:4)

Clearing the clutter…

Depending on your generation, you may call it ‘sorting’, ‘decluttering’, or ‘destashing’. But it all comes down to the same thing – having a good clear out.
It’s been the subject of popular television programmes with names like ‘Keep, Chuck or Clean’ and ‘The Life Laundry’, with professional declutterers proving that mountains can be moved when it comes to clutter.
Books too, offering neat and tidy solutions, have become top sellers like Marie Kondo’s ‘The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up…’
Feeling burdened is clearly a growing problem in consumerist societies.

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While there may be complex reasons why some people get overwhelmed by clutter, for many, it starts off with a pile that slowly grows and then feels insurmountable. The same thing can happen in our minds too. Thoughts and feelings can mount up, burdening us and weighing us down. Fears that aren’t addressed can multiply, wrong assumptions can hem in, and resentments can fester. I guess we all need to declutter in one way or another!

For many this week, it was ‘pancake day’, or in the Christian calendar, ‘Shrove Tuesday’.

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Traditionally this would have been a time when people used up their stores, in preparation for a Lent stripped back to the essentials.
Maybe for us today, it’s an opportunity to clear out in a different way – to see what’s lingering in the store cupboards of our hearts and minds.
Truth is, I have feelings and thoughts that need sorting. To name a few pile-ups – fear of failure that prevents me from having a go; assuming I know best; wavering when having to wait…
But as a believer, I have faith that God is more than willing to help me clear the clutter.

If we can bring our doubts, prejudices, resentments and whatever else might be lingering, out of the shadows and into the light of God, then all sorts of possibilities can unfold. God is the source of ultimate fresh starts and enables us to become more and more our true selves.
To make a pancake, what is within the shell of an egg, needs to be released.

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The same applies to us, so let’s crack on!

Truth is… Create in me a clean heart, God, and put a new and right spirit within me. (Psalm 51:10)

Read the instructions…

We’ve had our current vacuum cleaner for seven years, but I’ve only just discovered that it has not one, but two filters that need regular rinsing under the tap to unclog them.
When we bought it, it was mainly used and maintained by one of our offspring whose weekly contribution to housekeeping, was to vacuum the home.
Having flown the nest, maintenance is now my job, and it was only because I thought that I should check I was doing the right thing, that I looked at the instructions and discovered the second filter! A filter, which if not regularly cleaned, puts the motor in danger of over-heating and damage.
All this has prompted a note to self: read the instructions!

Actually, the same principle can be applied to life. Instructions are guidelines for ensuring best possible outcomes, whether it’s a recipe for melt-in-your-mouth cookies, or assembling flat-pack furniture.
Likewise, faith can guide us through life. As a believer, the Bible gives me some pointers along the way:

Do not cling to events of the past or dwell on what happened long ago. Watch for the new thing I am going to do. It is happening already – you can see it now… (Isaiah 43:18-19)

Do for others what you want them to do for you… (Matthew 7:12)

I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord… Plans to give you a future and a hope. (Jeremiah 29:11)

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We all have some attributes that come naturally to us, and others that take a determined effort. For example, I find it fairly easy to be supportive of others – I don’t need a lot of instruction, but being flexible is another matter.
Truth is, I have to make a conscious effort to change direction when a situation prompts. Only last week my plans had to change, but once I went with the flow, there was an opportunity to use my skills in an unexpected way.

Although I’m not a sailor, I guess it’s like adjusting sails to catch the prevailing wind.

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For me, this ‘Wind’ is God’s Spirit, and although I don’t always catch it, the good news for you and me, is that it keeps blowing our way.

Truth is God’s spirit made me; the Almighty’s breath enlivens me. (Job 33:12)