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)

 

How’s it going?

There’s something special about new beginnings.
I remember how I enjoyed starting a new notebook in school – all those empty lines waiting to be filled with carefully penned words!
Or newly fallen snow like a blank canvas – lots of opportunity to be creative!
Or making New Year resolutions…

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…an appealing idea, but truth is, I never had much success in keeping these!
My solution was to use my January birthday as an opportunity for another fresh start, but this too was short lived.  ‘How’s it going?’ wasn’t a thought that had a pleasing answer – unrealistic goals coupled with a perfectionist streak equalled disappointment…

With age, and finding faith, I take a different approach. Rather than making New Year resolutions, I choose a ‘word for the year’ and look for daily opportunities to put it into practice. Last year’s word was ‘trust’ (there were plenty of opportunities!) and this year’s word is ‘grow’. It’s about aligning myself with God’s hopes for me, so that I become ever more fully the person I’ve been made to be.

Like a plant that grows in the direction of the light, our growth is dependent on being out of the shadows.

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But I sometimes choose to remain in the dark. Self-doubt shrivels me; wrong priorities misshape me; fear of failure stunts me.

Thank heavens then, for a God with endless fresh starts for each of us.
We cannot live in the past, nor in the future. We can only live in the present moment, and like a present, it needs unwrapping. What have we been handed?  A little blessing to appreciate; a chance to make a small difference to someone’s day; an opportunity to face the fear and just do it!
Some days we will do better than others, but the call is to

keep on keeping on

As a believer, I trust in a God who doesn’t give up on us, and so a sense of God asking ‘How’s it going?’ is an invitation to be truly honest. It’s an invitation to let go and let God; to do our best and let God do the rest…

Truth is… ‘I make all things new, beginning with you, and starting from today’ (Song: WGRG, Iona Community)

Smitten by mittens…

My ten-month-old granddaughter has very busy hands and enjoys exploring her ever expanding world by touching everything within grasp!
The various toddler groups she goes to, are all a long walk away, so she needs a hat, coat and mittens to keep warm in her pushchair. She is however, out of alignment with her Mum on this matter – time and time again she pulls off her mittens and despite Mum’s best efforts, eventually ends up cold and miserable.

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Sometimes I’m a bit like my granddaughter – I do things that aren’t conducive to my wellbeing – despite God nudging me to make a better choice.  As the saying goes ‘old habits die hard…’
Many years ago, I needed to lose weight, but by the time I reached a healthy point, my mind had been hijacked by an unhealthy urge to keep losing. It had nothing to do with body image and everything to do with hidden depression.
Although I now appear to be reasonably recovered, truth is, deep within old thought patterns die hard.

This week though, the story of the mittens is helping me move on from habits that are way past their ‘best before’ date. I want to live life to the full, and to do this, I need to be fully nourished. So rather than appeasing any urge to eat in an unbalanced way, I’m being mindful of the truth contained in the words (attributed to various people including Einstein and Ford)

If you always do what you always did
you’ll always get what you always got

I guess that we are all addicted to something in our lives. We can probably all find a word that completes the sentence ‘My name is … and I’m an …’
But we are more than our addiction to alcohol, pornography, gambling, drugs, food, social media, perfection or whatever our vice is. As a believer, I’m smitten by the truths brought together by Desmond Tutu:

Goodness is stronger than evil.
Love is stronger than hate.
Light is stronger than darkness.
Life is stronger than death.
Victory is ours through Him who loved us.

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May I keep on these ‘mittens’ of truth, and grow into my true self…

Truth is… “Anyone who is joined to Christ is a new being; the old is gone, the new has come2 Corinthians 5:17

Surprised by joy!

I was pleasantly surprised the other day, when someone close, described me as ‘joyful’.
Truth is, life doesn’t always feel full of joy. It’s often full of the unexpected, like my partner having unstable health, and various other challenging circumstances (which have prevented blogging recently). So it was lovely to know that despite all this, joy seeps out!
Feelings are not necessarily the same as facts. I may feel overwhelmed at times, but deeper facts tell me a different story. As Mother Teresa said:

“I know God won’t give me anything I can’t handle. I just wish he didn’t trust me so much” 

I find a refreshing humour and hope in this.

So what is joy? I believe it’s what bubbles up from a deep connection with God, and there’s something special when this flows over into other people’s lives – for both the receiver and the giver.

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Joy is different to happiness.
Happiness is a feeling, and feelings are generated by circumstances. They’re changeable, just like the sea. Sometimes the sea of life is calm, and all is sunshine and light.
Other times it’s dark and stormy. We are tossed about, and happiness can be swept overboard before we know it!

Joy though, is deeper. Its source is God, and rises from the depths.
However much positive thinking I do, I cannot make myself truly joyful – deep joy comes when I plunge the depths and am honest with God. It gives me the sense that there is more to life than meets the eye. It gives me a different, lighter perspective, and nudges me onwards and upwards.
It’s there for everyone. We just need to dip our toe in – in all our messiness and hurt and uncertainty. When we allow ourselves to be surrounded by God’s current of love, joy will seep into our inner selves and swell our hearts. It will make a difference to us, and those around us.

There’s a family joke that my epitaph will be ‘She was a maker and a mender’. Spot on, but to be thought of as ‘joyful’, is even better!

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Truth is… “[may] my joy be in you and your joy be made full” John 15:11

Pass the Parcel

Is commercialism and consumerism leading us down the wrong aisle? When my local supermarket opened after Christmas Day, Easter had replaced Christmas on the shelves. Decorations were down and chocolate egg displays were up, and I got the feeling that that I’d missed a few months!

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Maybe for some, it’s a relief that ‘Christmas is over’, especially if it hasn’t turned out quite as planned, or if it brings back difficult memories. But maybe too, there are things worth salvaging from under the wrappings.
Truth is, I don’t always find it an easy time of year, but it’s good to know that it’s never too late to unwrap Christmas! The gift in the manger is a gift ‘for life, not just for Christmas’, and it’s the ‘gift that keeps on giving’.

What is this gift then, that calls to be unwrapped? I believe it’s the promise that ‘God on earth has come to stay’. The gift in the manger has the name tag ‘Immanuel’ – God with us. But like a game of Pass the Parcel, there are lots of different layers to unwrap and surprises to find within the layers, even if the outer wrapping seems unpromising. Little signs that God is with us in all the ups and downs of life:
Like the sky the other morning, with an eye-catching contrail that spoke to me of promise.

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Like a hug from someone at just the right moment.

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Like the words of a song that suddenly speak volumes.

…Bring the grace & healing, that only you can give me
for the promise isn’t over, you are here today… (Matt Hooper et al.)

Apparently, the top selling toy at Christmas, was a something called L.O.L. Surprise – a collectable doll with accessories that are revealed layer by layer. Clever marketing created hype – and a mass of children learning the hard way that ‘all that glitters is not gold’.
Thankfully for us in our daily lives, the good news is that God never fails to deliver. All it takes is our openness and a willingness to unwrap…

Truth is… ‘The promise isn’t over, You are here today’ (Song: Matt Cooper et al.)