This Beautiful Fantastic

Truth is, I lag behind when it comes to films. Deafness means I have to wait until I can watch a dvd with subtitles, and I’ve only just discovered 2016’s This Beautiful Fantastic. It’s the story of a young woman, Bella, who is under threat of eviction unless she attends to her overgrown garden. In the process of confronting the issues that lie behind her horticultural neglect, relationships blossom in unexpected ways.

Bella lives with OCD, and at the beginning of the film we see her life dictated by routines.

2__TBF Bella (Jessica Brown Findlay) looks out of window

But she discovers that there is more to life when she expands her horizons and starts to do things differently.
The storyline made me turn over some ground in my own mind.
Our choices can imprison us. Regret, reluctance, and resignation are powerful jailers. But we have a choice, to live in their shadows, or to begin to free ourselves from their constraints.

In the film, we see Bella begin to tackle the undergrowth in her garden by taking a pair of secateurs and making a single snip. Removing one entangling tendril seems insignificant amid the overgrowth surrounding her, but the point is that she’s made a start.

At first sight one character looks likely to lend a hand, but because he has a pollen allergy, he’s restricted to providing Bella with restorative meals and encouraging words.
Ironically, aid comes from an unlikely character, her cantankerous neighbour. However, rather than providing practical help, it’s his passion and knowledge of gardening that give her inspiration and energy.

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There are parallels here in life as a believer.
God doesn’t step in and do instant makeovers of our lives. Instead, God catches our imaginations, and nudges us to tackle the unchecked attitudes and behaviours that result in our entanglement.
It’s about partnership, and when we actively choose to respond to the Spirit, we will find that God offers us timely, enabling sustenance and encouragement.

Of course, the garden transformation would have been an easy job if Bella had hired someone else to do it, but this is a story of personal development and the difference that clearing away stifling undergrowth and entangling overgrowth can make.
So I’m choosing to let the Light in, that I may grow and blossom…

Truth is… Keep your roots deep in him  Colossians 2:7

 

The problem of pain…

At a tender age I was easily upset by cruelty, so wildlife programmes featuring suffering and a struggle for survival would make me cry.
A few days ago, these feelings resurfaced when I discovered a blue tit had fallen to its death in my backyard. Stunned, I stood and watched the nesting box from where it had fallen and made the shocking discovery that sparrows had invaded the box and ousted its residents.

As a child I wondered how camera crews making nature programmes could just stand inactive in the midst of suffering.

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Truth is, as an adult, I have also wondered how God can watch people struggling and apparently do nothing. I think the answer lies in the word ‘apparently’.

Sometimes we make unwise choices, other times we are unfortunately caught in the slipstream of other people’s destructive decisions, and all this can impact on our emotional wellbeing. Meanwhile our physical health, and the health of the earth, is a complex interaction of the variables of nature and nurture.

I believe that how we react to life, shapes our soul. We have a choice, to become bitter or better. Although we are not controlled by God, God is not unmoved by our folly and waits to be invited into the heart of the matter – in our souls.

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Inviting God in doesn’t mean our circumstances instantly change, but that our characters change and grow.
Soul growth is a slow process and requires the right conditions – honesty, silence, patience, and time.

John Ortberg writes:

“If you ask people who don’t believe in God why they don’t, the number one reason will be suffering.
If you ask people who believe in God when they grew most spiritually, the number one answer will be suffering.”

(Soul Keeping)

The good news is that nothing is news to God, and no situation and no one is beyond redemption.
In our souls we come home to God, so may we avoid being like the sparrows, who intent on feathering their nest with no regard to the blue tits, left a trail of destruction in pursuit of significance and security.

Truth is… Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him (Ephesians 3:17)

A dog with a bone

While we can learn a lot from dogs, my Assistance Dog Marshall isn’t perfect. He’s a Spaniel, so he will always sniff out anything that he believes to be edible. For example…

Although covid-19 places me in strict isolation, I’m able to take a solitary walk Marshall in a nearby wood. He enjoys his time off-lead, and I’ve always trusted him to return to me when I blow my whistle.dog-whistle-metal-iron-pipe-wallpaper-previewSo last week I gave a blast, with the expectation he would immediately return from the undergrowth he’d disappeared into.
Imperfection number 1: No show. After several more blasts, he emerged with an enormous roasted bone in his mouth, complete with remains for gnawing. He carried his prize possession home, and by our outside bin I commanded him to ‘give’.
Imperfection number 2: He initially refused. He must have sensed the bone was going in the refuse. He didn’t realise that as his guardian, I know best. Delicious as the meaty bone may have seemed to him, I knew it would cause him inner upset.

Marshall’s misdemeanours are a reminder that we can make bad choices, and refuse to give up what we cling to. Truth is, I’ve clung to many things that are less than wholesome.
Like everyone, I have a deep-rooted longing for significance and security. I’ve wanted recognition, or efforts returned, or to be liked, and sometimes I’ve looked in the wrong places for these needs to be met.

I believe that as humans we are more than a body with a mind. We also have a soul, and if we neglect it, all will not be well. Our souls cry out for integration. As St Augustine said:

You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they can find rest in you.

It is within our souls that we discover God has our best interests at heart.
But just as Marshall needed to give me his bone so that he could then receive a more wholesome alternative, so we need to ‘drop’ what we cling to – all those things that give us false and empty nourishment.

Hearing Dogs Appeal Shoot

Photo credit: 2019 Paul Wilkinson Photography (Hearing Dogs for Deaf People)

Truth is… Listen closely to me, and you will eat what is good. You will enjoy the food that satisfies your soul. (Isaiah 55:2)

Lost for words…

There have been several times when I’ve been at a loss for words – I’ve opened a blank Word document and begun writing, and at some point later, discovered that all my words have been lost. Sometimes this is my own fault – I’ve forgotten to ‘save’, while other times it’s a fault lying in the computer.
My response has varied from ‘it’s a crying shame’ through to ‘if at first you don’t succeed…’

It reminds me of choices, and the tracks we take.

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At times I make wrong choices, some of which are my own fault, while others result from ignorance. My errors are echoed in the words of an Anglican prayer of confession, in the line:

God, we have sinned… through ignorance, through weakness, through our own deliberate fault

So, what do we then do?
Do we keep looking back to the past, with guilt or regret?
Do we try to re-write what cannot be re-written?
Or do we ask, as the prayer continues:

forgive us all that is past, and lead us out of darkness to walk [in] light

Truth is, I sometimes struggle with taking a fresh start and walking in the light. The darkness of regret pulls me back and weighs me down, and I struggle to believe I am forgiven by God.
Negative self-talk keeps us in the dark, but choosing to learn from the past and to put right what we can, leads us into the light.

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So, the choice is ours – to remain paralysed as miserable sinners, or move forward, forgiven and freed by God.
My head tells my heart to believe in God’s compassion, and so I’m going to choose the latter.
The fresh start that God offers, leaves me lost for words!

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

A little bit of encouragement…

I recently heard a heart-warming story about someone who’d found her voice, or more accurately, had re-discovered her voice. I don’t know all the details, but the point is that at a large family gathering her delight in singing was rekindled.

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My guess is that she hasn’t had many opportunities to sing in recent years, so her reflective comment “all you need is a little bit of encouragement” really caught my attention.
How right she is! We all need authentic encouragement to be our true selves.

I wonder how much goodness and giftedness lies within us, stunted or undiscovered –
maybe a dismissive classroom comment extinguished an emerging talent in us,
or maybe we haven’t always ‘fitted in’ and consequently stay on the margins,
or perhaps our reluctance to be open to constructive criticism has prevented us from moving forward.

Situations like these may have arisen through no fault of our own, while others may be of our own making. Whatever, we have a choice. To remain stuck in a rut, or to step out.

That’s where encouragement can pull us to our feet –
self-encouragement,
the encouragement of others,
and as a believer, I’m adding the encouragement of God to the list!
In stepping out, the encouraged can in turn become the encourager, and so goodness and giftedness is perpetuated.

The word ‘courage’ lies within ‘encouragement’. It can nudge us to have a go at something, and to keep going when the going gets tough.

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‘Truth is…’ is testament to this. It arose from what I sensed was a God-prod, and when I’ve wavered, the encouragement that’s come from ‘likes’ ‘shares’ and comments has been uplifting because truth is, I struggle with self-doubt.

I guess I’m not alone in this. But the way to stop being a shrinking violet is to stand tall –
to come out of the shadows into the light,
to take our place in the Sun,
and to find our hearts and hands and voices in whatever ways are fitting.
As Gok says:

“It’s all about the confidence”  

Truth is“Encourage one another and help one another” 1 Thessalonians 5:11

 

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As Is – As If…

I’m reading John Ortberg’s book – Everybody’s Normal Till You Get to Know Them.
It opens with the words:
In certain stores you will find a section of merchandise available at greatly reduced prices… each tag carries the same words – ‘as is’. This is a euphemistic way of saying “These are damaged goods… you’re going to find a flaw… So when you find it, don’t come whining… [There are] no returns. No refunds. No exchanges… You must take it as is.”

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Ortberg then makes the point that the imperfections we have as human beings, put us in the ‘as is’ category.
I hadn’t come across the American expression ‘as is’, but it’s got me thinking.
There are many situations in life where we get more, or less, than we bargained for.
Any relationship will have nice and nasty surprises.
On a superficial level, someone’s irritating little habits can rub us up the wrong way, and on a deeper level, another’s emotional baggage can trip us up.

So I’m finding it helpful to remember that we all have ‘as is’ tags,
and in some relationships it can be worth talking about these together.
Not always easy, as typically we don’t like recognising our imperfections,
let alone them been spotted by others!
The point is though, that we are all flawed, and we all have a choice.
To do nothing, or do something about our flaws.

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Which brings me to ‘as if’.
Truth is, I’ve a number of ‘default’ positions that I want to change.
Solution Focused Therapy centres on the question:
‘If you lived your life without ‘the problem’, what would you do differently?’
It’s about living ‘as if’ you didn’t have ‘the problem’.
So I’m beginning to think about the things I would do differently,
and more importantly, starting to put them into practice.
It’s about taking little steps.
Sometimes I stumble, other times I shuffle, and on a good day I step out!
It’s not about ‘can I?’  but ‘will I?’

“To be, or not to be: that is the question…”

Truth is… Watch for the new thing I am going to do.  It is happening already—you can see it now! Isaiah 43:19

 

 

Deaf Sentence…

There was a day last week when I felt under a deaf sentence!
No, that’s not a typo, I am deaf.
It was news coverage of a report in the Lancet that darkened my day – research has shown that hearing loss tops the list of factors that can lead to dementia.

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That’s the bad news. The good news is that this isn’t inevitable.
It’s not so much deafness that can contribute to dementia, but the isolation
and depression that deafness can result in. These are ‘modifiable’ factors,
and if a person can find a way through and forward, there’s a case for optimism!

Of course, it’s not only deaf people who may experience isolation and depression.
For a wide variety of reasons, many people will experience poor mental health in one form or another, at some point in their life.
From my experience, focusing on the little things that can be changed in life rather than the big things that can’t, and having the courage to spot the difference, is the way forward.

Truth is, it was a mixed blessing when my audiology results catapulted me into the ‘severely deaf’ category.
It confirmed a degenerative condition, yet opened up the possibility of an Assistance Dog, and I’m now on the waiting list for a Hearing Dog which will transform my life in so many ways.

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In the meantime, I need to live in the present moment.
As a believer, I have the sense that God longs for us to let go of re-living the past or pre-living the future. It’s the choices we make today, that shape life for us, and those around us.

The essentials of happiness have been identified as

“Something to do, something to love, and something to hope for”

This dates from the 18th century, so it’s stood the test of time.
To me, it suggests that a meaningful life is a purposeful life. It all comes down to choices, and whether we are open to life in all its fullness, even with limitations!

 Truth is…  ‘I have come in order that you might have life – life in all its fullness’ John 10:10