Homing instinct…

A few weeks ago, I was very excited. I spotted a pair of sparrows exploring a nesting box in our garden, but my delight turned to disappointment when they appeared to reject the home on offer.
However, they’ve returned and settled! I like to think that having checked out alternatives, a secure and safe place to dwell has been recognised.

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It’s made me think how delighted our Creator must be, when having sought alternatives, we finally recognise our soul’s longing for God and come ‘home’.

Yet so often we ignore or misinterpret the yearnings of our soul.
We feel an emptiness – and so we fill our lives with the brightest and best we can afford (or not).
We sense a gap – and we attempt to plug it with successes.
We feel incomplete – and we look for fulfilment in relationships.
These things may be potentially life enhancing, but when they reach priority status in our lives, they cause us to topple. There’s an irony in the fact that the more we try to pack into our lives, be it possessions, successes or relationships, the emptier we become.

Truth is, I yearn recognition but however many ‘likes’ I may get, my ‘need’ isn’t met.
Of course it isn’t! It is only God, who can meet our true needs.
So how do we encounter God?
Simply, through honesty. If we have the courage to recognise our innermost feelings and thoughts, what is stagnant can be displaced by the life-giving water of God. Our thirst will be quenched, and as we feel more at home with God, we will be become our truer selves.
I am finding that when I allow God to show me the heart of the matter, liberation follows. I am freer from the clutch of predatory forces.

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To connect with God in our souls is to come home, and as I watch the birds flying in and out of the nesting boxes, it reminds me to connect with the homing instinct we all have in our souls. God is within each of us, waiting to offer us life in all its true fullness.

 

Truth is… I choose the God above all gods to shelter me… (Psalm 91:9)

Core strength…

With significant spinal fractures caused by brittle bones, and at risk of further fractures if I stumble or move awkwardly, it’s been suggested to me that I should get a balance board to improve my core strength.

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                                                       Photo credit: Nurture Collective

Physical core strength is stabilising, giving us good balance and preventing unnecessary falls.
Likewise, our mind and soul benefit from a strong foundation, as stability in our innermost being allows us to withstand the waves of life, rather than being knocked off balance.

Our life experiences shape our inner being. Our past can be enabling, or disabling, or typically a mix.
But whatever our lot, we have a choice. We can put energy into what we can change, or we can exhaust ourselves trying to alter what is beyond our power.

We can’t see our physical core, nor can we see the core of our inner being, but the stronger they are, the further the positive ripples of wellbeing extend.

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So what can we do to increase our soul strength?

As a believer, I find that the more honest I am with God, the stronger I become.
Like everyone, I am inclined to bury uncomfortable thoughts and unsettling fears. But if I recognise them in the presence of God’s liberating light and love, there is healing.
Healing is not about being a passive patient in God’s hands, but rather, a purposeful participant.
It’s about making the changes we need to make, in order to become more aligned with God.
Just as a balance board causes us to adjust our posture and build inner muscle strength, so honesty leads to redemption and restoration, and increases our soul strength.
We will gradually become more balanced, and wobble less.

Wholeness doesn’t mean being without scars. My fractures have healed, but I’m left with deformity, and so I have a choice: to wrap myself in cotton wool, or do everything I can to increase physical core strength and live life to the full.
So, balance board here I come, and as I wobble less and stand as tall as I can, I’ll look to strengthen my soul too…

Truth is… For when I am weak, then I am strong (2 Corinthians 12:10)

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.

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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)

Pawsome priorities

My Assistance Dog, Marshall, lives in the present rather than fretting about what the future might hold. He doesn’t have a mind full of ‘what ifs’. Instead, he lives in a mindful way in the here and now.

Truth is, I can sometimes be like a ‘dog with a bone’, excessively ruminating over things. But Marshall reminds me of more awesome priorities:

He finds joy in the moment. Before covid-19 necessitated staying in, I didn’t really understand why he gets excited seeing passers-by.

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Now I know! Never underestimate the effect of connecting with others in a cheery way.

He doesn’t hide his need for affection and nudges me to ruffle his fur. It’s heart-warming to show our love for each other. The same applies to human relationships.

He soaks up the warmth of sunny days. If we absorb the warmth of others (kind gestures and encouraging words) the coldness with which we may treat ourselves, will be thawed.

He is attuned to others. When he senses someone is hurting, he comes alongside and offers a comforting gentle nuzzle. We can show empathy for others in quiet intuitive ways too.

He digs up what he’s buried – when he feels the moment has come. Recognising the right time for action, is important.

He never growls for the sake of it. Some battles aren’t worth fighting.

He finds pleasure in the simplest things, like walking in the woods, paddling in the stream, or playing with his pals. We too, need to take time for refreshing recreation.

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He is simply a dog. He doesn’t try to be anything other, nor does he make comparisons. We could save ourselves a lot of frustration and dissatisfaction, if we were simply ourselves.

He always greets me with exuberant enthusiasm, if we’ve ever been apart. We too, need to let others know that they really matter to us.

So let’s live life to the full, by learning any necessary life lessons from Marshall. It’s not for nothing that dogs have been called ‘man’s best friend’!

Truth is… Jesus said, “I have come that I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10)

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

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)

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