It’s all in the mix…

Apparently, the shortage of eggs that has accompanied covid-19, is because of a surge in home baking.
Even one of my offspring who doesn’t normally bake, has sent me a picture of a carrot cake, captioned ‘finally got round to using your recipe!’

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Recipes are guidelines. A list of ingredients followed by a set of instructions.

First step is to make sure we’ve got what it takes, or to tweak as necessary. It’s amazing what can result when we are flexible in our thinking.
Next step is start combining ingredients together. It’s at this stage that things don’t always go as expected. For example, adding eggs to a cake mix can cause it to curdle or ‘split’. But contrary to appearances, all is not lost, we just need to keep going.
Other times things don’t go according to plan, simply because we don’t follow the plan.
Maybe we skip a stage that seems unnecessary. Take sieving flour, it may feel pointless, but it loosens any clumps and allows us to gently fold it into the mix.
Then comes the baking for just the right amount of time.

This process reminds me of how life can feel. We have a plan. We prepare. We get off to a good start.
But when something happens that causes us to ‘split’, we can wonder if the situation is resolvable.

Paul, the writer of many New Testament letters, urges followers of Jesus not to fret or worry, but instead, pray.
To pray is to be honest with God. To be open about our hopes, and our disappointments; our deliberate wrong doings, and our mistakes; our doubts, and our delicate faith.

Truth is, I can sometimes be reluctant to hand over the mix to God, but when we do, everything starts to come together for good and we are changed in the process. Our priorities will be sifted, and our hardened attitudes and actions loosened.

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Then, with a gentle folding together of the unique ingredients that make us who we are, something good will emerge from the oven of life.

Truth is… A sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. (Philippians 4:7) 

 

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)

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)