Nestle or wrestle…

I became a mother in the 1980s when ‘skin to skin’ contact (where a newborn is immediately placed on their parent’s chest) wasn’t the norm.
Nowadays, it is widely recognised as a beneficial practice as it promotes a baby’s development and wellbeing.
Evidence backs up what’s right under our nose – that a deep bonding results when a baby has skin to skin contact by lying on its mother’s breast or father’s chest.

218202550_072db2e205_b (3)

As a believer, I find myself reflecting on my feelings about God.
In Christianity, God may be known as ‘Abba’, the Aramaic word for a father with whom there is a close relationship.
Truth is, I never had a close relationship with my father, but I see some wonderful fathers around.
The dad patiently teaching his son to ride a bike, demonstrating, encouraging, and steering him in the right direction.
The daddy attentively listening to his daughter upset by a nasty experience, and helping her find courage for tomorrow.
The dad inviting his offspring to share their worries, and helping them to work out what’s theirs to sort, and what isn’t their responsibility.

hands-2065507_1280 (2)

Necessity meant that I had to be a very responsible child, and although this developed strengths, my default position can trip me up. I can find myself sorting out problems that aren’t mine to solve, or worrying about situations beyond my control.
However, if I pause in the midst of my striving and anxieties, I sense that God, Abba, is longing for me to experience an intimacy in my soul.
We are not designed to be fiercely independent. Instead, we are called to experience the liberation of interdependence and dependence. It’s about recognising where our responsibilities begin – and end. It’s about doing our best, and letting God do the rest.

Just as a baby is soothed by resting on the breast or chest, so God calls us to nestle, not wrestle.
If we can let ourselves be found by God and sense the warmth of true acceptance, if we can be still and become attuned to the Father’s heartbeat, then we will be touched by Abba love.

Truth is…  As a child lies quietly in its mother’s arms, so my heart is quiet within me (Psalm 131:2)

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.

thisbeautiful.d

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

 

Speed, distance, time…

One of my offspring recently recounted a hair-raising journey following the directions of sat-nav.
It had sent them by the shortest route, which in this case turned out to be a practically unnavigable track.

It made me reflect on how technology has changed route planning. Destinations are postcodes rather than place names, and routes are revealed at the touch of a screen rather than thumbing through map pages and seeing a network of possibilities.

IMG_2604

Sat nav will automatically send us by the quickest or shortest route. However, if we take the same approach to life and rush along the fast lane, we may miss ‘travelling mercies’. As the African proverb says:

If you want to walk fast, walk alone, if you want to walk far, walk together

When we constantly look to overtake, we distance ourselves from positive connections.
But if we draw alongside others, we will have opportunities to give and receive, and find purpose and meaning in life.

Likewise, when we look for short cuts from difficult situations or a tedious part of life’s journey, we distance ourselves from unexpected blessings.
Sat nav will often use single track roads as short cuts, with disastrous results, yet are we vastly different in our lives?
Having a single-track mind can blind us to possibilities or lead us to assume a right of way, and unless we stop in our tracks, a head on collision may well be around the corner.

Sat_Nav_Error_(8015280149)

But I believe that just as sat-nav is constantly tracking our progress, so too is God.
Not in a vindictive way, but in clearing the way ahead. Just like sat-nav logs our position when we’ve taken a wrong turn and re-routes us, so too will God.
Sometimes getting lost and arriving somewhere later than expected is called ‘taking the scenic route’, but what we may have lost in time or speed, we will have gained in learning from the distance covered. So let’s be attentive to God’s nudges, and respond with due care and attention.

Truth is… “My thoughts” says the Lord “are not like yours, and my ways are different from yours” Isaiah 55:8

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.

download (9)

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.

5085206449_7db448b628_b (3)

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)

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.

IMG_2142 (2)

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.

IMG_2141 (3)

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.

curvy-yellow-trousers2 (2)

                                                       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.

download (3)

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)

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.

Hearing Dogs Appeal Shoot

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.

Hearing Dogs Appeal Shoot

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.

Baitworm

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’:

1472

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.

IMG_7628 (3)

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.

cate (2)

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’.

images (1)

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’.

book-1945515_1280 (2)

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.

defense-attorney-defense-lawyer-criminal-defense-lawyer-royalty-free-thumbnail (2)

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)