Duty or desire…

My Assistance Dog Marshall has been with me for six months, and we now know one another well! He and I have a strong bond, rooted in mutual trust. I trust him to be my Hearing Dog; he trusts me to care for him and keep him safe.
The key to our strong relationship is that it’s reciprocal. I love Marshall for simply ‘being’ himself, and this love precedes anything he ‘does’ for me. Meanwhile Marshall flourishes in my affection and is eager to please.

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I think all this has parallels with our relationship with God. There’s nothing we can do to make God love us more, and nothing we do that makes God love us less. God simply loves us for who we are. We are after all, called human ‘beings’ rather than human ‘doings’. God must long for us to know ourselves loved, as this frees us to love in response, with any sense of duty being replaced by desire. Genuine love makes life better all round.

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At the beginning of our partnership, Marshall was dutiful. He was simply acting out his training, alerting me to sounds, or waiting beside me for my next command. But now he has got to know me and realises I have his best interests at heart, he’s no longer acting out of duty, he’s responding out of a desire to do his best.

Duty or desire…

Truth is, I’ve known what it is to be dutiful. As a convent schoolgirl, I was taught to be ‘good for God’ otherwise vengeance would follow. Fast forward a few decades, and I now believe in a God who builds us up, not one who beats us down. I only have to look at Marshall to see that it’s no good controlling him through fear. A threat might work in the short-term, but long term our relationship would be damaged. He would mistrust me and be fearful.
So we needn’t be slaves to fear and duty, we are called instead to receive God’s love and desire will follow.

Truth is… ‘So then, you are no longer a slave’ Galatians 4:7

Marvellous…

Marshall, my assistance Hearing Dog, needs daily ‘out-of-uniform’ walks when he can run free and play with his canine friends. One of our favourite places for this is in the ‘Groves’, a beautiful beech wood that’s a stone’s throw from where we live.

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It has numerous tracks that weave around the contours. In summer it’s mainly dry underfoot, but in winter the Welsh climate makes it squelchy! To make the paths that lead into town more accessible during inclement weather, some of the paths have been topped with crushed rock, including one which has a very steep gradient.
Recently I remarked to my adult son who was walking with me, “It must have been very hard work to make this path, just imagine moving all that aggregate up the incline”. He stopped, and with a bemused expression, replied, “But they would have worked their way down, not up!”
Clearly, I had missed the obvious. I always walk up the steep path (I use a different route going down) and therefore assumed the trail-blazers had likewise worked from the bottom up.
We burst out laughing, but truth is, sometimes my assumptions blind me to alternatives.
So I’ve been reminded to be more flexible in my thinking.

One of my favourite films is ‘Marvellous’. It’s the true story of Neil Baldwin who refused to accept the label of learning disabilities, and instead has had an extraordinary life as a registered clown, university welfare officer and football kitman.

two_neils_zpskmbeszuiNeil Baldwin, and actor Toby Jones who plays him in the film ‘Marvellous’

Whereas some people have tried to limit him with their narrow assumptions, Neil has broadened many people’s outlooks with his wide assumptions. If he wanted to do something, he did it, and astounded people with his results.
He wanted to be a clown, and so he joined a circus.
He wanted to welcome students at Keele University, and so he became a familiar figure over the years, with an honorary degree being awarded in recognition of his contribution to student welfare.
He wanted to work at Stoke City Football Club, and so he became Kitman, with the Manager famously saying it was the best signing he’d ever made.

We all have had, and have, difficulties in life, and these can lead us to feel we’re  pushing a load up an incline. But Neil offers us an alternative view. “I always wanted to be happy, and so I decided to be.” That’s not to say that he, and we, won’t experience setbacks, but as he says: “when bad things happen, I remember something good.”

Truth is… Unlike the culture around you, dragging you down, God brings the best out of you. Romans 12:2

Spot the difference…

Hearing Dog Marshall had his first bus ride with me this week. The driver initially questioned his presence, but as soon as I pointed to his ‘Hearing Dog’ jacket, he was welcomed aboard!

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What we wear says a lot about ourselves. Uniforms are obvious examples. They allow us to identify someone’s job and their position. When I was a student nurse our caps had one, two or three stripes denoting how many years training were under our belts!
Mufti isn’t a word commonly used nowadays, but what we wear off-duty can communicate a lot too. We use clothes to reflect our personality, or present the image we would like others to see.

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As a deaf person I look for information in someone’s appearance. It gives me clues about what might be important to the person, and what interests they might have.  What do they look like they’ve just been doing, where might they be going to, what stage of life may they be at, and so what kind of things might they start talking about? It enables me to prepare myself for a conversation and attune to words they may use. Being deaf requires the rapid processing of visual information…
However, there is a danger, and that’s making misassumptions. I guess we all make rapid evaluations of people, but it can be easy to get it wrong. Hence

‘never judge a book by its cover’

Truth is, regrettably I have done this. The tough looking guy who looked anything but a gentle giant, the marathon runner who looked like they’d find a stroll in the park tough going, the graduate who without mortarboard and gown, took me by surprise. Whoops, whoops and whoops.
It reminds me to hold lightly to first impressions, and to spot the difference between outer appearances and inner qualities, and to look for the gems within everyone.
Yes, what we wear says a lot about us, but it’s never the whole story. So no more jumping to conclusions, and mistaken identities…

Truth is… If you only look at us, you might well miss the brightness. We carry this precious Message around in the unadorned clay pots of our ordinary lives.
2 Corinthians 4:6-7

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)

 

The Best Is Yet To Come…

Twice this week I’ve found myself in conversation with people who feel that the best is yet to come (actually it’s three times, if I include conversations I’ve had with myself!)
Following a bit of a frustrating day, one friend was telling me that he’d had one of those ‘why on earth am I doing this job’ moments. He has many gifts and abilities (as we all have) but has a sense that there’s something more fulfilling for him to do in life.
We talked a bit about how differences can be made to other peoples’ lives by the little things we do, and that ‘waiting times’ needn’t be wasted times.

I too am in a time of waiting. I’m waiting for acute depression to lift. I’m waiting for a Hearing Dog to enable me to return to employment. I’m waiting for relationships to mend. None of this is passive, I am actively finding ways forward, and I am holding on to the words a chaplain said to me many years ago: “The best is yet to come”.
Wonderfully, those exact words are on the front of a card just given to me by another friend.

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They remind me that I don’t have to persuade God to make life fulfilling,
nor does God need to persuade me that there is more to life than meets the eye.
It’s not about being persuaded, it’s about connecting with our deepest desires.

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I believe that God doesn’t want anything other than that we fulfil our potential.
But truth is, when life doesn’t seem to go according to plan, I sometimes doubt God has got the ‘what, when and where’ details to hand!

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Gradually though, I’m coming to recognise that life lived in the company of God can have a ‘lastminute.com’ feel to it.
The ‘departure gate’ for the next step of our journey through life, only opens when we are actually ready to step through.
So this week I’ve remembered that in fog, pilots keep to a flight path by trusting their navigation instruments, and I’ve realigned myself with the Truth which is at the heart of what matters.

Truth is… I know what I’m doing. I have plans to take care of you, not abandon you, plans to give you the future you hope for” Jeremiah 29:11

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