Friday, 31 December 2010

Water played a big part in my life yesterday!

(But before I go any further can I just reassure my family and friends that I absolutely adore having house guests - honestly!!)

The washing machine was hardly still - and is already whirling away again this morning - as I struggled to catch up on routine laundry as well as the extra three sets of bedding and towels. Family over the Christmas period and then two friends over the New Year is fabulous ... but the work still has to be done.

I feel like I'm running a Chinese laundry at times!

However, I managed to get out long enough to walk along the river bank near where we live. By the time I got out the fog had started to descend again but as you will note from the photos above it just added to the beauty of the walk.

The river was incredible! I started on the little bridge over a natural weir, the noise of the water was almost deafening as the melting snow swelled its normal levels. Yet, within a few yards it had changed to a scene of utter serenity, tranquility and peace. The quiet too was also almost deafening!

Water is such a mesmeric element...

It can be exhilarating and energising...

It can be soothing and restorative...

It can just be plain banal... I'm off to sort out the next washing machine load!

Thursday, 30 December 2010

Isn't it amazing what an impact the weather makes...

For the last couple of days we've been shrouded - and I do mean shrouded - in fog! I'm fascinated by weathers conditions and the reactions they provoke in me.

Fog brings out two very diverse responses in me. The first is one of being wrapped and isolated from the world. It's a warm, fuzzy feeling - a sense of cosseting. I like the sound-deadening impact fog has too. And the stillness is fabulous; so calming...

However, the second response is one of unease and fear, usually when I'm driving or walking through it. The isolation changes from being a positive experience into a more "what's out there" worry... with a tinge of danger.

So much, if not all, that confronts us in life has a light and a dark side.

How we react - seeing light or dark, good or bad - is a direct result of where we are personally, at that moment in time...

The sun has just broken through the clouds! I think I'll go for a walk later!! Sun in the dark days of winter is definitely a good thing!!

Wednesday, 29 December 2010


For me this wonderfully descriptive, modern word always reminds me of a Saturday football programme that I found tedious but that many (including my husband) loved, and still do!

But it sums up rather neatly exactly what I felt as I looked around the garden and hedgerows near where we live and saw the plants that had been frozen solid and then covered in inches of snow only a couple of days ago - if that!

Nature has an amazing way of bouncing back.

But as I looked more closely I started to notice that some of the plants were more resilient than others. Some were delicate and had taken the punishment of the harsh weather rather badly, they looked bedraggled. Others possessed immediate bouncebackability - the state of the parsley took me by surprise! Of course, there are other plants that know they just can't cope with winter and hide before it comes.

The real test will come in the spring when new growth starts, some may not be strong enough to handle that... Time will tell!

We're like that too... some of us handle bitter storms in our lives better than others. We wilt at the time but eventually bounce back, though possibly stunted by the attack.

Some take a lot longer to recover... some find they can never regain from the onslaught...

All need individual attention, care and, above all, understanding.

Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Hope springs eternal!

It's such a funny phrase and yet it comes to my mind on a regular basis - usually each year in the depths of winter when I see something that sparks a glimmer of hope... that reassurance that spring is round the corner.

(Though I'm sure I'm mis-using the meaning of the phrase! I imagine the spring is an action, not a season!)

Yesterday it popped into my mind - quite unsolicited!

I was in the garden - putting food out for the birds - when I noticed two tiny little green shoots in the bare brown soil. We moved into this brand new house nearly 18 months ago and last year I started on a major project: building a garden. (I've still got the aches, pains, bruises and blisters etched in my memory.) The last planting phase was in October when I put in the spring bulbs... and yesterday was the first sign of the fruits of that work.

What was so marvellous was that the soil was truly like the line in the carol - "Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone". Yet these two little shoots had pushed their way through to the light!

Isn't that incredible!?!

The whole of creation has so many echoes and resonances doesn't it. Through all this time of bitter cold and darkness, new life has been struggling beneath the surface.

Our lives can be like that too, I know mine has been... In the long cold days of despair somewhere deep within me the seed of hope germinates and eventually bursts forth!

Monday, 27 December 2010

We all have different perspectives on things.

Compromise is an essential if you are to make healthy relationships.

Our daughter, Naomi, got engaged yesterday. Great news and lots of unforeseen - extra - celebrations! She has been with her partner, Colin, for just over a year but it was clear from day one that they were highly compatible. Next year they will move to the States to live so maybe an engagement was inevitable - but not necessarily.

But what's that got to do with seeing things differently?

We've now met Colin's parent twice, once in the summer and then again yesterday to toast the ecstatic couple. The conversation was focused mainly on "all things wedding"! There's was a throwaway remark that made me wonder whether it was said seriously or if it was in jest.

"Promise me you won't get married in one of those little Las Vegas chapels of lurve"

Personally I think that's quite a fun idea. A friend's son actually did that with Elvis as the celebrant! Their photos were so different! But there were people who were deeply upset.

One of the hardest things about being a parent is allowing your child to gradually "do it their way". To give them the security of safe boundaries in which to make their own choices.
However, when you start to share your life with another the need to compromise, to work out who is going to give and who will take, on each decision is so important.

Planning a wedding is a crash course in all that and more! It's not just the couple who have to learn to give and take, to compromise and concede... it's also the families...

Sunday, 26 December 2010

Good King Wenceslas looked out on the feast of Stephen. Today is the feast of Stephen!

And for most of the UK the snow is "laying round about" though not necessarily deep, crisp and even as for the most part its been around for several days. But the carol is all about the tale of a monarch who set aside his own comfort (and that of his page who got roped into helping too) and went out into the bitter weather to help a poor man.

For a number of reasons, some personal and some through the media, I have been dwelling on "those less fortunate" than myself... It's a real catch all phrase that can often come over as rather haughty but it's worth a little "unpacking" because, despite how bad things are for us, there is rarely no-one who we can identify who is less fortunate...

And somehow it's worse at Christmas and I'm not entirely sure why that should be. Somehow we've slipped into making the festival a celebration of loving families, with ideal gifts and merry-making. Maybe it's because the Christ child came into a family who are always portrayed as being in perfect loving harmony

Then, if you add to that the myth that has built up around the "ideal Christmas" and filter it all through your memory - which is probably like mine and has a self-select facility that only stores the good times - then bingo, Christmas becomes a celebration of loving families.

But life in general and families in particular aren't like that and Christmas day is a day like any other for humanity. People are born and some die. People return to health and some fall ill. People share joyful times and some argue. Remember the Boxing Day tsunami and the horror that unfolded in its wake? Life continues as usual... yet its more extreme at Christmas... and each succeeding year brings back that heightened memory.

However, Christmas is actually about celebrating the birth of Christ, who came to share our joy but - more importantly - to share our pain... who told us that He is "those less fortunate"

Wenceslas went out to find the Christ child

Friday, 24 December 2010

O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie

This year I was privileged to visit the Holy Land; it changed my life.

(I blogged my way through the journey, its called "too birds")

I say privileged because its not something that everyone is able to do, for all sorts of reasons - not just financial. Many are denied through ignorance or obstinance or apparent irrelevance.

The sense of privilege was also heightened by new, lasting friendships and the experiences we went through. I'm sure I will return to other places we visited but I want to concentrate on Bethlehem today.

Bethlehem isn't a little town, its a huge city now with one hundred thousand inhabitants. It isn't still either. For me, it crystallised the tension that exists in that land. The wall, so tall, so imposing, so visibly divisive - shook me. The image of the settlements that ring the hill tops that look down on Bethlehem - remains with me.

The generosity and the graciousness of the local people, irrespective of their personal faith and ethnicity was a blessing that I took away with me.

As we celebrate the unfathomable miracle of God, the Word made flesh, in that place - its a stark reminder that God came into the whole messiness of human life. It's as true today as it was two thousand years ago.

If you feel moved to read a Bible passage check out the first fourteen verses of John's gospel...

... and then ask yourself how an uneducated fisherman could write such an amazing piece if his life hadn't been changed too...

May Christmas be a time of joy and peace for you and all you love!

Little things please little minds...

As I stood washing up in the kitchen this morning, gazing out of the window to take the edge of the tedium of washing up 20+ foil mince pie cases, I was suddenly filled with joy! Across the road flitting from branch to branch in the bare hawthorn hedge were a group of four blue tits! I hadn't seen them for nearly two weeks and the number of goldfinches coming to the feeders has dropped dramatically.
These bitterly cold temperatures threaten small birds and I had mixed feelings on Sunday when I spotted a sparrowhawk on the roof opposite, magnificent bird - but they too are hungry. The clue is in their name!

Now, before you dismiss me and some sort of "do-good-er" nut I should explain my motivation for foil washing and bird watching, actually its borderline bird stalking!

I just think we live on the most beautiful planet. From space it looks like a gem, blue and white swirling patterns, not dense grey clouds of gas or barren dry rocks. When you examine it more closely, as we do each day - consciously and sub-consciously, we see that its even more stunning.

So I'm motivated to try and care for it! If we don't care for the beautiful creation we've been given - who will?

I recycle what I can, as much as I can. I was even excited when I found out that our local council re-cycling centre now takes 'hard plastics' and has a small foil bin.

Little things please little minds... while other fools look on...

But back to the blue tits - the sight of them really did make my heart leap for joy! It made me think of that lovely parable about the lost sheep and the joy in heaven when it was found...

Thursday, 23 December 2010

Some times a whole series of 'happenings' just add up until there is a moment of revelation - or disaster as in the straw that broke the camel's back!

Three things have happened to me in recent days, or maybe its four that have prompted a train of thought.
First of all a card from a friend arrived, as they do at Christmas. She mentioned that as she wrote each card she stopped and reminisced about that person/family and said a prayer for them. Then the very next day a columnist in the local daily paper said something similar, without the praying bit. (I count those as one since they are so similar!)

Then I had an email from a friend who is on the other side of the world this Christmas, far away from family, friends and all the busy-ness that surrounds a European Christmas. She felt remote.

Finally, I was watching a recorded TV programme - QI, one of my favourites. The theme was happiness and they were talking about the optimal number of friends people have. Apparently its 150, which could set me off on a whole different track about social net-working, but I'll resist - this time! Villages recorded in the Magna Carta had populations of around 150 and various other facts were given as examples. The bit that connected with me was its the average number of cards people send at Christmas.

Full circle back to my friend and the journalist.

All this made me ponder why and how I communicate with others. But more than that... frequency often also comes into play... And then - potentially more 'damaging' how reliable am I? Is it OK to say - but I think about you all the time? Or even - but you're always in my prayers? The awful sinking feeling when you've been 'caught out' for being a slack correspondent, a neglectful friend.

I realised last night that I also do the reverse of my friend and the journalist too. As I open each card and read the messages and signatures I think about what has happened to those people, that family. I notice names missing with an aching sadness and names added with joyful delight.

Being a friend can be hard work!

Talking of which, my friend did fly out of snow-bound Heathrow and was united with her family! Wonderful! The niggling thought remains though, if she hadn't have listened to that inner voice telling her to delay her departure to be with her friends she would not have been so lucky...

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Trust is such a funny thing!

A friend's predicament last night started me thinking about the place of trust in faith.

She'd planned her flight back home carefully and deliberately to ensure she was still around for our Bible study group's Christmas party. Then the snow came and didn't stop falling until there was travel chaos and closed airports. She asked us to pray that her flight would go ahead...

Which, of course, we did!

So why did that make me think about trusting God?

It brought to the surface of my own mind the promise I am absolutely and definitely certain God made to me. Which I am still waiting to come to fruition. We have no binding contract. We had no face-to-face meeting. We didn't even email one another about it.

So how am I so certain?

And therein lies the link! I intuited it, I sensed it. I am sure I had a conversation with God through an inner form of dialogue and affirmation by signs. At the end of it all though I just have to trust...

Some days its simple.
Some days its really, really difficult.
And there are days when its verging on impossible...

Trust underpins so much of who we are