Post-it Note Marriage

Derek and Meredith from Grey's Anatomy

Derek and Meredith from Grey’s Anatomy

Every so often my husband and I have a little argument. It surfaces out of nowhere, often over something inconsequential, compounded by factors of little sleep or irritability. And in that moment, although things may have been running quite smoothly – we may have had some good times together lately – we let our guard down and what surfaces to the top and out of our mouths is something not very pretty and not very typical of us. The little argument turns instantaneously ugly.

Something like that happened to us just the other day. It happened to be February 14th – the day of celebrated love, but that’s just irony (and no, we weren’t arguing about anything related to Valentine’s Day). The issue itself wasn’t very important, it was more how our interactions went. He said something, I said something. He responded in a condescending way that made me feel very angry, made me feel like he was treating me like a child. At that, I snapped back with venom, throwing in a swear word to drive home the point about my displeasure at being spoken to in that manner. It was childish, it was embarrassing (especially as the boys were listening in, from the other room). And a couple of hours later we were laughing about it, thankfully.

Still, it can be alarming when you think about what you’re capable of saying or doing in the heat of a moment, and how things can change from peace and love to loathsome feelings in just a short while. In most marriages, a time will probably come when you feel absolute hatred towards your spouse – whether for a few moments or a few months. Everything they do or say may start to grate on your nerves, and you may begin to view them as the enemy, rather than the love of your life. They may even become the person you like least in your circle of friends and acquaintances.(Whilst I’ve only experienced these emotions momentarily, I’ve heard from others for whom it has been a longer term struggle.) How could someone you used to love with a passion become the object of your utmost annoyance and hate?

It’s at times like these that I’m reminded of a poignant scene in a very old episode of Grey’s Anataomy (season 5). As the lead characters’ wedding plans go awry due to a friend’s illness, Meredith puts together a light-hearted series of vows on a Post-it note – as a kind of informal wedding ceremony. One of them states the promise to ‘Love each other even when we hate each other’.

post it note

I love that vow – the sheer genius of the nuances contained in the statement – and think it should be written into every modern day wedding ceremony. It’s kind of funny and ridiculous, and yet so very true. Are you willing to overcome any difficulties and bumps in the road that lead to harbouring feelings of hate towards your partner, and aim to work through them, based on actions of persistent, unrelenting love – a love that continues to love against the odds? Knowing, beyond a doubt, that those negative feelings need only be temporary and that love can take root, be cultivated and blossom once again, through humility, patience and the winning of each other’s hearts– just as it first did in the beginning of the relationship?

It’s a risk to love, precisely because love can be rejected and trampled on. How crucial to accept that love in marriage will be assaulted at times from every angle – by pressures and circumstances, by people or situations, by moods and disagreements.

As I said, it’s surprising what you’re capable of when you’re under pressure. The incident with my husband in our kitchen drives home the fact that I am a flawed individual who is easily capable of sin – even that which I may have despised and criticised in others. I need to be very careful, and realise that it’s when I become smug or fall into pride about how good I am compared to others, that I can so easily fall into such sin. And when you mess up in front of others, in this case – my children – it serves as a reminder that you’re so fallible, which is a very humbling experience. Any masks of self-righteousness crumble away and there’s no hiding behind a squeaky clean image.

Yet, at the same time, such moments can allow you to recognise your own shortcomings and to develop gracious attitudes towards others who are struggling or who fall into behaviours that are less than godly. You can become more accepting of others.

Marriage is a perfect environment for the testing of one’s character – as two distinctly different people living in close quarters are forced to learn to give and take and reconcile their differences to enable some sort of harmony to flow. But simply co-existing is not a goal worth aiming for. Love should be the default setting in the relationship, where each one chooses to respond in love and affection rather than anything less, even when hate tries to bubble to the surface. And in Christian marriage that means leaning on grace and learning to love as Christ loves us. The more of Christ in us, the less breeding ground for hate to fester.

Sometimes we can learn something positive from a popular American TV series. In that one quote, all the marriage vows can be summed up. In embracing that one quote, we’re choosing to let love win.

How Writing Has Positively Influenced My Life

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[NOTE: I am participating in the Writing Contest: How Writing Has Positively Influenced My Life. Hosted by Positive Writer/ See more here.]

Writing a blog has enabled me to express diverse opinions or observations on culture, life or the human spirit, through sharing glimpses of my thought processes or simply commenting on that which stirs, troubles or enthuses me. In releasing those words onto a page for public consumption, I’m effectively setting my thoughts and ideas free. Thoughts that would otherwise bombard my spirit relentlessly.

Every time I hit the ‘publish’ button on a blog post, or ‘send’ on an email containing an attached article, even when I’m aware of its flaws or shortcomings, there arises an acute sense of satisfaction within; I’m allowing myself to think, to create, to be. To withhold the words would be to deny my true sense of self. I write, therefore I am. Articles and blog posts enable me to influence and to respond, to make my mark in some small way amidst the sea of voices that battle for attention. It matters little to me whether my writing is liked; what matters more is that I might have caused others to think, to respond or to care. And if that’s only one reader, so be it. It’s in writing that I discover a deeper sense of who I am and who I aspire to be. It’s in writing that I realise my calling, my destiny.

Through my humble foray into the world of poetry, I’ve learned to bare my soul through the outpouring of heartache or joys, to create a literary dance by experimenting with rhythm and line. Poems are enabling me to grapple with feelings, with struggles, with pain. A minor expression of art leaves its mark when I dare to allow words to formulate a written mirror of my soul. I’m able to look back and see how I’ve developed as a person, how selfishness has chipped away and how I’ve seen the bigger picture and begun to appreciate other perspectives. In dabbling with the poetic, I’m harnessing the power of literary ingenuity – not only to soothe uncertainty, fear and doubt, but also to brighten, uplift and restore.

The poems I write may just be ramblings or simple verses, but to me they are evidence of a human being’s wrestling with trying to understand life, to understand faith. In penning verses, there are no rules nor restrictions; I am the master who can let the words run free – and in doing so, set myself free. Writing poetry releases me from my prison of self and allows me to rise above anything that is thrown at me.

The writing of a novel was a daring feat; who was I to think it could even be possible? Yet once the idea was birthed within me, it would not let me go. The story found me and demanded to be written, even though my inherent laziness fought to deter me from even beginning the project. The muse may have grabbed me, but it was not going to do the work for me! The crafting of my novel took me beyond my natural capabilities and into a steep learning curve whereby all my literary inadequacies were laid bare. It’s a humbling process when you recognise how little you know about novel writing when you actually begin to write. Rather than feeling dejected, I decided to invest my energies breathing life into my story and to accept the need for a professional editor. Although I was writing a children’s fantasy novel, I became captivated by my protagonist, as his struggles and disappointments became mine. I lived and breathed a futuristic story that developed and grew as I allowed it to fill my mind and grip my soul.

Writing ‘The Book Beyond Time’ fuelled a creativity within me that I had not realised even existed. It was never my intention to write a novel; it did not feature in my life’s plans. Yet once my father began to succumb to cancer’s cruel grip, I started writing with a passion and fury that arose within, my fingers tapping away cathartically. As I delved fully into the process and let myself be consumed by its vision, the novel took shape and developed – and in doing so, shaped me. In remembering the words of my high school English teacher, who once wrote: “You have the makings of a writer, I think”, I must admit feeling a compulsion to fulfil the prophecy pronounced over me.

In completing the project and holding the finished, printed product in my hands, I honestly felt that my purpose for being had been realised and that if I died the next day, I would be content in knowing that I had made my mark and left a legacy for my children. Though my Dad didn’t live to see it, I know he would have been proud. As readers have shared personally with me how much they enjoyed the story or how it affected them, I’m left touched by the power of purpose and the value of pursuing one’s dreams to completion. To know that my children have been captivated by my story evokes emotions that are difficult to describe. I may not be a brilliant writer, but I’m developing the writer within and taking risks that I never imagined I’d take. And my life is oh so richer as a result.

A Time to be Kind

Photo: Creative Commons

Photo: Creative Commons

Do you have a moment?

It’s a question that may easily induce mild panic or annoyance in most people. What demand on our time or energy is going to be requested of us? We may smile outwardly and respond, while inwardly gritting our teeth.

I don’t mean those kind of moments – times when others are asking for a favour or want to talk intensely for a while. I’m talking about the little moments in-between the hubbub of activities that dominate our lives.

Our days are made up of everything from eating, drinking, sleeping, washing, work and chores to leisure pursuits, projects, plans, errands, to caring or managing, learning and doing. In between all this busyness, we often find ourselves faced with a moment. A person or situation observed where we could make a difference in some small, seemingly insignificant way.

A moment where we could walk by or a moment when we could engage.

In his gripping life story, ‘Ghost Boy’, Martin Pistorius tells of being imprisoned by his illness-onset disability, unable to communicate or manoeuvre his body, even after his brain functionality had been restored, unbeknownst to his carers. He tells of a time sitting in a car on the street, waiting for his father to return, when a man walked past and smiled at him. Used to being ignored and talked over, just this small, friendly gesture and acknowledgement of his existence restored his hope in humanity, giving him a reason to not give up on living. That one smile made a big difference not just to Martin’s day, but also his life.

Frequently we use our spare moments to read or to look at a screen; I know I like to use spare minutes to read the news or look at social media on my phone. On Sat, while visiting my elderly mother in a busy hospital ward, I was on the other side of the curtain while two nurses were carrying out a procedure on her.  I looked around at the other elderly women on the ward. One frail, white haired woman in the bed next to mum had been sniffing and lightly coughing. Looking around for nurses or auxiliaries, I saw none. All staff were otherwise occupied.

I decided to say yes to the compassion that rose in my heart and to engage.

“Are you cold?”

She nodded.

“Would you like me to find you another blanket?”

Again, a simple nod.

I went to the nearby reception desk and asked if I could take a clean blanket from the trolley for the lady by the window? A receptionist said yes.

Collecting one of the standard NHS blue blankets, I folded it in two and lay it on top of the coughing patient, also pulling up her sheets to cover her shoulders and neck. I asked her if she’d like some water to drink. Again, she nodded, so I picked up the plastic cup on her table and guided the straw to her lips. As I set the cup back down, she summoned up the energy to whisper ‘Thank You.’ My heart melted. What I did took less than a minute, but it meant a great deal to her. No visitor had dropped by to see her during the three and half hours afternoon visiting slot.

Kindness doesn’t necessarily take up a whole lot of our time or effort. Sometimes we just need to respond to that gentle call to action that stirs up within us during unsuspecting moments. I will certainly be grateful if other people visiting relatives on Ward 6 of James Paget University Hospital in Gorleston show kindness to my fragile mum.

We should never underestimate the power of small acts of kindness. Not only is the recipient of such acts blessed; the giver is also rewarded with an enormous sense of purpose. It’s in giving to others that our humanity is revealed and we glimpse something of our compassionate God, who loves to work in us and touch others through us.

The line from a song we’ve been singing at church recently kept resounding through my head later on – “Let heaven come.” When we show compassion and kindness, we experience evidence of God’s kingdom being revealed on earth. That’s when a part of heaven touches earth.

The Power of Purpose

Jo Malone (Photo: London Evening Standard)

I switched on Radio 4 this morning and caught the latter part of their Desert Island Discs programme. Successful perfume entrepreneur, Jo Malone, was being interviewed and talked about her struggle with cancer along with the decision to leave cosmetics giant, Estee Lauder – a move which meant signing a clause to stay away from creating fragrances for the next five years.

She went on to describe a difficult phase in her life, sometime into these years, which stood out from everything else she’d just been saying:

“I was miserable because I had no purpose.”

Malone summed up an issue that affects everyone, not only budding business moguls: that when we’re aimless in life, with nothing to pour ourselves into, we may easily start to wallow in misery.

She then emphasised another crucial part of pursuing goals and finding purpose:

“You need to fail as well as succeed.”

In taking up the challenge to find our purpose, it’s inevitable that they’ll be elements of risk and failures – and yet, these are crucial stepping stones to success – and should not deter us from pursuing the roles or passions that we feel compelled towards.

What an inspiration! You can listen to the programme here:  BBC Radio 4 Desert Island Discs/ Jo Malone

For further thoughts on finding your purpose in life (within a Christian faith-based context), check out Rick Warren’s book The Purpose Driven Life.

In 2015 I will not… fear

Photo by Mihaela Muntean (c)

Photo by Mihaela Muntean (c)

As the fervour of another New Year sets in and everyone contemplates resolutions and fresh starts, there are many for whom the start of 2015 does not conjure up anticipation and excited expectation. They won’t make any resolutions or dare to dream of lofty pursuits; they may be uncertain of what lies ahead. Many just want to get by and survive the year without too much trouble.

As I look ahead to 2015, not one particular aspiration or goal springs to mind for me. It’s as if I’m open to ideas and direction as each day passes.

I’m not against goals and dreams – I think they can be helpful. It’s just that I’m not really sure what I will pursue yet – and as my faith is the most intrinsic part of my life, that means waiting on God and his leading.

The verses found in Proverbs 16:3 and Proverbs 3:5-6 are comforting sources of guidance. Essentially, the verses infer that it’s OK to make plans & commit them to God, who’ll ultimately direct our paths and make the way ahead straight. But I don’t have to make plans which begin on January 1.

Inspiration or revelation can come at any time, and each day can be seized with enthusiasm and giving my all.

It’s good to set goals, but it’s even better to listen to God, who doesn’t work according to my timetable or limitations. He doesn’t tend to stick to the calendar or restrict himself to our human conventions or practices, so I want to be open to his leading/backtracking/ sidestepping or detours.

Flexibility might just well be what God wants me to learn this year. It was while he was en route to heal Jairus’ daughter that Jesus let himself be distracted by the woman with an embarrassing uterine problem. Will I let myself be distracted by other people or situations that God puts in my path, for the purpose of life changing impact? Or will I be so intent on following my own agenda that I miss the plans God has for my life?

Life can be a beautiful mess when we’re open to exploring the alleyways and crooked places where Christ wants to shine his light, often away from the smooth, easy path we would lay out for ourselves.

So this year I’m not going to set myself impressive targets. I’m simply going to be open to where God’s leading me and not fear for the future. There’s much to be worried about and always something that demands my attention. But, for now, that still, small voice impressed upon me these words: “I will not fear for the future.”

Rough Edges// FaithWalk

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I marvelled at the stones beneath my feet on the quaint Majorcan beach, glistening through pure, azure blue water. All shades and sizes, thousands of them swept ashore by uncontainable waves riding relentlessly into the bay.

Scooping up a handful, I examined the pebbles in my hand. Each one perfectly smooth with curved, though uneven edges. There were no sharp, offensive parts.

I began to think about their journey to the shore and imagined that each stone had most likely begun as a jagged piece of discarded rock, thrust into the water and thrown about by the forces of the all-surpassing sea. Stones of all shapes had been continually knocked against  each other until they reached their final destination at my feet on this idyllic bay.

I couldn’t help consider the parallels with our own lives, as we weather not so much physical forces of nature but rather an array of knocks or assaults. Like the stones, we’re often powerless against torrents and waves that threaten to overwhelm – whether those waves are illness, disappointments, setbacks or perhaps our own personal demons.

Wherever we’re at, life’s knocks hurt. But so often they help to hone off the rough edges of our character, making us gentler and more compassionate towards others who are caught up in personal storms of their own. As our worlds collide with those around us, each of us may benefit from the experiences we encounter, however painful at the time.

Our rough edges become smoother as we give up resisting interaction or pursuing perfection, and allow our circumstances and experiences to shape us into someone who’s open to being part of a beautiful, evolving tapestry.

An individual stone is not particularly attractive or enthralling. It’s only in the picturesque bay or vast beach setting that it assumes aspects of magical imagery. Without engaging others or allowing the water of God’s Spirit to continually run over me, my lone, insignificant pebble of a life remains irrelevant, having little impact.

If I let myself be cast into the sea of lives around me, daring to to be affected by those whom I encounter, and in turn touch or influence them, it’s possible for the rough edges to become smoother, without much intervention on my part. The water, which is also an image of God’s Word, can also carry me through whatever turbulence comes my way.

No man is a rock. We’re all little pebbles of varying colours from various places jostling for our place in this world as we journey together. When we start to see the big picture, it becomes clear that God’s intention for us has always been community and interaction – both with Him and the people He’s placed around us.

FaithWalk/ The Truth about Prayer

Creative Commons

Creative Commons

Prayer. It’s not necessarily something that conjures up the most positive or enthusiastic thoughts. The word itself sounds a little dull, while the Oxford English dictionary definition relies on the use of the word ‘solemn’ to describe it. (“A solemn request for help or expression of thanks addressed to God or another deity.”) As a Christian, prayer is meant to be a significant feature of my faith – an opportunity to talk with the living God. I don’t think I’d refuse a chance to speak to the Queen or the Prime Minister, and yet so often I, like many, avoid praying or find it difficult.

Our spiritual enemy doesn’t want us to communicate with our Father, to ask for forgiveness or guidance or help. He wants us to stumble around in circles, depend on our own strength, get annoyed with others, and eventually give up on our faith altogether. He knows that good things happen when we pray and that there is power in prayer – so he’ll do everything to distract us from this very crucial activity that fuels our relationship with God.

But his ways are subtle – just as they have been since Eden, when he put doubt and questions into Eve’s mind. (“Did God really say?…”) He won’t try to stop us from praying altogether – rather, he’ll make it difficult, cumbersome, a burden. We start to think that we have to pray for a certain amount of time every day for it to be of any value; we think our prayers must be long and impressive. We assume that praying should take up lots of energy and focus, or we think we can’t possibly pray if we’ve messed up and feel distant from God. That would be hypocritical, right?

Jesus shows us the opposite of these thoughts. When teaching his disciples to pray, he kept it to a minimum – literally seven sentences (plus an ‘Amen’.) Not a lecture, not a rant, no wordy ramblings on.  I’m reminded that prayer was never meant to be complicated; it’s simply keeping the lines of communication open with God and asking him to forgive us our transgressions. A hearty, meaningful prayer can take 35 seconds (that’s how long it took me to recite the Lord’s Prayer). 35 seconds!

We don’t need to be guilt tripped into not coming before God because of our failures; that’s precisely why we need to go to Him! We need God, we need his light and his life to help us through our daily struggles. And prayer is the door we can open to let his rays shine through and transform us. When we speak out words about His power, glory and supremacy above everything, our perspective changes and most of the small stuff we fret over fades away. Through prayer, I admit that I don’t have everything sussed and that I’m not in control of everything. Through prayer, God is lifted high and I acknowledge my dependence on Him.

A life can be changed and heaven can touch earth in less than a minute. What an amazing God!