The Brave, the Strong & the Mighty

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The brave are not those who propel their bodies at breakneck speed from coiled expanding rope
Or who neither fear nor flinch from the scariest scenes on screen
The strong are not those who lift great weights or who can hold their breath under water at length
Or who can run a 5 minute mile or build a car or a high tower
The mighty are not those who can scale formidable mountains or rule a nation
Or who make the greatest impression
Or can make a million or maybe tame a hungry lion

No, the brave are those who walk the shiny floors of hospital corridors
Who come face to face with desperation, degeneration or decay
Yet stay and hope or pray
Who make the most of each and every day
Searching for hints of goodness pushing through life’s dirt
And refuse to sigh and walk away

The strong are those who extend hope and healing to the weak and broken
Who get their hands dirty for the sake of showing love, and open
Their arms and eyes to you
Keep hoping
They find meaning in the mess, the madness
Who wipe a brow and squeeze a hand
And advocate for those with no strength of their own

The mighty are the ones who relentlessly pursue justice for the few
Who don’t just talk – but do
Who speak for those without a voice or a choice
And don’t run from hardship or pain, and
Who forgo comfort for the future gain
Of seeing the fruit of love in action
Who know what it means to keep pressing on
When everything’s against them, they find a way to carry on

The brave, the strong and the mighty –
They don’t seem special from the sidelines
They’re mostly under the radar
Without fanfare, fame or acclaim
They just keep on keeping on
Their spirits surging, their hope their song
Undeterred by life’s assaults, they find a way
In the silence, hanging by a thread, they give their all

And if they were to disappear
You’d miss them intensely before they’d barely gone
These are the brave souls, the strong friends, the mighty helpers
Who always think of others above themselves
These are the true winners
Driven by compassion, bathed in light and love
Ever ready to pull others up
They are the ones you can rely on
In your trouble or hour of need

The strong can face any mountain
Overcome it with gritty persistence, with determination
Though they feel your anguish and sense the pain
They will never walk away
The brave promise to go the distance
And always listen
Through the dark of the night
To walk beside you
Through every challenge, every bitter fight
They’ll stay, they’ll be a light
Ever hopeful to the end

The mighty get knocked down
But they get up again

Death & the Purpose of Living/ Poem

This is a poem I wrote for Good Friday and read this afternoon at my son Dan’s baptism…

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Death hangs in the balance
Shifting tentatively between the
Living
here and now
And closer to beyond
towards eternity

He swings
further in that direction
Every soul
Not just the elderly, the sick, the weak, the dying
Each day, everyone
is moved one step closer
To final destiny
Door to breathing closed
completely

As pendulum swings us
nearer to
meeting our Maker

Make the days count
Let them find meaning
For that is the true
Purpose of living
A life hidden in Christ
For Christ IS meaning

Giving up, surrendering, losing
Is actually
Winning

That, the paradox of faith
Dying to self now
Propels to a Future
and a Now with the
Creator of everything

Death is not the ultimatum
Christ overcame cross
Orchestrating gain from loss
Life outlives death
All is not lost

We are His purchase
Bonded, reborn
made new

At Easter it is declared
Death is fleeting, it’s
Not the End, only
The Beginning and
We all are granted
Reasons for living

Life is bonded to Christ
Through this symbol of baptism
The past does not define
Limits cannot defy
Fear cannot despise
Who we are in Him
No force can diminish
Dark Friday could not relinquish
No one can ever prohibit
His power
At work in us

Only in choosing
To die in these waters
Do we find how to truly
Start living

The Spirit descends like a dove
We are transported above
The supernatural becomes the normal
And we are flooded in
His unending
All-encompassing
Unrelenting, sacrificial
Amazing Love

Love that never fades
never dies
When all else fails
Love holds us, Love guides
and keeps us
Through storm and valley
Through darkest night

The imagery of Good Friday is Cross
Blood, sweat and tears
But for the rest of your years, Dan
Good Friday symbolises
Loss of the old life
And ahead with a new, baptised you
Going forward in faith
Set apart for Christ
This is the start of your New Life

Don’t look back
When doubts creep in
Fix your eyes on the Cross
Stay focused on Him
His love is enough
On this path of faith
Hold on to him
Stay rooted in grace
For This is your journey
This is your race

Remember your testimony
Stay firm in His Word
Til one day you meet
The crowned, nail-pierced Lord

 

 

 

 

The Art of Apologising – One of the Best Things My Mother Taught Me

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I could list numerous methods of parenting my mother displayed that were ineffective or regrettable – from nagging about how skinny I was (or, how fat, these days), to moaning about whether I’d been taking vitamins at the slight occurrence of a sniffle. Yet there’s one experience that my mum instigated which has had a profound effect on me as an adult. And it’s in the area of apologising.

I was generally quite a bright and able child at school. Termly reports that came home were mostly pleasing in regard to my effort and progress. My parents had nothing to worry about.

That is, until my year 9 report (the Upper Fourth, back then) – when my form teacher made a scathing comment about my (teenage) tendency to be rude. Yikes, I hadn’t realised that she’d noticed my disdain of her. She was, after all, an unpopular PE teacher – which in a Girls’ Grammar like mine meant that we considered her the lowest of the low, and quite undeserving of our respect. In addition to that, I just didn’t like her. She looked funny and was annoying. She wore unfashionable sporty gear. I certainly wasn’t going to go out of my way to be pleasant to her. In fact, I rather revelled in ignoring her at times and doling out sarky or sulky responses now and again.

My mum was not impressed. She demanded that I apologise first thing the next day. Apologise! To her! I was mortified. I really didn’t feel any remorse, so why should I apologise? Mum threatened some sort of sanction unless I did. (I can’t remember what it was, but it was probably something like being grounded until further notice.)

And so, next morning after registration, as everyone was heading out of class to their lessons, I approached Miss Maddison, feeling totally sheepish and silly. I looked at her briefly in the eye, before mumbling an apology for my rudeness, whilst staring down at my feet. I’m not easily embarrassed but I could feel my face turning red and my heart beating wildly. The teacher acknowledged my apology and I made a hasty exit. It was all over within a few seconds, and wasn’t nearly as bad an experience as I thought it might be.

I wasn’t rude to her again, and actually started to develop some empathy and see things from her perspective for a change. I realised how awful it must be to be in charge of such a snobby bunch of self-absorbed teenage girls.

Since then, this acquired life skill, in which I overcome embarrassment in order to apologise for my behaviour or words, has served me well. You see, I am not always measured in my responses or thoughtful in my reactions – particularly after a sleepless night or stress from children or other outside influences. There are times when I snap, am rude or am unable to contain my displeasure. Just minutes after such encounters, I start to find myself deeply regretting my reaction and wonder what on earth got into me. I know that the only way I’ll ever be able to maintain future contact or relationship with the other party concerned will be for me to apologise. It’s a terrifying prospect – yet wholly necessary, and ever so liberating.

Just a short moment of humility, and the apology is usually accepted, and the wronged person hopefully begins to see me as a flawed, yet decent individual, rather than an absolute, pig headed idiot. I’m loathe to admit that the opportunities that led to apologies in such manner have arisen in a variety of settings, concerning dealings with different types of people – from a stall holder at a market place, to a church leader after a critical comment about kidswork, to my son’s primary headteacher during a meeting regarding a negative incident. Each of these situations could have been avoided entirely, if I had only stopped to think before I opened my mouth; alas, I didn’t. But, each time, I knew that if I wanted to restore any remnant of positive interaction with those people in future, it would depend on me apologising.

And for that, dear mum, I’m thankful that you taught me the importance of an apology. You also demonstrated the importance of apologising for your flaws when you over-reacted at home or responded in anger. If I am also able to instil in my children the value of saying sorry when they really don’t feel like it, I will have succeeded in some small way as a parent.

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.

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.”

Surmountable: Risks and Rock Climbs

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If someone were to have shown me a picture of this rock (without the people at the top) and said, ”That’s a pretty easy climb, you could get up there”, I would have assumed they were either foolish or crazy thrill seekers.

Up there! That looks like a feat only for experts or skilled mountaineers with impressive equipment. Surely I couldn’t possibly entertain the idea of scaling that?

We were on a marked hiking trail in the hills of Northern Majorca. The sun blazed down, a calm breeze blew and we marvelled at the impressive views once we had reached this high point to the right of the trail. After veering off the path and clambering up some rocks, we could go no higher. But we were intrigued by the imposing rock opposite, that dominated the skyline.

We asked some hikers along the way about the route and discovered that it was indeed possible to ascend the rock, yet we were somewhat hesitant. We weren’t even equipped with our proper hiking boots, clad only in trainers, or in my case, pumps.

Yet lurking within me is a slight adventurous streak, emboldened all the more by the childhood years of being denied such risks and thrills. ”Get down!” ”Be careful!” “You’ll hurt yourself!”

It’s only in adulthood that I’ve climbed a mountain, learned to ice skate and rollerblade, jumped off a diving board, hitchhiked (with a friend), camped in the open, and stayed up all night. Glancing up at this apparently insurmountable obstacle before me, something stirs within me and I find myself saying “Let’s do this!”

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The start of the ascent up the rock, from a relatively easy hill climb, passes through this tunnel cut into the rock. At the other side follows an ultra narrow path, perilously close to the cliff edge. It looks frightening.

But it’s all a matter of perspective. As you walk along the rock face, there’s a sturdy iron chain anchored into the edge, which you can hold onto around the most dangerous curve. When you’re certain of your safety, you don’t mind dangling your foot out for an impressive photograph. Take away the iron chain, and it would be a whole different story.

Looking perilous?

Looking perilous?

Not only that, but when you see a variety of faces on their descent, from children to spritely pensioners, it reassures you that others have gone before you and accomplished the climb to the summit. If ordinary looking people without mountaineering gear can accomplish this feat, it makes you pretty certain that you’ll also be successful. If we’d only seen seasoned mountain climbers with helmets and ropes and hefty boots, I know my feelings would have been completely different. We would have undoubtedly turned back.

With those certainties – an iron chain and ordinary hikers – I felt inwardly confident. “I can do this.” “It’s not beyond my capabilities” – were my recurring thoughts.

It’s all about making judgements based on evidence before you, and considering perspectives at each stage. At one moment, I watched my teenage son turn sharply up and along what seemed like a dangerous short stretch, clambering over lofty rocks.

En route to the summit

En route to the summit

It seemed highly risky from my viewpoint, but he assured me it was fine. I was reticent but then I remembered that maybe it wouldn’t be so bad as it appeared.

It wasn’t. It was tricky, but it was doable for an adventurous and semi fit person like me. I just needed to take my time and scramble up the rocks, making sure I had a good foothold where it was slightly steep.

The next part involved pressing onwards and upwards – twisting from time to time, round rocky paths and minor inclines. There was no set path; you just had to choose which way round to tackle the incline. Most people would manage this part of the climb – you just had to keep going up.

Time for a treat!

Time for a treat!

The satisfaction of reaching the top was immense. It called for a minor celebration by eating some Kendal mint cake (which I discovered had lurked in the front section of my rucksack since last summer.) From the tunnel to the top had only taken about twenty minutes, but when you think about what was conquered, it inspired a sense of achievement. Especially for an average hiker like me who tends to avoid anything too risky.

The Rock

If I showed you this image, you’d probably say no way. If I showed you the safety chain, the winding paths away from the edge, and the flat summit with the breathtaking views at the top, you may have a different perspective.

View from the summit

View from the summit

And that’s how you conquer your fears and achieve the seemingly unachievable:  listening to others, following those who’ve gone before you, and telling yourself that it’s possible.  It’s amazing when you discover that something is actually surmountable or possible, simply by stepping out and having a go.  We’re often capable of far more than what we attempt to achieve.  Scaling this rock showed me that there are greater things ahead that are within our reach, if only we’ll take the risk. At church this morning, I was reminded by Adam Bradley that this principle applies not only to the physical realm, but also the spiritual – where stepping out in faith often involves elements of risk and challenges – challenges that are surmountable. Adam said that he’d learnt that faith is spelt R.I.S.K. Like most risks, there’s often a great sense of achievement and satisfaction in knowing that you gave something your all – and that is was absolutely worth it in the end. How awesome that God wants us to exercise faith and take some risks!

 

 

 

Faith Journeys: We’re all in a different place

Creative Commons: JayRaz

Creative Commons: JayRaz

You’ve been dating your gorgeous boy or girlfriend for three months, have just received a phone call confirming that you’ve got the job you always wanted, and you’re looking forward to an upcoming holiday in the sun. Life is good and you can’t help skipping along the street or walking around with a ridiculous grin on your face. Worship on Sunday morning is a sheer delight; you’re just so thankful for everything.

Or maybe you’ve experienced the pain of losing someone close, you’re suffering with persistent health issues and you’ve just opened yet another rejection letter. Nothing seems to be going right in your life and you’re greeted by Mr Happy as you reluctantly slink into the church service, five minutes late, wishing that you hadn’t bothered coming at all. Life is miserable, and you don’t feel like clapping along to some hyper praise song with snazzy guitar riffs.

Perhaps the incredible thing is, that the two people described above could be one and the same person, just 5 -10 years apart. Those statements could more or less describe me. Life can be a rollercoaster sometimes.

I remember it well: We were on a boat off the shore of San Francisco’s bay, overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge on one side and the vague outline of hills in the twilight beyond. Having tucked into a wonderful four course meal, as a live band played  on board, we were then called out on deck to watch an amazing firework display. Hand in hand, gazing into the sky, we couldn’t believe our luck. Here we were, my husband and I, on an all expenses trip that only my husband and a few others from the UK had been awarded courtesy of his company.  The drinks flowed, the sky dazzled and everything seemed so perfect. It was as if we were momentarily caught up in the centre of a live movie. We would return later to our room at the downtown 5* Marriott Hotel with its huge 6ft wide bed and glamorous marble bathroom. Life was good! It seemed a world away from the reality of Birmingham, which we called ‘home’ at that time.

At 22 my life had been pretty stress free and enjoyable for the most part. My childhood had generally featured fun and friends; my teens and beyond marked by opportunities to dive into travel, drama, youth events, and hanging out in pubs. Even my foray into the world of work had been fun, as I found my skill at evening telemarketing earned me lots of money in commission for every appointment I made.  Everything I aimed for seemed to work out; every door seemed to open for me. I was accepted into my first choice of university, met my husband to be on the day I arrived (yes, really) and within a few years we would find ourselves living in New York City. Pretty sickening, eh? I had even enjoyed quite good health up until this time; the only problem I experienced involved a few dental operations.

Not long after this trip of a lifetime, things began to change. I didn’t get the jobs I wanted, friendships were hard to come by, and I noticed that things often didn’t work out. I felt unsettled, but hopeful that things would soon turn around for the better.

When we started a family,  that was probably the biggest change of my life. Whilst five years of marriage had been pretty much a breeze, this parenthood business was no easy feat.  My first son was colicky and difficult; my family were across the Atlantic. Even when we moved back to the UK in 2000, we arrived back to the wettest November in 200 years (similar to what we experienced just this January and February), and then I was hit by morning sickness of a second pregnancy. For  several years, life seemed challenging or disappointing in so many ways. (Yes it’s possible to be married and feel lonely or miserable – even though your partner is wonderful. Feeling constantly tired doesn’t help.)  Although things started to pick up work wise, and a few opportunities came my way over the next few years, I began to suffer from several health problems and sometime later watched my wonderful dad slowly degenerate due to cancer, dying  within a year and half after a couple of surgeries.  I’d never lost someone close before; my heart ached.

Through the hard times I grappled with sadness, wrestled with God and learned to accept that life will never be all round perfect all the time.  Compassion and empathy are developed during the times of adversity we experience. I’ve learned to read people better and listen more, my eyes now opened to the realisation that everyone is at a different stage of their life. Not so much in terms of age or marital status, rather the joy or pain they’re experiencing at that time. It’s good to develop sensitivity in view of that knowledge, and be open to hearing others’ life stories.  That subdued looking person at work or church could be you in a few years’ time. We all go through highs and lows; disappointments come to us all.  It’s crucial to give people the space to reveal where they’re at and what their struggles are.

As I grew and developed in my relationship with God in that time,  I also learned about waiting, disappointment, regret, anger and anguish. I discovered my weaknesses and fought with failure. I began to see situations differently – to not have an easy answer for everything. And I learned acceptance – acceptance that we can’t possibly explain why certain stuff happens in our lives. I finally began to grasp what was meant by that phrase ‘character building’ – which is far from sentimental – instead raw and tumultuous – and painful. It’s navigating through trials and troubles that shape and define you, that chip away at self until you learn to be desperately dependent on God. I basically grew up in my faith at the very time that God seemed most distant.

For me, creativity was also developed out of the tough times. I wrote poetry and a novel during my darkest hours – evidence of the beauty that can spring out from the dirt of a broken life.