Retreat (part 5) Be still

It’s a challenge to look back at the conclusion of my time at Launde from the midst of a busy life.  It’s not that I’ve forgotten what I learned, but the lessons aren’t as easy to put into practise when there are many other things to do.

But that’s alright, of course. When Jesus spoke to Martha about being ‘worried and distracted by many things’ he didn’t actually tell her to take her apron off and sit down next to her sister. He just told her she wasn’t to complain about Mary sitting at his feet with the men (unheard of for a woman at the time, by the way) or demand she come back into the kitchen to help. To choose to sit and listen to Jesus is the better choice to make, but Martha with her responsibilities as head of the household would undoubtedly have found it too hard to sit still at that particular moment  – and no-one would have got any lunch!

There are times and places for things, choices to make, and my final day was only able to happen because of the journey of the days beforehand and the silence and solitude of the setting – basically the choice I’d made to spend the whole week on retreat, facing the truth about myself and God.  However, even from this distance – a whole month later as I write, but seems much longer! – I can still glimpse the precious pearl that I discovered and I don’t have to go through the process again to be able to grasp the treasure in the present moment: it is available right now if I choose it. Are you intrigued? 😉

IMG_3817

This is the view from my window in the Hermitage. Well… it’s what was outside the window with a frame added as a reminder that the world goes on even when we can’t see it…  Yes, I actually did some painting!

But that wasn’t the treasure, and nor was walking across the fields, enjoying the Abbey grounds, taking happy photos of trees and sheep, swinging like a child under the cedar tree (on the swing that hangs there!), walking the labyrinth as a representation of my life’s journey so far and a prayer for what is to come. All these things were helpful and markers on the way, along with the heart-searching and self-examination scribbled in my journal. To face up to the failures and shame I’ve carried and the grief that doesn’t go away, yet realise once more that God knows, accepts and embraces me along with all that – and that I can actually forgive and accept myself too! – was major.

But it was this poem by Anne Lewin that gave me the key I needed:

Screen Shot 2018-09-26 at 11.53.47

To see a kingfisher – be there and wait. Be still. To pray – be there and wait. Be still. ‘Seeing or not seeing ceases to matter, you have been prepared’. Suddenly I got it. The silence and solitude were actually guides into what I really needed, which was stillness

It all makes sense now. It’s so simple. BE. STILL. and KNOW. and BE KNOWN. I AM GOD isIMG_3818 here now.  Sit still and wait. That’s all. So many words of advice, of prayer. So much desire – but all already known. As is so often said, Jesus is the Word of God, he doesn’t have a problem communicating with us! “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them and they follow me” John 10:27. The important thing is to listen – to be available – to make time ie to be still. Everything else flows from this.

Well – that’s it! The only thing you or I can do now is go away and practise this kind of prayer – however and whenever we can. As I sat still, just breathing – actually with my eyes closed rather than watching the sheep outside – I was overcome with peace. I was back to the Kafka quote in part 2 of this series and filled with gratitude. Or to quote another author one doesn’t usually associate with spirituality…

IMG_3808

Stillness is the pearl of great price that I found – a way to wait on God, to listen and commune without words. It came at the right time, bringing wellbeing and rest after the rawness of my inner journey. But I know that because of the depth and vulnerability of the preceding days the precious seed was able to root very deeply in me and will surely produce much fruit in the days ahead.

So as a final conclusion to these 5 posts, here’s a quote from a random book I read recently, I Saw a Man by Owen Shears. It’s about a little girl who dies in an accident and describes the progress the bereaved mother is able to make as the years go by:

She was a woman shaped by her loss, but not defined by it. A woman who would still extract joy from life, not despite her grief, but because of it”

And that’s where I hope I’m headed, strengthened by all the grace and peace with which I’ve been blessed and these new insights and tools for my spiritual journey.  With thanks to God, Glen and Launde Abbey!

Advertisements

Retreat (part 4) Body and soul

The morning after the night before – feeling better, but not feeling good.  Face to face with the underbelly of my life, the shadow-side, the struggles and failures.

Physical pain and frailty affect mood and emotions and vice versa. Usually it’s aIMG_3807 combination difficult to disentangle. Having had the ‘scab’ ripped off – as it were – I was feeling sore. My mind was full of all the tragedy and loss, my immaturity and shortcomings, the barrenness… moan and groan.  Now I was facing the whole truth of my life. I’d been here before and it can be a sink-hole leading to despair. The point is: THIS IS WHAT I HAVE BEEN SAVED FROM! It isn’t easy to make the choice to start looking up, but the point of the gospel is that God knows we can’t change ourselves and isn’t looking for perfection: that’s why he sent Jesus! I eventually realised it is a form of pride to want to be good, to feel that I am good… it’s a dead-end. Just accept yourself, ‘warts and all’ – because the good news is, God does! YES, I am a broken woman with a stained record, but as in Ezekiel 16 the Lord passed by and picked me up, washed and anointed me, dressed me in beautiful clothes… amazing but true!

IMG_3602Again Glen helped as he encouraged me to focus on things I am grateful for… Thankfulness, that incredible key to life. Some may call it ‘positive thinking’ – it’s certainly about focussing on positives… I have been depressed for years, on medication since Sam’s diagnosis in 2010. My emotions don’t respond normally, it’s hard to feel positive and as I said the tears are very close. But somehow as I started to look at my Saviour and recognise once more His love and grace I found a song rising within – a real response of gratitude. It is all about accepting things, really, having the humility to say, ‘I can’t do it – but You have loved me anyway’.  Jesus identified with us, suffered with us, took it all on, understands – and doesn’t judge us, but shows us the way through.  I had to repent and turn to Him again, and as I honestly did that my mood lifted 🙂

God is only looking for honesty, you know – for the humility that says ‘I need You’. He’s not asking for “sorry, sorry sorry” and hair-shirts and whips and penance, but just for us to confess, own up, stop pretending, refuse to hide and cover up. We are called to ‘walk in the light’ with each other too – imagine that! Total openness and accountability with others, no self-protection and projections of persona. That’s what God’s family is supposed to be like, demonstrating love to the world  – with God Himself as the eternal Father who loves their child whatever they’re like, always ready to embrace when his wayward son comes home or his daughter admits her shame. Bad behaviour is forgiven when we repent and enormous loads are removed from our shoulders.  “Come to Me all you who are weary and heavy-laden…” said Jesus, or as The Message translation says:Screen Shot 2018-09-22 at 08.48.17

img_3585.jpg
a sky full of swooping swallows. Light, joy and clarity – and feeling small

Having faced the whole truth and gone through my low point I rediscovered the grace of God. It was time to stop navel-gazing and look up. Time to change some bad habits too – which is what repentance is – ‘turn round and change your ways’. My physical exhaustion, aches and pains had been improving as I was actually resting. I realised my back pain was so much better that I hadn’t had to take any painkillers for it – just through resting. Which meant that all the pushing through and keeping going had made it a lot worse. Which meant that for the past 2 months I had been pretty stupid, refusing to curtail activities to allow myself to heal, not looking after myself properly!  Perhaps this is another symptom of pride, not accepting the limitations of ageing, insisting we can still do what we did when we were young…   Seems to me getting older is all about learning to die by degrees – to let go, accept loss, yield.

But at last I was at peace, body and soul, no longer weeping or striving, able to hold in tension both sides of my story, the terrible losses and difficulties and the redemptive grace and blessings. I was sobered but relieved to be completely known yet utterly accepted and loved. I had even been able to make some practical lifestyle decisions, straight paths for my feet’ for the coming months. I wouldn’t have missed this rediscovery of salvation – setting straight my crookedness and refocussing my faith – for anything.

And there were still another 24 hours to go!

 

 

Retreat (part 3) Deeper, much deeper

IMG_3588 2

One quiet day away from everyday life can be like giving oneself a gift – time to breathe and think, to evaluate and see things afresh. It is surprising how much can happen in 6-8 hours. BUT to stay in an isolated place for a number of days is on a different level entirely. You embark on a journey – an internal journey – which can lead much deeper, into motives, past hurts, hidden issues and buried desires.

Not many of us want to take that journey, but as Ignatian Spirituality teaches, it leads to our heart, where God is, waiting to love us.  I love this idea. With a finite number of years left I really want to find out who I really am and what I was made for. I have accomplished a lot in my 60+ years and am proud of and satisfied with that, but because of my mother’s death and the difficult years leading up to it, I don’t remember a joyful, affection-filled childhood that affirmed me in love. So I feel as if I have missed the essential centre of things, not really known that I am free to be myself… and actually, who is that, underneath all the learned behaviour? If God is waiting to meet me there, I’m fully set on the journey to find Abba/Amma!

As I sat in the chair to talk to Glen I wanted to try to relay my story and my desire as to a confidante. Reading what I’d written in answer to his prompts about the life of Jesus felt a bit like showing your book to teacher to be marked – except of course there are no right or wrong answers. But as I finished he asked only one question. It was as if I had created a beautifully decorated pie-crust and shown him that – and he stuck a knife underneath and lifted it off to reveal what was really inside.

What do you do with the grief?

IMG_3599

There is no escape. The ocean of tears is right below the surface. One touch on the swollen membrane that holds them, one brush with care or sympathy, the sight of a young man with curly hair slouching down the street, the sudden yearning that comes out of nowhere, the sight of healthy young men going about their lives, a happy family of four sitting in a restaurant, a film he would have loved, the thought, “I could tell Sam that… oh”, the lack of a son…  and the tears leak. There is only weeping or coping, the waves that come and go, distractions and when to give in to the pain. And a future hope to choose to hold onto…

This is who I am now – a bereaved mother. It is not all I am and I am working hard to develop other aspects of my life. We have one lovely grown-up daughter, but no extended family of in-laws or grandchildren to keep me busy, and I don’t go out to work. I stay in to work! I love looking after my 2 homes – we have a whole other life in Brittany in France.  We travel to Sicily annually to visit friends there and also the Isles of Scilly because that’s where my heart lives, along with my only happy childhood memories.

It’s turning into another summary, isn’t it? But like Paul, it may be foolish but I have to continue – perhaps to persuade myself of all I’ve done to overcome the essential grief of a motherless child, or to identify my gifts or blessings in gratitude to put on the scales opposite the loss of our son… I have to shine hope, not sink in black despair.

IMG_3605
the stricken tree is sprouting again!

I’ve always taken photographs and have a blog where I post some that are quite good 😉 Over the past few years I have been focussing on developing my creative side, with some painting and pottery classes – wanting to play as children play, to let go and use my imagination. I have been part of a group in the city who write poetry and some of them are not too bad 😉 and I have an online poetry partner who provokes me regularly.  I have to confess and not deny, I am a writer (not wannabe, not will be!) I am a faithful friend and well-loved by many people. Martin and I have been married for 36 years this month and we have a busy social life and full calendar..

All these tasty things are the delicious meat and vegetables in my truly blessed and wholesome pie – but the grief is the gravy.

Glen’s gentle prod – which was really God’s – sent me in tears back to square one. All he did was point out the obvious to any observer: sometimes I am too brave, too focussed on being positive to see the truth about my life.  As you see from my defensive list above, I am determined to find a way to continue living. Yet the loss and mourning cannot just be ignored…

It then became a reminder that a pie badly needs a pie dish! Whenever we stop after running on adrenaline – as we so often are when juggling multiple tasks and deadlines – our body reacts as the hormone drains away and we slump. If you have ever been ill for the first few days of a longed-for holiday it is probably related to this.  My body has had more than it’s share of aches and pains this summer and I had been ill with a tummy bug the day before driving to Launde.  That afternoon along with the emotional storm, the illness returned. I was utterly physically and emotionally exhausted and simply took myself to bed without dinner. Rather than crying all night I buried myself in a new book (I love crime thrillers!) and refusing to feel guilty for doing something so ‘worldly’ while on a spiritual retreat, left God to sort things out.

Retreat (part 2) Be with yourself.

How many of us make time to just BE? Not DO anything – just keep still, or walk, or stroll, dawdle, sit, lie down…? I think my favourite hobby is ‘lying down’! Seriously!  In the sunshine, in my hammock, on my bed, on the floor, on the grass – it’s what I love doing. Why? Because my body is so often tired and my mind frazzled, that when I am allowed to choose what I’d like to do for fun… it’s rest! Bathing in the sea or having a bath are also way up there – and I’m more than a little partial to aromatherapy massage! 😉

There is so much stress in the modern world and we try to cram more and more into our lives while simultaneously growing older, developing aches and pains and middle-aged spread (it is of course illegal to drive without a spare tyre) and discovering we just don’t have the energy of our younger days. Rather than cut back, say ‘no’, admit any weakness, the pattern is to collapse in front of a screen – often admitting more stimulus into our over-crowded brains – or open a bottle of wine. Probably at the same time. I am of course only talking about myself…

I love life and people and getting things done and looking after my eccentric Professor husband and following leads and connections, ‘making the most of every opportunity’, as someone said. BUT. Who else has had to stop reading the news lately because it is too frustrating and awful and there is nothing one can DO about it?! The global village and social media give us far more to cope with than we are intended to carry.  Hence the rising interest in mindfulness and meditation as a serious antidote to anxiety and stress: a taking back of control of one’s headspace.

Blah, blah, blah – enough ranting already.  Here is a picture of my own personal Hermitage at Launde for 4 nights in August.

IMG_3607

You do not need to leave your room. Remain sitting at your table and listen. Do not even listen, simply wait, be quiet still and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked, it has no choice, it will roll in ecstasy at your feet.                                                                                                                                              Franz Kafka
I knew the theory. If we don’t take time to simply ‘kick the leaves’ as Gerald Coates used to put it, we’ll never be quiet enough to listen to ourselves, let alone God. Of course it does require courage, to trust that when you are stripped back to basics you will findIMG_3611 something at the core – to actually believe what Kafka says, amazing as that sounds. Whether walking in nature or silent in a room, by taking time out we can begin to understand the difference between living life as a reaction to what is thrown at us from the outside and living out of a response to what rises on the inside, an expression of who we really are.  I love the idea of “giving the imagination room to play in the field of time”  which is from The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, about releasing one’s inner creativity.  Artistic pursuits IMG_3591definitely have a part to play, helping release what is inside us. At the very least it can be as simple as what Spike Milligan said about the sure-fire cure for seasickness – perhaps we could substitute upset and turmoil of many kinds? “Sit under a tree”!

After meeting the other 7 people on the retreat and the director – a retired priest who would meet us individually for 30 minutes each day to give guidance – the silence began. No talking, and my time (apart from meals eaten with the others but in silence) was my own.  Where to begin? I made my base in the Hermitage and had a cup of tea… I took out my large notebook and started to write stuff I was thinking – always a great way to process if you’re not really a thinker (I’m a feeler) and possibly an extrovert with nobody actually listening to bounce things off. Thinkers and introverts undoubtedly do things differently! Soon it was dinner time and I understood why fasting is such a good idea when you want a prolonged period of focus. But this is why monks had community meals and activities even in the midst of silence: we were alone but part of something, on our journeys together –  and that was good too.

Screen Shot 2018-09-12 at 18.44.42
Jesus among the elders when he was 12

Glen, our director, had asked us to consider the life of Jesus as a starting point: 4 aspects which we might find resonating with our own lives or experiences in some way: ie, his birth, when he was 12 years old, when he was 27 years old – approaching the time for his ministry, and the circumstances of his passion and death – with the promise of resurrection. What aspects of beginnings, endings, identity and calling were coming up in our own lives?

I personally love Biblical narratives, the things we can learn from the characters of Scripture and their journeys: I have often identified with Jacob wrestling with God, Elijah running away to the cave or Hannah giving up her son to Eli the priest. Jesus is a good starting point for a Christian retreat! But why did Glen say 12 and 27?! 12 and 27.  I was 12 years old when my mother died. My son was 27 years old when he died.

So I was in at the deep end.  I needed to make a start and have something to say to Glen when we met, so as is my habit I began looking back at my life’s journey, writing a review of the cycles of change and growth since I met Jesus when I was 12, the things I’d been called to and involved with over the years, and the ending that occurred when Sam was first diagnosed and then died. It helps to make sense of things when we can see the path and understand where it’s been leading. I’d blogged extensively on all these things for years and also specifically did this when I turned 60 so it wasn’t new to me, but this was the first time I realised that major changes had occurred every 10 years since I was 12 in 1969 and that the latest 10 years of caring for and grieving Sam will be ‘complete’ in 2019!

So I did feel feel hopeful as I went to share my overview with Glen at midday on Tuesday. But… I have once more written quite enough, so you’ll have to wait for what happened next: further on and further in. Sorry! 😉

Retreat. What?! Where?

I’d booked it months ago – it just seemed like a good idea at the time. But when the week came round I simply couldn’t wait to get away. How long has it been since I went away alone, to stay in a room on my own, with no responsibility for anyone but myself, and nothing I had to do – except whatever I wanted to do? No cooking or laundry or tidying up after someone else – a holiday just for me. In fact, a ‘holy day’ or three, at a beautiful Christian retreat centre in rural Leicestershire, Now owned and run by the Anglican dioceses of Leicester and Peterborough and providing all sorts of courses and retreats as well as B&B accommodation and meals for anyone passing by…
.
What is it?
.
retreat
verb – to change one’s mind or plans as a result of criticism or difficulty
synonyms: change one’s decision, change one’s mind, change one’s attitude, change one’s plans; back down, climb down, do a U-turn, backtrackback-pedal, row back, retractreconsider, eat one’s words, eat humble pie, give in, concede defeat, shift one’s ground; 

do an about-turn
noun
an act of moving back or withdrawing
synonyms: withdrawal, pulling backflight

I love to start at the beginning and what’s a better foundation than the definition of a word? RETREAT.

I went on one. I did one. Is it a verb or a noun? Both. Leaving out the military aspect, which is all about failure and losing, the online dictionary gives these interpretations… which I find very interesting after the fact, especially the synonyms under the verb about changing, reconsidering and giving in 😉 But I wasn’t really retreating from criticism or difficulty – more from a too busy life. I was in need of a change, a break, time for myself.  So yes, it was an act of withdrawing and pulling back and though it was challenging it was also very restful!

Perhaps the dictionary should include this aspect of ‘retreat’! It’s so necessary in our modern world. I can’t help thinking of the French word ‘retraite’ – which is mostly used to mean retirement from work: one takes ‘la retraite’. But their online dictionary does at least include these other ways of defining the word:

Screen Shot 2018-09-09 at 12.34.03

1 – the action of retiring from a place or activity – retiring oneself, a verb. 2 is the one about finishing work but again, 3 is a ‘moment of contemplation and 4 is also a noun, a place where one can retire – to meditate, rest or resource oneself. Perfect – that’s what I mean. Armies and architecture not necessary.

Though I did have some lovely Tudor architecture to look at on my retreat.

This is  where: Launde Abbey

Screen Shot 2018-09-09 at 12.57.26

 

It has an auspicious history as an Augustinian Priory founded in 1119 and dissolved by Thomas Cromwell himself on behalf of Henry VIII. He reputedly noted at the time, Screen Shot 2018-09-09 at 13.13.13‘Launde is mine’ before going on to buy it for £1500. But he was executed by his monarch and it was his son Gregory who completed the building of the manor house and lived there with his family from 1540 until his death.

A place like this has a long history and a spiritual history as well. The chapel at Launde has been used for regular daily prayers for hundreds of years and has a special atmosphere, as do the grounds. The house is surrounded by fields of sheep and many individual oaks, with large gardens at the back containing huge ancient trees – walnut, sequoia, cedar, pine, copper beech – as if an arboretum has been planted. There is a small wood at the rear with paths through it and snowdrops in Spring, a summer house on the lawn, a walled garden, two labyrinths and a hut called the Oxford and Cambridge Hermitage – so-called because prospective ordinands from both places lived in it at one time and now revamped using a Lottery Fund grant and painted the appropriate colours of blue. Country roads run through the fields but traffic is minimal; you are as likely to hear sheep and tractors as cars. It is like being in a sacred bowl under the ever-changing canopy of sky…

IMG_3503

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’d visited Launde a number of times before – it is a gift to live so near to such a place. For some time I have been drawn to silence and solitude and to nature as a way of connecting with myself and God, so early this year I chose a week long ‘individually guided’ silent retreat in the ‘quiet month’ of August, and specifically asked to stay in the Hermitage, where I could be alone and away from the main house.

I didn’t know what would happen, what would be required, how I would cope with 3+ days of not talking to anyone – though I was actually looking forward to that part and knew there would be a spiritual director to give guidance. But after an active summer and having not been not 100% well for 2 months the planned week in late August came at just the right time and I drove into the Leicestershire countryside with high hopes…

 

to be continued…   😉

Snow daze

Did anyone else feel like me – rather disorientated, if not downright confused? It doesn’t take much to bring disruption, loss of control with it’s sidekick anxiety, a kind of paralysis and uncertainty.  Having to deal with a change in plans and expectations can bring out all our issues of insecurity and it doesn’t even have to be dreadful news, a death, an accident – in fact the big things are somehow easier because it’s obvious what takes priority and nothing else really matters in comparison. Adrenaline comes to one’s aid and people are understanding and kind. But a generalised thing like the weather? Really?

I suppose we thought Spring was well on its way, with the crocuses already peppering the grass with orange and purple, buds on the shrubs and daffs, the sight of sunshine slanting through the branches. 1st March is actually the beginning of the meteorological new season – though we usually celebrate the solstice on 21st as the first day of Spring. Not long to wait! How are the horse chestnuts doing? They are always first to produce leaves... We do conveniently forget that Spring is very changeable, that we can have snow as late as April and ‘ne’er cast a clout til May is out’

BAM! The Beast from the East comes visiting. Isn’t it strange that name has caught on across all the media outlets in the UK? Invented by one of the tabloids and sounds like it, but in the absence of a catchier moniker… that’s the power of social media in our time. I prefer the Siberian Bear, used by the Dutch, or even the ‘snow cannon’ adopted by the Swedes. Perhaps they rhyme in their languages…? It has certainly been a Europe-wide phenomena and a lot colder on the Continent than it is here.

Anyway, we’d been fore-warned and things were already turning nasty in Scotland and the NE. So when I woke up on March 1st, due to be in Sussex by 10am here he was, The Beast, definitely not a Prince under a spell or a heavy metal album or even a Russian boxer or American wrestler, but a polar vortex. We had some snow, yes – not that much in the Midlands actually, not until Storm Emma joined in later on – but mostly the COLD! If you don’t know exactly what was going on in the earth’s atmosphere, Google took me to this article – in The Sun appropriately – which explains it all so I don’t have to 😉 But then everyone apart from us has a TV and the weather people had probably already told you everything.

Of course the transport situation was affected – this is Britain, we’d expect no less! I’d already realised I might have to call off my annual appointment in Horsham, with the  train’s departure stations probably already (literally) snowed under with frozen points, etc. Although things seemed OK here the countrywide news was not good and apparently there was no question of driving anywhere…

Screen Shot 2018-03-04 at 12.42.34

But on Thursday I was booked on the first train to London and still dutifully got up at 5am to find out if I could still make it. Yes, it was very cold, even inside the house… ah, because lo and behold, the boiler was on the blink!  I had to ignore that for now… too busy, too dark: I managed a cool shower. The night before I’d made a deal with myself/God that if my train was still running I’d go, but if it was cancelled that would be a definitive decision. As I got dressed in the dark I looked up the live train information – so far it was slightly delayed – in fact it hadn’t yet left Nottingham.  Put on make up, drank tea, about to bid no-longer sleeping husband farewell – oh, there it is train cancelled! We live near enough to the station that I hadn’t actually had to go out to catch it yet but …now what? Come back to bed, he said. I’ve done my make up, I can’t! I said. And – oh, I really do have to let them down! Oh dear, I’d better text now…

I really should have been very happy at this point – I actually really didn’t want to make the long journey to teach 2 sessions about things I learned over 10 years ago, even if it is important stuff to pass on to the younger generation – especially in this weather! I’d actually been dreading going, not really prepared properly, my head like scrambled egg – planning to wing it! But instead of relief, I felt guilty! And ‘What if they’re upset with me for not trying harder?’ I should try harder – catch the next train, try to make the connections…” But  I might not have got home again with Storm Emma approaching from the SW.  My husband put his foot down.

Of course when I rang them it was fine, everyone understood perfectly and they were very gracious, making other plans for the day, talking about reimbursing my train fare.  Funny that I still felt rattled, couldn’t relax, couldn’t enjoy it – a whole free day when I wasn’t expecting it! I had the freedom children feel on a sudden ‘snow day’ but that little girl inside me had always had to be good and try as I might to change my behaviour, I’m still so driven by duty and ‘doing the right thing’.  I recognise Martha, from the Gospel stories, telling her sister Mary to come and help in the kitchen, there are things to do, boxes to tick. But Mary is making the most of the moment, and that’s what Jesus approves (Luke 10v38-42)

That’s the point really – what I have realised through these crazy days of having to change all my plans: I hate changing my plans! But it is usually good for me – good to be flexible, real, adaptable and more aware of what’s appropriate each day. Good to live one day at a time, not dictated to by a list of things to be done, but by a deeper and more peaceful sense of rightness – and my limitations. This requires humility and the willingness to admit my weaknesses rather than pushing myself on to prove my ‘goodness’ and cleverness.

Screen Shot 2018-03-04 at 12.42.50

Also there is the beauty and the wonder, the child-like appreciation of something out of the ordinary, the free gift of a new landscape. Snow comes and changes what everything looks like, takes away the familiar markers – it’s not surprising we have to cope with a certain amount of confusion and work out how to deal with the new situation. We easily forget that weather systems are one thing we cannot control. There should be a sense of awe, not anger that our routine has been disturbed! Don’t they call it an ‘Act of God’? Submission, anyone? 😉

Looking back I see there has been a lot of grace over these days. On Thursday there was grace to cancel the arrangements. On Friday there was grace to actually get to London (on a delayed train) and meet a friend as we’d planned and then, despite the reduced train service, get home again. An adventure in the snow and great views from the carriage windows 🙂 By Saturday and Sunday I’d given in: our visitors cancelled their trip and we rang our daughter to put off meeting in London until another time: the necessity and sense of rearranging was obvious to everyone involved.

Perhaps best of all, we didn’t freeze with no heating or hot water – we simply lived in our old upstairs flat with the boiler that was still working! Yes, we have two, from the time the house was divided. It felt very strange (and inconvenient, as my bossy ‘trying to be good’ part insisted!) It felt like shrinking back into a previous existence, when we first moved into this property as tenants in 2014… and actually, that too has had a sweetness about it. The downstairs kitchen was absolutely freeeezing and I was so glad I could collect food to bring upstairs to cook! How many people have that sort of advantage when their boiler breaks down?

Gratitude is of course the answer.  I had actually been dreading the busyness of those 4 days in a row, knowing I wasn’t really up for it, but of course determined to keep my word… Having been unexpectedly given the freedom and release from harness I’m sobered to realise I couldn’t adapt and relax enough to really make the most of it. I have a long way to go to allow the child in me to be carefree – to laugh and play. It is a choice to be grateful for unexpected turns of events that teach us about ourselves and our littleness. On top of that, I haven’t felt well this weekend – aches, pains and tiredness, perhaps getting a cold. I needed space and rest to be kind to myself – another thing I find hard. How to change the habits of a lifetime, that is the question!? Certainly recognising the issues and bringing them out into the open is a start.

The sun’s come out today – I can see green grass again and it is a lot warmer. Later the repair man will come and hopefully we’ll get some warmth downstairs and the rest of the house back – normal service resumed. All the familiar plants and borders are back in the garden, the shapes and bumps and weeds in the lawn are exposed and I suppose I feel a bit like that myself! But I do take encouragement that Jesus loved Martha and her sister… (John 11v5) He didn’t prefer one sister over the other, He was just correcting expectations about behaviour. I actually don’t have to beat myself up that so often I am like Martha, ‘worried and upset about many things’  because she isn’t bad – she has strengths and weaknesses just as her sister and we all do – she’s just responsible and has to learn to relax and choose Mary’s better way of approaching life!

I hope I can remember the discomfort of these days and the lessons learned: freedom and kindness, gratitude and grace.

To everything there is a time

 

Screen Shot 2018-02-02 at 12.45.10

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Spring will come again

and all the buried hidden things frozen

in the hinterland twixt life and death

will feel her warm caress and

lift their heads

.

Spring will come again

forgetting winter’s cold restrictions

sloughing off the heavy coat as days lengthen

brightening brown to green and changing

grey to blue

.

Spring will come again

small flowers will appear on the earth

wearing diamonds dropped at dawn by

chasing clouds a promise of the coming

carnival of colour

.

Spring will come again

the seasons do not fail

even your sad weary world must turn

to face the strength and splendour

of the sun

.

Spring will come again

the waiting’s not in vain

 

Sally Ann, January 2018