Mrs. Tim Carries On

Mrs Tim Carries On by D E Stevenson

If you made me walk the plank to force me to reveal my favorite kind of book – British Wartime Diaries/Fiction would be in my top three. (Obviously, if you felt strongly enough to make me walk the plank, you might not let me get away with not being able to narrow down past a top three. This would be sad). It has to be female. I’m not interested in seventeen different versions of The Guns of Navarone. You have to be easily able to imagine it being turned into a black and white film with rubble, Spitfires and rushed good-byes on train stations. I love those films. (Not Brief Encounter though. Blimey, they were boring. I cheered to the rafters when he said he was emigrating. I thought he’d never leave.) In these deeply troubled times, there’s nothing I love to read about more than a woman picking her way through blitzed streets in sensible shoes doughtily in search of the last sausage.

Actually, there is not too much of that here. Mrs. Tim is the wife of “Tim of the Regiment” and during the war, they are posted in a Scottish town. There is nowhere near as much action as there is in say “A Chelsea Concerto” (a personal favourite). There are different kinds of pleasures to be had here. Military wives, serving while standing and waiting, packing knitted mittens for soldiers (how do you get your fingers round the triggers?) and planning Children’s Christmas parties on limited budgets. (Shall they have a toy drum or a dear little bus conductors uniform)?

Most of Mrs. Tim’s life is a foreign land to me. Her son is sent away to school as is the norm. She has servants (cue stern but good-hearted cook) and her younger daughter does not seem to need very much care at all – she seems to disappear for days on end and then appear at random for tea-time.

Mrs. Tim and her pals have lunch together and discuss the war but, certainly, in the beginning, there is no sense of fear for the future. You could never imagine them thinking of say… a concentration camp. The war does break in eventually, People are sent away and then go missing and a visit to her brother in London is a shock to the system.

This book is part of a series and we can follow her life after the war. I probably won’t. There’s too much else I want to read. I liked it a lot though. It is gentle with a bit of a kick. All the shooting and blowing up is strictly off screen but you are left in no doubt there is a war on and it is part of everything – every thought, every plan, every relationship. It left me hoping that all goes awfully well for Mrs. Tim in the future and you can’t say fairer than that.

A Good Innings

It is, as my Grandad once told us in a phone call home from his holidays, like “The Riveera” here. The sun is shining and we can almost entertain the possibility of summer. Hurrah.

I wanted to use this space this week to draw attention to the life of Jean Vanier. In contrast to last week’s news about Rachel Held Evans, this is more of a celebration of a life rather than the wrench of the loss of a young wife and mother. Jean Vanier had had what my grandad would have called “A Good Innings” This is true, partly because ninety years old is probably more than enough for anyone and also because his life’s work falls fairly and squarely in the category “good”.

Vanier famously visited a psychiatric ward and was appalled by the treatment of the patients there.

 “I visited homes and discovered a world of vast suffering that I had been totally ignorant of. In the navy, I had been in a world of efficiency; through my studies, I was in the world of intellect. And then I found myself faced by a world of ‘the cry’ and that has turned my life upside down.”

He began to live with people with intellectual difficulties – not as a carer so much as a friend. This change of perspective – treating all equally and recognising the value of all people – was revolutionary. It is an attitude that reflects directly the approach of Jesus and led to L’Arch (or Ark) communities being set up all over the world.

I think that the current slow but sure changes that we are seeing in attitudes to people with disabilities and also their own sense of place in the world is rooted in the work of Jean Vanier.

So how does it work out in practice? My chances of leaving everyone and going to live a simple life in an Ark Community are slim. But little thoughts and changes where we are now can make a difference. When I am shopping at lunch and cannot cruise through M and S at my preferred speed because an old lady in front of me does not seem to be in full control of her walking frame, I can become impatient. When that happens, it helps to ask myself – what right did I have to set the walking speed to 100 mph and maybe it is me that is out of step? Or, if I have to repeat myself because someone can’t hear me or if someone in a wheelchair gets to jump the queue because they can’t actually fit their chair down the till isle. We need to see these as necessary adjustments, not favours.

The challenges are there for all of us every day. When Aged Parent decided that 5.45 am was a perfectly acceptable time to take round a friend’s birthday card. (“I wanted to catch her before she went out for lunch”) I am grateful that her friend gracefully decided that her response was to say “Thank-you”, then inform Aged Parent that Jesus loved her and then celebrate that fact with a rousing chorus of “When the roll is called up yonder”. (I am, unfortunately, unable to furnish you with the neighbours’ reaction at this point)

On the flip side, necessary adjustments do not mean accepting a phone call where someone shouts “I’m disabled! You better find a seat for me on your ****** buses or else!” Nor should physical violence to people who are trying to help be acceptable. I am also reliably informed by medical people that patients who have issues with the appropriate nature of certain Anglo Saxon words are always politely but firmly called out on it. (Even when everyone is sniggering because they have no idea how Nana ever even heard that word.)

Christianity does not escape unscathed. I have worked at a couple of churches where there wasn’t a lift to go to the second floor and it wasn’t considered a priority. I think that kind of attitude is on the way out now. (Please don’t write in with loads of “I think you’ll find it isn’t” stories – I know there is a very long way to go with this.) Vanier’s attitude – informed first and foremost by his understanding of the teachings of Jesus, is an example and a challenge. I’ll be honest, I’m a bit of a ratbag and I’m not sure I’m always up to it. The problem is – I don’t think I’m supposed to have a choice.

Inexplicable

So Rachel Held Evans died. (Please see previous post) She was 37 and leaves a husband and two children – one of them not even one year old yet. She died of complications from flu. The Internet is full of people grieving for her – people who have benefitted from her sisterhood, her writing, or her ministry. I would like to add myself to that list. There are also the people who have prayed unceasingly for her healing.

There are also people who are putting articles on the Internet along the lines of “How does one react to the death of an apostate?”I will confine myself to noting that anyone who reacts with that kind of sentiment when a young mother has died, may possibly have no idea about anything Jesus ever said. (Disclaimer – these opinions are my own as you well know)

Prayer is a tricky subject. Petitionary prayer even more so. One one hand, there is the “Ask Anything And You Shall Have It” gang. On the other, the “Hold The Things You Desire Very Loosely Just In Case God Says No” people. This is all very well and good but when we seem to have been taught that faith is essential to prayer, it is difficult negotiating how to ask for things believing God wants us to have them and then trying to maintain a peace that God knows best and if he says no or makes us wait, then all will be well.

I don’t think any of you are here because you think that I have any answers. I most certainly do not. However, I have had a wander around some books and a few Dallas Willard sermons and have reminded myself of the following…

There is no such thing as a prayer that hits the ceiling and doesn’t reach God. Because God is under the ceiling – with us – involved, laughing, mourning, training, raising an eyebrow and saying “Really?”. Prayer is God’s day to day entry into our lives, as it is our entry into him. If it’s working properly, it is happening often, in our designated places and times as well as on the hoof. But the truth is that, even then, sometimes things don’t go as we ask and I seriously don’t know why.

Faith is also essential for prayer. Faith that we are heard. Faith that our best interests are at God’s heart and faith that God is not too small and that he is able. It is this faith that allowed Jesus to sleep in a boat in the middle of a storm while the disciples screamed at the top of their voices and ran up and down the boat doing hysterical jazz hands. (This is a perfect picture of how I react in a crisis as opposed to how I should react in a crisis) This was then followed by the disciples screaming “Don’t you even care?” (Also me)

We have to square the reality that not all petitions are answered with the equal reality of a caring God. I didn’t say it made sense. The thing that has made it a bit easier for me is realising that my relationship with God is a two-way street. Obviously, I say all the time that Jesus is my friend but I also have to get hold of the fact that I am his friend. He looks at me and sees his friend. This’s who I am to him. That’s what I am worth. And if that’s how he sees me then I have to try to trust his judgment when it comes to how he cares for his friends

Trying

I’ve had a trying week. Have you had a trying week? I’ve had a trying week. I’ll just share my week. It’s not that I’m not bothered about you and your week. I’m happy to hear about it. But first – me.

Oh by the way, in a bit of throwback. We went to church on Good Friday. I can get a bit religious on Good Friday as you probably know. It seemed like a good church. We can’t commit to anything at the moment because we have no idea which area we will be living in when we move but this place seemed ok. Certainly ten team points for singing “When I Survey The Wonderous Cross” to the proper tune and not some hippy-dippy 60’s nonsense. We are a bit church burned and won’t be rushing anywhere but we did like it.

Back to the week that was. It was a short work week, what with the Easter Monday thing. Then I had Tuesday off as FOW2 was over for her birthday. She wanted to go to IKEA to buy a desk and we are very much “You shall go to the ball” on our kids’ birthdays so off we went. Unfortunately she had neglected to bring any measurements or indeed, a tape measure to check those measurements so there was a lot of standing around with arms outstretched and running from desk to desk trying to use visualisation powers to work out if it would fit. Annoyingly, it fitted perfectly so I didn’t get the chance to say – “Well if you had just measured your room before you came…”

Then, on Thursday night I got a call from Aged Parent “I’ve just called the ambulance.” Cue a panicked rush round to her flat. To insert a spolier here – she was ok and I think it could have been a medication mix-up combined with a bit of a panic attack but it was a trying evening. It was four and a half hours before the ambulance arrived. I’ll just repeat that. Four and a half hours. (To be fair to them, I think they had pegged her symptoms and past history and had placed her well below young people with multiple stab wounds on their priority list). I arrived at the flat to find her “religious maniac friend” her words not mine, washing up in the kitchen loudly singing “And LEAP ye lame for JOYYYYYYYYYY!!!” over and over again. I’m not sure if this was meant to be a prayer or speaking something into being but God wasn’t having it. No leaping was being done at all and Joy was in short supply. Especially from me.

When the paramedics arrived they checked AP over and came to the conclusion that her symptoms sounded like trapped wind and told her to drink more water as she was probably a little dehydrated. As they were leaving, one of them rubbed my back surreptitiously and told me to go home and get some sleep as there was nothing to worry about. Oh you think do you? Let me tell you about my life. I was in bed by 2.30 am which gave me a whole three and a half hours before the alarm went off. AP took their rejection in her stride and next night was heard telling HOH that the paramedic had no idea what he was talking about but that they had said that she was severely dehydrated and more or less lucky to be alive. Hmm.

Then we though we had sold the house but people who play hardball better than us decided not – no more details – it makes me sweary. Unfortuntely, because we thought it was sold, we looked at flats and found something that we liked and now we can’t bid on it. I fully expect it to be sold the day before we are able to make an offer for it.

Also, I don’t know if you have heard of Rachel Held Evans. She wrote a book Searching for Sunday which is an honest and helpful account of a woman losing her faith, finding Jesus again but not really being that keen on evangelical Chrisianity anymore. I can’t say I agree with everything she has ever written but she does talk a lot of sense and has devoted her life to those struggling with their faith. She has recently become seriously ill and is in an induced coma. Her friends have come online and asked people to pray for her. And “Christians” have come back with phrases like “I’ll pray for her – I’ll pray that she repents!” JUST GO AWAY WILL YOU! Is that seriously an attitude you can ever EVER see Jesus supporting?

On top of all that, Manchester United can’t buy a win and even though FOW1 gamely tries to cheer me up with Tweets about transfers and optimistic predictions, I do care more about football than I should and can get very downhearted. Because of work and other things, we won’t be able to go and see Avengers Endgame until next weekend which means a week of probably unsucessfully avoiding spoilers and I HATE being the last to see anything. Also after lots of family pressure I have started watching Fleabag (Series 2. FOW2 has forbidden me from watching Series 1. “Trust me Mum – you won’t like it.” It is apparently filthy) Annoyingly, I can see what all the fuss was about. It is brilliantly written (I knew it would be) and although I wholeheartedly disapprove (She is trying to get a priest to sleep with her – but there is more to it than that. May blog a bit more when I have seen it all) I can’t help but admire it.

Sometimes, it’s a million little things don’t you think? Comforting myself with this.

I would have lost heart, unless I had believed
That I would see the goodness of the Lord
In the land of the living.

 Wait on the Lord;
Be of good courage,
And He shall strengthen your heart;
Wait, I say, on the Lord!

Psalm 27

Also comforting myself with a DVD of The Way We Were and my body weight in Maltesers which do not weigh very much and therefore that’s a LOT of Maltesters. Hurrah!

The Cut Out Girl

The Cut Out Girl by Bart Van Es

Of the 18000 Jews in the Hague in 1940, only 2000 survived the Second World War. A good proportion of those survivors owe their lives to selfless acts of bravery by ordinary Dutch men and women. Lien, is one of the survivors and her story is told here. She is seven years old when the book begins, a child of a non-observant Jewish family. The author says “It is really Hitler who makes Lien Jewish”. But, even as a young child she notices the changes start to happen, almost imperceptably at first – she is made to go to a Jewish school, she sees signs in parks and on libraries saying “Forbidden for Jews”, then one day she comes home from school to find her mother cutting out stars from a piece of yellow felt.

Soon, her mother sits on her bed one night and tells the little girl that she is going to stay somewhere else for a while. A couple of mornings later a lady arrives at the front door to take her to another family. She has no understanding of the fact that she will never see her parents again.

After the war, when Lien is an old woman, she is visited by the author who is a relative of one of the families who took her in and together they tell her story.

It is a deeply moving and sad story. Despite the bravery of those who sheltered her, danger was never far away and she has to move on to another family as the Nazis close in. Not everyone who gives her shelter is a hero and she has to grow up quickly. Also, again despite the bravery of those who fight to shelter her, the experience leaves her deeply scarred. Life after the war is hard – not so much because of her life circumstances but because of the mental and emotional damage she has suffered.

This is an amazing book. It’s not hard going; despite the subject matter. Her story is so beautifully told, I felt so strongly for her. There are little, amazing stories of heroism and tiny shocking moments of anti-semitism and abhorrent behaviour. With all the background noise we have these days around racism and anti-semitism it does us good to see where these things can lead if they are unchecked. But the main thing this left me with was a sense of a human being; the torments she suffered and her path to peace.