Four Gifts

Four Gifts by April Yamasaki

I decided to read this book after reading a blog from Sarah Bessy. She had a plan to read a list of books from people from a different ethnic group from herself and, because most days I rarely have an original thought in my head, I thought that I might do that too. I could have missed it of course but I don’t think the writer’s ethnic group made any difference to this book at all. She is a Canadian Pastor and Professor and apart from finding out that 43% of Canadians don’t take their full alloted annual leave (What is wrong with you?) I don’t think there is anything specifically that was not applicable to everyone.

The book is about self-care. The author and some of the people who have endorsed the book seem to have made the assumption that this is a controversial subject for a Christian. I think I am way ahead of them on that. I think, in these times, when Christians are dropping like flies from overwork and undercare (Is that a word?) looking after yourself is essential. At one point she says that this is a book that will give you permission to take care of yourself. It is obviously written for someone less self-centred than me.

The book is divided into four sections. It looks at

The Heart – overall well being, The Soul – our spiritual well being, The Mind – our mental well being and Strength – our physical well being.

Among the subjects covered are personal boundaries including saying “no”, self discipline, taking a personal sabbath, dealing with social media, sacred pauses and diet and excercise.

I’ll be frank with you (just had a weird flashback to two lads in my secondary school whose favourite joke was “You be Frank and I’ll be Ernest.” It made them laugh like drains. No wonder all the girls in that class sprinted home every evening to make sure we didn’t miss Shang-A-Lang) Anyway, as I said, to be completely frank, there is nothing in this book that I haven’t seen before. Sometimes it’s like when your specialist subject on Mastermind is “The Flamin’ Obvious” (at one point she does tell you that sleep is important) However, it is a very lovely, gracious and gentle book – intelligently laid out and argued with lots of useful advice. Possibly the best way to read this is with a notebook and pen and use it as a study book to work through some thoughts about looking after yourself. I think it is not just to be read but to be used as something to look at areas of your life that may need your attention.

Lent

Oh dear. I wish this was one of those blogs where I could entertain you with tales of popping off to Monaco for the weekend or spending the week on a juice fast to cleanse both body and soul and lose half a stone. Unfortunately though, I have been at work all week and the only place we had time to pop to was a new “The Range”. However, on popping in, I remembered how much I hate The Range – there is nothing there that you can’t get anywhere else – and usually cheaper – and so we popped straight back out again.

The only dietary advice I can share is from the very personable young girl on the Aldi checkout. On examining my purchase of chicken sausages she told me that she had recently done a month long sausage and boiled egg only diet. She had gone down a dress size so it had certainly worked but when she had had to come off the diet, partly because of difficulties in the toilet department, she had gone straight back to her previous size and she didn’t know what to do now. I felt I was letting her down because I couldn’t think of anything to help her and I was also trying to get Aged Parent away from the till before my fish fingers defrosted. Any talk of toilet department is seen by AP as an invitation to share at length about her own issues in that area and we would have never left.

I apologise for the lack of inspirational content.

I had been reading a Bible Study this week. I don’t know about anyone else but I do struggle with doing a study properly i.e. read a bit of Bible and then see what study has to say about it. I do have a tendency to read ahead if it is interesting. Anyway Beth Moore said this

The words “Well Done” are on the tip of Jesus’ tongue. I think he can hardly wait to say them. He’s not manipulative. He’s not moody. He tells us what he wants and he tells us how he’ll respond. He never departs from his word.

And it made me jump, I think because I had not really been thinking this way about God and me for a while. I think sometimes we can lose sight of truth because

a) That has not been our experience – either for a while or maybe never

b) We get used to reading things again and again and they do not feel as powerful.

I remember many years ago reading “The Father Heart of God” by Floyd McClung. The book details God’s thoughts towards us as affectionate, positive and warm. The argument being that this is a natural by-product of the grace we live under.

I read the book and found it, not difficult but unbelievable. Having had little experience of positive fatherhood which I was not going to see until I watched HOH with our children and also attending a church where people were made very aware of their need of grace – but less so of God’s goodness and our position as people receiving grace. I felt that I needed to concentrate very heavily on the “undeserving” part of grace sometimes to the detriment of the loved and secure bit.

So when I read about the God who searches me out (The Parable of the Lost Coin) or the God who promised to never leave, it took a bit of getting hold of I can tell you. But, the more I accepted this. the better it felt. I lost a lot of hang ups and felt more and more secure and, sometimes, almost felt that I had got it.

Yet time passes and things happen. Some of these things are big things and some of them not so much. Prayers don’t always seem to be answered and I am not always the person that I thought I would be by this time in my life. And I lose sight of the truth. I lose sight of the unchanging nature of God and his thoughts towards me. It was startling to read this and how God feels about me, which is a shame I think because I am obviously missing out on peace and security that I am meant to have.

So, although I don’t really do Lent I thought this year I might have a go at a sort of reverse one where it is all about me. (I know, I know – almost diametrically opposed to the spirit of Lent but there you are) I am going to seek out old Bible verses and books that have helped me when I was young in the olden days. I am going to look at things that preachers have said in the past – even those who now are full of facelifts and working through problems of their own in many cases or even actually dead and I am going to see what comes out of that. If some things are truthful and don’t change then they are worth revisiting again no? Feel free to be as self-centred about Lent as I am going to be. I am hoping that unselfish, Lent-like actions will come out of this but if not, I still think it is worth it.

Have a good week

Educated

Educated by Tara Westover

If you have knickers- prepare for them to be gripped. There were times reading this when I realised that I was holding my breath because I was so tense. It’s not knicker gripping in a Lee Child sort of a way, when the last line of each chapter reads something like “and all was quiet and calm right up until the moment that his head blew off” or “as he drove into the night he realised that the banging noise he could hear was coming from the boot of his own car.” (Not that I don’t love a Lee Child moment – I’m not a Philistine)

This book, however, is not like that. It’s a memoir, set in the 1980s-90s. Tara was born to a survivalist Mormon family in Idaho. However, this is not really about the Mormon faith – her family are far more under the influence of their father than they are their faith. He is the head of the family in every aspect, holding sway over them with terrifying stories of families like theirs being terrorised and killed by the FBI or by quoting Scripture which reinforces his world view. A women who answers back is a whore, schools are not to be attended because they are run by “the enemy” and ambition is to be discouraged because the end is coming and all energy must be poured into being ready.

But Tara is different. She is a female but she is clever and the outside world is calling her. I don’t think it is a spoiler to say that she ends up at Cambridge University because it is on the back of the book but her journey there is so powerful and difficult, I found this book very hard to leave until it was finished.

I’ll be honest with you, when people talk about a book being well written, I’m not sure what they mean. I’m not sure I’m clever enough to be able to deconstruct a book and say what makes it a cut above other things that I read. I think though that this is a great book. She is walking a heartbreaking tightrope all the way through where she knows she needs to leave but how far does she have to leave her family behind to find her life? They don’t help, her mother is impossible to read and veers between obsessive obedience to her husband and urging Tara to get away. She has a dangerously unhinged and violent brother and has to be careful not to upset him.

Sometimes you despair of her (“Just go!”) and sometimes I had a little uncomfortable bell ringing in the back of my head that recognised her childhood in a fundementalist church where leaders were never to be challenged and women were second class citizens. My life was nothing like hers of course but I did understand how hard even ties that are bad for you are sometimes hard to break.

I lost HOH for an entire afternoon while he was finishing this which I completely understand. It’s a grown up book and it’s also highly recommended.

Hidden Agendas

Well, there goes another week. I work serving lots of old people and they are fond of phrases such as “I can’t believe it’s the end of February already” and “It’ll be Christmas again before we know it” and we are hearing that all the time at the moment. (Actually, they are also quite keen on loud lectures about Brexit keeping “foreigners” out but we are working on them keeping that sort of thing to themselves as all those debates are not exactly adding to the gaiety of the nation at the moment) It is also difficult to believe that this time last year we were dealing with the Beast from the East as we have eaten breakfast at a cafe by the sea today – wearing sunglasses and pretending we are a bit cool.

It has been a fairly uneventful week. Aged Parent had what I think she would refer to as “a bit of a turn” but it seems that it had a lot to do with her trying to tidy out a clothes cupboard and getting a bit of dust on her chest. Either that or a new, slightly troubling development of putting meat into the slow cooker and eating it after eighteen hours because she has forgotten about it. As I was working, HOH went to see if she was ok and later I found a slightly exasperated message from him on my phone saying “Your mother is like Captain Scarlett – she is indestructable. She is downstairs in the coffee lounge gossiping about how much of a drain on the NHS the man in the flat upstairs is.”

Other than that I have spent a lot of the week being irritated by members of my own sex. There is the newspaper columnist who was complaining about having to give up smoking because she wouldn’t be able to stand outside the pub where all the interesting people are. Well, my Aged Parent has smoked on and off for most of her adult life. Once, when she had to have an X-Ray, they had to send for a specialist from Leeds to have a look at it because her lungs are so scarred, the doctors couldn’t decide if she had cancer or not. Interesting is not the word I would use.

That’s before we get to baby showers that cost £350, 000, female politicians who claim to be adults trolling other MPs or Instagram “Influencers” messing about with their photos making them impossibly glamorous and living lives more exciting than anyone could possibly live – thus making ordinary teenage girls feel even more inadequate than they already do. (HOH says that I am a bit hard on the Duchess of Sussex and that some of the criticism of her is rooted in racism. This is undoubtedly true but £350,000 is a lot of money and her Mother-in-Law – her Majesty the Queen to you and me – keeps leftover lamb in Tupperware in the fridge for goodness sake)

However, I just read an extract from a new book due in March. Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men. In it, the author Caroline Criado Perez examines how much of the world is physically designed for or naturally leans towards men – with dangerous results for women. For instance – she says that there is no mandatory rule that says some crash dummy tests should be on a female dummy. Consequently, we are not sure if seat belts are as safe as they could be for the female form. Gadgets are geared towards men – the average smartphone is 5.5 inches. It comfortably fits into a man’s hand but not a woman’s. Voice recognition on gadgets is 70% more likely to be able to understand you if you have a deep male voice. The standard symptoms for a heart attack – chest pains radiating down arm etc are more likely to be male. A female can often present with stomach pains, breathlessness and headache apparently. Who knew? Not me and this is obviously dangerous. And it has all gone on quietly forever. There is loads of this stuff. No wonder we women can be bonkers. It’s a jungle out there. (HOH would like me to stop slamming kitchen cupboards as he claims it is not his fault)

Does the world drive you mad when you think about it for too long? In a world where there are so many secret agendas, where churches are found to be conspirators in child abuse, where political parties embrace cultures which demonise the poor or certain races – even down to estate agents who engage in sharp practice as a matter of course (Don’t get me going) – I do geninely sometimes feel as if the ground under my feet may not be able to be trusted.

I have though taken some comfort from this verse in Isaiah – it isn’t glib – it doesn’t say that disappointing things won’t happen or that everyone is basically open hearted and trustworthy really- but here is a promise of something good, pure through and through without any side to it saying that despite everything that I or anyone else might do God means what he says. Works for me.

For even if the mountains walk away
    and the hills fall to pieces,
My love won’t walk away from you,
    my covenant commitment of peace won’t fall apart

Reading

Tombland by CJ Samson

This not a book to slip into your work handbag to have a bit of an idle through at lunch. You will put your shoulder out. It is 866 pages long. There was a bit of a moment in our house when I almost dropped it on the dog. He’s only a Jack Russell. I could have killed him.

I have read all the Shardlake books. To be honest, I thought the series might have finished. It is over four years since the last one was published. The series is set in Medieval England. It’s a crime series and the investigator is Matthew Shardlake – a lawyer with a back deformity. Although his back is often referred to – Shardlake refers to the pain he is often suffering and he is subject to a lot of nasty name calling – he is written as a heroic figure. He fights for the rights of the poor and oppressed, he has the ear of kings and queens and is respected by his peers and his friends. This appears to make him very attractive – and, although he is usually alone – many ladyships and queens seem happy to flutter their hankies in his direction. (Not a euphemism). Imagine him as a sort of George Clooney with a cushion stuffed up the back of his jumper.

All the books are based around factual historical people and events and the stories bounce fictional Shardlake in and out of events you will know well – a bit like that annoying couple in the Titanic film. So, in one book he manages to get himself stuck on the Mary Rose at the least convenient time, in another, he is arrested on false charges and imprisoned in the Tower of London. He serves Cromwell and Henry VIII as well as a few random royal relatives with varying degress of sucess.

What he is good at is detecting. He chases serial killers like a dog chasing a ball. In this novel Shardlake is investigating a nasty murder on behalf of the Boleyn family. Elizabeth – daughter of Ann Boleyn and destined to find even more fame by doggedly outlasting everyone else and therefore getting to be the Queen, has called upon him for assistance.

He follows the clues to Norwich and finds himself in the middle of the Robert Ketts Norfolk rebellion. For me, the story really comes into its own here. The historical detail and the background to the rebellion is excellent. The human face of the rebels who were losing land and livelihoods to illegal enclosures is really well drawn. Happy endings are a bit thin on the ground.

This is a stone cold, bang on, page turner. It’s long but you can race through it – not in a bad way. Some of the deaths are really quite graphic and I have been known to skirt over them a bit. Everytime I read a Shardlake I find myself thinking that, actually, it is more of the same and it is true that it’s not a book I would like to treasure on a bookshelf for the rest of my days but, if CJ Sansom writes any more, I’ll be there with my book tokens in my hand and a shopping trolley to help me get it home.