The Making of Us

The Making of Us – Who we can become when life doesn’t go as planned by Sheridan Voysey

Hope deferred makes the heart sick,
    but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life

Proverbs 13

When HOH and I got married, we always just assumed we would have children. Hardly thought about it really. We got married, got on with life for eighteen months and then decided to “go in for a baby” as they say Up North. “Be prepared for a wait” people told us. I waited approximately four weeks before I suddenly realised I felt a bit queasy. My doctor said – “It’s very unlikely – not this soon – and also…oh”. This last little exclamation came when I took a pregnancy test out of my handbag to ask his professional opinion about the big blue line on it. All went well (apart from me being one of the charmed people who feel nauseous until the actual moment the baby pops out) and so, when we decided that we would “go in for another one” we had no reason to expect that this would work any differently. Nine months later, I still wasn’t pregnant.

I understand that, against the years that others struggle to conceive, this is no time at all but I do have a bit of an idea about that monthly feeling of loss, when you discover, yet again, that no baby is on the way. Again, this ended well for us as I fell pregnant (am loving using all these phrases beloved of Aged Parent) but it doesn’t happen for everyone and it is this sense of loss and disappointment that Voysey addresses in this book.

He has documented the struggles he and his wife have had with infertility in other places and this is not really central here. However, we know that he is truly shaken by several huge disappointments and seeks to address some of them whilst on an eight day pilgimage in the footsteps of Cuthbert; a 6th century Celtic monk. Cuthbert seemed to be a particularly saintly kind of saint with miracles coming out of his ears but this is not a book about miracles. Well, not that kind anyway.

Voysey and his friend DJ find the pilgrimage physically challenging – both are limping badly by the end and there are no easy answers here. Since sharing his struggles in other places, he has been inundated with people sharing their losses and their disappointment with God. This isn’t a book about altering these circumstances but about what we do with how these events have left us and how we find our way through it.

I believe that Voysey is a contributor to Radio 2s Thought for the Day on the Breakfast Show. (I tend to listen to Radio 4 most mornings and Thought for the Day there is usually presented by someone called “The Reverend Doctor…. or a Hindu scholar with loads of letters after his name. At the end of it, I can find myself screwing my nose up and thinking – “no idea”) It is meant as a compliment when I say that this book is more Radio 2 than Radio 4. It is an accessible and sometimes emotional read on an important subject. So many people so broken by life and having to find who they are supposed to be now.

I enjoyed the journey, his take on life is very helpful. The little insights into God speaking to him are especially enlightening. I wouldn’t read it thinking you will have a formula to right all wrongs in your life. I would read it to find out that you are not alone and that there is a way forward, even if the final destination is not what you hoped for or expected.

Call to the Kind

These are my “These are your Valentine’s flowers which I don’t give you on Valentine’s Day because no card shop is going to tell me when to buy my wife flowers!” Nice aren’t they? I like anenamoes. (Yes, I know it’s not spelt correctly, it was meant to be funny. Sorry)

In other news, I bought three bras this week and it cost me just over 100 of your English pounds. As I am one down in the booble department I have to have special bras. There are cheaper bras that look like something Miss Trunchpool would wear. But, if I don’t want to look like a 1970s Eastern Block Shotputter (male or female – they were interchangeable at the time) I have to pay extra for the privilege of surviving breast cancer. Rant over.

On to weightier matters. Usually I am a cheery soul. No, I am really. But, I am a tad downhearted at the news this week – are you? I’m not talking about Brexit either, although that has probably released some of the forces at play here. Whether you agree with leaving the European Union or not, I don’t think that there is much doubt that all other business is taking a back seat at the moment. Last week, a lady fell over on one of our buses and was lay on the floor for over three hours waiting for an ambulance. She’s 94, it was freezing. A nice lady came out of a local house and brought her a blanket. There were six other ladies on the minibus who passed the time by singing “Daisy, Daisy” and evoking the Dunkirk spirit. I’m not sure that should be necessary in 2019 in the UK. We seem to be stretched to breaking point.

This week, I have read about Muslims in camps having their organs harvested and Christians in Kenya having their churches burned down. Also the British Labour Party trying not very hard at all to deal with Anti Semitism. In fact – so hard have they NOT tried – you suspect that maybe the odd one or two of them may actually be a tad anti – semitic.

Then there is the most recent by-election in Newport West which Labour won. However, the turnout was 37%, possibly because of how fed up people are of – well everything to do with politics. Because turnout has plummeted, this allows smaller parties to have a disproportionate impact, so UKIP came third. And, this isn’t the UKIP of Nigel Farage and all that mularkey, no this is a UKIP that has Tommy Robinson as an official advisor. If you have no idea who these people are, please look it up. I am too depressed by the whole thing to put myself through it.

I am reading a book about the Holocaust at the moment (The Cut Out Girl – very good) and that isn’t helping my general mindset in these areas but reading it I thought you could understand how these terrible things could happen. How people could treat each other so badly and lose sight of their basic humanity. But, when things are tumultuous and they get shaken up everything falls back down and things are cracked in a way we could never have invisaged. We must be viligilant I think. I am not sure I can do much about Muslims in camps but I’m thinking we are all expected to speak up more, do more, support the poor and make life easier for those that we can help.

We may be coming into a time when to be kind, to say when something is wrong, to stand with the opressed is more difficult, especially with the advent of Social Media and the kind of “discourse” that Trolls are bringing. Even if that doesn’t prove to be the case, many of the most vulnerable in society seem to be struggling to find the safety net that we all like to think that our society provides.

Kindness is hard work and self-sacrificing. Sometimes the people we are kind to are ratbags. But it seems that it is time to do something – bit of things even. I did a little list.

  • Buy the Big Issue
  • Shop once a week for the Foodbank.
  • Volunteer to drive people to hospital (your local Community Transport Operator can help you with that)
  • Volunteer somewhere else. Use your own skills. Add up a column of figures for a charity. Sit with an old person in a doctor’s appointment.(If you put your tiny hand up to volunteer you will be flattened with enthusiasm)
  • When your friend says on Just Giving or something that they are climbing Everest using only their thumbs for the Women’s Refuge. Actually give them a fiver. Applauding your computer screen does not buy any nappies.
  • Ask what your church is doing about loneliness (Sunday services where everyone just talks to their own friends do not count)

You are not idiots, you know this list could be as long as the Internet. You have also probably twigged that a lot of this list is for me. It’s an important time. We need to be doing the right thing.

Have a good week.

Being Human

David by John Hercus and All Is Grace by Brennan Manning

I have read two books – partly because I have little else to take my attention at the moment and partly because they are really good. They are about human beings. All Is Grace is a memoir by Brennan Manning. Born in New York, he was an Irish Catholic by lineage rather than faith. As a young man he wrestled with a drink problem, although he functioned well enough to hold down a job and then attend college before dropping out to join the Marine Corps. He was a prodigous drinker. Most nights he would drink “a dozen or so beers, a pint of rye whiskey every other day and often a litre of sake a week”. His friends called him Funnel.

When he meets God, it hits him like a train and I’m not sure I have ever read such an unapologetic, deep rooted description of a man enthalled by the Grace of God. He joins a monastic community, becomes a Catholic priest, gets married (therefore no longer a Catholic priest) gets divorced. And all the time, his life was marked by persistant lapses into alchololism.

Yet, his connection with God is both comforting and inspiring. Constantly in demand to speak at Christian events, he calls people to pass on the grace that they have been shown and this call reaches a wide audience in his best-selling book “The Ragamuffin Gospel”

All Is Grace is studded through with truth about the way God sees us that I sometimes choose to ignore. I found Manning infuriating sometimes, as time after time it all went wrong but he was wise enough not to be broken by any disappointment in himself because he accepted his flawed humanity. He writes “God loves you unconditionally, as you are and not as you should be, because nobody is as they should be.”

David by John Hercus is a very different type of book but it reinforces the same message. Written in 1967, the writing style is a bit Enid Blyton. (This is obviously not a bad thing). But his analysis of David the man is spot on I think.

King David has always done my head in a bit. All that “man after God’s own heart” yet sometimes I find him a nightmare. Always ducking and diving, some of his behaviour as a military leader might have been acceptable at the time but, for me, left a nasty taste and all this is before we get to the old “sleep with your friend’s wife and, on discovering she is pregnant, try to make her husband sleep with her to deal with the possible “whose baby?” awkwardness and, when that doesn’t work, put her husband in the heat of battle so he certainly gets killed.” ploy. (I think we’ve all been there)

Yet, I think I am at fault here (always a first time I suppose) I think when I read about David, I think of him as a kind of cardboard cut-out. King of Israel, Great Warrior, Gods Own Heart etc etc whereas, he was a human. As human as me or you or Brennan Manning. John Hercus writes about David’s childhood which was messy and loveless. (Have you ever wondered about how a young boy felt whose family had no use for him so spent his whole life alone watching over sheep) He was completely ignored when Jesse was asked to bring his sons to meet the prophet. Hercus writes admiringly about David’s loyalty in staying on the run so that he would not find himself in a situation where he had to kill King Saul. But he also writes about his ruthlessness – both in battle and as a King. He looks at some of the Psalms that David wrote and points out the lack of self knowledge in them sometimes. The passage where Nathan confronts him with what he has done with Uriah and Bathsheba is particularly good. It’s written like a thriller – where everyone knows what David did, just who will have the guts to say so.

These are very different books – different eras – different approaches but blimey – the men involved. And they are men, permanently flawed, sometimes completely useless, sometimes amazing but what they had in common was they realised their worth before God and lived their lives following on from that understanding.

I’m no expert – on anything really – but I wonder if more of us (by more of us – I mean me) were able to live in front of God in this way – open, honest, passionate and unwilling to allow our flaws to stop us being loved completely by God, how much clearer would our vision be and how much more would we be able to achieve.

Mother’s Day

Happy Mother’s Day! Or whatever. The photo – which is a snapshot from a montage wall that we have – is of the offspring when they were still willing to go out and about with us. It’s Tate Modern in St Ives. We were trying to introduce them to “Culture” You can see how well it went down with FOW1

I don’t believe in Mother’s Day or Mothering Sunday which is its real name and better I think. Not really. I mean I’ll take the extra ten minutes of attention that I get and I will scoff all the chocolates – I’m not an idiot, but what is it for though?

Nicer people than me say that it is a chance to say “Thank You” to your Mum. Why? Where has she been for the rest of the year? Locked away in the attic? Why can’t we say “Thanks for being a Very Nice Mum” on a wet Tuesday in February. She’ll probably have more need of a bit of encouragement then and the daffs would be cheaper.

Why do we have to wait until a set date that a card company gives us? Shouldn’t we be thinking of being a bit more thankful to lots of people – all through the year? (I’m ranting a bit now – I can feel it) I have no problem with people saying thanks. That is a good thing. Jesus liked thank-yous. I remember the story where he had healed people and only one came back to say thank you and, as a little girl, thinking that he was being suprisingly snippy about it.

They went, and while still on their way, became clean. One of them, when he realized that he was healed, turned around and came back, shouting his gratitude, glorifying God. He kneeled at Jesus’ feet, so grateful. He couldn’t thank him enough—and he was a Samaritan.

17-19 Jesus said, “Were not ten healed? Where are the nine? Can none be found to come back and give glory to God except this outsider?” Then he said to him, “Get up. On your way. Your faith has healed and saved you.”

I don’t think it was about good manners (although that costs nothing does it?) I think it is more about seeing where good things come from and acknowleding other people’s kindness and also us not being the centre of the world. Anyway, as I said, thank you is good. It is just putting these tags on it – Mothers, Fathers, Grandmas etc.

And it’s the people that get left out. I remember preaching once on Mother’s Day and being exhausted at the end because I had tied myself in knots all the way through, talking about it being great to be a Mum or to have a Mum but we mustn’t forget those who weren’t Mums, either because they didn’t want to be (it’s not for everybody) or maybe because they couldn’t be Mums and also those whose own Mums were no longer with us or those whose experience with their own Mums meant they were glad that they were no longer with them – even if that only meant that they lived a long way away in Kidderminster or something. That’s before we get onto those who are Mums but are dealing with their children being basic nightmares but still loving them etc etc

It’s not that I am against a celebration. I love a celebration. I love Christmas and Easter and, at a pinch, New Year. I like Harvest Festivals and I like the idea of Bonfire Night (Although celebrating people failing to blow up Parliament is probably best not talked about in the UK at the moment – not in the current political climate – don’t want anyone getting any ideas). I like these things because everyone is invited. You might not want to be part of them but you don’t get excluded because you haven’t given birth or because the whole Mum thing is just too painful.

One thing I do like is that, often in churches, they give out little posies or something to the ladies. But why should we have to wait for Mother’s Day? It would be equally as nice to come in one morning and find flowers or chocolates to be given out just because the leaders had felt like blessing people and making them cheery. And vice-versa. Someone once said to me that their pastor’s wife had looked really worn out and she wanted to take her some flowers but didn’t do it in case she thought she was creeping round her. That’s a shame. If you really do want to bless someone, rather than try and get into their good books and receive an invitation to the Leader’s Christmas Meal at the Beefeater, I suspect that good motives will always out and, if people take it the wrong way, that’s their problem. Do the nice thing and don’t worry what people think. (Re the Leadership Christmas Meal – I wouldn’t angle for it. Most of them aren’t all that. Christmas Meals I mean – not leaders -although….)

I think I may have over-ranted there. Sorry. I’m not trying to be a bad sport. Today – FOW1 and I will be visiting Aged Parent who takes Mother’s Day seriously and judges how seriously you take it by the size of the card that she gets. Woe betide you if you give her a beautiful but small card. (There speaks the voice of experience) Although, to give her her due, she’s easy to buy for on Mother’s Day. A big bunch of flowers (BIG), M&S Pineapple Cakes and four cans of Guinness. (Medicinal apparently – although my uncle used to say that it was like giving a donkey strawberries – I hope she never reads this blog)

Anyway, have a great day. Or don’t. You can ignore it if you want. It isn’t a big deal in the great scheme of things. Put three Hob Nobs in your mouth at once and watch High Society. Then think of someone you can buy some flowers for next week. They should be nice and cheap at Marks by Monday

Adventures in being green

You see before you my latest sincere, if not exactly earth shattering attempt at being a bit more green. This is a Lush shampoo bar. (Apologies for the state of this photo. I struggled to get it in a light that didn’t make it look like a macaroon, so ended up with it on the end of FOW2’s dressing table where the light was supposed to be better. Am still not convinced really)

I thought it might be a good idea to reduce some packaging and had heard that these were good so I ventured into Lush. Have you been to Lush? It smells nice. A bit too nice. It makes HOH cough. Also the marketing is a bit aggressive. I had only been in 15 seconds when a girl who must have been half my age came over and asked – “Are you ok Lovely?” Now, call me old fashioned but I think that this is uncalled for. “Lovely?” Seriously? Still, I ploughed on.

“I am looking for a shampoo bar – have you got any that would suit older hair”?

Looks at me uncertainly “Well – it won’t dye it”

Me (More snappish than was strictly necessary) “I don’t want to dye it! I like it! I want to wash it!” Bah.

So we found one I liked and it cost ….£7.50. £7.50!! How many do you get for that?

“Well I have had mine since last September and it’s still going strong”

I did cast a small side-eye at her lime green hair and wondered if a little more frequent shampooing might not have gone amiss but I generously put this to one side and decided to give it a go.

“Come, over to the tills then Lovely”! Arrrgh. I’ll let you know how I get on.

I was also disappointed this week to find out that I have been unable to pass on my frugal and environmentally friendly habits to my offspring. At a reunion meal this week both told me that neither of them had a washing-up bowl in their respective showers – nor did they intend to. Well, it’s your loss. HOH and I reduced our water bill by around £70 a month by converting to a meter and my trusty washing-up bowl water saving habit has been a very important part of that. (That and the “If it’s yellow – let it mellow” philosophy) You try to bring your kids up properly and then this happens.

Aged Parent had a visit from a nurse this week and she has said that she thinks AP needs more support (actually she said that this was important to do because she felt that I needed support as well, which kind of made my bottom lip wobble – as I always think that medical professionals are going to say – she’s your mum – get on with it). We await the verdict from the next health professional in the line.

Meanwhile, her friend had a romantic setback this week.

AP…………J has been on the dating website again.

Me……….Oh, did she meet anyone?

AP……….Well yes but, as I told her – they talk on the phone and then when they see you in the flesh….. well (Shrugs shoulders in “what can I tell you” fashion)

Me……….Mum. That’s quite rude.

AP……….Well, this one arranged to meet up with her. He talked to her for two minutes – then walked off. So she said “I thought you were taking me to lunch”? and he said “I just remembered – I have to mow my lawn” Make of that what you will.

Have a good week