Thursday, December 29, 2011

A Tall Oder For a Short Person

I have been looking for a Bible verse to lead me into 2012. I know it sounds super spiritual and maybe a tad legalistic – but it is neither. 2011 whizzed by in a bit of a blurr. Maybe the older one gets, the quicker these things pass by. I would like 2012 to pass at a more sedate rate and for me to not stand at the end of it and wonder where they days went.

I suppose I could churn out the resolutions that I made last year and the year before that and see if I get beyond January with them still intact. I could think that maybe this year will be different. History tells me that it won’t.

It’s not the New Year yet, but according to the Bible Notes I bought the other day, it’s 4th January. I thought I would get a head start. Once work crashes in, and it will crash, things will get busy, and one or two days may get missed. We are looking at 2 Corinthians – a letter that I am not so well acquainted with. Paul has this to say in verse 12.

“We can say with confidence and a clear conscience that we have lived with a God-given holiness and sincerity in all our dealings. We have depended on God’s grace, not on our own human wisdom. That is how we have conducted ourselves before the world, and especially toward you.” 2 Cor 1:12 NLT

Wouldn’t that be quite something to say at the end of 2012?

This is not a Bible verse to lead anyone through just one year. It governs not just a year, or Paul’s dealings with just one church. It’s a hallmark stamped upon the whole of a faith-walk from start of finish.

• I have a God-given holiness that should be seen in all of my dealings.

• I want to be sincere – but not to be sincerely wrong. (It seems a measure of humility is needed here.)

• I want to put aside my own human wisdom, with all of its successes and failures. (Sometimes the successes of human wisdom are more dangerous than the failures)

• My faith-walk began with God’s grace and should continue that way. (I will not switch suppliers!)

• The way I conduct myself between the world and the church, my home and my neighbourhood shouldn’t vary. (The end of “work Mel” and “holiday Mel”)

If I put these things in place, the other things, will fall into place.
I would say that it’s a tall order for someone not like Paul – but then Paul probably found it a tall order too but did it anyway.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

A Sticky Situation

I made myself a promise yesterday and almost wrote it on a pink sticky so I wouldn’t forget. After work I promised myself to visit the police station. I wasn’t going to confess to some horrible crime, but to ask if someone, a taxi driver, had handed in a walking stick in the last month or so.

There might have been a flicker of de javu in the eyes of the woman behind the counter. I’d asked her the same question a couple of years ago – a different walking stick, but just as lost. Her reply gave me hope when I was asked to describe the stick. It would have been nice if she had done a line-up of recently handed in walking sticks and asked me if I recognised any. It would have been nice to say “The second one from the end,” but the conversation didn’t go that way. My description didn’t match the one stick she had in the locker room. Red, metal and folding was not my stick. There was another ray of hope when she said that things not claimed after six weeks are given to the Highland Hospice charity shop.

I had a parking ticket to see me through the next couple of hours so I decided to stroll along to the shop to see if the walking stick, not the current lost one, but the previous lost one, was there somewhere. The door was in the process of being locked and the bolts drawn when I got there, but pulling a sad face seemed to do the trick. I was informed that there were no walking sticks.


I have done this charity shop crawl before looking for walking sticks, but the Highland Hospice had slipped through the net. I navigated a route around the town taking in the rest of the charity shops, trying to make sure I didn’t cross my path, or walk down the same street twice – quite a feat after a long day and trying to reach the shops before they closed.


• PDSA - new ones, black, metal and folding with pretty red flowers.
• Care in the Community – no sticks.
• Heart Foundation – no sticks.
• Oxfam – there were a couple of ski sticks, white with red flames on them
• Barnardos – no sticks, but directions to the mobility shop who sold new ones.
• Children First – “Yes”, said the woman confidently, “We have a stick!” She scoured the shelves and had to admit that they must have sold it.

As I was leaving the shop, I saw something in the window. It was a hybrid of sorts – a walking stick/umbrella combination. My husband’s friend had lent him something similar on the day of the Unions’ Day of Protest last month. There was no way Joe would have made it through the picketing and marching without something to lean on. He showed it me. It was a little smaller that was comfortable but better than nothing.

I picked it from the window display. It was just like the one his friend had lent him. Smaller than was comfortable but it was better than nothing. The price tag seemed a little steep for a charity shop and I swithered.

“Are you going to buy that?”

I turned to find a small aged gentleman standing beside me. I’m usually the smallest person in any meeting of two people over the age of ten.

He looked longingly at the object I was swithering about.

I surrendered it to him to try out, hoping that he didn’t really want it. They were obviously meant for each other. They matched size-wise and the umbrella part of it was even colour co-ordinated to match his dark coat.

“If you want to buy it…I mean, you did see it first…”

I did want to buy it, but it would have felt like some kind of robbery to deny him his prize.

“You take it,” I said.

I confess that I walked around the block, back around to the shop just in case he decided not the buy it, but it was gone.

A final stop on the way back to the car was in order. My parking ticket may have been good for another hour but the charity shops were closing quicker than I could get to them, and my boots were not made for walking. I decided to stop off at the railway station. We had checked the lost property office just day after the loss of the stick. I could picture it then lounging in the overhead luggage rack on the train from Glasgow to Inverness, blending in with the surroundings, ignored by the cleaners. It could have gone unnoticed for weeks.

“Any walking sticks handed in over the last few weeks?”

“Not recently…but…” The man went on to say that they had lots of lost property including lots of walking sticks. What kind of stick was I looking for? So high, dark wood with a curved handle I told him. He disappeared for a while and returned some time later with two sticks that fitted the bill, except that one was white and obviously used to belong to a blind person. The other wasn’t my lost stick either. It was black metal and folding but without the pretty red flowers. It was very sturdy looking and just the right height.

It had been rattling around the lost luggage locker for a long time unclaimed.

As I jauntily walked back to the car, imagining myself wielding the stick to defend myself against muggers in a poorly lit alley way on the way to the car park, I wondered whether to wrap it up and make my husband wait until Christmas, or just hand it over.

I handed it over. I couldn’t wait for Christmas to see his delight!

A Christmas Recipe

Some poems are worth re-posting particularly at this time of the year. I wrote this three years ago and I still love it! Enjoy.

A Christmas Recipe

Begin with a night, so silent and still
Across the expanse a million stars spill
Cast into the heavens a star really bright
That fair draws the eye, with radiant light

Stir in a stable, a mother with child
A manger to lay him with hay freshly piled
A father to watch them, a smile on his face
Amazed to be part of God's glorious grace

Fold into the mixture a trio of kings
Complete with their camels and valuable things
Empty the gold, frankincense, myrrh
Hearts full of worship and gently stir

A pinch of shepherds, and handful of sheep
On a Bethlehem hillside sharp and steep
Blend in a choir with a heavenly tune
In the warm silver glow of a cold winter moon

Generously spread a dollop of joy
Lashings of laughter for a Saviour boy
Sprinkle with wishes for peace on the earth
Liberally douse with a belly of mirth

Cook in a prophecy, a secret foretold
Wrapped in a promise, spoken of old
Simmer and watch tepid hearts start to glow
Bear witness as mustard seed faith starts to grow

Dole out a portion to each hungry soul
That fills hollow hearts and makes all men whole
A dish to remember as each year goes by
The taste in our tongues no money can buy





(c) Melanie Kerr 2008

Friday, December 16, 2011

£16,000 or Nothing

It has been a while since I have slept the night through. Last night was no exception. I woke up perhaps two or three times. I don’t remember long stretches of wakefulness between times. If I need to go to the bathroom, I make it a policy to keep my eyes shut, and not turn on the bathroom light. I don’t want my brain to wake up so no sensory stimulus is permitted.

Last night, just before the last sleep of the night, I wouldn’t go as far as to say it was a prayer, but I thought it would be nice to have an uplifting dream – a God-revelation inspired one, rather than a Mel-stress generated one.

I dreamt I was sitting with a group of friends having a cup of coffee. The table was strewn with newspapers and we were having a lazy morning, reading papers, drinking coffee and chilling out together.

Suddenly someone pointed out a page of poetry. It was one of the big daily papers, not a local rag. They were honouring new poets on the literary scene.

“It’s one of your poems! You are in the paper!”

There were just two poems on the page, and mine took up a small section of one column – so it wasn’t a long poem. There wasn’t any critical evaluation next to it – it was just my poem. Now that I am wide awake, I don’t remember which poem it was – just that I knew it was mine.

I was aware that the radio was playing in the background. It was one of those programmes where there were two people doing the show. They were singing a song making the tune up as they went along. The words were familiar – it was yet another one of my poems.

Neither the newspaper editor, nor the radio hosts, had said anything to me about using my poetry. I felt that I was owed some kind of royalties. It was my material they were making use of, without my permission.

I got into a taxi and headed off the radio station. I spoke to the head of broadcasting and pointed out that they were breaching copyright laws by singing the words to my poem without my permission. He didn’t seem particularly worried and wrote a five figure sum on the back of an envelope. £16,000 or nothing. I could take it or leave it. If I wanted to make an issue of it I could see him in court,

At that point I woke up. I could still hear the tune playing in my ear and see the back of the envelope with £16,000 written on it.

It felt so real that, I wouldn’t go so far as to say it was a prayer, I found myself asking God whether it was a prophetic or not.

If God could be said to have eyebrows, He arched one rather dramatically.

And said nothing at all.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Skin to Skin Immanuel

I long to see your face
Without the tears
Each time I touch you
I long to see your joy
And not feel your sorrow
Every time I draw near

Once
We met in a garden
In the cool of the day
And walked
And laughed
And loved

I want to speak
Gentle words and
Throw away my angry men
Spilling rage and
Warning words and
Dire threats

Once
We talked in a garden
In the cool of the day
Devoted lovers
Sharing secrets
Cherishing communion

I want to stop time
Stay the passing
Of minutes, hours and days
Lest you forget forever
What life was like
When you loved me

Once
There was only me
And my voice
And my presence
To fill your days
And flood your heart

I want to stop
The past between us
Forever staining the future
I want to stop
The future we will share
Forever following the path of the past

Once more
We will meet
No garden rendezvous
No mystery, no majesty
But skin to skin
I will be Immanuel





Inspired by Amos 9:5 "The Lord, the LORD Almighty, he who touches the earth and it melts, and all who live in it mourn..."

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Piggy Banks and Pension Schemes

On Wednesday afternoon, crammed into the function room of the used-to-be-called Caledonian Hotel in Church Street, a few hundred union members taking a day of strike action, listened to more than a few stirring speeches.

Earlier in the day I had dropped off my husband to join his picket line and we had arranged to meet outside the Calley Hotel at lunchtime. There was a mass rally, speeches and a march through the town centre.

I arrived at the appointed hour and the crowd outside the hotel was just a few dozen. The word “mass” was an inappropriate term. What I had failed to realise was that it was all happening at the back of the hotel, in the car park. There was a “mass” back there. Apparently the Fire Brigade was handing out soup and sandwiches and the outside door to the function room was open.

Three hotel receptionists of club bouncer physique told people the meeting in the function room was full, so I believed them and waited patiently outside for Joe to come and find me, unaware that he was scanning the crowd in the car park looking for me. At this point a mobile phone would have been useful. Joe’s was at home. Mine was in the handbag with a dead battery.

Cold and slightly miffed that I was not allowed inside I used the excuse of needing the toilet to get past the bouncers and slipped down the stairs to the function room. It was full, but there was standing room. I listened to the tail end of the speeches while looking for Joe. He had retired to the bar at this point – I should have guessed!

I have never been on strike before. The last time teachers went on strike I was out of the country teaching in a small private school in Cyprus. I am not sure that had I been in the country I would have been on strike. In those days I was a political dummy. I was a union member but not really convinced my subs were money well spent.

So there I was, leaning against the wall, scanning the crowds for a glimpse of Joe, listening to speeches, some stirring, some not so stirring.

Then, out of the blue, a picture came to mind, a memory of something that I saw months, if not years, ago. I was standing in the queue at the local Co-op. I don’t know what time of day or what I was buying. I dare say there was chocolate involved. The man in front of me was buying a bottle of alcohol. If it was whisky, it wasn’t an expensive label. It might have been a bottle of wine. To pay for the bottle, the man tipped out a bag containing lots of very small coins, one penny, two pence and the occasional five pence coin. It was a fair pile and it took a while for the checkout assistant to count them all. Once the transaction was done, he left with the bottle tucked in his pocket.

I am not the most patient of people in checkout queues, and I might have had a look on my face that indicated as much.

The assistant looked at me and said, “I know him…he lives nearby. Those coins…he has raided his sister’s piggy bank to get them. It’s really sad...” I wasn’t sure who to be sorry for – the man who could not get through the day without alcohol or the sister with an empty piggy bank or even the checkout assistant who became almost an accessory to the crime.

So there I was, on Wednesday, leaning against the wall in the hotel function room, scanning the crowds for a glimpse of Joe, listening to speeches…and I remembered the man and the bottle of wine and the money taken from someone else’s piggy bank.

There was something of an echo. It feels like it’s my piggy bank that is being raided by the big brother. It’s not a huge pile of money – not gold plated like they say.

They do know, don’t they, where the real money is? In the pockets of the fat cat bankers!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Wearing Jesus

Whenever I am in Glasgow I always make a point of visiting the Pauline Bookshop. It’s a Roman Catholic Christian bookshop. You might be able to take a person out of the Roman Catholic church but you cannot take the Roman Catholic church out of the person. My days of first confession and first communion may be long gone but that does not mean that I have ceased to confess or commune with God – I just do it elsewhere.

I picked up a small book of advent devotionals exploring the thoughts of the saints. We are all saints, of course, but these saints are the RC designated ones.

Although it may be devotions for Advent – I can’t wait, so I’m dipping in. Romans 13:11-14 was among the opening verses to meditate on.

“The hour has already come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.” (Romans 13:11)

It’s an advent book, so one would expect passages to think about Jesus and the salvation that he brought with him, but it was the last sentence that caught my imagination

“Dress yourselves in Christ, and be up and about!” Romans 13:14(The Message)

What are you wearing today? I am wearing Jesus.

Jesus isn’t really a made to measure garment so at times throughout the day, wearing Jesus got to be rather uncomfortable at times. Jesus isn’t only gentle, meek and mild – perhaps not even rather than not only. Jesus wasn’t any of those things when he challenged the hypocrisy of the religious leaders of his day. He wasn’t any of those things when he said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan.” (Meekness, BTW, is not weakness. The dictionary defines it as “the feeling of patient, submissive humility” – in Jesus’ case it was the submissive humility directed towards God. It was precisely because he was submissive to God that he challenged unrighteousness the way he did.)

“The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me,
because the LORD has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners” (Isaiah 61:1)


Wearing Jesus is not about being soft and fluffy. Just ask Oscar Romero when you see him in heaven.

One particular encounter during my day was unpleasant. It’s quite possible that Jesus slipped off my shoulders somewhere in the conversation. It was not my best moment and I was left feeling rather mangled.

“Forgive them.” The Holy Spirit told me that if I was wearing Jesus then forgiveness was not an optional extra. As much as I would like to have replayed the conversation, adding the things I never said, and colouring the tone of what I heard and stirring myself up to sow and nurture a grudge – if I am wearing Jesus, forgiveness not an option.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

An Effing Disgrace

“Yobs should not be punished for hurling obscenities in public – because swear words are now so common that they no longer cause distress,” said Mr Justice Bean.

I seriously object to someone making pronouncements about what should or should not cause me distress. Yobs are apparently being given the freedom to hurl abuse at policemen and policemen are told swearing at them is not causing them any alarm or distress.

I beg to differ.

I have been on the receiving end of verbal abuse. It wasn’t a yob, but some woman in a car driving out of a car park.

I discovered quite early on in the visit to see my mum that the wheelchair was too big for the boot. Maybe there was some screw that unlocked and folded wheels or footrests more compactly – but in the end, pushing the wheelchair into town was the only option. She was not a heavy woman, but the pavements were not even, and wheelchair was demon-possessed.

As I said, the woman was coming out of the car park. She was travelling very slowly and I judged that I had time to cross the entrance to the car park in plenty of time, and seeing me crossing, pushing a wheelchair, she would stop. She stopped. She must not have seen me because she acted like she had just performed an emergency stop. There was no squeal of tyres, no smell of burning rubber. She was travelling at less than five miles an hour. She just wasn’t looking, but she stopped in time.

She wound down the windows and a stream of abuse came pouring out. “Silly cow” was in there somewhere accompanied by expletive after expletive. She made a right turn to a set of traffic lights. I was still in view so a second stream of abuse flew at me. She made another right turn at the traffic lights, leaving me with a final stream of insults. It was over-kill. It was unnecessary. Did she really think that I hadn’t got the message the first time?

Obscenities were hurled in public. Just because they were common swear words did not mean that I wasn’t distressed. I got back to my mum’s house and promptly burst into tears. I pride myself on not being silly, or being a cow – but some manic driver had accused me of both – in public!

Swear words may be common and they may not offend some people but they offend me. I realise that sometimes people litter their conversation with them and they really mean nothing. They don’t set out to be offensive. They are more than happy to keep a check on their language if they know someone is offended.

Do you know, I actually wrote a swear word in a short story once? I struggled over the “f” word. I agonised. I sweated. I searched the thesaurus for an alternative, until I finally surrendered and let it stay there – because it was perfect. My creative writing tutor raised an eye brow. I was a nice girl who didn’t swear – but he knew why I had written it, and agreed it was perfect. There are some situations that simply require a well-chosen swear word. They are not everyday situations and swear words should be used sparingly.

Giving anyone the green light to swear at any time and in any place seems to me like some kind of surrender. In some way we have given over ground that we should have held on to.

Verbal abuse isn’t something that we should get used to. It shouldn’t come with anyone’s territory.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

I Blog Therefore I am

I cannot live from birth to death
From day to day and year to year
Where no one knows, or thinks or cares
That I am really here

I must leave footprints where I’ve trod
Deep and crisp and clean and clear
To show a man, his wife, his dog
That I am really here

I have a voice and words to say
Precious views, opinions dear
Like seeds cast on the wind to say
That I am really here

I choose my words and weave my world
Secrets spill to lure you near
Drama drawn from dull days just to say
That I am really here

I deal out details, pictures post
Of people, places quaint and queer
My endless commentary that says
That I am really here

I write the words you want to read
My life, to you, to best appear
So scrubbed and speckless who’s to tell
That I am really here?

I know The Father looks at me
He reads my heart leaves nought unclear
His whispers stir my soul to know
That I am really here

Deeply Troubled and Greatly Distressed

“While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was deeply troubled by all the idols he saw everywhere in the city. (NLT)

“While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols.” (NIV)

The longer Paul waited in Athens for Silas and Timothy, the angrier he got—all those idols! The city was a junkyard of idols.” (The Message)

Now while Paul was awaiting them at Athens, his spirit was grieved and roused to anger as he saw that the city was full of idols.” (Amplified)

Acts 17:16 - words and phrases like “deeply troubled”, “greatly distressed”, “angry” and “grieved” leave me…well, just that - deeply troubled, greatly distressed, angry and grieved because the things that should leave me deeply troubled, greatly distressed, angry and grieved all too often don’t.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Free and Clear Speech

I have a whiteboard discussion starter for a unit on Freedom of Speech. Clicking on coloured boxes reveal photographs of people associated with issues to do with freedom of expression. Most of the photographs are rarely easily identified by this generation – Mary Whitehouse for one.

I try to update it every so often to keep it relevant and interesting. A couple of years ago Russell Brand made it on to the board after he and Jonathan Ross got involved in unpleasant telephone conversations with Andrew Sachs. It is always interesting to debate where the lines should be drawn between what you can say and what you can’t. Last year, we waved goodbye to Arthur Scargill and Fred Phelps took his place. He was the church leader who encouraged his flock to wave banners at the funerals of soldiers insisting that God was punishing America for its attitude to homosexuality.

Who shall I kick off the board this time to make way for a photo of either Dr Rowan Williams or simply a picture of St Paul’s Cathedral?

I confess that I haven’t been keeping up to scratch with what the protest is all about. Interim reports have kept me busy for a while. Protestors have pitched tents outside the Cathedral to draw attention to the greed of capitalism, the fat cat bonuses of bankers and the way in which the ConDem’s cuts are unfair and discriminatory.

There was an article in the “I on Saturday” about driving the protestors away from St Paul’s and how such a move has divided the Church of England. The people that should be saying something – like the Archbishop Dr Rowan Williams – are keeping silent on the issue. Silence is often a bad move where the church is concerned. Silence equates to agreement and approval - not something the church should be doing.

What really bugged me about the article in the “I” was their additional fuel thrown onto the fire in the form of “What the Bible says…” It is never a good idea to rip a verse out of context to make a point. “Render to Caesar the things that a Caesar’s” (Matt 22:21) was never the focus that Jesus was saying. That seems to some to be written in capital letters while the “Render to God the things that are God’s” seems to be in the small print at the bottom of the page!

“If any would not work, neither should they eat” 2 Thess 3:10. The same group of young people that discussed freedom of speech issues this week, discussed poverty issues this time last year. Where do people get the idea that poor people don’t work? The problem is not that they don’t work – they do, and often very long hours in very poor working conditions. The problem is that get paid crappy wages! There is another verse somewhere that says that the worker is worthy of his hire. Pay people a working wage! If you, Mr Cameron, want people to work for their unemployment benefit – stop calling it unemployment benefit – call it a job and pay a proper wage for it!

But what REALLY bugged me apart from the verses taken out of context was the version of the Bible they had used. There are so many accessible versions of the Bible. Did the journalist pick the “New International Version” or “The Message”? In favour of the protestors Proverbs 22:16 was quoted. “He that oppresseth of the poor to increase his riches, and he that giveth to the rich, shall surely come to want.” “Want” what? Recognition? A fat bonus? Beautiful as it may be in language and poetry the King James Version was the wrong choice.

“He who oppresses the poor to increase his wealth and he who gives gifts to the rich— both come to poverty “ is how the New International Bible put it.

“Exploit the poor or glad-hand the rich—whichever, you'll end up the poorer for it,” warns The Message.

It seems to me that by using the King James the writer is creating an impression that the Church of England, or the Church universal, is out of date and archaic, and has no relevance to today’s world, and has nothing to say about current issues that anyone can understand clearly.

I beg to differ.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Lost Letter "G"

Earlier in the week I read an article tucked away in a corner of a newspaper. The Scrabble World Championship in Warsaw had a Thai player insisting that an English player be strip searched to prove he had not hidden a missing letter “G” on his person.

The incident begged some kind of poetic response.

I insist you disrobe
So that I can see
You haven’t concealed
The lost letter “G”

A sleeve or a pocket
I’m sure you’d agree
Are perfect for hiding
The lost letter “G”

Just think of the triple
Word score that could be
If you would surrender
The lost letter “G”

I think you have cheated
The prize denied me
I’ll never get over
The lost letter “G”

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Making the Connection

We have just returned from visiting family south of the border. Normally I try to make sure that the house is left reasonably tidy – I wouldn’t want a burglar to complain that I am a lousy housewife. This time however, there were so many jobs about the house, and workmen to do them (or not do them as in the case of the loft insulation because of asbestos fibres) I just didn’t find the time or the inclination. I still don’t have the time or inclination but the house needs to be clean for visitors at the weekend.

It can be quite a hectic time visiting everyone and we NEVER manage to get round everyone. Sometimes it can feel very un-holiday-like and we miss out on just being tourists, so we plundered the box of tourist leaflets at the
B & B.

In all the years of living in Warwickshire, only a couple of months involved driving a car, so I have never really got to know the roads. I confess that I even got lost in the village of Crick where I grew up. There are one or two new housing estates that have sprung up, with a complicated warren of col-du-sacs. My brother in law sniggered as I phoned for directions to his son’s house. Lost in Crick ought to be an oxymoron, but apparently isn’t.

Joe and I headed out to Compton Vereny - “Warwickshire's award-winning art gallery, opened in 2004, delivering an exciting international programme of exhibitions and events in the setting of a Grade 1 listed Robert Adam mansion located in 120 acres of spectacular parkland.”

The art exhibitions didn’t just begin once you entered the building and paid for your admission but the” spectacular parkland” contained things too. Art means different things to different people. A giant spider web woven out of raffia might make one person think of art – it made me think of giant spiders!

A current exhibition inside the building was “What the folk say”. Presumably upstairs, where we didn’t go, there is an exhibition of folk art – not your classic poses in the usual medium in ornate frames, but lots of wood carvings and papier-mâché objects. Artists had been invited to take something out of the folk collection and place it alongside of an object or picture in the other collections and then write a paragraph to explain how the two were related. One object might bring out a truth about another object that wasn’t at first glance obvious. Some of the connections they made left you thinking “Oh Yes!” while others left you thinking “Duh?”

There was a huge picture of the battle of Troy and one of the main men involved had taken an arrow to his thigh. He was surrounded by women trying to extract the arrow and bind up the wound. An artist had teamed up that picture with a picture from the folk exhibition where a boxer with a black eye was being tended by his trainer reaching out with a cold flannel. Whether the battle is a big one with a cast of thousands, or a small personal one – injuries happen and people step in to try to help.

Another exhibit from the folk exhibition was a very large bullet. It was made out of metal and had ammunition stamped on it. It wasn’t a real bullet, but a kind of cartoon type bullet. It has been placed in the middle of a room dedicated to portraits of politicians. The artist was drawing the link between war and politics. Even on a non-war level words can be used like bullets to injure people. I have seen glimpses into parliament debates and the way words are used – not just the words, but the tone can be very damaging.

The whole thing was certainly thought provoking. One pair of objects that I found quite offensive involved a wooden carving of the resurrection scene. You could see the crosses in the background and Jesus in the foreground and a few witnesses. The artist had chosen to team it up with a knitted egg cosy. The egg cosy was in the form of a king’s head with a crown and it was placed over the head of Jesus. Yes, Jesus is the King – but the egg cosy over Jesus’ head seemed irreverent in some way. The egg cosy wasn’t even well knitted. What is was doing in the folk collection to start with beats me.

I was thinking of the idea of putting one thing next to another where one object reveals a hidden truth about the other object. That is essentially what a parable is – using the known truth in one story to reveal an unknown truth in another.

Swap the art of objects for scenes from the Bible and just a single word instead of the object from the folk exhibition and allow the imagination to ignite!

See in your mind, perhaps, the Calvary scene of Jesus on the cross, the nails, the blood, the darkness and Jesus’ cry of abandonment. For many people their word would be “death” or “defeat” but God writes a different word – “life” or “victory”.

See in your mind, perhaps, Paul and Silas in a prison at midnight, beaten and bloody, manacles biting into wrists and the sewer smell in their nostrils. What one word would moat people write? Maybe “misery” or “hopeless”, but again God writes something different – “freedom” and “praise”.

I never quite made some of the connections that the artists were making at Compton Verney – and sometimes I never make the connections that God makes with events that happen in the lives of people. To make the artists’ connections require me to think like the artist. To understand the connections that God makes I need to think like God.

Thankfully God doesn’t stick an egg cosy over His thoughts to conceal them!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Treasure in the Attic

I have long suspected that my husband has a picture of Dorian Grey in the attic – well not exactly Dorian himself as that wouldn’t really work, would it?

I have not read the book, but I have seen the film where Dorian Grey commits all kinds of crimes, leads a less than honourable life and the picture in the attic takes all the depravity leaving the man untouched and beautiful.

I am not saying that Joe is a low life criminal and there’s a picture in the attic soaking it all up. What I mean is Joe is just as young and handsome as he was the day we married. He hasn’t aged. I tease him about a Dorian Grey picture in the attic – but there is no such picture.

I know this for sure because the contents of the attic are spread across a number of rooms in cardboard boxes of all shapes and sizes. Some of the boxes might have been in better shape when they went up however many years ago, but are a little less sturdy now.

A man landed on the doorstep a few weeks ago asking if he could look at our loft insulation. I am not actually sure if he went into the loft, or just poked around the area near the door. It’s not an accessible loft. The ladder is a few rungs short of actually reaching the door and loft itself is an obstacle course of hot water tanks, beams and boxes.

He came back down with a page full of measurements and informed us that the insulation was way below the minimum and that we were entitled to a grant to pay towards adding a few more inches. The government may be clawing back the pennies in other places…but not in people’s loft insulation. Of course we would have to move the boxes out, or neatly pile them in a corner somewhere and they would insulate round them.

Neatly piling them into a corner would require one of us going into the loft. It was actually far easier to stand on the top step if the ladder, and reach in to extract them.

I thought it was all Donald’s stuff - our lodger from way back who was a photography man. We have boxes that never made it up the ladder into the attic of his car collections and his artwork given to us instead of rent money.

The boxes were all our stuff…and such stuff.

Joe’s old stereo system was up there. He has a collection of records that no doubt he will start revisiting now.

A box of folders from his college days has his notes on his business management and economics courses.

Another box of folders, this time mine, contained my old Gospel Outreach scrapbook – a commentary of life spent knocking doors and asking people if they were saved! It was a real trip down memory lane. I looked much younger then, much slimmer and looked like I was having fun.

There was also another scrapbook, less pages, covering just a few months. It covered our early days of dating – when Joe and I started to go out together! So cute…

And there was a box of letters. I don’t write many letters today, but then, sometime back in 1992 I was a prolific letter writer. A number of months ago I had sent a cyber blood hound into the cyber world to see if it could track down a pension account I had opened a long time ago and lost track of. I had opted out of SERPS, the teacher’s pension scheme and set up something else. I stopped teaching and closed the account and the scheme and I lost touch. I thought I ought to look for it, hence the cyber blood hound, but the scent was long gone.

Tucked in among the letters was a bunch of brown envelopes – my long lost pension scheme was less lost than it had been. I had an account number and a last known address and a tidy little sum sitting doing nothing.

So…attics…well worth looking into the boxes up there! Who knows what reassure you will find?

Finding lost treasures reminds me that there are other treasures that I need to dig around to find. The words given to me by God through sermons and quiet times are sometimes like my lost pension scheme with its tidy little sum of money sitting around doing nothing. God didn’t intend His word to do nothing, but to work for Him and produce a harvest.

“Every teacher of religious law who becomes a disciple in the Kingdom of Heaven is like a homeowner who brings from his storeroom new gems of truth as well as old.” (Matthew 13:52}

Saturday, October 08, 2011

A Joe-ku

It was National Poetry Day on Thursday. Joe was in the kitchen making East-West chips. The fridge door is littered with words from a magnetic poetry kit he bought me years ago - so he got creative.

you are honey
raw yet cool
but only the tongue
can pant and drool
delicate chocolate


As well as the writing the poem he has invented his own poetry form too calling it a joe-ku.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Rest

Bone weary and dog tired
My heart-spring scorched and dry
I cannot feel the sunshine
For the clouds that fill the sky

I listen in the darkness
There’s a voice says “Come to Me”
A promise of a quiet rest
He bids me come and see

He asks that I will walk with Him
Work with Him by my side
And as I watch and learn from Him
In His grace I’ll abide

He offers me a gentle yoke
A burden that is light
And as I keep in step with Him
There’s joy and rich delight

Matthew 11:28-30

Monday, October 03, 2011

The Overflow of the Heart

It was like a re-enactment of Old Mother Hubbard. The cupboard in question wasn’t in the kitchen and it wasn’t empty. It was a quick glimpse of the contents of my heart! The mouth had been speaking (it rarely stops) but what was coming out tending to be sharp and critical and over loud.

I decided that it was time to clear out the junk from the heart – confessing negative words spoken to myself and others, repenting of attitudes that were less than godly and seeking forgiveness for all manner of things.

Once clean, I felt the need to fill up my heart with some good things. It’s an active thing – much like gardening, I suppose. Good things are not just going to fall into my heart. They need to be searched out, held on to and treasured.

Among the bible readings and listening to worship music while I washed up, I made a date to watch Songs of Praise. The choice of hymns may not always be to my liking, but it was the 50th birthday celebration, and crowds of thousands were packed into the Alexandra Palace in London, and what’s not to like about Aled Jones?

Janet Street Porter wrote an article in the Independent on Sunday. Admitting to be a secret fan of Songs of Praise, she writes “is like saying you believe in God, or that you think marriage is a good idea – something not mentioned in public”. I believe both and mention them quite publically at times. She is not really impressed with the Church and thinks that it has failed to do what it is supposed to do – “taking belief out of out-dated buildings and into the lives of ordinary people in offices, canteens and schools.” I have to agree with her and ask myself whether I am taking faith with me into my workplace and neighbourhood. She lays the blame firmly at the feet of the Archbishop of Canterbury – but we are all responsible for demonstrating faith in every situation we face.

I digress – back to storing up good things in my heart and watching Songs of Praise. Andrea Bocelli was one of the guests on the programme last night. He sang “Ave Maria” and later on “Amazing Grace”. I have been dipping into a book “Beyond Amazing Grace” – a collection of sermons, letter extracts and hymns from John Newton. In one of his letters he talked about a young girl who became like a daughter to him. She had a mental breakdown and ended up in an institution and he visited her as often as he could. In his prayers he committed her to God’s care. He confessed that his prayers are not really for her, but for himself. Difficult times often lead people to abandon their faith. His eyes were failing and his strength was declining and he no longer had her help. His prayer ends with “Spare my eyes, if it please thee; but above all, strengthen my faith and my love.”

We sang a version of Amazing Grace a couple of weeks ago. I wondered them, as we sang the so-familiar words, whether when he wrote the hymn, or when he sang it, he could do so without tears. We all sing the phrase “that saved a wretch like me…” but I wonder if we really think the word “wretch” really applies to us. OK so John Newton was a slave trader and did some really horrendous things – “wretch” is perhaps an apt word. But do we apply it to ourselves? Do we think that we are just a little bad, as opposed to really bad – deep down we are nice people really and “wretch” doesn’t apply. If we appreciated our wretched state without Christ I think we would sing the hymn with tears.

“I once was blind, but now I see.” In the gospels there are no stories of men who have perfect vision becoming blind because of an encounter with Jesus. It happens the other way round – they start off blind and then they can see. John Newton and Andreas Bocelli have blindness in common. As a poet, I can’t help but appreciate the choice of words or the structure of the sentence. As a Christian I can’t help but ask whether I am blind – blind to what Jesus did on the cross, blind to His grace that is outpoured for us all, every day.

Looking back, September was a difficult month. I had so many opportunities to simply step aside and allow God fight the battle on my behalf. Instead I insisted on fighting in every skirmish, losing more often than winning. I came to the end of my resources. Eventually through the noise of the battle I heard God telling me to step aside, to stand behind Him, and let Him send the enemy running.

I don’t need another September! I don’t need a heart that is empty of good things! I don’t need a mouth overflowing with sharp and angry words.

“For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks.” Matt 12:34b

Friday, September 30, 2011

Playing with the Pastry

There is a very cute advertisement on TV at the moment. I think it’s a Sainsbury’s ad. It features a father and son making a pie. It begins with each of them sprinkling the table with flour. Everything the father does from rolling out the pastry to tapping fingers on the counter, the son copies. The father places the rolled out pastry on top of the pie and carefully cuts away the excess, and the son completes the pie by adding the trimmings on top. The pie looks delicious as it comes out of the oven.

I don’t remember ever being in the kitchen and being given a bit of pastry to roll out while mum made the real thing, but that doesn’t mean to say it didn’t happen. When I think of learning how to cook I think of Domestic Science in school. Watching a demonstration and then doing it myself rarely led to any kind of success – except for bread. It is the one thing I ever made that turned out better than the teacher’s.

I suppose that I like the advert because it is a father and a son rather than a mother and daughter. It is all too safe to present the predictable images to sell products.

The son does what he sees the father doing – I’m sure there is a scripture somewhere that says just that. In the advert the father and son work together to make the pie. In the Kingdom the Father and the Son work together, with the Holy Spirit, to make something better than a pie!

Every member of God’s family is encouraged to join in – to work with the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit to build the kingdom.

“…the work of My hands, for the display of My splendour.” Isaiah 60:21b

The title of the chapter in Isaiah is “The Glory of Zion”.

How much of the work is the “work of My (God’s) hands”? How much of it is my work and not really God’s work through me? In the advert, the pie was really the father’s work – not much was the son’s. Did the father secretly scrape off the trimmings the son had put there, because the pastry, after the son had played for it a while, was just a little bit too grimy?

When I think of myself as a work of God’s hands – fearfully and wonderfully made – I begin to wonder sometimes if I haven’t really messed up Gods’ work, “myself”, with the grimy trimmings that I try to add. I begin to wonder whether God is able to really display His splendour through my life.

I don’t think the boy’s pastry trimmings were grimy because he had watched what his father was doing and copied him. He knew that he wasn’t just playing with pastry but making a pie. He watched his father’s every move - not just what the hands were doing, but the expression on his father’s face – the encouragement and approval. The father so desired for the son to succeed.

I will not spoil what God is doing in my life if, working with Him, I watch my Father’s every move, if I seek by faith to see the expression on His face and I am convinced He wants me to succeed.

I need to stop playing with the pastry.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Queues

There’s an article in “The Independent on Sunday” about Martin Bell, the former BBC war correspondent who took up a career in politics for a while. He has now turned his hand to writing poetry.

He has published a poetry collection, “For Whom the Bell Tolls”. At the launch of his book he shared a few of his poems, one of which was prompted by the war in Iraq.

“Other subjects he covered,” reads one of the paragraphs in the article, “included MP’s expenses, the Kindle, Marmite and the wedding of President Idi Amin of Uganda.” I like the variety of things that inspire him!

Later on he is quoted as saying, “I feel very deeply about things and it’s a wonderful way to express yourself.”

I also feel deeply about things but it doesn’t often translate into poetry. I complain – usually to the wrong people. I seem to remember from an exhibition focussed on the poetry of Robert Burns that he commented on the world around him through poetry.

Here’s my offering. Last week while putting money into our savings account this happened.

One morning I stood in a very long queue
To say it moved quickly would be quite untrue
I fretted, observing the clock on the wall
For ten solid minutes I moved not at all
All of a sudden a man from the back
Strode past the queue to the front of the pack
He walked to a window his business to do
Ignoring conventions that governed the queue
On mass we all whispered, we snorted and sniffed
Making it clear we were nettled and miffed
Where was the hero to take up our fight?
A queue without backbone – a pitiful sight!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Litmus Paper

I was never very good at Chemistry at school. I can remember almost nothing about it. At least in Physics I can remember everyone in the class holding hands and the person nearest the electrical current touching it, and the electric shock passing through the wrists of each and every person in the link. But Chemistry has no such memories attached.

I remember litmus paper. It did something but I can't quite put my finger on what it did. It was a long time ago. Putting one particular element in a solution nestling at the bottom of a test tube caused a reaction that confirmed the presence of another element. Things would change colour, or let off a swirling cloud of gas, or make a distinctly unpleasant aroma.

There is a story in the gospels where a woman, named as Mary by some, emptied a jar, or broke the jar according to some, of very expensive perfume over the feet of Jesus, or his head in some accounts, and wiped the excess with her hair. It was an act of worship. There was, perhaps, a prophetic element to her action.

Suppose that you looked at it from a “science experiment” point of view. Put an extravagant act of worship (the one particular element) into a room full of Jesus’ disciples ( or the solution nestling at the bottom of the test tube) and watch for the reaction. How do they react to her actions? The presence of one thing might reveal the presence the other thing, or the absence depending on the reaction.

That one act of extravagant worship revealed something about Mary. Just as importantly, it revealed something about everyone else too.

The story tells us exactly what the disciples said, but let your imagination supply you with their thoughts.

"That was a bit over the top."

"That's taking things to the extreme."

"She'll regret she did that one day."

"That was embarrassing."

"Who does she think she is?"

"Typical of women - over-emotional."

"You won't see me doing anything like that."

If it had been a "science experiment" it had revealed that her act of worship left them cold and critical. There was no change in colour or a swirling cloud of gas. The odour from the perfume was present – but it all indicates the absence of a heart of worship. There was no echo in their spirits that led them to join in.

Let’s move away from extravagant acts of worship and broken perfume bottles.

Let’s try instead broken water tanks and leaks. Not so uplifting. Let’s imagine buckets under drips and towels laid down to try to protect carpets and floorboards. Some of us won’t really need the imagining bit seeing as the buckets and towels are there right in front of us.

Suppose that you looked at this scenario from a “science experiment” point of view. Put an a broken tanks and various leaks (the one particular element) into a house of a usually happily married couple (or the solution nestling at the bottom of the test tube) and watch for the reaction.

It wasn’t a pretty sight! While the one person remained calm and collected, phoned the plumber and patiently waited for them to track down a new tank and work out the maths involved to get the large tank through the small hole up to the attic, the other person freaked out!

A friend of mine used to call these kinds of things “refiners”.

I was refined.

Friday, September 09, 2011

Christ the Redeemer

It was just a throwaway comment on a television programme that started the discussion. The programme was set in Brazil, exploring the issue of poverty. The statue “Christ the Redeemer” dominates the skyline of Rio De Janeiro. The narrator made the comment that the statue faces towards the south where the rich live and has its back to the poor people in the North. He implied there was something symbolic in it all. Christ stands with welcoming arms for the rich, but turns his back on the poor. I am sure that it was never intended to be seen that way.

The group of young people I was with thought it was unfair.

They suggested some solutions to the problem.

Could they not turn the statue around?

What about placing the statue on a turntable so it rotated – sometimes facing south, sometimes facing north then everyone gets the chance to be embraced and welcomed?

Can’t they carve out the face of Jesus on the other side so that the back of the statue is another front?

Perhaps they should just take it down so that no one is offended at all!

I dreamed about the statue last night. It was definitely Christ the Redeemer, but with one slight variation. One arm was outspread in welcome. In his other arm Christ cradled a child.

I want to be welcomed by Christ. And there are times when I want to be carried close to his heart.

Sunday, September 04, 2011

The God Who Makes Things Grow

I am ashamed of the state of my garden. I am equally ashamed of the state of my house (bar the kitchen that I cleaned on Friday night) but the pigsty nature of the house remains concealed behind brick walls, whereas the garden is open to all who pass by. I feel sorry for my neighbours who have to live next door to my wilderness. I wouldn’t want to live next door to me.

My shame provoked me to do something about it. Mowing the grass was always going to be a challenge. Too much rain, too long a time since I had last mowed the lawn left a lot of work for the mower. I wouldn’t have dared use an electric mower even had I possessed one. I had visions of electrocuting myself with all that water and electricity. It was me and a cylinder mower against the grass!

To mower spoke the long wet grass
“No matter what – you will not pass!”
But long wet grass could not evade
The slash and slice of mower’s blade

It took longer than I had anticipated. I am one of these I’ve-started-so-I’ll-finish people. Leaving the lawn half mowed was just not an option.

It is brown bin day tomorrow and the grass cuttings filled the bin a third of the way up. It seemed a shame not to present a full bin for collection, so I started weeding the flower beds. I use the term flower bed loosely seeing as there are rarely flowers in them. Once the daffodils and tulips have had their day, the weeds move in and stake their claim to the soil. They party well into autumn as I rarely get the time or the weather to evict them.

So, the two flower beds by the front door were cleared and the bin was about half full – still too empty.

They could have been buttercups – some long tall relations to the smaller lawn variety. I sensed them trying to duck out of sight at the bottom of the garden. They flaunted thorns in an attempt to scare me off, but I got them in the end. The bin was almost three quarters full but still too empty.

Joe hacked at overhanging branches from a climbing rose in the back garden and scraped away the moss on the flagstones of the patio. And the bin was full.

The garden still falls short of the standards of just about every other garden in the street, but it is a vast improvement.

I was reading 1 Corinthians 3:5-9

What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The one who plants and the one who waters have one purpose, and they will each be rewarded according to their own labour. For we are co-workers in God’s service; you are God’s field, God’s building.”

I thought for a while about the God “who makes things grow” – can I blame God for my garden chaos? Probably not.

What came to mind was the morning spent with our church family. We had a really laid back time of fellowship over tea and croissants. The conversation meandered through a lot of topics that you couldn’t exactly label as religious, but were about daily life. Advice was sought by some and offered by others. We shared history together.

Throughout the whole time there was planting going on and watering happening in a very casual and informal manner as people exchanged ideas and experiences. One person might have had a little more insight into one area of the conversation, but everyone had the chance to plant into and to water each other’s field.

God, who makes things grow, was present in the conversations and I look forward to seeing just what grows over the days, weeks and months ahead.

Monday, August 29, 2011

The End

Suppose there are six people. They are all patients with terminal illnesses. One or two are at home, looked after by a family who are running out of resources. They have lost their strength and battle with tiredness and guilt. Maybe one or two are in a hospital where nurses are not really trained to deal with their specific needs, besides they are always rushed off their feet. The other two are living alone, managing to get by on daily visits from a team of helpers but finding it harder to cope each day.

There are just four beds in the hospice.

Who gets the beds?

It’s an interesting discussion perhaps, but for the Highland Hospice, it is a reality that they face on a regular basis. It’s the always-present challenge about the most effective use of limited resources.

I visited the hospice this afternoon, not in the capacity of friend or family to a patient there, but to talk to the chaplain. He had talked to a group of young people about the work of the hospice and we were performing the autopsy! We took the powerpoint and metaphysically weighed it on the scales. Was there the right place between information and pictures? Did it convey the information they needed to know? We dissected the discussion points to find out whether the task was clear enough and generated sparks. We consulted diaries to plan the next visit.

While my brain was engaged in the business side of things, my heart was elsewhere.

I knew I wasn’t in Spain. I knew it wasn’t the hospice in Cudeca. I knew that my brother wasn’t in one of the rooms losing his fight against cancer. I knew that all of that was three years ago. My head knew it…but my heart wasn’t listening.

The art work on the walls might have been different, and the garden wasn’t basking in Spanish sunshine, but the two places were involved in the same business. There was the same tranquility about the places as they sought to make the last days of someone’s life peaceful and trauma-free.

I think my brother’s experience had tilted me towards supporting living wills and some kind of euthanasia. Mike wasn’t going to recover and the final forty eight hours was very distressing for him and for those of us that were there with him. It wasn’t just those forty eight hours really but other days of not coping. It just seemed stretched out and anguished.

Part of the problem was a language one. The nurses knew enough English to deal with his physical needs of food and medication and cleaning him up. I am not sure how much opportunity he had to talk about his fears and anxieties.

Another part of the problem was probably a lack of cooperation from my brother. In life he kicked against the goad and he continued kicking when life was ebbing away. He wasn’t an easy patient. He did not want to join in and scorned communal activities.

I tell myself that Mike died at peace, that he didn’t just stop breathing, but I don’t know whether he had the chance to tell his life story in artwork or poetry – whether he wanted that, or needed it. He spent one evening playing tunes on an organ in the common room until someone told him to stop because it was late at night.

I got the guided tour around the Highland Hospice. Every picture on the wall had a story to tell. A dog made of plastic bed pans stood in on the counter in the craft room. The patents had laughed as they responded to the challenge to use only materials they could find in the hospice to make it.

I have to say that the balance has tilted the other way. If you can fill the time between diagnosis and death, not just with the right kind of medication, but things that stir the heart and spirit, there is something more than just waiting for the end to come.

Filling your days with things that stir the heart and spirit has got to be a good move for all of us. There is more to life that waiting for the end to come – the end of any season in our life – not just The End.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Car Boot Sale

Following some dos and don'ts from a helpful car booting website:-

…get everything ready the night before… and pack the car

It was not our own personal car boot sale adventure, but one of our church’s “inside out” Sundays where we leave the security of our four walls and do something in the community. We were fundraising for Equipe - an international charity that works in different parts of the world.

Our house…our car boot was deemed to be the dropping of point for boxes of books, DVDs, toys, jigsaw puzzles, bric-a-brac and home-baking. It’s not a big car boot (as we found out one weekend trying to get mum’s wheelchair in it) and the boxes just kept coming. I think it had a Tardis moment!

There was some concerns that tempting glimpses of car boot treasure might prove too much for some passers-by. I have had bricks lobbed through car windows before but never in inverness, and never to take a newly washed soft toy on show. A blanket flung over the boxes in the back seat concealed the goodies within.

...check the pockets of sale clothing for money and other valuables

We found “a valuable” not in a pocket, but folded away in a book. No ten pound note treasure but a letter written to us by a friend a few years ago. He had been going through a rough time trying to make faith work miracles in his messed up life. He was a regular visitor to the house and shared meals with us. He wrote the letter simply to say thanks for looking after him.

...arrive early

7.00 am was too early! It wasn’t too early for the organisers who had sold us two table spaces. I couldn’t believe the volume of traffic there before us! Parking in the disabled spaces was permitted to unload stuff. You could tell the traders and the old hands who had bought trolleys and other things with wheels attached. Joe and I made what felt to be a hundred trips back and forward from car to table.

...choose a sunny pitch away from big muddy puddles

Seeing as it was inside we didn’t need to worry about sunny spots or puddles. We were allocated two tables somewhere in the middle of the room. I don’t know whether there is any advantage in being at the end of the row, or near a door.

On one side of us was a lady with lots of home-designed jewellery. She had a small selection of second hand clothes. Behind us was a lady from South Africa, with the same kind of stuff as us, who was seriously tormented by the smell of our home baking.

At 7.45 the doors were locked and we had until 8.00 to set up. If you happened to sleep in you lost your table.

At 8.00 the queuing public were let loose!

...go with someone else (it's so much easier as you can take it in turns to serve and it's more fun with two

As this was a church venture, people were lined up to take their turn. Joe and I did the early shift and planned to be back for the end. It seemed to me that the women did much of the work while the men went browsing the stalls, or found a cosy spot in the café to read a book. Not so Adam who had come to visit the in-laws and did his fair share of manning the stall. He had an easy banter with folk.

...have a look at your stall from the other side, the buyer's perspective - Is everything displayed to its full potential?

We had a lot of stuff. We could easily have outfitted a charity shop. There was too little space to display everything. (Not that some of us didn’t try!) The DVDs went really well – on account of them being really good ones! Many of the children’s books also sold well restoring my faith that some kids like reading. The baking didn’t really shift until later on in the morning. I guess that chilli and coriander sausage rolls are not great breakfast fare.

When you have a car boot behind you, I suppose you can leave things in to bring out later, but with the car boot and the car parked the other side of the car park (you had to shift it from the disabled spaces once you had unpacked) it wasn’t an option.

...resist the urge to price things with labels. It may seem like a nice idea but it puts buyers off - let them ask the price and perhaps haggle with you.

We bought a whole load of sticky labels and stuck them on everything, although we were open to haggling and making deals. I didn’t do the E-bay search to find out what was a reasonable price to charge so I think we priced many items too low. It is quite possible that some of our buyers were from other stalls buying cheap and selling on for a healthy profit.

I know for sure were selling cupcakes at 20p where another stall, a few rows away was selling them same size cakes for £1.

...keep in mind why you are there.

We were raising money for Equipe. We don’t know how much was raised, but some rather large notes were floating about. The next sale, planned for some time in January will be purely a Kerr affair.

A by-product of the car boot sale, however, was not about money at all but about relationship building. Seeing people in a context other than a usual Sunday meeting is always good. There was a strong sense of family!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Power of Words

There are a number of things that really irritate me about kindles – electronic reading devices. I treated myself to a kindle for my birthday way back in March believing my life to somehow be incomplete. Many of my friends had kindles, waved them before my eyes and waxed lyrical about them. I dreamed about how good it would be to own one. Yes, I coveted a kindle.

I miss the smell of a book and the feel of paper. New books in particular have an unread, new ink, freshly printed fragrance about them that I like to inhale. I suppose I could just go into a bookshop, pick a book off the shelf and sniff to my heart’s content.

I miss the opportunity to read a page or two before I buy a book. There are books that take just a line to get you hooked. Dick Francis always did that for me. The opening line was a hook and the rest of the page just reeled me in. If you can read the opening page before you download to a kindle I have not yet discovered how.

I miss the whole exchange at the cash register. At the click of a button on my computer or my kindle, the book speeds across cyberspace. It is all too easy to press the button. There is no need to check the contents of my purse or count out precious pennies and pounds. Just the click of a button! I have clicked too often and have spent more on books that I usually do.

What I really miss, though, is the ability to flick back through the pages to re-read paragraphs or chapters to remind myself of what went before. Once I have finished a book I like to go back to my favourite bits and read them over again. Bookmarking just isn’t the same.

The most recent book I have read on my kindle was “The Confession” by John Grisham. It follows the story of young man accused of murdering a young girl. He is not the culprit, but that doesn’t stop him being convicted and sentenced to death. Nine years down the line the real murderer turns up to own up to the crime and save the young man who has 24 hours before he is to be executed. It is a page turner of a story.

I discovered a favourite chapter. I knew, as I was reading it, that I would want to come back to it again and again. I suppose I should have taught myself how to book mark a page. I now know, after much button pressing, that it’s chapter 29.

If you haven’t read the book and don’t want me to spoil it for you, skip the next few paragraphs. Go and make a cup of tea and come back in a minute or two.

Sadly, the real murderer is ignored as one of these nutters that turn up at the last minute to stop executions, so the young man was executed. The prosecution lawyers, the judge and DA are unprepared give a day or more to investigate the new claims. One of them knows that a lot of bullying went on behind the scenes to get the young man convicted.

Anyway, chapter 29, beautifully written, really heart-rending, has the mother of the executed boy preparing his body for burial. She could have left it all the funeral home to do but it had been nine years since she last had the chance to hold him. She cries a lot as she gently cuts away the clothes he was wearing as he was given a lethal injection. She touches scars on his body and remembers the events when they happened. She sings hymns and kisses him and she saves up the prison clothes to burn in a private ceremony.

I cried as I read it.

I wanted to be her. I wanted to have a child and if, for any reason, I outlived him or her, I wanted say my goodbyes in such an intimate and loving way.

I felt robbed. I don’t have children. Some of the time, most of the time really, I don’t think about it. It is just the way life worked out. Sometimes it hurts. I ache for what parents take for granted. Sometimes I seethe with anger. I stand in a line at a checkout and watch a woman drag a child by their arm while snarling and hissing at them and I want to say something but never do.

The power of words – to evoke such strong feelings.

Writing doesn’t come much better than that.




Thursday, August 18, 2011

National Bad Poetry Day

Apparently it's National Bad Poetry Day. Here's my contribution to bad poetry. I wrote it as part of a month long challenge to write a poem a day a few years ago. The prompt was the word “Rebirth”.

I think it qualifies as a bad poem because it is awful. It is a very clichéd idea and lacks substance. You may disagree with me if you like and even comment on how much you like the poem but you won’t change my mind.

Phoenix

I stand within my nest
Of broken dreams
And disappointments

Ignite the fire
And let me burn

Then I will be
Reborn and
Made anew

And the ashes
Gathered by the wind
Will drift away



A Song the Angels Can’t Sing

Once upon a time, when my husband and I were courting, I had this strong urge – yes, courting couples have to deal with strong urges. I had the urge to serenade my husband.

Late one night, with a moon shining overhead I wanted to stand beneath his bedroom window (or beside it seeing as he lived in a bungalow) and sing a love song. If I had been able to play any musical instrument, I might have given into the urge but as it was I wasn’t sure that I could convince a guitar playing friend to help out. Well, let’s be honest here, I think she would have been more than up for it as she was a romantic at heart. I am not always as courageous as I would like to be. I find it hard to get beyond the people-will-laugh-at-me stage.

I regret not doing it. There are just some things you need to do just because the moment will never come again. Some events, like falling in love, just need to be marked. I know that it is supposed to be the man that does the serenading – but it would never have occurred to Joe to so something like that. I wouldn’t claim to have a pitch perfect singing voice so perhaps it was all for the best.

I picked up a book in the sale at our local Christian bookshop - “Beyond Amazing Grace”.

My knowledge of John Newton who wrote Amazing Grace is very limited. I knew that he was a captain of a slave ship and he had an encounter with God that changed him. The film of the same title follows the life of William Willberforce. John Newton is there, in the film, barefoot and mopping the church floor saying, “I was blind but now I see.” I didn’t realise that he had written scores of other hymns.

The book is a collection of his hymns, extracts from letters and sermons. One section of a book has the heading “Songs angels cannot sing.” There is some debate about whether angels can sing at all. One person said that seeing as angels do not have physical bodies they wouldn’t have vocal chords so they can’t sing. Another scholar looked carefully at some of the references in the Bible where we think they are singing and the word in the sentences is “say” or “shout”. Another scholar pointed out that in Western Churches saying is simply just that – saying. In Eastern Churches saying is not really saying at all but singing or chanting. The liturgy of a church service is sung.

One of my favourite verses, which isn’t about angels singing, but God singing is Zephaniah 3:17

“The LORD your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.”

It seems to me that a God who sings will surround himself with others who sing. In Ephesians 5:19 we are encouraged to follow in our Father’s footsteps:

“speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord.”

Poetry and song writing are not entirely unconnected. I can write poetry. What is a song without music but a poem? What is a poem but a song waiting to be put to music? Just what songs are the angels singing? Here’s what the song the shepherds heard.

“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
(Luke 2:14)


St John heard a different song in his vision of heaven while on the island of Patmos.

“Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain,
to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength
and honour and glory and praise!”
(Rev 5:12)


The song the angels cannot sing is the Song of the Redeemed.

“Those the LORD has rescued will return. They will enter Zion with singing; everlasting joy will crown their heads. Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away." (Isaiah 51:10-12

When the angels fell from heaven led by Lucifer there were no second chances – no chance to repent. They had no excuse to turn away from God. They are not rescued by God and restored. Those that never fell had nothing to be rescued from. They can sing about God’s salvation, but is not a song born out of their experience.

Just because they can’t sing it doesn’t mean that they don’t love to hear it when it’s sung. I can imagine that when Paul and Silas began singing the Song of the Redeemed in the Philippian jail angels turned their heads to listen. Maybe they leaned against the walls of the jail as they listened. Maybe it was all the angels leaning on the walls of the prison that brought them down!

I wonder how often the angels hear the Song of the Redeemed. I am not sure that Christians today are singing it as loudly and as lustily as they should. If we sing it at all, it’s under our breath, perhaps just quietly hummed. More likely the songs that we sing are dirges and laments. We more often complain and grizzle about our hard lives and our trials. It’s not a song that lures the angels to listen and join in.

The absence of the Song of the Redeemed – if Paul and Silas had kept silent in the prison, or if their song had been one of complaint, chains would not have fallen off, prison walls would not have tumbled down.

The Song of the Redeemed is a powerful song. More things happen than just music filling the air and people exercising their lungs. Chains fall off, prison walls collapse…but too often they remain intact because the redeemed don’t sing anymore. They sing with their lips, perhaps, but the Song of the Redeemed gets its power from the heart and the spirit. It’s a declaration of God’s salvation – not as a done deed gathering dust on a shelf somewhere but as an ever-present, dynamic reality.

Get singing!

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Every Living, Breathing Creature

In the absence of someone willing to wield the remote control for the TV we watched the Proms on BBC 2. I am never quite sure where I stand on classical music – but seeing as it wasn’t exactly classic classical I knew where I stood on last night’s performance – somewhere out of earshot.

I haven’t been to the Proms, and the closest I have come to a Prom’s night atmosphere was during a five year stay in Cyprus. With there being a number of air force or army bases on Cyprus, I became acquainted with and developed a passion for military bands. Although we had no connection to the forces bases, we used to take the pupils from the boarding school out to the ancient amphitheatre at Curium for the concerts.

The amphitheatre is balanced on a clifftop overlooking the Mediterranean Sea is spectacular. It has been around for thousands of years and leaks ancient history, but for the few hours when the military bands play, it is like creating a very British event. I don’t remember there being any flag flying. It was all very stirring – the bands playing the great and good, a mixture of pure classical music and modern theme tunes. I know I loved it – and I think I loved it simply because of the venue.

I am sure that people have made all sorts of attempts to define what music is. Dictionary.com defines it as “the art or science of combining vocal or instrumental sounds (or both) to produce beauty of form, harmony, and expression of emotion.” Beauty, it would seem, is definitely in the eye of the beholder, or in this case, the ear of the listener. The composer had married together the usual orchestral instruments with other stuff. I wish I could name the other stuff – a thing that make rhythm, that looks like (and probably is) a record player or two, you know…they spin the record back and forward to make interesting scratchy noises. Gosh, do I feel out of touch with youth? I suppose that the music world, like any other, makes progress by experimentation. This experiment, to my fussy ear, did not work.

I like my music to sound like music and come from proper musical instruments played in the proper way.

I was reading Psalm 150 this morning.

Hallelujah! Praise God in his holy house of worship,
praise him under the open skies;
Praise him for his acts of power,
praise him for his magnificent greatness;
Praise with a blast on the trumpet,
praise by strumming soft strings;
Praise him with castanets and dance,
praise him with banjo and flute;
Praise him with cymbals and a big bass drum,
praise him with fiddles and mandolin.
Let every living, breathing creature praise GOD!
Hallelujah!

(The Message)

Praise Him where? Inside churches AND under an open sky!

Praise Him why? Because He has done mighty things and because He is awesome and great.

Praise Him how? Not always silently or in stillness.

This living, breathing creature will praise God.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Not Lucky But Blessed

It seems that everyone is crawling out of the woodwork to offer an explanation for why young people are rioting. A lot of blame has been heaped upon parents for not doing their job properly. Schools have come under criticism for not equipping young people with sufficient qualifications for them to secure a job. Fears about cuts to the policing budget have lead people to think there are not enough policemen to deal with the lawbreakers. The obsession that bankers have for over-the-top bonuses make people think that money and possessions make the man lead the don’t-haves and unlikely-ever-to-haves to simply take when the opportunity arises. And, of course, the blame has been squarely placed on the government’s doorstep as the inevitable fruit of severe cutbacks.

I listened to one woman yesterday saying that solution is to bring back the birch, or corporal punishment and that the army is the right place to send the offenders.

Another woman was loath to condemn anyone. She would rather ask the rioters, assuming she could get close enough, why they were throwing bricks through windows and stealing goods. I am sure that very few of them would be able to explain their actions.

A liberal politician warned listeners to look below the surface. He spoke of young people being without hope. Even armed with qualifications there is no guarantee that there is a job out there for them. Lots of projects aimed at getting young people off the streets and out of gangs and into something positive or productive have been shelved because of cutbacks.

I would imagine that there isn’t one single cause for all the riots, but a mixture of all sorts of things. I have nothing but admiration for those young folk who manage to get through today’s minefield of setbacks unscathed. It wasn’t like that when I was growing up – I was lucky.

“Luck,” said the Spirit, “had nothing to do with it. You were not lucky but blessed.”

Luck is down to random chance and nothing more. I read a newspaper report about a girl who found a five leafed clover in the grandma’s backyard. She thinks she is for some special kind of luck. I have not been lucky but I have been blessed.

I have been blessed to know what I wanted to do with my life long before I met a career advisor. I never drifted aimlessly.

I have been blessed to be studying for a degree in the days of grants. I wasn’t faced with excessive fees and bank loans and a threat of repayments to haunt me for many years.

I have been blessed with family and friends that never allowed me to abdicate my responsibility to participate in the world. I was never allowed to claim that no one understood me.

I have been blessed to grow up at a time where there were no reality shows. There was no one to wave a promise of a music contract, or dancing on a Broadway stage or a number 1 Christmas single. There were no short cuts in my day.

I have been especially blessed by God’s involvement in my life. Eric Von Daniken tried his best to convince me that God was an alien from another planet, and I listened for a while. I don’t think I particularly gave my life to God, so much as He ambushed me with love and claimed lordship over me. God moved in and rearranged the furniture. If He moved out, I would be desolate.

I am blessed that I know myself to possess all the resources I need not merely to survive, but to flourish.

Because

Because I know that in all things
God works His good for me
Because He called me for his own
His Son in me to see
Because He stands beside me now
My enemies can’t win
Because I’m cleared of charges by
The One who bore my sin
Because Christ intercedes for me
And stands at God’s right hand
Because no hardship, famine, sword
‘Tween Christ and I can stand
Because I might face death each day
To life I have been raised
Because I know that I am loved
I’ll triumph all my days

(Inspired by Romans 8:28-37)

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

In Mark's Name

Many will say to Mark Duggan on that day,

‘Mark, Mark, did we not riot in your name?
Did we not gather together
With bricks in hand to smash windows?
Did we not loot and pillage, carrying off all kinds of treasure
Not to take home and use
Or sell for profit
But to shatter uselessly on the pavement

And in your name did we not set cars ablaze
The roar of the flames
Echoing the roar of blood
Coursing through our veins
We stamped on all restraint
And on those who would seek
To restrain us

And in your name did we not send our children
Through broken shop windows
To steal?
We urged them on
Thinking them too young
To be punished
Hiding our greed behind their innocence
Did we not surely teach them
Our own evil ways?

Then Mark Duggan will tell them plainly
‘I never knew you.
Away from me, you evildoers!’

Monday, August 01, 2011

Carrying Seed to Sow

A friend of mine hosts Monday Manna – an opportunity to meditate on a verse of scripture and share our thoughts with others.

“He who goes out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with him.” Psalm 126:6.

I remember the event, not the specific day or year, or the person’s name or the exact conversation. I was living in Cyprus at the time, working in a small faith school in Limassol on the south coast. Many of my friends were from various missions working, not so much directly in the mission field, but providing administration support for colleagues working in the Middle East. Being surrounded by missionaries, but not being one myself, I suppose they rubbed off on me. Talking to people about my faith seemed much easier out there.

I remember that you had to be careful about who you spoke to. The Cypriot government allowed the missionary organisations to base their administration in Cyprus, but they were told very firmly that they were not to evangelise the Cypriots. As far as they were concerned the Greek Orthodox Church was the country’s denomination so they were Christians anyway.

The conversation I had took place one evening. I can’t imagine how it began, but I was talking to a man. I have a feeling he might have been really down on his luck and asking me for money. Although I was teaching, I didn’t have a teacher’s wage, but was supported by my church back home. I was struggling to make ends meet. I told him that I had nothing I could give and I told him why. I shared my testimony with him and I shared my faith.

I saw it in his eyes that he thought I was stupid. There was no light dawning, no faith ready to be ignited – he took nothing on board.

I went to a friend’s house and told her everything that had happened – and then I burst into tears. Mostly I was crying for myself because it seemed to prove that I was a useless witness and I would never get to chance to carry sheaves to Jesus. Some of the crying was for the man that he had not listened. He hadn’t taken the chance to see more of God. He was on the path to hell.

My friend quoted the verse from Psalms and together we prayed for the man, and my words, that they would produce a harvest.

I was reading yesterday, or the day before, the events in Isaiah 6. If ever there was a man who had cause to weep as he sowed it was Isaiah. When God had asked, “Who shall I send? And who will go for us?” Isaiah put his hand up and volunteered. God sent him to a nation where they were not going to pay any attention to his words. They put fingers in their ears. They closed their eyes and they turned their back. There were going to be no altar calls, no hundreds and thousands coming to faith.

What is not to mourn about a God’s Good News being ignored? It is almost worth not carrying the seed to sow if you think there will be no harvest.

But God’s promise is he, the sower, “will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves…”.

It brings to mind The Parable of the Sower. No one likes to think that the seed they sow falls on the path to get eaten by birds, or on to rock to spring up swiftly with no roots, or choked by weeds – some of the seed does – but not all of it. Some of the seed falls into the good soil and bears a harvest.

I am challenged by the phrase “carrying seed to sow”. Do I have a word of encouragement or a testimony that I can share with a friend, or a stranger? Or do I have an empty pocket and nothing to give.

Sometimes we divide our lives into segments – this is church, this is supermarket shopping, this is the school run. We have a pocket full of seed for church meetings and church related activities. When it comes to other aspect of life our pockets are full of other stuff – car keys, tissues, loose change – but not seed.

I think we all need to be carrying seed and carrying it with the intention of sowing it – listening to the Holy Spirit directing is to the good ground that He had prepared.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Third in the BoB

I have been a member of Faithwriter’s since 2004. I would like to boast that I have never missed an opportunity to submit something in the weekly challenge – but I have entered a fair number. Every year all the entries that came top each week compete for the “Best of Best” title. This year I came third! I have won $75 – the first time that my writing has won any money! It is also the first time that my writing has earned me an interview! I have posted the interview below.

JOANNE:What was your reaction when you found out your piece did so well in Best of the Best?
MEL:I was in Glasgow for the weekend. I had traveled down on the Friday afternoon. I didn’t have the opportunity to log on anywhere. In the bus station on the way home there was an internet café, with only one working computer and a queue. I paid my £1 for a twenty minute slot. The connection was painfully slow and the bus was pulling in. I saw my name and wasn’t really sure I hadn’t made it up. I checked again when I got home. I was surprised and delighted.

JOANNE: Wow. What a way to end your vacation! Tell me a little about yourself. What do you do besides enter the challenge?
MEL:I am an avid reader. I bought a Kindle earlier on in the year. The first thing I downloaded was a Bible. It was the equivalent of baptizing it.

I am very involved in my local church. I am on the preaching rota and speak at least once a month. I am involved in a midweek bible study and we are about to launch into some of the minor prophets.

Living in Scotland, just a few miles away from Loch Ness, I love walking. I don’t hike with maps and backpack – I just amble slowly.

I like visiting art galleries, but not museums.

JOANNE:You’ve been at FaithWriters, and entering the challenge, since 2004 (that’s seven years, folks!). What has moved you to be such a faithful FWer and challengeer?
MEL:I had completed a creative writing course at our local college a few years earlier. I felt so at home with words that I wanted to continue writing. I joined FW and started to enter the challenge. Left to my own devices I lack discipline, so the topic and the deadline is something that I enjoy. FW is such a positive environment to grow your writing skills.

Every so often I think about stepping down from the challenge. I have been submitting stories and poems for a few years now. But why stop doing something that you love doing? I love writing and the challenge provides the opportunity to do that.

JOANNE:For you, what is the best part of the Writing Challenge?
MEL:It is being faced with a topic and having no idea what to do, but knowing that with a bit of thought and musing something will come. I need to find my way in. I cast about for days with different ideas, and maybe write a paragraph or two. Or a whole story. Or a poem. I will play around with it, delete it even to begin again. I reach that point where I think there is nothing I can do to make it better – or want to do – or have the time to do. The challenge causes me to meditate on Scripture a lot more that I used to. I want to stir people with what I write.

JOANNE:I loved your winning piece, The Frog and The Leper. Where did you get the idea? How did it come together?
MEL:Some weeks I am so busy that I come to Wednesday night and nothing is happening so I tell myself I will pass that week. The deadline in the UK is 3.00pm Thursday. At lunchtime on Thursday the first line “Rumour has it…”came into my head. Then the frog hopped into the poem. I thought about what rumours might appeal to a frog. Being kissed by a princess and transformed seemed a good idea. Getting the frog to the park I thought of various obstacles in the way. Then of course there wasn’t a princess. Girls dress up as princesses but that doesn’t make them princesses. The second part of the poem followed the same pattern. Just as people might dismiss the frog’s thinking as foolish, they tend to think of faith in Jesus as just as foolish and I wanted them to reach a different conclusion. It was one of those things that almost wrote itself. It wanted to be written and it was an easy birth.

I wish I could say that I pray about what I write – sometimes I do, but mostly I don’t.

JOANNE:When did you start writing? What do you most like to write? What are your writing goals?
MEL:My best friend and I used to fill notebooks of stories. We were twelve or thirteen at the time. We were into science fantasy stories – all swords and sorcery. She was the better writer. She was better at most things that I was, but it just made me stretch a little.

I love to write poetry. Many years ago I bought Stephen Fry’s book “The Ode Less Travelled.” He introduced me to the world of iambic pentameter. It is basically a how-to book on writing poetry illustrated with his poems. He sets challenges at the end of each chapter. Poetry to me is like doing a crossword – only one word will fit in a certain space and I love chasing down that one word.

There are a couple of things that I think God is nudging me towards. A local Christian community centre is looking for people to run classes and there is an opportunity to start up a creative writing class. I’m a teacher anyway, so it shouldn’t be a step too far out of my comfort zone. The other goal is publishing a poetry book. I produced a photocopied and folded over chapbook of my Easter poems and handed them to friends and family over Easter. The response was positive. A book is a bigger challenge. Knowing that “The Frog and the Leper” did so well in the BoB gives me confidence.

JOANNE:Praying for God’s direction for you. Now, brag on your family a bit.
MEL:I came from a large family – three sisters and two brothers. They have families of their own – children and grandchildren. There’s a lot of birthdays to remember. Only my mum and my eldest sister have a vibrant faith in God.

I have a wonderful husband, Joseph. I found an old love letter I had written to him years ago just the other day. He would die first rather than submit his thoughts to paper! He supports and encourages me in everything I do. He is my hero and role model. I would like to be as loving as him and as gentle.

My sister, Linda, and my brother, Michael, died within months of each other a couple of years ago. It was a very distressing time. I found comfort and strength in God. I also wrote some very dark and angry poems throughout that time. Writing was therapy.

Michael was the only one in the family with the writing bug. He lived in Spain and had a regular column in a magazine for Brits living in Spain. He was compiling an A-Z commentary of life in Spain when he was diagnosed with cancer.

The rest of the family are much more practical. One of my nieces has just earned her law degree, while her sister is an apprentice plumber! I am very proud of them all.

It was so nice to get to know you better, Mel! A big congratulations for your BoB placement, and keep writing those challenge entries!