Thursday, March 29, 2012

Making Inroads

All it took was a few sunny days and the next door neighbours were out with the lawn mowers and the hedge clippers.

Not wanting to let the side down and acting the certain knowledge that the good weather wouldn’t last, I hauled our mower out of the shed.

Had Joe been around, he might have laid bets on who would finish the mowing first.

The man on the left of us was sporting a pair of crutches, so I didn’t fancy his chances. His wife took on the job. She had a head start of about fifteen minutes. She also had a much smaller lawn to mow, and was cheered on by her husband, her son and another man. Quite why the son and the other man couldn’t have done the job, I don’t know. The husband and his crutches took a slow walk around the edge of the lawn with a pair of long handled edge clippers.

The man on the right had an electric mower – one of those mowers that left neat lines up and down the grass. He took his time. He is a stickler for order. I remember years ago he had his daughter working in the garden putting in plants. She had almost finished when he handed her a ruler and told her to take them out and start all over because the plants were not equally spaced out.

The man on the right and I started about the same time – he with his electric mower and I with our non-electrical cylinder job. Whoever had been the last to use it – I suspect it was me – didn’t think about cleaning it up afterwards. Last year’s grass and grime had to be scraped away before I could begin. This being the first sunny day, in early spring, the grass wasn’t its usual knee high state. It didn’t take long to zip up and down the lawn. I didn’t have any long handled clippers to tidy up the edges.

I came a respectful third – my neighbours amazed that I had actually participated in any way.

Later on in the afternoon I settled down to a cup of tea and a spot of newspaper reading. It is not just the gardeners that the sun brings out, but the articles written by the gardeners. I know that some papers, like the Sunday Post, which some consider not to be a real paper, always have a gardener's article, but I never usually read them as they talk about plants that I don’t have, and pruning that I don’t do and compost heaps that I think about investing in but talk myself out of as I wouldn’t really know what to do with compost if I made it.

The article ended with tips. One of them I couldn’t do if I tried. The writer suggested that if the job that needed to be done was a really big task – “aim to do a set fraction of it, such as, clip 50% of the front hedge". Now, I couldn’t do that. I can’t mow half my lawn, or weed half my border, or clear half the patio. It’s all or nothing – most usually nothing. Half? Please show me a gardener, or any human being that can leave anything half done!

The final tip was more to my liking. It involved setting a timer and not going beyond it. The only timer is on the cooker, so I bought a cheap one from the supermarket. I set the timer for an hour and set about rescuing the rhubarb. I confess it was very big job and after an hour I was nowhere near done with that bit of the garden but my hour was up so I downed tools and made a cup of tea just like the article suggested.

I have since done a couple more hours. The rhubarb is stretching out luxuriously without having to fight off the dandelions and thistles. The patio has been de-mossed and the back lawn has been mowed. The sunny days are not set to last so I don’t expect to do much more.

The timer has been a great idea. I don’t start off overwhelmed, thinking about the size of the job. It is challenging to step away with something not finished at the end of the hour – but little by little I am making inroads.

I am thinking that I need to apply the timer strategy to inside the house! I have a tendency to go over board when I get into the housework groove.

“Little by little making inroads” is certainly the way to make changes in my faith walk. I might have mind-blowing revelation that pushes me to my knees on occasion, but working out what that looks like in everyday life is little by little. I might look at where I am in life and where I need to be and it seems that getting there is impossible. I think in terms of big changes over night when what is required is lots of little changes over days, weeks, months and years.

Little by little I am making inroads.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Ev'rything I Own

According to a newspaper article I read some time last week, an earworm is “a piece of music that sticks in one's mind so that one seems to hear it, even when it is not being played.”

I have an earworm infection.

“I would give anything I own
Give up my life, my heart, my home
I would give ev'rything I own
Just to have you back again”

I know where my particular worm came from. It didn’t just arrive out of the blue like some other earworms that I know. It was my birthday a couple of weeks ago. You might not have sent me a card but I will not hold it against you. I must have mentioned on a previous birthday or Christmas list that I would like a Bread CD. My best friend at school was given the LP and we played it many times. My husband acknowledged that he was a closet Bread fan when he was younger too.

I got it for my birthday this time around and last weekend while driving over the bridge to Skye for a weekend break it was playing in the car. It has also been playing on my laptop.

So, yes, I know my earworm history.

Songfacts.com tells me that it was written by David Gates as a tribute to his father. It is not hard to perceive a spiritual comparison to some of the lines. 'You sheltered me from harm, kept me warm, gave my life to me, set me free,' – perfectly describes what God has done for me – the giving life and the setting free.

The earworm isn’t singing that bit – just the chorus.

What would I really give up “my life, my heart, my home” for? The answer tumbles out, just as swiftly as a bar of chocolate from a vending machine when you have put in the right money and pushed the buttons. It’s a given. God!

It’s like the string you pull at the back of the baby doll to get it to say “Mama”.

But saying the words and living the words can be two entirely different things. Sometimes I am just giving lip service. I say that “my life, my heart and my home” belong to God – but then I ration them out sparingly for His use.

“Ev’rything I own” is a very lavish response. It is extravagant. It is not carefully measured out. It reminds me of a poem that I wrote many years ago.

Broken

A passion burns within my heart
That words fail to describe
I yearn to find a better way
To show you what's inside

A priceless jar, with precious oil
Held in my trembling hand
I break and empty at your feet
And know you'll understand

As fragments fall, I'm broken too
And what's inside spills out
That you accept this worship act
I have no cause to doubt

The jar cannot be mended or
What was inside restored
I cannot claim the treasure back
Upon your feet I poured

A sweet and fragrant perfume now
Pervades this holy place
And You, the source of my delight
Will meet me face to face

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Only Passing By

I was very surprised to see my poem claim the top spot for the weekly writer's challenge at Faithwriters.

Only Passing By


So much to do
No time to spare
A festive meal
I must prepare
But I’m only passing by

Wine to buy
Unleavened bread
Crossed off the list
Inside my head
But I’m only passing by

A choking crowd
Swarms like flies
Stings my ears
With noisy cries
But I’m only passing by

A push, a poke
A gasp, a grunt
Soon I’m standing
At the front
But I’m only passing by

A cruel parade
A brutal show
Crooks with crosses
Moving slow
But I’m only passing by

A slip, a stumble
A crashing fall
And people stare
Don’t care at all
But I’m only passing by

Exposed, uncovered
Caught and tagged
From the crowd I’m
Drafted, dragged
But I’m only passing by

‘Twixt hawk and buzzard
I am caught
A fearful plight
I never sought
But I’m only passing by

To bear his cross
I’m called to do
Step by step I’ll see
This journey through
But I’m only passing by

His blood excludes me
From my feast
I’m bread polluted with
Leaven, yeast
But I’m only passing by

I hold resentment
In my hand
Complain that I
Don’t understand
But I’m only passing by

They see this man
And now see me
I’m linked to Him
For all to see
But I’m only passing by

He stops to comfort
Those that weep
Into my heart His
Warm words seep
But I’m only passing by

I hear His words and
See a face
The Lord of Heaven
God of Grace
But I’m only passing by

His breath on me
My spirit stirs
His blood on me
New hope confers
But I’m only passing by

I’ll walk Him home
My dying friend
And know that on the cross
All curses end
I’m no longer passing by


Based on Mark 15:21-22

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Lost Phone - Lost History

I thought I had lost my mobile phone. It wasn’t in the usual places – the school bag, the handbag, on top of the DVD player or on the shelf of the display cabinet.

This is not the disaster that most people would experience. It’s not an object that is glued to my hand and held up to an ear twenty four seven. I don’t walk around a supermarket giving a running commentary on the price of fresh pasta. I don’t stand in a queue spilling my conversation in a room-wide radius.

My fingers have never really been taught to text and Orange 241 is probably the most used number – and that just once a month or so. It’s a pay as you go phone and a £20 top up lasts more than a few months.

I seem to have a vague memory of putting the phone in the pocket of my jacket. It’s not a deep pocket and I have even vaguer recollections of putting it elsewhere.

Yesterday I was reconciled to buying a new phone. There was a little shiver of excitement about getting one with a camera, an MP3 player, access to the internet and finally being able to dive into a whole world of apps.

Deep down, I just wanted my old phone back.

It wasn’t the loss of the phone so much as the saved text messages. They span a number of years and take in a whole spectrum of events.

“Biggles flies today!” March 2005 relates to a birthday present of an hours flying lesson with a friend from Joe’s work.

“Get praying – half time. Celtic losing 1-0” July 2005 was somewhere in the Rangers long run of league wins. Joe seemed to link Celtic’s string of losses to being married to me.

“Mel, am gutted about Henbaeu – luv Jobeau” – June 2007 Tim Henman had reached the semi finals in Wimbledon that year and lost. It might have been the Ivanisovich one where he clawed himself back from two sets to love down and match point down to two sets all and…you know the kind of thing.

Then there are a whole series of texts beginning with my sister, Linda being admitted to hospital , tracing her downward spiral to this point:-

“Been trying to call you. Lin died 3 am. Will ring after work” – that from my sister Carla in April 2009.

There is a lot of history to be gleaned from my text messages.

You have probably guessed that I found my phone. It wasn’t in a place I would normally look – inside a shoe!

Sunday, March 11, 2012

The Lonely Road

I am preaching this morning. Our church tends to shy away from the whole notion of someone preaching. We "share" or "bring" the word which sounds a lot less intimidating. I don't aim to intimidate - but it happens sometimes when a person is confronted with what's written in the Bible.

I am preaching on Simon of Cyrene. I have a poem that intend to read at the end. This is not that poem, but one, in Blue Peter fashion, I prepared earlier.


The Lonely Road


I aided and abetted in
The killing of a man
I became entangled in
An evil, ugly plan

Just merely a spectator
Pulled from the crowd around
They pushed me t’wards a beaten man
Just lying on the ground

“Pick up his cross and carry it!”
A Roman soldier screamed
I then became a player
In an act I’d never dreamed

His cross was placed upon me
No light and easy yoke
I felt His blood upon it
Into my shoulder soak

Small sharp splinters pierced my skin
I saw my own blood shed
Side by side I walked with Him
This man soon to be dead

The pace was slow and anguished
He stumbled on the path
A vicious whip descended
To show the soldier’s wrath

I could not stop from crying out
I felt such shame and hurt
That no one would show mercy
And lift Him from the dirt

Each step such bitter torture
My arms began to throb
We walked a lonely road that day
Jeered by an angry mob

We reached our destination
Away upon a hill
The crowd had gathered round us
The air was cold and chill

The cross I then surrendered
My part came to a close
I watched them nail Him to it
With heavy brutal blows

It seemed I could not walk away
And leave this savage scene
That I would want to see the end
Of someone’s life? Obscene

I touched His blood upon my cheek
I felt its awesome power
And somehow knew His sacrifice
Destroyed sin’s curse that hour

Yes, standing ‘neath His wretched cross
I came at last to see
What precious gift to walk beside
A man so great as He!

Sunday, March 04, 2012

Fannig Into Flame

I read these words from 2 Timothy yesterday:-

“For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.” (2 Timothy 1:6-7)

Or as The Message puts it:-

“And the special gift of ministry you received when I laid hands on you and prayed—keep that ablaze! God doesn't want us to be shy with his gifts, but bold and loving and sensible.”

I suppose there are a lot of people out there who really have no idea what their gift or ministry is.

When someone first identified poetry as one of my gifts I was very quick to dismiss the idea. I wrote short stories not poems. And writing short stories was just a hobby or an interest. I didn’t see it in terms of a gift.

Last Easter I spent the first week of the holidays collecting my Easter poems together, selecting and editing them to make a small booklet. I photocopied a few and gave them out to close friends and family. And then I photocopied a few more as friends and family asked for extra copies to give to their friends. With just days to go to Easter Sunday there wasn’t time to seek a bigger market. Even if there was a bigger market to be exploited, I did not have the faith to chase it down.

Yesterday God reminded me of the poetry book.

“This year we have a few weeks before Easter…more than enough to seek a bigger market.”

We quibbled for a moment on just whose book it was “we” were planning to distribute. God firmly claimed the book as His seeing as He had been the inspiration behind it. However, the line between what was mine and what was His was very blurred, if not altogether non-existent. He conceded that the book was perhaps “ours” as opposed to His or mine. He made it clear that this year we were going beyond friends and family.

Last year I had stood outside the Christian bookshop in town with a dozen copies in a carrier bag but never quite plucked up the courage to go into the shop and thrash out a deal.

This year was different.

I arranged for more than a few to be photocopied and then went round to the Christian bookshop. The last time I had tried to ply my poetry there had been about the time of the Scottish Open Golf competition up at Castle Stuart. The Christian bookshop had a magnificent window display featuring a sailing ship. I had an equally magnificent poem entitled “My ship of Faith”. My poem and their ship seemed destined to be together – but it didn’t happen. The shop manager was on holiday. The poem was tucked under the counter until their return. I suspect it is still there.

The manager was away on holiday.

This time I wasn’t about to let the book get tucked away under the counter. I told the assistant behind the counter about last year and the positive reception of the poetry books among friends and family. I suggested a price for the book if they wished to sell it, and how easy I thought it would be to sell and agreed that I even giving the book was a possibility. I was a little more proactive but not overbearing.

She seemed to think that what I was asking was possible. Although the bookshop is a branch of a national organisation there were always opportunities for local authors.

So…there you go. I fanned into flame the gift of God.

What happens next isn’t entirely out of my hands – there is a return visit to the bookshop and an some kind of selling script to work on. I still have my part to play.

The book and I are in God’s hands.

Friday, March 02, 2012

Amelia and I

I was reunited with old friend last week – Amelia Peabody.

It happened in the context of the England-Wales rugby match was last weekend.

Who better to watch the game with than Welsh friends? We hadn’t visited in a while. We phoned ahead and turned up at their house with a deflated rugby ball, a couple of carrier bags with nibbles and juice and settled down to watch the game. The rugby ball, emblazoned with a Welsh dragon, was bought last October on a visit to Rugby. It wasn’t deflated when we bought it. The intention was to take it straight round when we got back home, but things happen…you know how it is.

Talking and watching TV at the same time has always been a bit of a mystery to me. Saturday afternoons as a child were dedicated to watching wrestling and listening to the sport’s round-up – in silence. Apparently not everyone thinks the way I do. I have had to learn to stop hissing at people to be quiet.

It could have been in the interval that Alyson and I swapped “book stories”. She is an avid reader and a member of a book reading club. It’s a library run thing and some of the books are not what Alyson would naturally read.

I dug out my Kindle. It wasn’t so much the Kindle I wanted to show her but the purple knitted cover I had made for it. She admired the cabling and the striped purple and cream buttons. She flicked though the list of books I had downloaded. There is an anthology in amongst them, a fund raiser for a charity called Euippe. The publishers have included a short story of mine. She read it and made appropriate complimentary comments while I preened. She also read sections from the book of Romans in a Bible I have downloaded.

Then Amelia joined the conversation.

Amelia and I met a few years ago long before I bought the Kindle. Second hand bookshops were my sources for used books. I bought the first in a series of detective novels written by Elizabeth Peters who introduced me to Amelia Peabody in Egypt. As Publisher’s Weekly on the back of the cover of a later book in the series said, “If Indiana Jones were female, a wife and mother who lived in Victorian times, he would be Amelia Peabody”. She had joined the very select list of my heroines.

I have read just the first three in the series. Second hand book shops are not the best places to track down series of books in numerical order. The first hand book shops weren’t either. They may have catered to other readers on the fifteenth and sixteenth in the series but the early books were to be found only in the big cities. Borders in Glasgow had them all. It was a treat to by the next couple in the series when we were visiting family.

Then Borders closed down.

Amelia and I lost touch.

I am surprised that we didn’t bump into each other in the Kindle store at Amazon where I am known to loiter.

Alyson had the series. She opened the doors of the Wiltshire Library – but allowed me only one book at a time. I think it is her plan to make sure I come and visit often. Welsh International Rugby matches are not regular event on TV.

Amelia and I have been reunited.

I might have had my Kindle to boast about, but Alyson also had a nifty little device. It was an electronic bookmark. Not only does it mark the page, but there’s a little qwerty keyboard where you type in a unfamiliar word and it tells you the meaning.

A very useful device!

I settled down later than evening to join Amelia and her sleuthing.

Page 1. “Ardour” underlined. “great enthusiasm” written in pencil along the edge of the page.

And so it goes on.

Many of the words Alyson had underlined were familiar ones. There were a few that I didn’t know and I was glad to have the definition handy. There were also a few underlined with no pencil explanation. The book mark didn’t know them either I suppose.

It occurred to me as I read through the chapter, noting the underlined words and their meanings written in pencil, that I used a limited vocabulary when I write. There is such a rich variety of words that create a vivid picture but I find myself sticking to the usual familiar few.

I congratulate myself on the wide range of vocabulary that I know and use – but it is not really a growing range. I know lots of words and I use lots of words but I rarely use new words.

As a writer I am challenged by that.

As a Christian I am also challenged by that.

I may have a wide range of “Christian experience” – but is it a growing range of Christian experience?