Thursday, June 30, 2005

The Outsider

I am on a count down - not just a school count down, but a Faithwriters countdown! I have three entries in the "Best of the Best" challenge. All the winners of each of the weeks during the last year go through another stage to find the best entry overall. There is a money prize, but I guess the kudos and cred as a writer is what we are all looking for! Some of the folks are proper published writers! I have had three winning entries over the year, so that shortens the odds for me. My personal favourite among my three is my first winner - "Them Gates of Hades."

The Final Step

The Laughter Thief

Them Gates of Hades

July 1st is the red letter day!

PS Can I do links or can I do links? I am the links queen!

Is this really the end?

There’s just one and a half days to go till the holidays. Our plans are still rather fluid, not on account of whether we do or whether we don’t have the children with us, but just where we fancy heading off to. Shona is being released on Friday. “Released” sounds like she has been in prison, though I suppose to some extent it has been like that for her, not imprisonment of the body so much as the mind. The children return home tomorrow.

Joe saw Shona earlier this week, and I have seen her twice this week. We both agree that she doesn’t look capable of dealing with the children. I know that she is desperate to be home and have them, but it is the beginning of the school holiday. Under normal circumstances school holidays are tough for parents and Shona doesn’t live under normal circumstances.

Much as we both hate to admit it, we think the children will be back in our care. Joe gives Shona 36 hours to discover she is not coping. I am a little more optimistic but not settling on a time-scale!

What we are both agreed on is the appalling lack of involvement by the social services while we have had them. Nine weeks and they have visited twice. The first time was because we made jokes over the phone about chopping the children up and putting them into pies and them being none the wiser, or them discovering bones under the patio ten years down the line belonging to Patrick and Shannon. They came racing round then to check us out. The next time was seven weeks later to tell us that there would be an assessment towards the end of the “fourth week” of looking after them! Private agreements for looking after children were limited to four weeks! She definitely went pale when we told her we were into week seven! Her promised visit of the supervisor in the next couple of days didn’t happen! The only word that readily comes to mind is incompetent.

Maybe we just live in a society where you need to phone someone. You need to show that you are struggling in some way before they call out the lifeboat. If you don’t call, they assume you don’t need help, that things are fine. They don’t seem to take the initiative and come around. That is appalling when real abuse is going on and the social work should have known and didn’t. I assume that Patrick and Shannon are on an “at risk” register because of Shona’s mental health, but if they are they have done very little to check that the children are not at risk with us.

We are also both appalled that the social work have not talked to us about what we think about the children returning home, or shared with us a Plan B if things go pear-shaped in the 36 hours. Do we assume that they are assuming that they come back to us? There is no “What if?” in place where a “What if?” looks inevitable.

We both need a break. Nine weeks was hard work. We need to be looking after ourselves too or we will be no use looking after anyone else. Where is the line drawn between what is selfish and what is sensible?

Friday, June 24, 2005

Going Bananas

The list of things that I won’t buy from the supermarket is getting longer! Living in a politically aware household is challenging! Being married to the chairman of a branch of the union is also challenging! When we employed someone to do the cleaning, she was not paid according to the going rate but according to what my union husband considered to be a minimum wage!

For years we have not bought any Nestle products – although Kit-Kats seem to have got through the nestle net! It is truly sad that they just happen to make the best breakfast cereals! If someone tells me that Kellogs is part of their consortium I don’t know what I shall do. I shall stick to boiled eggs I suppose – free range of course – and toast.

A few months ago, the Coco Cola company got added to the banned list! Allegations were made that they had arranged for hit men to target union officials in developing countries. The conditions under which some people have to work border on the obscene.

Yesterday, bananas joined the hit list! (Not all bananas – Chiquitos for sure, and Del Monte products too! Developing a unit on global solidarity and looking at trade issues I am suddenly aware that the stuff that I buy comes at a price. There is the price label that the super-market stick on obviously, but beneath all of that there are a whole load of human rights issues! Small family farmers are not able to compete on the same level as the big businesses. Supermarkets demand “pretty” bananas that are just the right shade of yellow and have a perfect 10 degree curve to the left. To get that farmers need to use pesticides that can be harmful to both people and land. We eat what is inside the banana not the skin.

The big multinational companies are determined to carve out of the market a very big slice of the pie. They will carve up the opposition if they happen to get in the way. Free trade is not free at all, except if you think in terms of the fat cats having the freedom to make all the rules. These greedy corporations seem to want to take every inch of the market away from the little people and use their governments to pile on the pressure.

Does it matter? A banana is just a banana after all! I think it does matter. We pray “Your Kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Being a Christian is not just about having a ticket to heaven with life as a waiting room. God’s will done on earth is about justice now.

The world is designed with some countries having so many resources while other countries have so few. It may be a matter of geography if I happen to live in a land of lush green fields, regular rainfall and fluffy sheep grazing on hillsides. It is equally a matter of geography if someone else has to walk four miles to get to water, and drought ravages fields of crops. It is an altogether different matter if I build my bigger barns to store my abundance while someone else has nothing.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

A friend at midnight

Things don’t always pan out the way that we expect! I knew that when Joe and I took on the responsibility of looking after Patrick and Shannon while their mum was in hospital that it would be longer than just the 28 days she had been sectioned for. The last time, last summer, turned out to be 32 days. This time was have reached day 50 and they are still with us, and mum at times seems no closer to going home. Lights at the end of the tunnel seem to get snuffed out and everyone gets emotional and weepy. There is a definite “I wish I had not got involved..” thought inside my head, but the fact is I am involved and becoming uninvolved, by piling the children on to the social workers and into the foster care system, is not an option.

I was feeling distinctly sorry for myself this morning and God simply said to me, “You are the friend at midnight.” Luke’s gospel illustrates Jesus’ teaching on prayer by an example of a man turning up on the doorstep of a friend looking for bread to feed unexpected visitors. The New Living Translation has a couple of words added to the end of a sentence that other versions don’t have. The friend is in bed, the house is locked up, everyone is asleep and he says that he can’t help “this time”. It made me think that the friend had been in this position before and had come up with the goods the last time round. He had given the loaves of bread the last time, and perhaps the time before that, and the time before that.

There are just some people that come back time and again in need, sometimes with the same need. They haven’t learnt to keep the extra loaf or two in the freezer for such a time. Other people become their friend at midnight because they have the resources and they have met the need in the past.

As that “friend at midnight”, I don’t want to help on the basis that I am being worn down by someone’s persistent knocking. I don’t want to shout out of the window that I am sleeping and the house is locked up and I don’t want to be inconvenienced. I don’t want to remind someone that I helped last time and this time they should get their act together and if their visitor went hungry that would teach them a lesson about being prepared.

I want to help because I am their friend. I want to help because I have the resources they obviously don’t have. I want to help because they trusted me to ask. I want to help because I care.

Life throws unexpected challenges into the paths of us all. We don’t always have the resources to cope. Things happen that are unexpected and catch us unprepared. God never said that loving one another was convenient and happened during office hours.

More than that, if, in trying to meet the needs of others, we run out of resources, we know that God will always be for us that friend at midnight. If God does it for us, and we are made in his image, then we should be doing it for others!

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Keep on Dancing

I was reading Acts chapter 3 last night. I wrote a poem last year based on the story. I dug out the poem and had a look through.

A hop, a Skip and a Jump

Step right up, my friend
And see what I can do
For I can hop, and I can jump
And I can skip like you
I can walk around in circles
And I can run so fast
I can leap into the air
I can dance, at last
This might seem nothing clever
Nothing special you might say
For someone born a cripple
It blows your mind away.
I lay outside the Temple
Beside the Beautiful Gate
Two men walked right up to me
And saw my wretched state.
One stared at me intently
His gaze peaceful and calm
Hoping for some money
I stretched out my empty palm
“I have no gold or silver,
What I have I give to you.”
And he pulled me to my feet
As God’s power flooded through
My knees, my calves, my ankles
In a moment became strong
I was on my feet and walking
It didn’t take me long
A joy so deep, so wondrous
Exploded from inside
The delight at being healed
I knew I could not hide
Since then I’ve not stopped dancing
I’m not keen on sitting down
I love to feel beneath my feet
The firmness of the ground.
I shout my praise to heaven
Some wish that I’d be still
They wish that I’d stop leaping
But I know I never will

My favourite lines are :- "Since then I’ve not stopped dancing...I’m not keen on sitting down...I love to feel beneath my feet...The firmness of the ground."

I got to thinking, around about this time next year I will have been a Christian for thirty years! I wondered whether I have got to the stage of preferring to sit down and loosing the excitement of seeing what God can do through me and with me.

For so many years the man's life had been predictable and Peter and John changed all of that. I am challenged that after nearly thirty years, my life might just be taking on a predictable pattern again.

I wonder if the man came to a stage where he stopped jumping and leaping and praising God. We do sometimes, don't we?

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Inspired to write a poem

One of Peter Howson's pictures really cuaght my eye. I didn't read the sentence that went with it, but what it looked like to me was an angel whispering into Jesus' ear. Jesus was drawn very clear and sharp, but the other face turned towards him was much paler and less substantial. Now that I have read the comment - I know it is not and angel speaking to Jesus.

What came to my mind was the garden of Gethsemane. The angel only ministered to Jesus after he had made his decison and surrendered his will. I tried to capture the moment before - the angel longing to draw near but recognising that this was a decison that Jesus had to make alone.

I aslo thought that perhaps this angel was one of those angels singing to the shepherds at the birth of Jesus. Perhaps it was time for the angel to sing a new song of freedom.


I know you think you are alone
But I am standing near
I long to ease your troubled mind
And take away your fear

This single moment must be yours
For you must choose the road
To tread the path to Calvary
And bear sin’s heavy load

Your sweat like blood falls to the ground
I count each precious drop
The scene that must start to unfold
I wish that I could stop

Another hill, another time
To mark your wondrous birth
I sang a sweet melodious song
Of heaven touching earth

Now heaven touches one more time
To strike the fatal blow
To heal a rift and lift a curse
Inflicted long ago

“If possible,” I hear you say
“Let this dark hour pass by
I’ll take this cup and drink its brew
Your will, not mine,” you sigh

At last, my help, I now can give
And strength to you impart
As I draw close, I pour my love
Into your willing heart

The freedom song that’s rising up
Demands I sing this day
For sin which binds and torments men
Will soon be washed away

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

A weekend of Passion (or lack of it)

Joe and I managed to get away for a weekend! Joe had been down in Edinburgh at a Trade Union Conference and decided pop over to Glasgow for the weekend and visit his mum. I joined him in Glasgow.

While doing the rounds of the shops on the way to the Barras we came across a new art gallery called "The Third Step"“. It is a charity based gallery, the proceeds going towards helping recovering alcoholics. What drew my attention was they were showing paintings by Peter Howson. He was featured in an Easter documentary. As a recovering alcoholic he has discovered faith in Jesus and paints pictures of the Passion. He paints lots of pictures of the passion – lots!

When I write a poem I tend to write just one poem on one topic and then move on to another. The thinking is that “I’ve done it.” Peter Howson never says, “I’ve done it.” because the story of the passion of Christ never stops being an inspiration to him. I like that and I am challenged by it.

The pictures are very flesh and blood and not pretty. They are vibrant pictures, painted with passion. There were a series of pencil or charcoal drawings on the “Stations of the Cross”. Joe was very taken with them. Had we a spare couple of thousands of pounds I am sure we would have purchased them!

In the afternoon we visited Joe’s mum in her new nursing home. I have to admit to being very shocked by her appearance. I think, even just seeing Alice wearing trousers was a shock. She had lost a lot or weight, but she had lost much more than that. She had always been a very vibrant woman, involved in life and interested in people. This was not that woman. She looked lost and alone and unconnected to real life. I know that there are different levels of care when it comes to elderly people. I suppose it must be a challenge to stimulate people who have lost their connection to real life.

Joe and I talked for a while. Because of where I was sitting, in her line of vision, she looked at me often, but mostly without recognition. The times that she smiled at me almost broke my heart – very child like. It was only just before we left that she spoke like the old Alice to Joe, “How long have you been here?”

Alice’s sister, Betty, visited her a few weeks ago travelling all the way from Canada!

The deterioration in Alice has been swift. Eighteen months ago she was fine. How fragile life seems. Sometimes all that is left is just a shadow of what used to be. Scripture says that we are like grass, here one day and gone the next. I guess you need to learn to make the most of every opportunity. How often have I thought that I will wait until I retire to do something like writing a book, thinking I will have time and no distractions then? Leaving things for the future assumes that there is a future, when there might not be.