Thursday, 12 May 2016

Little things

          Little “happenings” during a 24 hour period can make a day special.  They become snap-shots in my mind that I can look back on in quiet moments and they serve to bring a smile to my face.

          With no car, I walk to the office,  where I work, and to St. Mary's, where I go to church.  I’ve taken to saying “Good Morning” or “Hello” to the people I pass on the way.  As I’ve been doing this over the last couple of months I have come to recognise the “regulars.”  

  • Young Asian Mums / Dads accompanying their princesses daughters and rambunctious sons to school;
  • A trio of ladies with a Lhasa Apso puppy;
  • Dave, doggy-daddy to two Jack Russell terriers (Cassie who is white and wire-haired, and Beau, a brown, smooth-coat.); 
  • the lady who rides the bicycle;
  • Polish grandmas on their way to mass at Holy Family Catholic church.

Another regular is Colleen.  Like me, she immigrated to the UK, only she is from the Caribbean.  Just about five-feet tall, and skin the colour of milk chocolate, Colleen’s colourful dress-sense belies that she is in her 70’s.  Her bright spirit is ageless, and her smile shines with joy.  After we had swapped “hello’s” a couple of times, one day, I added, “God bless you.”  She replied, “And God bless you too My Sister.”  More than once we have stopped a chatted a few minutes, to share words of blessings and learn each other’s name.  Twice a week she goes into town to volunteer as a prayer partner for a call-in prayer line.  It was just a little thing, a smiled greeting, which opened the door to friendship.

May Day Sunday I was on my way to church.  Trees had come into their green spring wardrobe, making shade for the pavement called “Green Drive”.  The pedestrian/bike path that connects two main roads was in good use by worshippers leaving the Catholic Church, dog walkers and others going to the shops for Sunday newspapers.  Once again, I was enjoying the warm, sunny day, greeting people along the way.  From most a smile and “Hello” was returned.  

As I neared Langley Road, I noticed a black woman chatting with her two sons-who looked to be young teen-agers.  They were walking in the opposite direction of the way I was going.  As I got near, I said, “Good Morning”.  She turned to me with a smile, and I heard “Africa” in her accented reply.  “Oh, yes, Good Morning Mama!”  She was a stranger, yet responded to my humble act of greeting.  She included me in her community.  Her culture acknowledged that my gray hair revealed my maturity and had called me by a name that gave me her respect.  That little thing flooded my heart with joy. 

Little things add value to other people’s lives as well.  In the 1990’s when returning home from my missionary travels, I would stay with my Mom.  We were very close, and had similar personalities.  One day we were eating lunch, watching the mid-day news.  One report highlighted the importance of meaningful touch for older people.  I remember touching Mom on the arm, but using one finger—more of a poke.  She looked at me and I explained, “I was giving you a meaningful touch.”  

It is nearly three years since Mom died.  I miss her.  So I appreciate my “adopted” Mum’s here.  These are ladies with whom I attend church.  I have made giving them a greeting and a hug an intentional action.  

On Mondays and Thursdays I see “Miss A.” when I get the newspaper for her from the shops.  It is important to me that I sit down and chat with her once I get there.  I often take Maisy with me, and “Miss A.” loves her.  “Miss A.” will often sing part of a song that she remembers, or tell me a little joke.  Giggles are normal.  I rarely stay for more than 45 to 50 minutes.  Before I leave, I give “Miss. A.” a big cuddle.  Sad to say, but according to her, I’m the only one who gives her hugs these days.  It takes little effort on my part, but it is a non-verbal way that I can show her how much I appreciate and enjoy her.  

Little actions add up over time and create something bigger than we can originally imagine.  For instance, everyday roots go deeper in the ground to find water and nutrients for the plants above the ground.  Some of those plants are trees that produce fruit and shade and beauty to be enjoyed.  We don’t realise what is happening on a daily basis.  Yet over weeks, months and even years the evidence of those consistent, little, hidden actions becomes apparent.  

I tend to forget that in order to get a big reaction, I need to repeatedly and consistently perform tasks that may have a small result individually, but a major result cumulatively.  

A genuine smile, accompanied by “Hi!” or “Good Morning.” might seem like nothing.  Yet, it is an invitation to connect.  The meaning of the action is: “I acknowledge you; I recognise you; you are worthwhile.”  The motive is to plant a seed in order to create a sense of community.  I become aware of the diverse cultures in my community, and develop a curiosity about the people who live in my area.  I may never know the majority of their names—but I am aware that God knows them.  And when I pass by the regulars, I am motivated to pray for them.  

Some of them will become acquaintances, having taken the time to stop and chat.  Depending upon what we chat about, I may respond, “I’ll pray for you.”  

Being blessed in so many way, I often berate myself because I don’t accomplish more, haven’t made “Big” differences in the world—like donating enough money and materials to build a school or hospital in a developing nation.  Yet, maybe what God really wants me to do is become good at doing the little things, incorporated with His love.  Because then it isn’t about me, it becomes about Him.   

Serving Jesus, Author of our faith,
"Lady Helene"

Monday, 2 May 2016

Giving things some thought

At Wittering Beach, 2007

          There is nothing like putting pressure on one’s self and wondering how much of the pressure is valid and how much is unrealistic. 
          In January I set a goal for myself to write 200 blog entries for the year.  In order to know how many posts I would need to do each week, I divided 200 by 52 weeks.  This number is 3.85 posts—rounded up to 4 posts a week.  At present I am 13 posts behind, that is 3 ¼ weeks behind schedule. 
          This brings me to asking some questions:
1.       How do I get on track with making 200 posts this year?  I could try doing two posts a day for three weeks.
2.     But I find myself asking: “Will I be posting for the sake of posting, just to make up the numbers?”
3.     What is my purpose for blogging? 
4.    Is it more important to meet a set target of blog posts—some of which will have no real significance, existing merely to meet a goal? 
5.     I want my posts to be meaningful.  But does every post have to have great meaning? 
6.    Is it better to forget a target and focus on writing pieces I have put considerable thought into? 
7.     Will I lose my impetus in writing regularly if I set aside the goal I set for myself?  Shouldn’t I keep reaching to achieve the 200, even if I don’t succeed?
8.     Is part of the reason that I’m not posting because I sometimes find that the day-to-day is so repetitive that it doesn’t bear telling about? 
9.    Should I be setting other goals, and these are goals I can be writing about?  For example, I love Great British Bake Off.  What if I make a list of the weekly challenges and then blog about what I baked?  For instance, one week the contestants bake biscuits/cookies and therefore I challenge myself to bake a recipe for biscuits I’ve never done before.  In that way I take you along on my journey.
In 1994 I found myself sitting in a classroom with several other people who were attending a three-month School of Writing.  The first couple of days the teacher laid foundations—not of grammar, syntax and punctuation.  Rather, learning how to focus one’s writing by asking the right questions before the writing begins.  Of the three main questions, two apply to this blog. 
1)      Who is my audience?
2)    What is my take-away?  (What is the main point I am trying to make?
3)    What format do I want to use—thematic or story-telling?      
As a blog, this allows me to write both thematic pieces and tell stories.   I can share a recipe, which is thematic (how-to).  I can also share anecdotes, which are short stories about events in my life.  And as a blog, both are appropriate.
So the two most important questions are, “Who is my audience?”  Logically, my audience consists of family and friends.  In either case, I keep wondering if I am making my blog posts interesting and relevant to them.  I occasionally get feedback, which does keep me motivated.  It also lets me know I am on track. 
Each time I sit down at my desk and power up my computer, I am asking myself: “What is the point of this piece? Do I want them to laugh at my cute Maisy?  Do I want them to try the recipe I shared?  Will they be able to understand, relate to, identify with the lessons I have learned?  If I ask myself these questions, then it affects how I write the piece, what I share in the story, who I write about and identify the people involved and also when I share something.
Although I know I have more readers than followers, one of the things I would love to accomplish is to increase the number of followers I have.  Right now the number is twelve.  I often wonder how other bloggers, whose blogs I read and follow, recruited over 100—even up to 1,000 followers.  Perhaps it is an ego thing to want to reach lots of people with what I write.  In one of the books I read about blogging, it said that one thing that helps create a following is to post on a regular basis.  But the draw for the reader must be reading worthwhile content. 
By setting myself the goal of writing 200 blog posts in 2016 I aspired to learn consistency, perseverance and discover a topic that I really enjoyed writing about. 
The Singleness Series seems to be attracting the most readers.  Some lessons I learned apply to everyone—whether single or married.  By writing about my single years, I want to present the mindset and struggles of people who are/have been single, yet yearn for companionship.  Therefore, it seems prudent to keep writing about it. 
Right now, catching up and posting 14 outstanding blogs entries seem impossible.  But I really think I need to push through, because finishing the task is a reward in itself.  I will put my mind to the task of writing, finding ways that will be meaningful as well as efficient.  I may not have all the answers right now…but because I believe that many of you are waiting and interested, I will press on.
Serving Jesus, Author of our faith,
“Lady Helene”

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Learning to be happy...

  It’s been over a month since the last post regarding singleness.  Other projects have taken my time attention, predominately the Mission Bell, a prayer publication I edit for the parish.  The latest edition of the Mission Bell is now completed, and this allows me to get back to the series on singleness.  

          During my season of singleness it was not uncommon to hear opinions, suggestions and comments that were meant to be helpful.  The only problem is, I often found some of these remarks to be irritating.  Here is a list of them:

·       “You need to learn to be happy single.” 
·       “There are worse things than being single.” 
·       “Maybe you’re being too picky.” 
·       “You know, some people are called to be single.”
·       “It will happen when you least expect it.”
·       “Are you praying specifically?”

Over the course of a few more blog posts I will give my response to these remarks. 

For today, I’m starting with:  “You need to learn to be happy single.”  During my single years I confess to being sorely tempted to respond to that remark with a good wallop!  That remark was especially provoking when married people spouted it out.  I remember an occasion when I was in my mid-thirties and the person making the remark to me had married at age twenty-two and had been married several years.  What did he know about years of being on one’s own?

 And what exactly does “learn to be happy single” mean?  Does it mean I should feel guilty about having the desire to be “attached to a spouse?”  Is the person making the remark presuming that I think my life is a total misery?  Does it mean I should squash my feelings and be a “Good Little Soldier in God’s Army?”

Enough of the knee-jerk emotional responses and some serious consideration of the “advise.”

Yes, there is the lie we, as human beings, are prone to believe: “I can’t be happy unless I’m in love and have a boy-friend or girl-friend/partner/spouse.”  It is tied to the thought: “I have no value as a person because no one has picked me.” 

As a Christian I knew and understood that loving and being loved must first be established in my relationship with God—Father Son and Holy Spirit.  Not only is joy to be found by spending time with “The Three in One”, but also purpose, identity, and security.

Meditating on truth brings revelation.  As a human being who is made in the image of God, fearfully and wonderfully knit together in my mother’s womb, I am valuable. 

Maybe “learning to be happy single” means learning to love who I am; learning to know who I am apart from other people. We tend to use expressions we heard our parents say.  We might walk down the road and hear an off-hand remark: “She is sure her father’s daughter.”  True, there are aspects of my personality that reflect him. Or someone else might say: “She cooks just like her Mama.”  I am also my mother’s daughter.  With that mix of both of them I am a unique personality, able to think and act on my own dreams and desires. 

It would be a fault if I saw myself as only “The Barber’s Daughter”, or “Mommy’s Girl.”  And if I wanted to be married because I believed my true identity would only emerge when I became “Wife,” then there would be room for admonishing to “learn to be happy single.”

          I believe each person is drawn to a purpose that motivates him/her in life.  When actively pursuing or participating in that activity, there is a sense of fulfilment that only comes from that purpose.  Purpose spurs and fuels creativity.  God instils into His children a desire to perform a skill/talent; when that happens, “I was born to do this” is the song that sings in the heart. 

          When I write, or sew or cook my heart thrives because I am investing in developing the talents and skills which with God blessed me.  While I’m participating in the activity, there is a satisfying of mind and soul that comes from nothing else and no one else.  When I share the result, the satisfaction deepens.  For example, food tastes better when it is shared.  

          Just as I can long for companionship, I can and do also long for times of creating, “doing what I was born to do.”  Being with others who share the passion stirs and inspires even more creativity.  Living to fulfil purpose produces a deep satisfaction that is from a relationship with one’s self.  Perhaps this is another facet to the jewel of “learning to be happy single”. 

          Security carries with it, at least in part, the idea that “everything will turn out okay.”  There is no security in this world.  We can prepare for the future, but trust has to be in God and His promises. 

Citizens of Syria had education, employment, homes, and businesses until the civil war broke out six year ago.  People who once felt their future was secure are now refugees.  We don’t like to think so, but the same could happen to us.  Severe weather could destroy our homes. An accident could rob us of our heath and ability to work. 

          So, what does security and “learning to be happy single” have to do with each other?  God entered into a covenant with us, through Christ Jesus.  Our sense of security is based on the knowledge that through Christ’s shed blood we have salvation.  The foundation of covenant reminds us that if we give all we have to our Heavenly Father, He will also give to us all that pertains to life and Godliness.  Real security is resting in the peace of knowing that God is faithful to keep His promises to us—even when we struggle to remain faithful to Him. 

 Maybe well-meaning people were trying to tell me that I didn’t need to be married to be happy.  Fair enough.  But maybe they needed to understand that I needed to vent about loneliness.  And maybe they needed to understand that embracing single life is a process, a journey.  And maybe, they should have understood that when “complaining” about the disappointment of not being married, it didn’t mean I wasn’t content with while I was single. 

There is the possibility that “learning to be happy single” means choosing to live with joy, accepting myself—strengths and faults, while I wait for God to fulfil the desires of my heart in His time.   

Serving Jesus, Author of our faith,
“Lady Helene”  

Monday, 25 April 2016

Privilege, Responsiblity and opportunity

"We must begin to believe that God, in the mystery of prayer, has entrusted us with a force that can move the Heavenly world, and can bring its power down to earth." Andrew Murray

Privilege:  “an ​advantage that only one ​person or ​group of ​people has, usually because of ​theirposition or because they are ​rich.”

Responsibility:  to be in a ​position of ​authority over someone and to have a ​duty to make ​certain that ​particular things are done:

Opportunity:  an ​occasion or ​situation that makes it ​possible to do something that you ​want to do or have to do, or the ​possibility of doing something:

  Privilege, responsibility, and opportunity are three nouns that describe a Christian’s relationship to prayer.  As people who find indentify in Christ, we have access to the riches of heaven.  We have been given the advantage of Christ’s authority to enable us to make disciples around the world.  Prayer allows us and others to participate together at any time to release the changing power of God’s love into the lives of family, friends and even strangers on the other side of the world.  

It is not uncommon for Satan to use all kinds of interruptions and distractions to draw away from praying.  As we grow in Christ we learn to recognise these attempts by the Evil One to keep us inactive.  When we hear of amazing answers to our intercessions, we become more determined and disciplined to persevere.  

Our prayers are a life-line for the individuals, families and organisations that are represented here in the Mission Bell.  Whether individually, or with others, let us see every day as an opportunity to take our responsibility of interceding to a new level, taking advantage of the privilege of being sons and daughters of God.  

Serving Jesus, Author of our faith,
"Lady Helene"