Monday, 28 February 2011

When giving your whole doesn't leave a hole

I've been finding the last few months many concerns have pressed on my mind, things I've discussed with Andy, only to find a few weeks later it's the prime topic in the church sermon - other subjects have cropped up too and I'm starting to find that I'm rather insightful about what's coming up - and also a little scared that I'm seeing things and having insights into people's feelings before they happen, or before they speak to me - I  need to work with that and pray into it, I know, and I need to dwell deeper - which is also the theme church have been working on recently.  Friends have spoken to me about what's on their minds, which I've thought about days in advance and just today I e-mailed a friend to let her know I needed to give her more of my time, only for her to e-mail back and say she felt her friends were deserting her - I'm finding a gift I've known I've had a long time, but never really sat down to acknowledge - probably because I've been too wrapped up in me, myself and my own.

Giving has been on my heart for a long time now.  It's pressing on me more and more.  Financially I'm not in a position to give much, but I know that I have talents and just a little more time on my hands now the children are getting older and I have Fridays off work.  Up until a week or so ago I held on to the very fine thread I might actually get a promotion at work.  Promotion I know I deserve (my last three year reports have said so), promotion I know I'll be good at, in a field I enjoy, but this would mean giving up my Fridays.  It would also mean a shedload more money, but one thing I'm happy to declare is that of all of life's wonderful little treasures to increase our greed capacity, money chasing is not one either Andy or I pursue.   Originally I intended my Fridays off  for housework, but after spending nearly 12 years as a working mother, the routine of running a home at weekends and evenings works for me and Andy.  So... it seems I have time on my hands.

At Christmas my employers graciously granted me a week's leave to work voluntarily for a local charity.  It's an annual entitlement and one I intend to take advantage of annually.  I spent four days working in a church hall checking boxes for Operation Christmas Child.  I loved it.  I loved sitting in a hall chatting away to little old ladies, having cups of tea and biscuits and marvelling at some of the beautiful items people sent and tutting and grumbling over the really rather awful tat others sent.  It felt good.  It felt good to know that I was giving something of myself for nothing in return and knowing that somewhere in the world a little girl or boy was going to open a box full of goodies, that would for a few days or weeks bring a little happiness into their lives.

But, it doesn't feel enough.  Homeless people have played on my mind.  I mentioned to Andy I wanted to look into helping the homeless. Two days later at church, up popped Nigel on the screen, a homeless man in Reading.  A man I have now walked by and spoken to numerous times on my way to and from town.  A man I've found out not only likes tea and cheese sandwiches, but on a cold day is rather partial to a hot sausage roll.  I've had it on my heart to look into doing soup runs of an evening, but have never taken time to really look into it.

So, this week, the sermon was about dwelling deep into ourselves to give more.  Not just financially, but our time, our love, our prayers, our talents - and to do so willingly, not begrudgingly, not counting the cost, but to count the benefit to the person or people we strive to serve.  I look at what Christ gave for me and know that there will never be a time I can outgive Him, but I can have a good go at trying!  Another thing that touched me was that a couple of weeks ago I found a website that spoke of the Give A Day For Ten Days Pledge, and it was littered with all manner of ideas for giving, so I thought about it, thought it sounded great and planned to blog on it over the weekend - then the sermon came.

So, I know I've been spoken to very clearly.  After spending a lovely morning recently, having coffee with a new friend at church, we separately felt God was speaking to me very clearly about using my Fridays for my own financial gain and promotion at work, when the time could be spent better serving others.  I'm still praying into it so I know for sure it's really God speaking and not just my own mental deliberations for and against the motion.  I know my friends and others need more of my time than I currently give and I know I can make more effort in little things and not have to think the only way I can give is to hand out money.  I rarely ring people because I hate the telephone and I'm awful at interrupting people when they speak, so I don't bother doing it, I need to ring people more and give them time.  I need to put the kettle on more and invite friends over and I need to take an interest more in other people so I can pray into their lives and ask God just how I can help them.  It's been an eye opener, it's pressed on my heart and now it's time for me to act.

Monday, 21 February 2011

Barnets on a Budget

I have yet to meet a woman who doesn't enjoy a trip to the hairdresser for a spot of pampering.  It's really got nothing to do with getting a good hairdo, it's about the attention.  It's about the escape from everything and everyone.  It's about the pure joy of having somebody being overly keen to make you happy. It's about being brought cups of tea and biscuits.  It's bliss. 

It's also expensive.  It costs money - oodles of it.  Find a good salon and you find the need to justify the cost of a new hairdo alongside the weekly food budget.  Guilt sets in.  Is it right to be so selfish?  I can buy the kids shoes for that, I can fuel the car for a week, I can pay this month's electric.......

But is it wrong now and again for a busy Mum to want to escape for an hour or so for a bit of selfish 'me' time.  Is it wrong to want to suspend time and put the world on hold while someone asks you for one shampoo or two?  And is it wrong to insist on two shampoos and conditioner please because the head massage is sooooo relaxing and makes your spine tingle and feels sooooo good and you feel the stress ebbing away ... and is it wrong to sulk momentarily when they ask you to follow them to your seat when you'd rather have a third shampoo and a bit more conditioner because I was floating away at that point.......?

No, it's not wrong.  But it is an easier pill to swallow when you find a hair salon that offers model nights and you get that very same treatment for a fraction of the published price.

So, Mums everywhere.  Check out your local salon and ask them if they do model nights.  They are always looking for people to volunteer their heads for training.  Don't fret, they are overseen by the experts and you come out with a professional wash, cut, restyle and blow dry (and sometimes a colour if you like).  The salon I go to is fantastic.  The staff are fabulously friendly and really appreciate having the chance to help their apprentices and students work towards their qualifications.

Give it a go - you deserve it.

Knitted Together In The Mother's Womb

The hairdresser is the only place I tend to read magazines.  I'm not particularly interested in who's shacked up with whom, which 'celeb' has spent millions on a house not quite big enough to accommodate their ego, or which lip gloss is considered the most suitable for the pout of the season.  But today, whilst having my hair done I came across a short interview with a British actress who had agreed to do a photoshoot because her pregnancy had miraculously made it to 26 weeks.  She has a very publicly documented pregnancy due to a previous late miscarriage, having delivered her son at 22 weeks, only for him to die moments later.  This pregnancy for her is fraught with danger to the point she's on bed rest until the due date.  All through the interview it was clear she felt proud she'd managed to hold onto this child in her womb for so long.  Each day she feared she would go through the devastating loss again of delivering a pre-term child that was not to survive.  But now, having gone past 26 weeks she feels confident of her baby's future.  I shared her anguish, but not to the same extent.  Reading her story was uncomfortable and chilling.  I remember with each of my four pregnancies that sudden fear at realising it was over an hour since my baby squirmed or kicked, wondering if something had gone wrong.  I remember delivering my first child and the horror I felt when the midwife could not find his heartbeat and the emergency team rushing into the room to deliver him without further delay.

Those panics were momentary as I have four beautiful healthy children.  To experience those panics for anything longer would have been torture.

So, my thoughts wandered off and I found myself thinking about another actress, Amanda Holden.  As I read the magazine I sat with tears in my eyes, wondering how on earth she was coping with the devastation of her recent stillbirth.  The joy she had felt at reaching over 30 weeks pregnancy after having a late miscarriage last year, her relief at knowing she'd gone beyond what is normally considered the dangerous phase.  Feeling confident enough to break news to the world she had less than three months to go before her beautiful child would be with her.  Then to face the utter devastation of her child dying and having to endure the awful distress and cruelty of having to deliver that child into the world.  I couldn't even begin to fathom how it felt.

On Sunday 13th March, Reading Family Church are holding a Thanksgiving Service for children recently born in the church.  Children are so precious, moreso than we at times admit.  They are a gift from God - each and every one and they are miracles.  They are miracles of His perfect creation and each one is unique, formed by Him in the womb and known by Him before we even know we're expecting them.  On that day, even though my children are no longer babies I know I will be thanking Him for each one of them.  Thanking Him for four healthy pregnancies, four relatively easy labours and four little lives entrusted to me and Andy.

As I watch them grow every day I still stop and pause and thank Him that they're here.  I thank Him I never had to ensure a miscarriage, a stillbirth, a cot death or a tragic loss of a young child.  I marvel at who they are and how they came to be.  I wonder at times why I seem to have had such a simple ride whilst other parents have had to endure unimaginable and excrutiating heartbreak.  I feel helpless that my feelings are nothing more than sympathy - I can't empathise with them, as I haven't been there.  But I do know that each child that is lost was preformed by God, known by Him and belonged to Him.  I know and trust with all my heart that those children taken before their consciousness was mature enough to decide, and are innocent, are in His care and safely in His presence in Heaven.  I know that God grieves with those parents who grieve and my prayer is that they come to know this comfort and love and find their peace with it.

Sunday, 13 February 2011

Psalms: Rediscovering The Undiscovered

I have long been aware that the Psalms are believed to be among the most highly read books of the Bible amongst Christians.  But the Psalms are a book, I've most of my Christian life, managed to avoid reading.  When I thought about it this week and considered my attitude, I could only come up with the pathetic excuse that I don't like poetry.  I can still recall sitting in my A' level English Literature lessons groaning when the word 'poetry' was mentioned.  I liked novels, I liked Shakespeare and I even had a fondness for a bit of Chaucer, but poetry?  What was it about poetry I recoiled from? 

The vulnerability it so often reflected.  The vulnerability of both the author and the reader.  Allowing the depths of yourself to be laid bare in order to understand and empathise with the author, to suffer in the turmoil of somebody anguished, to celebrate in the jubilation of somebody overjoyed and to love with the lover who had love requited and to weep with the lover who didn't.  A bare tearing open of the soul.

So, I read a little about the background of the Psalms and how to approach them and what struck me is that I have to allow them to become a mirror of my own soul.  Many years have gone by since we could argue a camera never lied, but take a basic mirror and stand in front of it - and you see yourself for who you are.  At times we appear more beautiful than at others.  At times we appear refreshed, at other times weary, but whatever is reflected back at us is who we are, as a basic mirror has yet to be able to manipulate the image stood before it.

Delving into the Psalms will reveal to me every emotion I possess. I find it incredibly easy to build a wall around myself defending my vulnerability, but incredibly hard to allow the defensive bricks to be knocked down.  My wall receives regular repointing and it's a part of my personality that I hope the Psalms will knock through.  I want them to penetrate my soul and lead me to a better understanding of myself and of the God I seek to trust.

As I read the Psalms I hope the words I meditate on will be an articulation of my own thoughts, revealing my hopes, my joys, my fears, my disappointments, my praise and my confidences in God.  I hope they will reveal to me a path to leading a more Godly life in terms of both my behaviours and my attitudes.  I want to appreciate and develop a love for a book I've long avoided and no matter who I am, where I am or what my current situation is, I long for the Psalms to reflect the thoughts of my heart and treading into them is going to be both an exciting and challenging journey.