Friday, 31 December 2010

Happy New Year

This is a poem that I was introduced to earlier this year, and I decided that it was perfect for a New Year's message. May you all have a wonderful new year!

Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,
The flying cloud, the frosty light;
The year is dying in the night;
Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.

Ring out the old, ring in the new,
Ring, happy bells, across the snow:
The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.

Ring out the grief that saps the mind,
For those that here we see no more,
Ring out the feud of rich and poor,
Ring in redress to all mankind.

Ring out a slowly dying cause,
And ancient forms of party strife;
Ring in the nobler modes of life,
With sweeter manners, purer laws.

Ring out the want, the care the sin,
The faithless coldness of the times;
Ring out, ring out my mournful rhymes,
But ring the fuller minstrel in.

Ring out false pride in place and blood,
The civic slander and the spite;
Ring in the love of truth and right,
Ring in the common love of good.

Ring out old shapes of foul disease,
Ring out the narrowing lust of gold;
Ring out the thousand wars of old,
Ring in the thousand years of peace.

Ring in the valiant man and free,
The larger heart, the kindlier hand;
Ring out the darkness of the land,

Ring in the Christ that is to be.

Poem by Alfred, Lord Tennyson, 1850

Saturday, 25 December 2010

Friendship

A Christmas Medley - 25th December

Tired I was; my head would go
Nodding under the mistletoe
(Pale-green, fairy mistletoe),
No footsteps came, no voice, but only,
Just as I sat there, sleepy, lonely,
Stooped in the still and shadowy air
Lips unseen - and kissed me there. 


The doorbell rang.

'Darling, there's someone here to see you!' her Dad called up the stairs. 'I'll show them to the lounge.'

'Coming,' Sam replied, quickly throwing on her clothes and checking herself in the mirror before running down the stairs to the lounge.

She stopped at the doorway, 'Matt!'

Mat smiled nervously, 'Hey. Thought I'd give you a surprise!'

'That you sure did, but ....' words failed her.

'Don't worry. I read your email. It's ok. Quite funny really - and I'm really sorry that you misunderstood me. Sorry that I only drop by now, too, but I wanted to organise something. Friends?' Matt asked.

'Definitely.'

This is what Christmas is about. Gifts. The gift of friendship - above all else - friendship between us and God, as well as between ourselves and our fellow man.

Extract from 'Mistletoe' by Walter de la Mare

Friday, 24 December 2010

Musings

A Christmas Medley - 24th December

Heap on more wood! – the wind is chill;
But let it whistle as it will,
We’ll keep our Christmas merry still.
Each age has deem’d the new-born year
The fittest time for festal cheer:


There. That was the last of her Christmas presents. Now she could finally relax. A shimmer in the corner of her eye made her look towards the windows. It was snowing!

She quickly got up and ran over to the couch by the window. Settling into it, she watched the falling snow outside. It had already settled onto the pathway and the road. Even though she'd seen it many times, the sight of falling snow still fascinated and mesmerised her. Everything always looked so clean ... Until the thaw. That got icy and ....

Has he read it? I wonder if he's read it. Man, I wish he'd reply - or come around, or something. If only I knew. But God said I must have patience ... so I'll wait. If it's to be, then great, if not, then I did apologise.

Extract from 'Marmion' by Sir Walter Scott

Thursday, 23 December 2010

Apology

A Christmas Medley - 23rd December

Teach, O teach us , Holy Child,
By Thy Face so meek and mild,
Teach us to resemble Thee,
In Thy Sweet humility!


She knew that it was the right thing to do. She should never have assumed anything. Having looked through his Facebook account she could now see that her conclusion had been utterly wrong. If only she wasn't so impulsive.

But thank God he had allowed her to make the mistake, else she'd never have learnt this lesson. Now if only ....

Sam suspended all further thought, and clicked the mouse button. There. The email was sent. She would now need to wait and see what happened.

Song extract from "See Amid the Winter's Snow"

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

A Ray of Hope

A Christmas Medley - 22nd December

A ray of hope flickers in the sky
A tiny star lights up way up high ...


'Sam, I really need to talk to you,' it was an out-of-breath Judy. 'When can we meet up?'

'I'll be at home all afternoon. Want to come over?' Sam answered, puzzled.

'No, I'd rather not. Could you meet me at the coffee shop on the corner? It's really important,' Judy asked anxiously.

'Sure, is three o'clock ok?'

'Yup. See you there.' And they hung up.

...................

'It wasn't at all what you assumed. Sam, he'd just bought himself a new part for his computer!' Judy said excitedly.

'Why do I get the sense you want us to be together?' Sam asked, getting frustrated. 'And what do I care about a computer?'

Judy took a deep breath. Then she continued. 'Yes, I do want you to be together. Remember that night skating? I'd never seen either of you as happy as you were that night. Sam, that is who Matt is. He's a gentleman. Alright, a slightly geeky one! But never doubt him, he knows how to treat a lady properly.'

'And what makes you suddenly the expert on Matt? How about me?' Sam questioned her friend.

'Because I'm further away from him than you are, I've been able to get to know him better than you have. And no, us together wouldn't work. Remember, Sam, you hated him till a short while ago ...'

'And I hate him now,' Sam affirmed, but she was beginning to feel that that wasn't quite true.

'Oh Sam. Just think about it, alright?' Judy urged. 'But I hope that you'll trust that I'm telling you the truth, because that is what I am telling you. He still cares deeply for you - and I know that he's been really hurt the last few days.'

Song extract from "When a Child is Born"

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Gifts

A Christmas Medley - 21st December

We three kings of Orient are
Bearing gifts, we traverse afar.
Field and fountain, moor and mountain,
Following yonder star.


The dream shifted to a dusty market place in a typical Middle-eastern town. Sam could feel the heat rising through her sandal-clad feet, as it baked down on her from above. It appeared to be close to midday, judging by the location of the sun.

A hand took her elbow, and directed her to their right, 'We need to go this way.'

They walked for a few minutes till they arrived at a humble building. The entrance to the courtyard, which was shaded by a large tree, was to the left of the building. Beneath the tree was a carpenter. He had his tools out, and was busy working on a project. Nearer to the house they could see a woman seated, busy working with some food, and at her feet was a dark-haired toddler, playing with some blocks of wood.

'Oh my word, that's Jesus?' Sam put the puzzle together. 'He's gorgeous! He must be around Billy's age. And that's Mary, and Joseph ...' Sam delightedly identified the people around her.

'Yes, that's my son. He's almost two. Now come, you need to see this,' her companion urged her into the shade under the tree.

As they moved, several people arrived at the entrance to the courtyard - six to be exact. Three of them were dressed in striking clothes, the others in plainer attire.

They walked straight to where Mary and Jesus were, and each of them knelt down before the toddler. They bowed down with their foreheads to the ground, placing before them a box each, as though offering gifts. The little boy stood up, and walked gravely towards each of them, laying his little hand on each of their heads in turn in a type of benediction.

The last thing Sam knew was a warm, encouraging squeeze on her right shoulder before she awoke.

Song extract from "We Three Kings"

Monday, 20 December 2010

Lights

A Christmas Medley - 20th December

'Hey Billy, do you want to come with Sam to look at the pretty lights?' Sam asked her little brother as she unbuckled him from his seat.

'Yeth,' Billy replied, 'Wanna go see lightth with Tham.'

'Here we go,' Sam answered as she picked him up and swung him out of the car.

They walked down the road to the first house that had lights, chatting between the two of them.

'Lightth!!' Billy exclaimed pointing at the house, his eyes big as he tried to take them in.

'Yes, lights,' Sam murmured in awe as she looked at the house and garden before them. This was a Christmas wonderland if ever she had seen one.

'Oh look, we can go and walk around the garden. This notice says we can go inside. Want to?' Sam asked Billy while pointing at a note on the fence.

'Yeth,' he answered absent-mindedly, too intent on the wonderful lights.

They went around the outside of the garden to the entrance, and as they entered it ...

Mary's boy child Jesus Christ was born on Christmas Day.
And man will live for evermore because of Christmas Day.


... Began to play.

Song extract from "Mary's Boy Child"

Sunday, 19 December 2010

Variations

A Christmas Medley - 19th December

... an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.’

Sam lay on her bed, her socked feet up on the wall by the head of her bed. Her right fore-finger conducted in time to the music blaring into her ears while she hummed along.

Her mobile, which lay on her stomach, began to vibrate. She picked it up, to see that it was a call from Judy. She swiped off the headphones to take the call.

'Hey,' Judy said. 'What you doing?'

'Just relaxing, been listening to music, nothing much,' Sam replied.

'So, wassup between you and Matt? I know something happened,' Judy asked.

'I'm just mad at him, k? He's so arrogant, thinking that I'm a 'prize' that he has plans for,' Sam answered miserably.

'Where did you hear that?' Judy questioned Sam.

'On Facebook, on Thursday afternoon. What a selfish .....' Sam trailed off.

'I'm not so sure that ...' Judy said thoughtfully, '... That that's what he meant. He isn't that type of person. I'm going to find out something.'

'Fine ... Whatever you like,' Sam shrugged indifferently.

Bible passages from Matthew 1:20, 21 NRSV

Saturday, 18 December 2010

Dilemma

A Christmas Medley - 18th December

Hail, the Son of Righteousness!
Hail, the heaven-born Prince of Peace!
Hark! the herald angels sing
Glory to the new-born King!


The final song came to an end, and silence fell across the hall. Sam couldn't help the smile that slowly spread across her face. The evening had been wonderful. From the first song, she had been mesmerised by the telling of the nativity story, memories of her dreams coming back to her with each part of the story. It was as though everything had been pointing towards tonight.

Her smile fell, though, as she remembered the down side of the night. Thankfully she had not needed to interact with Matt during the play, but she had caught him watching her more than once during the evening. She did feel kindof sorry for him, but there was no way she was going to be anyone's 'prize'! Uh oh - and here he was, heading in her direction across the stage. Time to vanish.

Which she quickly did. She ducked off the platform on which she had been sitting and went to the ladies, where her clothes were. She quickly got changed, her mind frantically running through the excuses she could use if she ran into him again. After she left this room, there would be very few places in which to hide.

Song extract from "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing"

Friday, 17 December 2010

A Cup of Tea

A Christmas Medley - 17th December

The lamp is burning low upon my table top
the snow is softly falling
The air is still within the silence of my room
I hear your voice softly calling


'Mom, could you give me a lift to the dress rehearsal this evening?' Sam called from her bedroom as she was getting changed.

'For sure, I can,' her Mom popped her head around the door. 'But aren't you going with Matt?'

'Nope,' Sam replied.

'Oh dear me, what's happened? You two were getting along so well!' her Mom said.

'Nothing. Just not talking anymore,' Sam answered.

Her Mom came over and gave her a hug. 'I'm sorry my girl. I did always hope that you'd be friends, as I get on with Jenny so well. Can I make you some tea?'

'Yes please,' Sam said. 'I'll come through to the kitchen just now.'

Song extract from "A Winter's Night"

Thursday, 16 December 2010

Anger

A Christmas Medley - 16th December

All little boys be killed
At Bethl'em in his fury.


Heart beating wildly, and tension coursing through her body, Sam stared at the words emblazoned on the screen. How dare he! She closed the laptop and stomped out of the house, closing the front door behind her with a bang.

The words she had read were Matt's Facebook status: 'has finally snared his prize. She doesn't know it yet, but I've got plans for her.'

What gives him the right to assume? A prize? He can think again. Man, if I saw him right now ... men make me mad.

Blind to where she was walking, she reached the stream at the bottom of the road before she realised it. Despite the freezing temperatures, she descended the bank to sit down on a rock overlooking a turbulent section of the stream.

As the minutes passed she felt herself beginning to relax as the music emanating from the stream, and the flow of the water around the rocks, mesmerised her. Nevertheless, it was over between her and Matt.

Song extract from "Unto us a Boy is Born"

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Bring a Lamb

A Christmas Medley - 15th December

What can I give Him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;


The earthy smell of animals filled Sam's nostrils as she became aware of her surroundings. As she stretched to iron the kinks out, she felt the rough, spiky texture of hay beneath her. Sitting up and glancing around, she spotted her now-familiar companion leaning against a nearby wall. Gentle light came from the torch on the wall nearby.

'Where are we?' she asked sleepily, suspicions running through her mind.

'Look a bit further,' he smiled at her, moving to sit next to her in the hay.

Sam did as she was bid. She found that they were in a corner of a small building. Pigs, a couple of cows, a horse and a few goats crowded in, providing the stench that had first assailed her. Beyond them, in the far corner, were two people ...

'Hey - that's Mary and Joseph, from last week!' Sam exclaimed, before she could stop herself. 'I'm sorry,' she whispered, embarrassed.

'Don't worry,' her companion replied, smiling. 'They can't hear or see you.'

'How's that?' Sam asked, struggling to not whisper, now that she knew she couldn't be heard.

'It's just how I've arranged it. We're observing.' He smiled. 'And we're back to the same night, although it's a week later for you.'

A tentative wail broke the ensuing silence.

'Oh my word, Jesus has been born?!' Sam exclaimed. 'Please can I go and look?'

'Of course you can,' her companion indulged her.


Sam got up and walked over to where Mary and Joseph were resting, avoiding the restless animals along the way. Alongside Mary, wrapped in cloth and comfortable on a bed of straw, lay the very tiny baby Jesus. He was contentedly asleep, apparently none the worse for his recent birth. Sam knelt down to study him closer, tears filling her eyes at the thought that she was witnessing such an important occassion. She then returned to their corner.

'What's going to happen next?' Sam asked.

'One day you will learn to be patient. But as for now ...' her companion put an arm around her shoulder, 'Listen.'

As Sam became quiet, she realised that there was quite a noise coming from outside the stable - for that is what it was. There appeared to be quite a crowd of people, chatting excitedly amongst themselves. Mary became restless and motioned for Joseph to go and shush the noisy crowd, lest they wake Jesus. This Joseph did, but as he opened the door, those outside instantly fell silent. A conversation ensued, the result of which was that those outside began to enter the stable to approach the little baby, kneeling humbly before him and bowing their heads in reverence.

The scene began to fade as Sam watched a young boy approaching the young family, holding out a newborn lamb ....

Song extract from 'In the Bleak Midwinter'

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Plans ...

A Christmas Medley - 14th December

A Little fir grew in the midst of the wood
Contented and happy, as young trees should.


'I'm going to be late back after school this afternoon,' Sam said to her mom as she was gathering her cases for school. 'We've been asked to go to the hall to try out our costumes for Saturday night.'

'That's fine,' her mom replied. 'I'm probably going to be late in myself, as I have to pick Billy up from playgroup, and they're also finalising their play.'

'Cool. Matt and I'll walk back together - that ok?' Sam asked.

'Sure,' her mom responded.

'Oh, are you coming on Saturday? I need to tell them, as they're having this party afterwards,' Sam asked. 'Please come.'

'I'm sure we'll all come. Dad has been mentioning that he wants to come too, so we'll bring Billy along. He'll enjoy it.'

'Great,' Sam replied. 'See you later, I'd better run.'

Extract from 'The Foolish Fir-Tree' by Henry van Dyke

Monday, 13 December 2010

Winter Wonderland


A Christmas Medley - 13th December

Sleigh bells ring, are you listening,
In the lane, snow is glistening
A beautiful sight,
We're happy tonight.
Walking in a winter wonderland.


Judy broke of humming. 'I SO wish it would snow this side of Christmas. At least we'd then get some time off school.'

'Doubt we'll have any such luck,' Sam replied, looking over her shoulder. The trees in the park they were walking through were white with the freezing fog that had settled overnight.

'Yeah,' Judy agreed. 'It's just not fair. They're getting snowed in up north, all those kids getting days off school to go snowboarding, and we just have business as usual.'

Sam kicked a stone on the path into a nearby bush. 'Well, at least we get off at the end of this week. I, for one, am looking forward to that.'

'Definitely. How did you enjoy the ice skating on Saturday night? It looked like you were having a great time. I so wanted to come over when you slipped on the ice, but Matt was headed your way quicker than I could get there - and then I just couldn't get away from the people I was with.'

'It was so great Judy!' Sam grinned at her friend, remembering the night before. 'I was so embarrassed when I slipped, but Matt is such a great teacher. He really helped me to relax and ... wow ... skating is the best thing ever. Did you know that Matt's been skating since he was four? I had no idea!'

'I had heard that he was a good skater, but I didn't know he had been doing it for that long. I think he's maybe even been in a couple of competitions, something like that,' Judy answered.

'Well, we're going out for coffee tonight. Maybe I'll hear some more,' Sam said.

Song extract from "Winter Wonderland"

Sunday, 12 December 2010

Interlude

A Christmas Medley - 12th December

Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
and the ears of the deaf unstopped;
then the lame shall leap like a deer,
and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy.


Sam hummed along to the music as she laid the wrapping paper out on the floor. Next to her was a pile of presents, already wrapped, while those that were as yet unwrapped were waiting on her other side. She was inexplicably happy, and even the rainy day outside wasn't going to dampen her mood.

Reaching for the next present, her thoughts returned to the events of the night before, and the reason for them. She still wasn't sure what was going on, but one thing she was sure of - that God was telling her something. If only she could figure out what.

She was slowly realising that Matt was somehow going to be involved ... a fact that she would previously have rejected vigorously. Not that she welcomed the possibility, but she was more willing to watch and see what happened than she would have been even a week ago.

God was also beginning to feel more real to her than he ever had before. Her night time companion must surely be God, and she felt so privileged that he was bothering with the likes of her. Especially when she considered the last few months.

Bible passages from Isaiah 35:5,6a NRSV

Saturday, 11 December 2010

On Skates ...

A Christmas Medley - 11th December


I'm dreaming of a white Christmas
Just like the ones I used to know...


'Hey,' Matt said, sitting astride his bike.

'Hey back,' Sam said, somewhat shyly.

'Here's your helmet. Put it on, and climb on back,' Matt smiled encouragingly, holding a helmet out for her. She reached out to take it, and then worked to put it on.

'Does it fit alright? Here, let me check.' Matt checked the straps, rocked the helmet - and her head - a couple of times, and then nodded in satisfaction. Wordlessly, Sam climbed onto the pillion seat, put her arms around Matt's waist, and hung on as he drew away.

........

Sam gripped the wall of the rink as she struggled to balance on her skates. She wished she hadn't said yes now. She could barely look Matt straight in the face after landing on her backside. He must be laughing right round the other side of his face, and at her. She couldn't bear it. She gritted her teeth and proceeded, making her way painfully slowly back to the gate, keeping her eyes trained on her feet, praying that they wouldn't give way again.

Skates skidded to a halt in front of her, breaking her concentration. She jerked her head upwards to tell the owner of the feet off to find Matt staring intently at her, a half smile on his lips.

'Hold my hands,' he said, holding them both out to her.

'Um ... but ...' she dithered.

'Don't you trust me?' He responded, acting a pout.

'I guess,' she responded shyly, putting her hands into is, shocked at how big his hands were compared to hers.

'Come,' he encouraged, skating backwards, pulling her into the middle of the rink.

Song extract from "White Christmas"

Friday, 10 December 2010

A Silent Wish

A Christmas Medley - 10th December

A silent wish sails the seven seas
The winds of change whisper in the trees ...


'Um, how's your day been?' Matt asked, swallowing nervously.

Sam tamped down on her annoyance to answer, politely, 'It was fine thanks, and yours?'

'Oh, mine was great,' Matt replied. Sam rolled her eyes. Here goes, she thought, and sure enough, 'I managed to get a tricky little problem solved in one of my projects that I'm working on for a client. Have you heard of Kinet Systems?'

Sam groaned inwardly. Not only was she walking next to him, but now he expected her to know about some stupid thing, a business maybe.

Barely managing to hide her frustration, she replied, 'Nope. I've never heard of them.'

'Well, I'll tell you more about them sometimes. You'll be impressed.' Sam bit her tongue. 'Are you going to the ice skating tomorrow night? If you aren't, would you go with me?'

Sam's heart beat a little faster in her chest, but 'I'm not going - I'm going to be busy.' Grudgingly she added, 'We're going carol singing at the care home.'

'Why don't you come along after? I don't mind coming to pick you up. You know I've got a bike?' Matt tried to encourage her.

Sam chuckled inwardly. How envious was she of his freedom on that bike, 'Can I ask my Mom and see what she says? I can let you know on Facebook in the morning?'

'Sure,' Matt smiled, pleased.

Song extract from "When a Child is Born"

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Forgotten

A Christmas Medley - 9th December

O grant us through our day of grace
With constant praise to seek Thy face;

Life's so unfair. Why is it me every single time. What do I have to do to have friends who remember me when something is going on. Sally, she knows how I feel about being left out of stuff, yet she's going and doesn't remember to ask me to go. Some days I wonder why I even bother to go out of the house. And why do I think I'm any good at anything? Argh! I could punch a wall, maybe the pain will help. But no, I sit here, practicing the piano like a good student, and they're all going to the skate party. Why, oh why?! It's just so not fair that I'm left alone in the evening. Yeah, I know that I'm going to the carol singing that night, but they don't know that. I should feel better because I'm already doing something, but it doesn't help. The fact is, I've been forgotten, yet again. What is it about me that makes people forget I exist? It's not like I'm any different to them? Judy, even Matt is going! Why him? He's weirder than I am! So what makes him get remembered, while I get forgotten. Even Judy shouldn't have forgotten me. How can she think that I'd not want to go, or not be invited, even if I were to say no. I've hardly seen her this week - she doesn't know about the carol singing. What type of a friend is she? I just wonder why I bother. I just get forgotten, every time. It's just no use anymore.

Song extract from "Break forth, O beauteous heavenly light"

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Bethlehem

A Christmas Medley - 8th December

Little donkey, little donkey
Had a heavy day
Little donkey
Carry Mary safely on her way.


A chill wind blew over her as surely as she felt a familiar blanket cloaking her. She found that she was sitting at a well in a dusty square, amongst flat-roofed, squarish buildings that looked like they were the same texture as the road.

So why are we here?' she turned to her companion, who was seated beside her.

'Watch, and wait,' he smiled at her. 'They'll be here soon.'

A short while later, she spotted some motion down one of the ... pathways ... between the buildings to their right. A figure walking alongside a beast, with another person sitting on the beast. They were stopping at each door and knocking.

'That's Mary and Joseph, isn't it?' Sam breathed, too awed to speak any louder.

'Yes, it is. And they're looking for a place to sleep.'

'Oh, I do hope that they find one,' Sam answered.

'Haven't you read The Word? Of course they'll find somewhere to stay. It's already happened.'

Sam was confused. Already happened? Here she was waiting for it to happen ....

'Don't miss this part. I always love this ...' her companion brought her attention back to the present ... past?

As Sam watched, she saw Joseph step up to another door and knock. This building was bigger than the other she could see from where they were sitting. The door eventually opened, light spilling out onto the pathway beyond, and over Mary, seated on the donkey. Now for the first time Sam could see how pregnant and tired she was. Her heart went out to her.

Joseph was nodding as he spoke to the person standing in the door. Then he moved away from the door and went to stand beside Mary, laying his arm around her shoulders. Sam could see their weariness in all that they did. Then the person inside came out, carrying a lamp with him. He turned to the left and walked along the building, towards where Sam and her companion were sitting. Joseph, Mary and the donkey followed him. Before it seemed they would reach the end of the buildings he turned left between them with the others disappearing after him.

'That inn-keeper's a nice man, to give them a place to stay - even if it's only a stable.'

'Yes, he is," her companion nodded. 'I made him like that, especially for this purpose.'

"And I'm glad you did," Sam admitted. But as she did, her vision turned fuzzy and the town disappeared from her sight.

Song extract from "Little Donkey, Little Donkey"

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Resting


A Christmas Medley - 7th December

Here we come a wassailing
Among the leaves so green, ...


"The team will be singing carols at the care home on Saturday night," her Mom said. "Will you be joining us?"

"Ah man, do I have to?" Sam pouted. They were relaxing in the lounge; Sam was playing a game while her Mom read a book.

"Well, the old people loved you last year ... and they'll ask where you are if you don't come," her Mom replied.

"Yeah ... they like to pat me on the head and remind me how they remember me when I was knee-high," Sam said sulkily.

"Oh Sam," her Mom came and put an arm around her. "You know, when I was your age, they used to say the same thing to me. Even now I might occasionally meet someone who remembers me at that age - especially at the care home. So it's you and me both, you see!"

"Mmmmmm," Sam responded, thinking. "I guess it isn't so bad then. And I do enjoy the singing - and some of the old ladies are lovely. I think I'll definitely be there - so long as one of the ladies tells you that they remember you when they were knee-high." She smiled at her Mom.

Her Mom laughed. "There's the spirit!"

Song extract from "Here we Come a Wassailing"

Monday, 6 December 2010

Santa Claus?

A Christmas Medley - 6th December

... He's making a list and checking it twice;
Gonna find out who's naughty and nice ...


'I just LOVE Santa Claus. For me, he's part of what makes Christmas Christmas,' said Sam. She and her friends were in the study area of their school library, doing some research on Christmas traditions around the world for a class assignment.

'Sure, I can't deny that,' Jim responded, 'but he takes people's attention away from the real reason for Christmas - Jesus' birth.'

'You see, that's my point - I don't think that he does,' Sam replied.

Judy, who had been listening to the conversation, cut in, 'I'm curious - why do you think that?'

'Well, you see, I read a few years ago that the Santa Claus character is actually based on a real person,' Sam answered. 'His name was Nikolaos, and he was a Greek bishop sometime back in the first few centuries of the church. He became known for giving gifts to the poor and needy anonymously, asking for no recognition in return - and this is essentially what Santa Claus symbolises.'

Song extract from "Santa Claus is Coming to Town"

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Don't Judge

A Christmas Medley - 5th December

... He shall not judge by what his eyes see,
or decide by what his ears hear;


The rest of the readings, never mind the sermon, were lost on Sam. All she could think about were those two verses.

She knew that she was being unfair on Matt. And if she were to follow Jesus, then she needed to accept everyone around her just as they were, not judging them by her own senses. She needed to consider what Jesus thought of them - and she knew the answer to that one.

She sighed inwardly. Ok. So she knew she was being horrible. But how could she put things right? She had absolutely no idea.

Bible passages from Isaiah 11:3b NRSV

Saturday, 4 December 2010

Contemplation

A Christmas Medley - 4th December

.... Hark! the herald angels sing
Glory to the new-born King!


The rain lashed the windows as they relaxed in the lounge. Too bored to watch TV, they were both lying on the floor doodling on a scrap of paper Sam had found, while working their way through an album of Christmas carols. Mom had taken Billy out to visit a play mate for the afternoon, and Dad was down at the church, so they had the house to themselves.

'So you had to walk with Matt last night?' Judy asked Sam, glancing sideways at her.

Sam rolled her eyes. 'Yes ... I didn't have a choice. It was either walking with him, or not be in the play. I had to be there.'

Judy smiled, 'It was good to have you there. I'm really glad that you came. And you're an angel!'

'I feel so inadequate to be an angel, though. Judy, you should have seen them! They were ... indescribable!'

'You don't have to be the same as them. You never can be. But you can just be yourself. That counts more.' Judy said, understanding Sam's problem.

'I know, I know. I still feel really disoriented. I'm me, but I feel ... sort of ... different.'

'So ... What do you think of Matt, now that you've spent some more time with him?' Judy grinned.

'Judy! I probably know him better than any other person in school! He just ... annoys me! He's so ... gangly ... and ... '

'Sam, are you so sure you know him?' Judy reached over to hold her hand. 'I think there are a few things about him I know that you don't, and one thing is that he's crazy about you.'

'Ew! Thanks for letting me know!'

Sam felt rather embarrassed at her reaction. This dream she had had was sure making her change the way she thought about people. But Matt? No way! But then there was that man who had been in her dream. Somehow she knew she needed to do better. But how?

Song extract from "Hark the Herald Angels Sing"

Friday, 3 December 2010

Heartsink

A Christmas Medley - 3rd December

'Mom, can I go down to the church hall tonight?' Sam called from the lounge.

'What's happening there?' her Mom replied, 'And come through here to the kitchen - there's no need to shout.'

Sam got off the couch and went through to the kitchen, a spring in her step. She scooped her little brother Billy out of his chair, cooing at him. 'They're having a practice for the Nativity play, and I want to be in it. Judy told me that I can go along this week if I still want to be in it. Please can I go?'

'How are you going to get there? You know I can't drop you off or fetch you, and Dad's away.'

Sam felt her heart sinking. 'Can't I just walk there? It only takes twenty minutes, and it's well lit all the way.'

'I'd rather you didn't. Why don't you phone Matthew? I know he's in it, and I'd be happier if you were with him. He's such a nice boy.'

... He tried hard to help me
You know, he put me at ease ...


Sam's heart dropped to her shoes. She couldn't stand Matt. He just annoyed her. It didn't help that he lived just two houses down, or that her Mom was best friends with his. She thought about saying she wouldn't bother going, but then she remembered her dream. She hugged little Billy to her.

'Ok. I'll give him a ring and see if I can walk down with him. Thanks Mum!' She kissed Billy on the cheek, and handed him back to Mom. She still wasn't too happy at asking Matt to walk her, but if it meant her being in the play .....

... I wish I had a river
I could skate away on.


Extracts from River, by Joni Mitchell

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Memories

A Christmas Medley - 2nd December

'Hey Judy,' Sam greeted her friend as she found her sitting in the cafeteria at lunch time. 'How's your day going?'

'Oh, mine's ok,' Judy answered, clearing the table of her books so that Sam could join her. 'And yours'?

'Ok,' Sam shrugged as she sat down with her food, dropping her bag on the chair alongside. 'Actually, really weird.'

'Huh? How's that?'

'Well, you see, I had this dream last night. Actually, I'm not sure that it was a dream, really. You're going to think I'm mad,' Sam looked at Judy.

'Try me,' Judy answered, opening her hands in a welcoming gesture.

'Hmmm. I'm not sure I should even tell you,' Sam looked at her food, worrying over whether or not this dream was for her alone, or for her to share. She shook her head. 'Well, basically, I dreamt that I was with the shepherds in the Bible when the angels came to tell them about Jesus' birth. It was really strange, and really ... Judy, I think I was really there!'

Judy watched her friend. She had seen something different about Sam today. She seemed to be more at peace today than Judy had sensed for a long time. Whatever had happened last night, it was good.

... O weary, weary were the world,
But here is all aright.


The words came unbidden to her mind, an old poem that she had read years ago. And with them, peace.

Extract from 'A Christmas Carol' by Chesterton

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

A Mountain Breeze

A Christmas Medley - 1st December

Day left as sleep claimed her heavy eyelids, drawing her into the world of the unconscious. It had been a long day, but ended with the satisfaction of a well-decorated house and Christmas tree.

........

She shivered as the cold mountain breeze flowed over her bare arms.

'Here, hold this around you,' a kindly man's voice said, and she felt a rough blanket being draped over her shoulders.

'Thank you,' she responded automatically, trying to gather her bearings. 'Where are we? And who are you?'

'So many questions?' the man next to her asked in return, smiling at her.

She took a good look at him. He had long hair, a long moustache and a long beard. All of his hair was grey, but he did not look as old as she would have thought he was, having grey hair. He was tall, well-built, with a weathered but kind, open face.

'Let's just say that I am a friend. This isn't the first time you've met me, and it won't be the last. But we digress. Watch.' And so saying, he gestured towards the valley in front of them.

As Sam turned towards the valley, the sky began to light up. As she watched, the diffuse light eventually coalesced into forms recognisable as humanoid. A sense of immeasurable peace flowed through her. One of the beings spoke, seemingly to a group of shepherds who were seated around their campfire just along the hillside from them. The being's voice thundered over the valley:

'Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.'

As the angel finished speaking, a countless number of angels joined those already present. Together they sang. These are the gist of the words that Sam heard that night:

Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favour rests.


With a sigh of contentment, Sam turned to her companion, to find him gone. As she looked back toward the valley, everything faded into blackness ....

Bible passages from Luke 2:10-12,14 NIV

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Inseparable

A Christmas Medley - 30th November

Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow ...


The door closed behind them, shutting the song in.

'I haven't seen you in church for ages. Things going ok?'

It was Sam's best friend, Judy. They had been best friends since they had first met up at big school, and now they were near inseparable. Except, it seemed, on the matter of church.

Kicking at the last of the autumn leaves on the walkway, Sam wasn't sure how to respond. She'd never lied to Judy, ever, and now wasn't the time to start. But this wasn't going to be fun either.

'I just haven't felt like it,' she shrugged. 'It's like ... nothing seems to work for me anymore. I know what I should be doing, but I just don't do it. I've tried, like reading the Bible every day, listening to music that I like, stuff like that, but I can't find God anywhere ....' She trailed off miserably.

'Hey hey, Sam, don't worry! We all have our ups and downs ... life's like that. I'll pray for you, ok?'

'Yeah, thanks,' Sam responded, not very enthusiastically.

'C'm'ere, lemme give you a hug. I'll bet you a good hug's part of what you need,' Judy said, putting her arms out in invitation.

And indeed it was. Sam felt herself relaxing for the first time in ages. It was as though she had been totally dehydrated by the lack of human contact - which was hardly true, as she had had plenty of hugs from her Mom the last few weeks.

'I've got to get off to practice for the Carols by Candlelight,' Judy said, suddenly realising the time. 'I wish you were coming too ... Oh well.'

'Enjoy it,' Sam responded with a sudden grin, too good-natured to ruin her friend's happiness. 'I'll catch you later. Think it'll snow tonight?'

Song extract from "In the Bleak Midwinter"

Monday, 29 November 2010

Deck the Halls

A Christmas Medley - 29th November


Deck the halls with boughs of holly ... Tra-la-la-la-laa-la-la-la-lah
Tis the season to be jolly ... Tra-la-......


'Come on now, can you please pass me another piece of that holly?' Sam's Mom asked, holding one piece in place over the mantelpiece while stretching out her left hand for the holly.

Sam sighed, exasperated. 'Can't you see I'm busy? I've got to do this assignment for Mrs Dewer tomorrow.'

'You know you should have worked on that last week, so that you wouldn't be sat here tonight doing it. We were always going to put up the holly tonight. Now just pass me a piece - it'll only take you five seconds max.'

'There,' Sam retrieved a piece of holly, and handed it over, 'Happy now?'

'Thanks. That was the last one I needed for that decoration.'

Sam grunted as she returned to her reading. She knew she shouldn't be annoyed. She had promised Mom she'd do the holly with her, had in fact been looking forward to it ... Now she'd gone and spoilt it for both of them. If only she had done this assignment last week ....

Song extract from "Deck the Halls"

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Equilibrium



A Christmas Medley - 28th November

Today was just a waste of space. Nothing but nothing had gone right. The piano lesson this afternoon had been just awful, and now the dratted door was stuck.

Delivering a sound kick to the base of the door, Sam finally got it to open. Immediately she regretted her haste as the door bounced back off the wall and almost hit her in the face - stopped only by her reflexive reaction. She stepped inside the house and slammed the door closed behind her.

'WHY is everything so DIFFICULT today,' she muttered as she threw her keys onto the bottom step. The keys bounced off the step and landed in a trainer below. 'ARGH!' she shouted in frustration.

Giving up on the keys, she marched into the lounge, flinging her school bag - which she'd taken with her to the lesson - onto the sofa. Typically, the books and pens flew out of it, distributing themselves around the vicinity. Ignoring the mess, and kicking the coffee table in passing, she deposited herself into the opposite sofa. She located the TV remote and commanded the TV set to turn on. That too got hurled onto the sofa as she settled down, with a deep breath, to try and recover her equilibrium.

Thumping her arm on the sofa arm in frustration, her hand came down on an open book. It was her Mom's Bible, left open at Romans 13. A verse had been underlined.

Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep.

Bible passage from Romans 13:11 NRSV

Saturday, 27 November 2010

Behind A Christmas Medley

Finally the time has come! A Christmas Medley posts from tomorrow, all the way up to the 25th December.

I have long wanted to write a Christmas story. I remember that I wrote one back in 1987, at the tender age of, probably, seven/eight! My long-suffering family - and especially my eldest sister.

I hope that each of you who follows A Christmas Medley over the next month will enjoy it as much as I am enjoying writing it (yes, it is still a work in progress as I write this).

The story follows a teenaged girl as she makes her way through life and the lead-up to Christmas. 

Friday, 29 October 2010

Us and Nature

This morning I've been thinking about volcanos. Probably because my husband mentioned earthquakes and tsunamis to me - and another friend has mentioned an earthquake in Alaska.

The reaction to the planes being grounded over Europe has always tickled me. Yup, you got that right. I'm very amused by it. See. A plane flying  in the area of Indonesia sees St. Elmo's Fire, engines cut out ... the plane seems to be crashing ... thankfully the engines restart when the plane drops low ... but when they finally land, they fine that the plane has effectively been, for want of a better word, sandblasted. Fine. So the cause of all that is a volcanic cloud. No problem. We just direct planes AROUND volcanic cloud in future.

But ...  NOT IN MY BACK YARD! Yup - you got that in one ... NIMBY! That's what some people who live in first world countries are ... nimbys. When such an incident crosses over into (arguably) first world countries, that's what the people living there become.

Get a grip on it ... there are several things bigger than us humans, and nature just happens to be one of them. Personally, I'll never attempt to step into an aircraft if there's a volcanic cloud anywhere nearby ... however much it costs me ... and too, I hope we never get big and ugly enough that we learn how to control nature. It's one of the few things that keeps us humble.

(most of this in reaction to people questioning why the planes were grounded in the first place)

Thursday, 28 October 2010

... shakes head ...

Last night as I was driving to visit a friend, a fellow-road user did something that really left me wondering. You see, en route to my friends house there is a toll bridge (the Swinford Toll Bridge, for those interested), the usage of which costs 5p (yes, that is five whole pennies) per pass. Seriously, it does NOT cost a lot, even if one uses it every day twice a day!!

Now, my dear fellow road-user decided that they apparently either did not have five pennies on them, or couldn't be a***d to pay any. So what do they do. Well, I pulled up behind them, and noticed that they were approaching the toll booth really slowly. Then the shot off, almost paused as they passed the booth, and then went on over the bridge. Simultaneously the occupant of the booth turned around to notice them disappearing into the distance. It was about then that I realised what they'd done. I pulled up alongside, the occupant of the booth and I shook heads, exchanged wry smiles, I handed over my five pennies, and went on my way.

My question is, why couldn't this individual just have pulled up alongside the booth, admitted to not having 5p, and then gone on their way? There was nothing the money-taker could have done to prevent them from proceeding (there is NO space to turn around), but surely a little courtesy, honesty and such like is ... decent? But no, they decided to be ... dishonest ... and just sneak past while the money-taker's back was (albeit very briefly) turned.

... shakes head ...

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

So effortless!

How do writers make their stories so effortless?

This has been plaguing me for a while. Reading the finished product, one goes 'of course' ... but the power of the imagination that drives a novel - especially scifi or fantasy - and the storytelling ability that goes into creating such a believable world .... well, I find writing a challenge - especially when it comes to a complex storyline. Give me a simple one any day!

So: hats off to writers! (excluding this one, of course ;-) )

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Do you have respect .....

... for nature?

There are two things (apart from the internet and reading) that can make me lose time: streams, and waves. A bubbling brook is a great soother, but I have to say, I just love waves. And the rockier the coastline, the better!

I always challenge myself, especially when seeing waves crashing over rocks like in the photo at left, to take a photo when the splash is at its highest point - and preferable above the horizon! As was the case with this photograph. Many many waves crashed over these rocks at Hermanus, South Africa, before I caught this moment. And I'm not ashamed to say that it is one of my best wave-splash photos ever.

Further than this though, the sea itself fascinates me. Probably because it's so vast, unknowable and dangerous. I've read many books about people who have, for example, sailed around the world. I'd LOVE to do that myself ... except for one thing. I have a built-in wariness of drowning. For me, that would be the most horrible way to die. So much so, it took years before I watched the movie Titanic - mostly because I had seen White Squall previously - I can't bear ships sinking either - although at the same time this scenario (all to real) also holds a morbid fascination.

'Fear' would probably be a better term to use than 'fascination' ... and is probably more correct. Although I dislike admitting to fear, as for me, that is something that I have been taught to not do. Perhaps a better way of putting it is 'strong sense of self-preservation' - which certainly kicks in when it comes to things of the sea. Flight would definitely take place!

Either rate, I will now go and enjoy the water that is falling from the sky ... at least that is currently a safe option :-)

Monday, 25 October 2010

Do they regret?

Just a thought for today, really. I was just looking at a list of classic scifi novels, which included Dune, Fahrenheit 451, The Left Hand of Darkness, that were initially rejected by publishers, and then went on to be bestsellers and win prestigious awards. I just wonder, do those publishers who reject books that later become bestsellers ever regret their decisions?

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Do what you can!

I think I figured something out yesterday! Taking life one day at a time is the sane way to get through it!!

Have you ever had people say to you "do this for the next 90 days" ... or worse, "you'll have to drink 2 litres of water a day every day for the rest of your life". I can bet you can identify with these statements and similar.

One of the things that I learnt a few years ago is that one shouldn't look into the future because we never know what will happen. Especially for those of us who trust in God, we very often take His presence out of our imagined future, causing a situation in which we fear the future. But on top of this ... when someone says 'you'll have to do this for the rest of your life' - what happens? The heart sinks, one quickly loses energy, and depression sets in.

So this is what I learned yesterday. As with any big task, just deal with it one step at a time - and in this case, one day at a time. We don't know what tomorrow will bring, and as the Bible says, every day has enough trouble .... so, instead of thinking about tomorrow, or any other days, just deal with today, and do what you can today.

Personally, I've found that this perspective gives me more energy to do the things that I know I SHOULD be doing every day ... I just do what I can today.

Friday, 22 October 2010

Collecting Christmas Carols, Songs and Poetry

I am busy collating a list of (and the lyrics for) Christmas Carols and songs. It certainly will not be a definitive list, but I would find it helpful if people could let me know what their favourite Christmas Carol or song is.

You will see that I haven't mentioned poetry yet, and that is because the criteria here is slightly different. I would like to have NICE poetry. For those who don't know, back in December 2004 I watched 'The Nation's Favourite Christmas Poems' on BBC here in the UK, and was bitterly disappointed at what I heard. I wrote this poem in reaction to what I had heard, I was so upset. At the time I did not consider myself to be either a writer or a poet, but I personally feel that the poem is pretty good!

If you give me any poetry suggestions, then, I am looking for poetry that does NOT include a rendition of a drunken office party!! Please. :-)

I am very grateful in advance for any assistance that I get!

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Identities - chasing after the wind??

I've been thinking about identities again. This is mostly due to several things over the last few days that have pointed me back to this search for an identity. Although I think the nature of the search has been slightly modified.

By 'identity' I've realised, I don't so much mean 'who am I?' as a sense of peace about who I am and what I stand for. This has previously been sold to me in the wrapping of 'know who you are in God, place your sense of identity with Him, and you will be at peace with who you are'. However, I will admit that I'm beginning to question this.

My main reasons for questioning this perspective come right out of the Bible. If one looks at various people whose appear in the Bible, one comes across a wide range of doubters, anxiety-sufferers, depressives ... those are the few I can think of right now, I'm quite sure that the list goes on (apart from the murderers, adulterers etc) ... Anyways, what I guess I'm trying to get at is that, even though these people knew God, and in some cases, very well, they still had issues with themselves and the world in which they lived. They certainly did not perpetually radiate an aura of peace and tranquility. No, more often they spent their time questioning God!

So, I'm beginning to think that perhaps finding this sense of identity, this sense of peace, belonging, security ... is a chasing after the wind. Certainly, as an end in itself, or even a means to [whatever] end, it will not provide the sense of fulfilment desired. Ultimately, I guess, one needs to be 'oneself' - whatever or whoever that is - and eventually one will get to know oneself. I don't know. And I'm not sure I'm making too much sense either!

This doesn't mean that I discount following God and searching for one's identity in Him - I just feel that one can try to do that for all the wrong reasons, and end up getting nowhere. Hmmmm.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

AH ..... the bliss ....

... of an early night!

This last weekend I was late every night. Have you ever tried that? You sit at your computer, working away ... but as you work, the strength drains out of you. You feel your muscles getting droopy, and have to fight extra-hard to stay awake. Cheeks begin to hurt, eyes battle to stay open and your back gets tense. 

Ok, so, many people do late nights. But I find myself less and less able to do it. Especially if it's a string of them. I still don't quite fathom how I used to go for weeks on 5 hours' sleep a night at uni. Perhaps it was the midnight snack at the Steers downtown!

Ah well ... last night, it was just bliss to lay my head on the pillow at 10pm, knowing that I had done my work, and done it to the best of my ability.

Friday, 15 October 2010

Break Time

I'm taking a break from writing this weekend. In the midst of a copy-editing project, and loads of other things happening. I will try to restart next Monday. In the meantime, may you all have a wonderful weekend!

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Rest day

I'm taking things easy today. So this is a short blog post. I'm currently working on a copy-editing project, so do not have a lot of time for writing. I will, however, leave you with this thought:

"Nothing seems secure anymore."

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

They've got one out!

"They've got one out!" The shout rang out through the walkways, habitats and flyers of the planets, triggering celebrations in every corner of the Federation. People hugged their neighbours, shed a tear.

Two hundred and twenty nailbiting days were finally drawing to a close. When the exploration vessel had veered off course on a heading for the outer rim and the void beyond, a chase ship had been scrambled and sent out after it, knowing well that this was their only chance to escape gruesome death. Eventually travelling at near light-speed, the rescue attempt had used every gravity assist the experts could find, in addition to their powerful anti-matter engines, to reach the stricken vessel as quickly as possible.

Daily tri-vids had kept the populations of the Federation updated on both the stricken crew and the rescue vessel. Psychs had maintained a running commentary - peppered with sage advice - on the condition of the doomed vessel's crew, while the Senators bickered about the cost of the rescue. Ultimately, however, sense had prevailed and the Federation had done the sensible thing: what was in its power to do.

Across the screens, the tri-vid from the rescue ship briefly showed the runaway, and the slender umbilical cord that connected its crew members to life. Barely visible on the screens, the 10-kilometre long link was a mere thread, the circumference that of a slender spaceman. Then the vid shifted, revealing the second crewman pulling hand over hand towards the end of the tunnel.

Written to commemorate the rescue of the 33 Chilean miners.

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

The Nighttime Rollercoaster

"Sleeping hard" just doesn't describe it. I feel like I've just stepped off a rollercoaster. I'm wiped out and the day has barely begun!

And it wasn't the tossing and turning - although there was a fair amount of that. Clearly our duvet is good insulation, because it was chilly out there! No. My dreams had me leaping from one concept to another. Lingerie modelling (do NOT ask ... lol); working in a South African Bistro (that's the only word I can think of) in London where the clients were the waiters and one couldn't understand what anyone was asking for; being chased by a shark-toothed version of Bond's Jaws (rather comical, actually. He was quite sweet); being on a coach with a guy from Terminator Salvation (who was NOT from said movie!); meeting the "cinema freaks" - a family who love Merlin ... again, don't ask; to being back at university and basically never at class (this is NOT like me) ........

MAN, where did that lot come from!! Clearly someone has decided I needed an active night so that I'd be raring and ready to go in the morning (which I almost am), so that I can get on with a mega copy-editing project that's just landed on my plate. So here goes ....

Monday, 11 October 2010

Saying "No" ...

Why is there such a problem with this two-letter word? One would think that, being one of the shortest decision-making words around, it would be a very easy one to use, but over and over I hear people saying 'I can't say "no" ...'

Do we let people down by saying 'no'? Do we miss out on a good time? Do we miss out on earning more money? Do we miss out on free time? Are we insecure about ourselves, and therefore say 'yes' all the time?

Sure, all of these things - but consider these questions: Do we build ourselves up? Do we allow others to abuse our good natures - does it become more about 'I have to do it' than 'I like to do it'? Do we take responsibility for things that should be other people's responsibility? Do we encourage mismanagement by not saying 'no'? Do we become 'people-pleasers', unwilling to upset anybody?

Regarding the last question, it's a well-known fact that one will die before one can please everybody.

Personally, I do not find it easy to say 'no' either. However, I have learnt that, when it comes to contractual obligations, there are boundaries that should not be crossed, such as working overtime without recompense; taking on duties that one has no training for; keeping quiet when one is not given the tools to do what one is required to do. These are instances that, for me, cause stress, and stress is by far the most unhealthy condition on the planet, I think. Therefore I have learned to draw the line on these points.

Sunday, 10 October 2010

Immovable Object - or not?

Last week Friday this bird intrigued me so much that I had to photograph it. Now you're wondering 'Why? ... It's a common Wood Pigeon!'

You see, for about an hour and a half, this bird just sat there. It didn't budge. I had to actually watch it for about five minutes to check that it was actually alive! And that was only because it occassionally made very small movements of the head.

Thankfully it eventually did leave, long after I had started to get worried about it. I suspect it was a juvenile, and didn't know where to go next. Who knows.

How often do we just stagnate? Do the people around us have to check up on us to see that we're alive? Perhaps sometimes it's a good thing if they do ....

Saturday, 9 October 2010

A fine challenge today has been!

Well, following my last two posts, I've had a real challenge on my hands today (I'm writing this on Friday evening). I've battled to keep my anger down when I was on the receiving end of two emails that I really do not feel I deserved, at the same time as trying to remember my post from yesterday! Forgiveness has been very hard to come by ... and although I've SAID to God that I forgive the people involved, I'm still feeling rather tense and unsettled about the whole situation.

As my comment to the previous post says, I KNOW in my head that forgiving is far better than seeing revenge, but trying to get that knowledge down to the heart is a real battle. And it isn't made easier by the following, which I read today:

Don't seek retribution. Instead, '...overcome evil with good' (Romans 12:21). God said, '...Vengeance is mine; I will repay' (Romans 12:19). Don't rush to judgement.

That's not always easy when you're the injured party, but the ultimate Judge said, 'With what judgement you judge, you will be judged...' (Matthew 5:24 NKJV). Make things right. Jesus said, '...be reconciled to your brother...' (Matthew 5:24 NIV). Don't wait for the other person to make the first move, you do it. Paul says, 'Make every effort to live in peace with all men...' (Hebrews 12:14 NIV). Pray for the offender. As much as it goes against your grain, when you '...pray for those who mistreat you' (Luke 6:28 NIV), God gives you the grace to forgive and see them through His eyes.

(taken from 'The Word for Today').

This is still a challenge for me as I write, but I am, thankfully, getting calmer as the hours go by, and more charitable - more willing to make allowances for things that were said.

Friday, 8 October 2010

Forgiveness?

Following on from yesterday's post ....

I just don't know right now where to completely give up on people or not. And saying as much just breaks my heart, as I'm not one to give up. But I keep coming back to a passage I read yesterday morning, which actually made me go and modify the last sentence of yesterday's blog post to how it got posted - that sentence was far more final before. Anyways, this is the post:

'Make allowance for each other's faults...' Colossians 3:13 NLT

When it comes to forgiving, you can't say it better than Tim Stafford did: 'I would rather be cheated a hundred times, than develop a heart of stone.'

The Bible says,  'Make allowance for each other's faults, and forgive anyone who offends you.' You don't get to choose who you'll forgive. Love is a command, forgiveness is an act of obedience. 'He has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother' (1 John 4:21 NIV). You can't be closer to God than you are to the people you love least. God sets the bar high because grudges are like cancer, and forgiveness is the laser that removes them. Bitterness chains us to the past, destroys families, divides churches and sours relationships. Forgiveness is the key that unlocks the handcuffs of hate.

Take your hurt feelings to God and say, 'Point out anything... that offends you...' (Psalm 139:24 NLT). It takes courage, but that's the kind of prayer He answers. It gets easier as you grow in Christ; in the meantime you have to work at it. As a child of God His Spirit lives inside you. You're no longer a slave to sin (Romans 6:14). God knows it's hard to forgive deep-seated hurts, but He will give you grace to do it.

To 'make allowance' means to take a charitable view and consider extenuating circumstances. People change and grow over time, so don't insist on clinging to a limited, outdated view of them. Try to see them as they are today. Most folks are doing their best based on the knowledge and understanding they have now, so give them a break!

Me again: to be honest, I'm still thinking about it. This is definitely something I'm ... thinking and praying about ... not because I don't want to forgive, becausee I do ... but I need to go past a lot of pain to get there.

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Is Moving to a New Country Easy?

Well, it depends. The first time I moved to England (alone), it was quite easy. Probably because I was younger and didn't think too much about it! I made some good friends within three months of arriving, took things easy, and found a church that welcomed me in. That church became the foundation for my life here in England, and I appreciated it. I still see friends from that church on occassion.

Second time around (with my husband), however, the answer has to be a "No". Although the country is again England (I returned to South Africa - another 'new country' move - in the meantime), the situation is totally different. Some things were easy. God provided work for my husband (I came over with work intact) within a very short space of time, we had sufficient finances to cover eventualities, and we were able to eventually move into fully-furnished accomodation (plus car) thanks to some dear friends who were moving to South Africa. God does work all things together!

Beyond that, however, it has not been easy at all. We are the outsiders in the community, understandably, but we are also the outsiders in our church. This is, to me, a completely foreign situation, as my understanding of church is that strangers should be welcomed in, tested (do they believe what we believe?), and be made to feel part of the church family.

Writing this over a year and a half after we arrived in the town, I am still struggling to comprehend this. For me, the church family, not clubs and societies, has been what I have learned should be one's avenue for finding stability, friends and fellowship. I feel like I have to question this understanding, due to this figurative carpet being swept out from under my feet.

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

More on Secrets

I can personally say that, bearing in mind what I blogged about yesterday, it is far easier to 'get it off your chest' than to keep quiet about the deepest, darkest things that one wants to hide away. And that if God is the only person (being?) one can turn to, then that is certainly better than having no-one to turn to. I know what it is to have no-one to turn to but God. I once made a mistake, and lost a friend as a result. It hurt, like nothing else could hurt. I was so angry at myself for being so stupid. I eventually found comfort in the fact that God knows everything about me before I even talk to him, and that he still loves me, even when I make mistakes. And he doesn't go telling what he knows to those around me. He listens when I turn to him, and does not judge me. I could talk to him about how I felt, and even knowing that he alone (at the time) knew what I'd done, it was strangely comforting.

In my friendships I do what I can to provide my friends, when they're hurting, with a safe haven. I have always maintained that 'it is always better to have at least one person one can talk to' - and if they have no-one else who will listen, I do my best to be that listener.

I think however, that one needs to include, along with these 'secrets', frustrations. I get very frustrated about things (and it's an old frustration ... some things do not change), and I rarely let people know that I am frustrated. This is because there's often fingers pointing away from me, but I then remember that there some pointing back at me too, and that makes me think. I can honestly say that I have yet to find out why those fingers point back at me.

My Mom has always told me that writing things down is the best way to deal with secrets and frustrations, because then God can work with it. It certainly is therapeutic to write, although for many years playing the piano was the therapy that would put my thoughts back on track when I was frustrated. I think the most important thing to do is, find something constructive that allows your mind to free-wheel while you're busy, and that builds you up instead of breaks you down. Playing music and writing definitely appear to be two options - for me, at least.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Secrets (2)

I am aware that this post and yesterday's are extracts from another source, and not my own personal thoughts. Tomorrow's post will be my answer to these posts, so please bear with me. I will say, however, that this particular extract gelled most with me - probably because it provides more of a visual, real-life demonstration of our need to get our darkest thoughts and secrets off our chests than the previous one does.

'...I'll make a clean breast of my failures to God...' Psalm 32:5 TM

Hidden among the sand dunes on Bird Island, North Carolina, is a postbox marked 'Kindred Spirits'. Inside are notebooks and pencils visitors can use to record their thoughts and prayers in anonymity. Author Zoƫ Elmore says, 'I'm amazed what people have written... heart wrenching confessions... their deepest and darkest secrets... prayers of desperation... People... willing to put down... things they'd never share with family or friends... and place them in a mailbox on a secluded island. These writings are an indication of everyone's need to be heard in a safe environment... to get things off our chest without interruption or condemnation. As a child of God we have a true Kindred Spirit to whom we can pour out our hearts... His name is Jesus and you just have to call on Him... He's waiting to listen to your innermost fears and private thoughts. Perhaps you have things you're longing to share; secrets you've kept far too long... I have great news... it's possible to experience freedom - without visiting Bird Island! Call on the Name of Jesus... pour out your heart with confident abandon... He's present and He's listening.' When you do that, David said, 'You get a fresh start, your slate's wiped clean... God holds nothing against you and you're holding nothing back from him. When I kept it all inside... The pressure never let up... Then I let it all out...; I said, "I'll make a clean breast of my failures to God." Suddenly the pressure was gone - my guilt dissolved, my sin disappeared' (Psalm 32:1-5 TM). What a great feeling!

Taken from 'The Word for Today', by UCB.

Monday, 4 October 2010

Secrets (1)

This is a two-part post - a) to keep it short, and b) because it is originally in two parts. What follows is from my daily readings, and I feel that everyone should think about these things, as they are too true.

'...You're after... truth from the inside out...' Psalm :6

Lisa Whittle says, 'Pornography... excessive shopping... eating disorders develop in isolation... What we watch... think... how we spend our time are the "secret places" Satan uses. It's not that we don't want to be honest... but fear of being discovered keeps us... [trapped]... If Satan can get us to... bury our secret[s]... we can't be effective for God... our private sins will eat away at us, making us feel fraudulent and unworthy... The truth is we're the ones who don't love and accept ourselves, not God! "What is hidden he brings to light" (Job 28:11 NKJV) because He's "after... truth from the inside out".' So, practise honesty. When you catch yourself telling a lie, stop, admit it and apologise. It's embarrassing, but you'll think twice next time! Develop a strong faith. Make authenticity a top priority. Strengthen your walk with God through daily prayer and Bible-reading. Consider your motivation. Make sure the improvements you're working on in your life aren't just to impress others. Appreciate your God-given attributes. Make a list, stop and look at it when you feel 'less than'. Value your own judgement. Consider what you're already accomplished and the good decisions you've made in the past. Dr Edwin Locke says, 'Think independently... be mindful of what's suitable for you regardless of what the rest of the world says.' Stop trying to be perfect or look super spiritual. Openness means living without pretence and giving others permission to be transparent.  Remember, seemingly 'together people' have their not-so-together moments, and falling apart is sometimes how you get put back together. Live with a genuineness others will want to emulate. Honesty facilitates honesty. When you're real, people can tell.

Taken from 'The Word for Today', by UCB.

Sunday, 3 October 2010

Heads Up

I have been at a loss for something to write today - mainly because my mind has been on other things. Instead of going with any of my existing plans, I thought I'd share with you just what my mind has been on. Well - up to a point. I am a writer, after all!

Christmas is my absolutely favourite time of the year. It has been this way ever since I can remember - probably since I was at least 4 years old - and every year is the same. Being a Christian, the story of the nativity is very precious to me, but so too is everything attached to this time of year - Christmas tree, presents, Father Christmas, Christmas carols ....

When I was about seven years old I wrote a nativity story. It was the entire Nativity story from start to finish, all the bells, whistles and carols that I could think of .... and trust me, I knew my topic. It was a LOT!  This particular venture was recorded on cassette - which has been lost over time, to my relief, as it has been both a great source of embarrasment (for me) and amusement (for others).

The dream of telling a Christmas Story has, however, not left me. In fact it has grown stronger over the years.

I have therefore decided that, over the month of December, starting at the first Sunday of the Advent, I will be posting a Christmas story on this blog. Now, please don't start groaning at 'yet another' Christmas story. I can probably guarantee you that you will not have read one quite like what I have in mind.

Now .... I'd better go and plot my course by the stars ......

Saturday, 2 October 2010

Christmas is Coming .... (slowly, granted!)

Do you have any idea how difficult it is to find a Newsletter template (preferably of the MS Publisher variety) that has a Christmas theme?

I received a text from one of my sisters this morning asking for a template she could use for an emailed Christmas newsletter. I've searched MS Publisher templates ad nauseum, and came up with nothing. Now I'm contemplating building one for her to use, to make my life easier! Why don't people just create templates that one can USE?

Apart from that, we have a lovely day here in England (the calm in the middle of the storms). We're looking to go out somewhere to take some photos and just catch some fresh air, so watch this space for, hopefully, some great countryside scenes!

Friday, 1 October 2010

What catches your eye?

I wanted to chat about this image - simply because it fascinates me. It is quite by chance that I took the photo. My mind was focussed on other scenes round about, and my husband had been taking photos of two juvenile ducks who were completely unafraid to come within centimetres of a human. I suspect they were expecting food!

He had just finished photographing the ducks, and we were about to leave the riverside when I spotted this leaf. I just couldn't resist snapping this shot. And of all the photos that I took that day, this is the one that, for some strange reason, stands out the most. Perhaps it's because I love streams - the running water always calms me and brings me a sense of peace - and I can sense the movement of the water around the rock in this picture. There is also the fact that the leaf stands out from the rest of the image.

What I do know is that there's always beauty around us if we care to open our eyes and look. This piece of beauty caught my eye. What catches yours?

Thursday, 30 September 2010

Pain - is it useful?

Most of us spend our lives trying to avoid pain. And usually with good reason. However, I would argue that there are some circumstances in which pain is necessary.

On a personal level, I have tendonitis in my elbows - a problem more commonly known as tennis elbow. The usual treatment for this is a cortisone jab or, in more extreme cases, an operation. When I first noticed that I had this problem, I resolved to go neither route. I realised that the pain was telling me something ("Stop using me!!!"), and that I needed to get to the source of the problem rather than eradicating the symptom - the pain. For this reason, therefore, I underwent chiropractic treatment and extensive rehab gym treatment, to get my whole body working together to support the screaming tendons. It worked ... and after a year and a half I had full use of my arms again. Presently I do very little to take care of the tendons, and occassionally the inflammation flares up again, telling me to take it easy (and more pertinently, to behave myself on a permanent basis!).

Another situation in which pain needs to be considered is in people who suffer from leprosy. I have learned, from reading about Dr Paul Brand a pioneer in surgery for leprosy sufferers, that this is one illness where the absence of pain is traumatic, as sufferers do not feel pain and can therefore maim themselves terribly.


I would therefore like to return to my question: is pain useful? I argue that yes, it is.

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

I can fly ....

I'm feeling much lighter!

Several months ago, one bright spark of a morning, I signed up to the RSS of a LOT of blogs. Most of them were on writing, some on scifi, others on Christianity - or at least, by Christian bloggers.

No offense to any of those who's RSS feed I adopted that morning, but I've just cleared out a lot of them. My Reader was feeling a little bit like a can of worms which, once opened, it is very difficult to stuff the worms back into. Thankfully I now have those blog feeds that are important to me, and where there are a lot of posts, I at least know why! I have also removed all those blogs that were, yes, interesting ... but for the most part, I didn't get anything out of them.

Hmmm ... should I judge my own blog posts by that same criteria? I would hope that mine is more interesting than some of those that I have perused the last few months!

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Distractions

My apologies for a quiet day yesterday ... I had not scheduled any posts, and when it came to when I needed to write something if I was going to post at all, a massive speed-bump landed in the road before me, blocking my way. The good thing about the speed-bump is that I am now a wiser person. I wish I could say more, to teach people what I have learnt, but some things are better left unsaid.

I am going to try and get back into the swing of things ready for tomorrow's post. I wish you all a wonderful day - and I thank you for your being here.

Sunday, 26 September 2010

A New Challenge

These last couple of weeks I have had to cope with a whole new experience. It's probably normal for other people, but for me, at the age of 30, I'm having to learn new behaviours.

There is someone at my work who has the same name as me. Where I am from, my name was unique, and even where I live now, it is rare enough. More often than not, I have had to handle people calling me something that is NOT my name, such as the more common Laura or Lauren, but never have I had people around me with my name before.

I guess it kindof makes me feel unsettled - having to figure out who is being spoken about each time my name is mentioned.

Saturday, 25 September 2010

Feeding the Rainbow Trout

Take a look at this, captured today: Rainbow Trout in a feeding frenzy at the Bibury Trout Farm in Gloucestershire, England.


Do also take a look at the photographs that I took, which are to be found at this location: Bibury September 2010

The Deadly Race

The wind beat the waves into a frothy frenzy as I gazed out over the bay. The beams thrown out by the twin lighthouses, one at the end of either point, pierced the storm-crazed darkness. From the island, joined to the mainland only by sturdy walkways picking their way through the lashing trees, shone dull glows from shuttered houses, hunkering down to wait out the storm.

Having picked my way down the cliff, I passed through the dark streets of the town, heading towards the channel that cut the island off from the mainland. I sought my boat, last left near the slipway by the big tree.

As I approached, I knew it was hopeless. The channel, usually harbouring a gentle rivulet, was a raging torrent, whipped into a deadly race by the wind. Drawing nearer to the water, I noticed an oar pass by, and then a float-board. With growing horror I looked upstream, catching sight of what I dreaded. Several more float-boards and oars were heading my way, and limbs flailed in the water, heads occasionally breaking the surface. I had to act, and now.

Wading into the water, I caught the next board that came near to me, and then the next oar. Suddenly I sighted a hand moving past just below the surface of the water. I grabbed onto it, and the response was immediate, the relief at being rescued flowing up through my arm. I hauled at the hand and a body followed it, the young man finally finding a grip on the bottom of the channel. He staggered out of the channel and stood to one side of the slipway.

A short while later, all of the black swim-trunk-clad young men who had been caught by the storm were standing behind me, congratulating themselves on their narrow escape. I had ditched my efforts to rescue their equipment in favour of saving their lives.

They spent that evening in the local tavern, warming themselves with beer.