Letting Go – Ode to a Car

Just over ten years ago we bought a car which thought it was a van. Or maybe it was a van which thought it was a car. It was a good car van. It was functional, utterly practical and so, so roomy inside. It was a silver Peugeot Partner, almost identical to the Citroen Berlingo and the good points about it (in no particular order) were:

  • sliding doors for the back seats which made it easier to unload/load young children in car parks without them opening car doors on to neighbouring cars;
  • you could stand a Phil&Ted’s double buggy in the boot without folding it down;
  • you can fit a lot of luggage, children, dog, presents for Christmas all inside the vehicle without needing a roof box;
  • the number plate included the letters LE……GO which I always thought was fabulous;
  • it had a CD player (meaning we often had dozens of CDs in the car – even some for the adult travellers);
  • it was so tall we could always find it in car parks;
  • it was so ugly no one ever tried stealing it;
  • you could tell where the front of the car was for parking because you could see the headlamp bars (not sure it needed them, but they did help in that regard);
  • most of the doors worked most of the time;
  • it was not a car I needed to be precious about with children in, so it was allowed to get untidy and there was so much capacity in the foot wells we could get a full load of shopping in there (much easier than opening the boot);
  • I have transported all kinds of large furniture in it (beds, mattresses, book cases and even a dresser);
  • the boot was big enough for eating fish and chips in;
  • pretty good visibility and a high driving position;
  • a glove box which held together really well with gaffer tape;
  • storage everywhere – practically a caravan in fact – I loaded it to the roof when I helped my mum empty her parents’ house – and we could fit all the guinea pig stuff (including the hutch) in the boot.

It was a car we took to France. A car we took our children around the UK to meet family and friends, take holidays, eat picnics. The car we brought the dog home in.

SONY DSC

We replaced the front windscreen (several times). The battery. The starter motor. The boot door. The tyres. The cam belt. The rear bumper. The wiper blades. Various bulbs. I learned how to take a wheel off by myself on this car. It was pranged one Christmas but was very forgiving. Yes, it was noisy, bulky and boxy, but it was a car we grew very attached to. Our son would lock himself in it when he was not in the mood to leave it and go indoors. Our daughter would insist on putting the music on, even at (no, perhaps especially at) junctions when we were concentrating on traffic. We gave lifts and sang badly. Well, I did. We tried to fit a roof top box – even bought the special spanner – and then realised it wasn’t going to happen. The necessary bits had rusted through.

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It was a workhorse of a car, and the only one we’ve had for several years now, but it was getting more unreliable, and besides, we wanted to move on from diesel.

So, in the usual way with these things, we spent the past few years assessing what our next car should be, and settled on a Golf SV. We then made a longer shortlist. A long list. Shortened it. Consulted the children. Consulted the dog. Reduced the list. Settled on a Golf SV again. It is not a trendy car. Jeremy Clarkson has nothing nice to say about it. This stands in its favour in my opinion. When one came up which met our specification, we went and saw it last weekend, and part exchanged yesterday.

Our boxy brute of a car is sold.

Gone.

Ready for auction (well, aside from the glove box, the dodgy door and the necessary deep clean). It may have enough life in it for someone to make good use of it for a while – I hope so. And I hope they have use of the official dog guard, which we won’t be needing any more as it doesn’t fit the Golf.

I do love the new car though. All the doors open. It has many buttons, and I already know what some of them do. I finally found the CD player – in the glove box. Which opens. It has a sun-roof (the car, not the glove box, as far as I know), which was high on my list for years. It has enough cup holders for a sports team. We bought it from a dealership in Essex, it has a Suffolk number plate and now lives in Cambridgeshire. Who knows how long we’ll have it? Perhaps it will also take us on many adventures.

New year, new car. But, to move forward, we have had to let go. It’s a lesson I think my old car had been trying to teach me for some time.

See?

IMG_2246_LIOr, maybe it wanted to go to a car wash, to let go of the winter muck.

Or, maybe it wanted a part in Frozen. And just couldn’t let it go.

Or, it wanted to drive to Le Tango in Venice.

Who knows?

I will miss my big silver van car. I’m very grateful for all the memories. Now it’s time to make new ones. And to find a home for the 64 CDs which won’t fit in the new car…

Mental Health and Tools from A to G

 

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Today I am marking World Mental Health Day by considering some important things I have learned over a number of years. Over time and with a lot of help and medication, I have acknowledged, accepted and come to accommodate the strange limits my mind puts on me.

Except when I don’t.

(Some days are better than others.)

Bad days are brain fog. Malfunctioning. Panic.

Bad days are forgettory days.

Bad days are dissolved dreams. The fear of fear.

Bad moments leaking into good days tie my words and emotions.

Bad days are full of can’ts and empty of most of the other stuff.

The world might have woken up with a bottle green sky and velcro pavements and nothing would feel alien; I would just be aware that – as usual – everything is odd again.

Then the frustration and the disappointment and the grief at so many little inadequacies and unfulfilled potential returns, so that even if the initial anxiety was inert, it is now tainted.

But.

But. This journey is a familiar place now; a commute I know well enough to recognise.

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I have learned to see that I am not alone, and not being ok at times is ok too. And, instead of letting the journey focus me on myself, my healing has involved looking outwards. How can I help others? What are other people’s stories? How can I be part of someone else’s solution?

Those around me almost all seem to be affected by hurting minds too, perhaps in different ways, and at different times. Caring people. Intelligent people. Wise people. Thoughtful people. Decent people. People carrying burdens they weren’t designed to have to carry alone.

The journey is always better when it is shared. Relief comes when you accept you are not sufficient to meet your own lack. When you can grieve this with others and release emotions as many times as you need to.

Talking helps. Honesty and truth will get you a long way.

Medication helps too.

Realistic targets help, and celebrating the wins.

Self-forgiveness and acceptance, and guts to keep on when you are blindly navigating territory you don’t want to be in.

The Mental Health Foundation has lots of good advice on their website.

 

Rollei Digital Camera

For me, the journey hasn’t always been as bleak as the first time I made it. Familiarity means you can find and practise using tools to equip you when your brain does not want to work. It is more than 25 years since I started facing down depression and anxiety, and if you are interested in knowing some of the tools which definitely work for me and may well for you or others too, here’s a start…

Autopilot and habit forming

I make a lot of lists and plans, and fall back on routines to get through busy times of the day. Plans help me to identify the most urgent and important tasks of the day and put my mental resources into these. At times when I cannot focus well for more than a minute or so, I know I have many tasks I can do around the house on autopilot.

Breaks

It has surprised me just how much my own condition has affected my concentration and mental stamina. If I know I have to be alert for a period of time, I’ll need to prepare exceptionally well and allow considerable recovery time afterwards. This has meant giving up full-time teaching and moving into part-time tutoring. This is not a problem though, as it is a job I love and which feeds into my passions.

I find that I need regular breaks on a daily and weekly basis, and when weekends fill up with activity I need to give myself a day during the week to recharge my mind. This often falls on a Wednesday, which is the day when my mind is usually least likely to be functioning.

Cups of tea or coffee

I make a point of having a quiet time every morning after the school run with a nice snack and a hot drink so I can pray and read and prepare emotionally for the day. When I don’t manage my quiet time I almost always regret it later in the day. I also make a point of noting what I did the day before in a diary, which helps stimulate my flagging memory, and to consider what the ‘best thing’ was that day.

Delegating

Although I would like the family to take on more of the chores, it is not simple to teach housework to or supervise tired children when I am mentally spent – this means the kids are not doing enough around the house, but it also gives me a deeper sense of purpose when chores are all I can manage. Even these can be too much some days. I have responsibilities in various forums and would love to be able to take on more roles in the children’s schools and at church, but experience has told me (many times) that I cannot do as much as I think I ought to be able to without burning so low on resources that I need excessive recovery time, and that it is ok to share the load with others.

Eating healthily

IMG_0877Three months ago I decided, rather suddenly, to stop eating chocolate for a period of time. My resolve was almost certainly connected to my expanding waistline. After a few weeks of feeling sorry for myself and inordinate amounts of salted caramel ice cream, I discovered that I had lost the desire for it.

This was proved when I visited Cadburyworld with the family during the summer; I just didn’t want any. I still have my free chocolate bars (and a lot I bought in case I change my mind), sitting on the shelf at home.

I now aim to cut out other offending junk food, one area at a time. The results are slow, but already I fit some of my clothes better.

Fitness

Having Faye has meant a good routine and discipline for walking twice a day for at least 20 minutes, and more often than not a lot more. Getting outdoors is good for my mind in lots of ways, but stretching the legs and the satisfaction of hitting more than 10,000 steps in a day is a real mood-lifter.

Good friends

My friends who don’t judge me, who accept me, listen and encourage me are utterly precious. I have found friends in different places and at different times who have helped walk with me in the darkest hours, and I am grateful to God for every one of them.

Friends who can distract with activity, or enrich with beauty, or enable with words.

Friends who see the me I want to be, not the me I think I am becoming.

Friends who can tell me, in the best possible way, that sometimes you need to stop, and return to something a little later, when you are ready.

The Myrrh and The Gold

Last year I was published twice in anthologies produced by the Association of Christian Writers, which was a great big step for a fledgling writer like me. It helped my writing esteem enormously and gave me a feel for some of the other elements involved in producing a book; behind the scenes several friends worked long hours proofing, editing and typesetting. When I got my copies I learned about marketing and selling dozens of copies of each.

Click on the links below for the Kindle versions. Print copies are available too, and I have one remaining copy for anyone local to me who asks quickly enough on the Christmas book.

New Life: Reflections for Lent by [Jones, Wendy H., Robinson, Amy]            Merry Christmas, Everyone: A festive feast of stories, poems and reflections by [Jones, Wendy H.]

As I was researching and writing about frankincense for Merry Christmas Everyone, I considered also writing about the other two gifts the Magi presented to Jesus in Matthew 2. Getting under the skin of a biblical passage is a real passion of mine, and presenting information in original ways. I had written a poem about frankincense, which is a dried resin used for lots of purposes, but principally known as a fragrant material for burning in religious ceremonies. If there was intended meaning behind the gift, as many believe there was, the symbolism may well have concerned priesthood.

The symbolism of gold is far easier to connect to, as we recognise its potent regal connotations across many cultures and times. Gold represents majesty, honour and treasure.

Myrrh is a more strange material; it is also a gum from a tree, and produced for medicinal and religious purposes, but it has a strong association with ancient embalming, and has traditionally been held to represent the importance of the death of Jesus as a sacrifice.

Strange gifts for a young child, and certainly things to give Mary reason to ponder. Each of these elements were present in prophecies about the coming Messiah in the Jewish scriptures, and each featured in the way Jesus lived his life on earth. A king. A priest. A sacrifice.

Frankincense, growing in Socotra Island, Yemen

You’ll need to get hold of a copy of Merry Christmas Everybody to read my poem in there about frankincense, but here to complete the set are the other two poems.

May you have a blessed and joyful Epiphany!

 

The Myrrh

The soldiers showed no mercy when they came
and murdered David’s sons inside our town;
the orders of an angry king to blame –
despising any who could take his crown.

The merchants saw them first, as daylight broke:
on horseback, wearing armour, wielding swords;
the little boys were sleeping. We awoke
to screams and murmured prayers and broken cords.

The mothers who had fed these sons from birth
(their hopes and futures, joys, inheritance),
traded their blessings and exchanged young mirth
for myrtle baths, and wept at the expense.

My God, my God, do not forsake these ones,
whose myrrh and tears embrace their precious sons.

Commiphora myrrha - Somaliland - Nov 2014 - 04 - natural exudation

 

 

The Gold

We were given gold
and told to leave the land of Egypt,
so we ran from slavery
bravely, fearfully, tearfully,
carrying our treasures close to our hearts.

And journeyed into furnaces of sand.

We learned in pain that gods of gold
had not received us, saved us.
Melting
in our shame,
we learned the Name alone
– not gold –
was pure,
bright, heavy, sure,
carrying His treasure close to His heart.

We built a tent and used our gold
to show our gratitude.
We covered all the wood –
made ornaments and bells,
to show our worship for our King.

He took us from the furnace to the land.

The tent came too. But,
so confused by gods of other clans
we looked to gold for answers,
carrying our hearts close to our treasures.

Measuring ourselves with others.

We want a king!

You have a King.

No – a king like all the others.
Give us a king.
With a crown.
A crown of gold.
We’ll build him a gilded palace.
We cannot see our King.
How can he save us?

I will give them a king. A boy from Bethlehem
who carries me close to his heart.

Our kings had golden crowns
and splendid rooms
and saved us sometimes.
And sometimes broke us.

There was a golden temple too
(our King was there).
But other temples grew
and who knew what was true?

Until armies came from the East.

They took our gold,
gold from our temple,
carried it close to their hearts,
back to their temples where they worshipped the stars.

We want a king!
A king who will save us.

I will give them a king. A boy from Bethlehem
who carries me close to his heart.

We journeyed from our land, as slaves again.

Our captured hearts sang songs of times of gold,
and how our King had saved us once before.

And when our hearts, refined, were moved to Him,
He took us home.

And we were given gold,
restored to us,
and told to build our land again.
Bravely, fearfully, tearfully, we went,
carrying our Treasure close to our hearts.

Humbled and tested, and tested again, and humbled.

More kings, and battles, and languages and rules
and every king so hungry
for power, wealth
or taxes.
Our humble heads hung low –
we didn’t see the star
that told of Treasure coming to our hearts.

They came with gifts of gold.

capitonet_babylon_bangles_641.641

 

 

Giving up giving up

Ooooh, it’s Lent.

And today it’s also the Feast of St Valentine, which conveniently has Lent right there in the middle of it.

Or, if you like, A loveseat tent sniff, which is a useful anagram for the day.

Not often that Lent starts on Valentine’s Day, and as Easter Sunday falls on 1st April, this year Lent is bookended with love and joy.

I like that.

Image result for psalm 90 14

A lot of people I know try and discipline themselves over the season of Lent by giving something up. While their efforts are laudable, sensible and often far too health-conscious for regular humans like me, I don’t feel comfortable with the idea of refraining from something I enjoy and feel nourished or sustained by, unless I feel convicted by God to do it (i.e. fasting, from food, drink, social media or the like). There are times when God asserts his place by insisting on our attentions. Food, drink, even facebook, are not to become more important than God. But neither are those other precious things in life: partners, children or oxygen. And while I put God ahead of my husband, my children and the air I breathe, I don’t honestly think he is asking me to forgo them for six weeks. The family may be a little confused and upset, for a start.

Fasting has its place. Giving something up for Lent often has its place when God convicts us, but if it is about a personal detox, it is not a spiritual endeavour. Perhaps some people, in their earnest desires to improve themselves, have made ‘giving up’ a bigger deal than ‘getting close to God’. They want to see whether they can manage to accomplish something valuable but difficult. Great. For me though, I want a closer relationship with God. Sometimes he will want me to give something up. Sometimes he will want me to take something up.

For me, Jesus took up human flesh and frailty. For me, he took up the cross. In my experience, God has been wonderfully generous through the many ups and downs of life; multiplying grace and love over and over. He has sometimes put barriers up, but these have been wise and reasonable, even when I did not like them. He has sometimes allowed times of pain, but his presence has been close and his promises have endured.

In Jewish thought, the idea of stopping on the Sabbath and not working is not viewed as negative, but positive. The Sabbath rest is a proactive feasting and renewing time. Our best celebrations do the same.

So I will give up giving up. This Lent I am going to try finishing a few tasks.

  • I want to finish sorting the children’s artwork from the past ten years.
  • I want to finish getting the garage in order.
  • I want to complete several books I am in the middle of. And get promised book reviews to Amazon.

I am a great starter of tasks. Now I am going to learn to be a great finisher of tasks too. God has shown me that he continues with me, though I am still a work in progress. He will complete the task and what he starts, he finishes.

What about you? Have you got any tasks you are hoping to complete over Lent? Or any interesting Lent activities or fasts you are taking part in? Do comment below!

 

New Life ACW Lent Book – Update

I am thrilled to announce that I am in print, and the books are out now!

The Association of Christian Writers have compiled a book of creative devotionals in the form of a Lent Book, and I am one of the contributors. This is a very exciting experience for a fledgling author.

As I was keen, naive and wanted to put all my profits toward a church link in Albania we have set up with our home church, I managed to get a large number of pre-orders, so am one of the very first to take delivery of my order. Responses have been fantastic and as my own stocks are now very low, if you are interested in a copy, do please order from Amazon, or support your local Christian bookshop and get it direct from them. 

 

Lent Book cover

 

 

International Poetry Day

I felt compelled today to edit and republish a poem I first put out three years ago on my personal blog jamandgiraffes, in honour of International Poetry Day and because Easter is coming. Spring is now here and while flowers smell of hope and joy, Easter tells a more humbling story and I had been looking back at the gospels and wondering what it all smelt like. Feel free to use this, although if you do, please do credit me.

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Smelly Week

It all started when the jar of nard parted
Jarred, barred, open-hearted, broken-hearted,
What a strange smell, filling the house from roof to foot,
Smell of treasure, smell of death (tarted up).

Then branches waving in the king, palms up, palms down
Crunching under simple hooves, hay, swaying fresh and fuzzy.

Smelly feet, incomplete, bread and the vineyard and olives and torches –
Feast or final meal, more blood, more fire and the plaintive crow crow crowing.

Unknowing. Smell of fear, of sweat, of thorns and wood,
Smell of your trade, made rough, tough nails rusty, musty dust.
Smell of pain, again, again, again, sweat, blood, vinegar and hyssop.
Hyssop? Cleanse me too – blood rolling like tears, metallic, organic to the ground.

Bound, in myrrh, in aloe, from head to toe, so so dead. No!

No.

And then you said ‘why are you crying?’

And my world of tears and mud and blood split open and I breathed a different air. It smelt of life.

And it smelt good.

Friday 500 -Meanwhile…

A crowd assembles in the cold.

Meanwhile, on a street in Mumbai a man nods at his friend selling cigarettes as he passes on his late commute home. It has been five years since they exchanged a word, but both always acknowledge each other.

Meanwhile, in a practice room in Seoul a retired widow plays the piano carefully, diligently, arpeggio after arpeggio. She would love to meet a man. Someone to listen.

Meanwhile, a couple of boys coming out of a park with slices of pizza in Buenos Aires start running and are chased by a stray dog, who barks and tries to bite them. They dodge into a crowd.

Meanwhile, a man with a bullet wound in his hand arrives at a clinic in Kandahar and asks to see his son. The nurses ask for his name and call for a doctor.

Meanwhile, a girl of fourteen with three tattoos and long green hair shoots up for relief and escape in Naples, hiding behind the locked door in her bedroom from her grandmother. She doesn’t want to know how much she cares.

Meanwhile, in a prison cell in Darwin, the heat is keeping a twenty-year-old felon awake and he watches as the minutes tick past slowly. He wonders about his daughter.

Meanwhile, in a classroom in London, a teacher sits with a seven year old boy who has not been collected. This is already the third time this term.

Meanwhile, on a beach in Antigua a grinning man and his new bride begin a life together by initiating a flash mob, to the delighted roar of the congregation.

Meanwhile, in a poorly lit hospital in Syria a young mum screams as her baby daughter is born. Her husband is not there. The baby starts screaming too.

Meanwhile, on a golf course in Portugal a caddy flies into a rage as he discovers his wife playing with his friend.

Meanwhile, a boy in Guangzhou, tired from study and angry with his father, emails another friend asking about how to get hold of a gun.

Meanwhile, as their first date came to an end in Bucharest, a couple of timid schoolfriends embrace awkwardly and walk home separately. He’s keener than she is.

Meanwhile, a woman in Glasgow sits with her mother, spooning pureed pears into her mouth gently as if she were a tiny child. Her mother tries to talk and she wipes her face.

Meanwhile, an elderly man, sitting astride a moped in Benin, skids sideways as a goat runs loose across the road, knocking him off balance and breaking his arm in the fall.

Meanwhile, in a cafe in the Netherlands a toddler drops his ice-cream on to the grey brick pavement and screams out, causing heads to turn in his direction.

Meanwhile, in a brothel in Bangkok, a girl starts to cry when a man with a big European nose frightens her and refuses to pay.

Meanwhile, on a crowd in Washington DC the rain starts to fall.

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