Looking Beyond …

thoughts and deliberations .. a theme is too restrictive


Mine’s a Pint

I am feeling rather smug as I sit here with my celebration cup of tea.

Way back on 14 March, 40Acts challenged me to give blood.  I signed up thinking it would be a miracle if I actually went through with it.

My iron levels are often border line,  I am prone to fainting at any medical intervention and yesterday I had to sit down three times on a short walk because I felt too weak to carry on (this is something which periodically happens to me for no explicable reason).  When it comes to the thought of giving blood, I am a Grade A wimp.

I managed donations twice when I was at college some 36 years ago and my memories of these occasions are enough for me to have concluded over all these years that this was something I just couldn’t do.

40Acts made me think again and call upon myself to quit letting my past experience fix my future attitude.

This afternoon, my appointment arrived.  Armed with my experienced husband for distraction (an expert and long standing donator himself) and putting on a determined ‘can do’ attitude, the process went from beginning to end without a single hitch.  Excepting that is, that as a ‘first timer’ I wasn’t allowed a cup of tea at the end.

Which is why I am sitting here now with my cup of tea, albeit a bit light headed, feeling rather chuffed with myself for doing something that presents little challenge to many but that I never really believed I would be able to achieve again for myself.  I am genuinely surprised at myself.

I think I deserve a celebratory pint. But apparently that isn’t recommended.

Thank you 40Acts for prompting me to take this step.  I can be certain that if it hadn’t been for the challenge on that day, it would never have happened.



One more Act.

OK. I admit it.  Once again I failed to reach the end of 40Acts without letting it fade away into seeming insignificance.  I got as far as Act 27 which instructed us to keep ourselves out of the picture, and then took this too literally for the rest of the time.  I had my reasons.

To start with,  Act 28 involved us to ” clear the diary”.  Receiving the prompt to wipe my own schedule – even for any portion of the day – on 6 April caused some kind of snort of derision from me.  Yes, I am afraid so.  I was feeling stressed.  We had a wedding to attend, a long awaited fixture in the evening, and in between were packing and sorting for our overseas adventure the next day.  I did nothing more than read the prompt and then carry on ploughing through the tightly scripted schedule!

We travelled on a Sunday and so Act 29 was read in a hotel room in Bethlehem asking us to “go the extra mile to change someone’s life”.  This amused me.  My husband and I had just taken two weeks of my annual leave, spent a considerable amount of money, and done some intensive fundraising, in order to travel over 2000 miles precisely to stand alongside victims of injustice and change their lives by building them a home.  We had a heavy schedule before us and it felt like we were already being stretched as to how far our generosity could go.

Act 30 talked about “putting your money where your mouth is” and again I felt we were right there with what we were doing.  And then came the challenge to help the homeless – I was on a roll!  It seemed like 40Acts was backing up our project every step of the way.

The truth is, with the next couple of Acts relating to shopping (not a chance of that with our busy agenda), and then teaching a skill (when all I seemed to be doing was desperately trying to pick up skills from others), I soon realised that I was not in a time or place where I could realistically give the Acts the thoughts and follow up that they demanded.  Neither did I have a good internet connection, or any time in the day to call my own.   My contact with the challenges gradually fizzled out.

Meanwhile, a group of 40+ generous, kind hearted, and loving people built a house, planted a vineyard and moved a green house.  In doing so, we gave hope to a largely forgotten and misunderstood people, learned from their generosity,  made new friends and extended our family.  I have been proud to be a part of that group.

Thank you 40 Acts for prompting me to be more generous throughout lent this year.  It is always good to put myself to the test in this way and discover just how much further my generosity could go if I was prepared to continuously take myself away from my own selfish agenda.

I still have one thing left to do – my blood donor session awaits me in June, and I know that of all the things I have tried to give generously in the last six weeks or so, for me, this will be the hardest yet.


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So why blog about 40Acts?

I constantly ask myself about my motives.  The thing is though, it is a bit like wearing a Fitbit for me.  I shouldn’t need it to make me exercise, but there is something about the counting; the stats to show for it at the end of the day; those little progress charts and reminders that come along to encourage and chastise.   They all serve to keep me on task.

My blog is the same, I know that it isn’t the reason for me to be following 40Acts, but it helps me to stay on track.  I wouldn’t dream of  sharing my Fitbit results with my social media accounts,  and I’m also not trying to drive traffic to this blog either – except by way of inhouse sharing on the 40acts page as it helps me to read other people’s progress and reactions along the way.

Today’s task was about taking yourself out of the picture and to go about your generosity un noticed.  It goes without saying that I have nothing to say on this here, then!

‘Cos I’m not performing for the camera!

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Lost signal. and more.

Hello, it is time for another update on the 40Acts challenge.

Following joke free Monday, I was in trepidation as to what Tuesday might bring. But for once I could relax, it was a simple challenge to catch up with lost contacts.  Something I am more than happy to do but which never seems to get to the top of my ‘to do’ list.

‘Gracious words,’ says today’s proverb, ‘are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones’ (Prov 16:24). Make it your aim to serve some up today.

This week has been exceptionally busy for me, which rather limits the time I have available to give these challenges the space they deserve.  Nevertheless, I found that when I put my mind to it, it didn’t take too long to whip down my email inbox and attend to a few people who must have been feeling they had lost the signal to me.  There were a few thank yous that were well overdue and I took the opportunity to follow those through too. Then it occurred to me that it was high time I arranged a meet up with some friends who were owed an invitation, so I got the ball rolling with that.  A few simple actions, but hopefully worthwhile – I should do it more often.

Next up was the one I have come to dread.  It comes round every year. That challenge to go out and talk God, or pray with people.  For me, this is a difficulty.  Contrary to suggestion in Christian circles, I don’t find conversations turning to God, or people just waiting for me to come along and pray for them as I go about my daily life.  You may already have noticed as little reference to my faith as possible in this blog.  As the only one with faith (that I know) in my immediate family, it is difficult to be bold. I come from a rational family that requires rational explanations.  Most of my friends are not Christians.  I remain convinced that if any of them were going to have any kind of conversion experience, it would certainly not be due to me trying to explain why it is that I believe in God and try to take my lessons for life from the Bible.  I have enough of a job explaining it to myself!

Calm down. (note to self).    Look again …  here is the essence of the challenge:

“Think about where you will be today; remind yourself that God is already there. Look for opportunities to listen, love and offer a prayer. Bring out the God-colours and God-flavours where you are today.”

That doesn’t sound so difficult any more.  The key is to be open to opportunities. Listening and loving come first, the prayer only follows if it is wanted, or invited.  I can surely manage that.    It’s an ongoing process.   I’m not sure whether I have ‘banked’ this challenge or not.  I went about the day mindful of it, but certainly wasn’t going to accost some poor unsuspecting person along the way.

So on to Thursday, and a topic much more up my street. A challenge to reach beyond borders to help those who have been displaced. As I write that is exactly what I am preparing to do.  I’m in the throes of packing for an overseas trip about which there is little I can explain here.  But let’s just say it meets the spec. As this has been in the planning for many months, I decided also to use my Stewardship account today and make a donation to a local charity working with resettling Syrian refugees here in my home town.

That’s nearly another week of learning to be generous done!


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Only Joking.

Telling jokes has never been my thing.  Nor playing April Fool’s tricks.  I have always been known for my serious approach to life! Today on 40Acts, we are being reminded that laughter is the best medicine  and I couldn’t agree more, but in my experience, rarely do contrived situations or jokes make me laugh.

The things that people find the most humorous tend to be those circumstances which we know to be ridiculous, or that we are newly discovering to be ridiculous, when someone tells a tale in an exaggerated way and we can identify exactly with the situation they are describing.   On the whole, I don’t have the confidence to tell tales in this way, and certainly not with the people that I have encountered today.

I was told a joke though.  It was a crack at the Christian faith and although I am not easily offended, in this particular instance I did feel a little so.   It is amazing how many jokes are thinly disguised acts of unkindness towards other people.  So many of these circulate on social media and I make a point of never sharing or posting these even if I do see the humour in them. Brexit has brought out the worst in people in this respect – there really isn’t anything funny about how this country, and parliament has been divided over this whole unfortunate affair.

So, to the task –

“Laughter is the best medicine – it even says so in the Bible (Proverbs 17:22). How often do we see it as a gift to be given? Whether you think you’re a comedian or not, share something today that will make someone smile. “

In view of what I have already said, I am afraid my response has been a bit limited.  I tried to smile more as I went about my daily business,  but I can’t claim to have raised many smiles in return.  I think I’m going to have to work a little more on my cheery disposition and good humour!

I could claim success in making my husband smile – although it was inadvertently. He returned home from work to find the half cooked dinner abandoned, and me rolling around on the back garden lawn trying to get a photo of some flowery ground cover.  It was a while before I looked up and saw him watching me with a smile on his face.

On the whole, I try to cheer people through my photography, and by posting uplifting images on my facebook feed. As I was heading out this evening, there was a beautiful sunset along the Embankment by the river near our home.  I stopped the car to take the picture (sadly, and unusually, I had left my camera at home but I stopped anyway and did the best I could with the camera phone).

This is the image I posted tonight, in the hope of raising a smile, or at least a little cheer ..

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I would love to sign off with a joke – but really, I just can’t think of any that make me laugh.





And so the days go by, along with the challenges.   Thank goodness for the day of rest today.  Oh wait!  I haven’t actually had a minute to myself, until now.

So, since I really need to climb into bed and rest before another very busy week, here is a quick round up of the latest in my endeavours to complete 40 acts of generosity this lent.

First rewind to Christmas time, when I was able to accomplish something that I had wanted to do for a good few years, but due to family commitments had not been able.  We invited all of our neighbours to a pre Christmas gathering.  We had people come that we barely knew, but since then, there are now several couples that we are able to exchange a much more friendly greeting when we meet on the street than before.

One of our neighbours, had gained the (now known to be inappropriate) nick name of  – ‘scary man’ and despite his proximity in the street, over the 20 and more years we have lived here, we never really even managed a hello between us.   As I passed him and his wife unloading the car from shopping on Saturday morning, I stopped and spoke with them for several minutes, exchanging chatter about holidays.  I can’t understand why we ever thought them to be distant or unfriendly.

And then I realised, that I had inadvertently accomplished Act no 19.  ‘Next door’

“Do you know your neighbours? When you spot them outside their home, as you head back from work or take out the bins, venture beyond the old ‘hey neighbour’ nod.”

Next on the list, with Act 20 was about championing local causes.  This is the very area that my paid employment is in. I work for a charity that supports local causes, charities and community groups.

“The only people who’ll raise a banner for local causes are locals, so let’s be the ones who’ll rise to that challenge.”

This should make the task easy thought I, but as the day came and went, I had still done nothing specific about it and was feeling rather downhearted about lagging behind with the challenges and ever seeing my way to creating space to complete them.

Then along came Alison Wale’s challenge – Act 21.  I sat on a train reading this, heading to London with my husband to meet my Father at the start of a full weekend together.  Alison described how there are times when it isn’t possible to follow the acts, but it is always possible to be generous.  So, I decided to stop my stressing over the acts, and focus on keeping a generous heart.  I was, after all filling my weekend by being with my father, and little acts of generosity toward him – planning routes with the minimum of walking,  making sure he is in an environment where he can hear what is going on, finding a seat for him on public transport, booking places to eat where the food is to his liking rather than mine etc etc. would all make a big difference to his enjoyment.   If putting Dad’s needs first all weekend was going to fully occupy me, then that was fine, it would be generous in itself.

“Sometimes life throws up obstacles that come between our generous intentions and our actions – anything from an overflowing to-do list to a life-changing diagnosis. Even in the toughest times, we always have opportunities to give. How can you be generous today, from right where you sit?”

And in relaxing over the accumulation of tasks, I began to realise, that I had inadvertently been going about my own acts of generosity without realising.

For example,  at the very time I was getting worked up about how I was going to give more of my time to a local cause, my small group was agreeing to support a church member who volunteers with a local Syrian family in helping them to settle in the UK.   I had emailed her that same day to tell her of the support we were wanting to give her.

As I was sitting on the train wondering how I could use my phone to be generous that day, I realised I had already communicated by text, and social media, with words of encouragement to friends.

Act 22 set a challenge around Mother’s day with an emphasis recognising that it is a day that many find difficult.  I had already invited my cousin and partner, and one of my sons, to join us, with Dad, for Sunday lunch. As we were out and about in London on Friday, I had added my brother in to the invitation. It seemed that I was already well on the way to completing the challenge to:

“Prep a Sunday lunch, and invite as many as you can!”

I also made sure that I also called my sister for a chat, as I knew that Mothering Sunday would be difficult for her.

The last catch up act that I was able to achieve this weekend, was making a donation to a music enterprise on Saturday, in support of someone we know who dedicates much of his life to bringing live music to a local venue. We get much joy from this, and decided to encourage him with a gift.    Immediately, I had such a lovely message of appreciation and it was clear that the donation had really touched and encouraged him at a difficult time.

So now instead of carrying guilt and disappointment into the week ahead, I’m ready and waiting to see what the next challenge is going to be.





Mission. Impossible?

Now 40 Acts is beginning to feel a bit like Mission Impossible.  Yet I am aware that if I don’t keep up this log, then I’m as good as done with it.

The good news is that I have picked up on Saturday’s challenge which had left me so uninspired.  Where I work, there are training rooms which means that we have a lot of people passing through, and the toilet facilities are cleaned twice a week.  They are not always in the best condition and at times can be found devoid of paper towels or toilet roll.  So my self appointed task this week has been to do a regular check on the ground floor and first floor ladies, making sure the bins are tidy, replenishing the stocks and ensuring that everything is in order.  I have also given the tiles a bit of a wipe down and removed the left over bluetac from the various notices that appear from time to time such as “wet floor”  “please wash your hands” and other more direct pleas for cleanliness.   I am going to continue my regular checks until the end of my working week.   The up side of all of this is that I get to leave my desk and stretch my legs several more times a day than ever before.

That leaves three more challenges this week to report on ….

First up, was Mission.  A call to recognise anyone we know that was on some kind of mission at the expense of their own personal comforts.

“Often, Christians who choose to live on mission take a real hit on their own personal comforts. Think of one you know, and give them the gift of your time, your skills, or your money.”

I know a number of such people.  We receive regular updates from a couple we know who are working in Bangladesh supporting Christians and teaching English and other skills. They have committed a large part of their lives to this and it hasn’t been easy along the way.  I took time on Monday to reply to one of their updates with a newsy email back and hopefully an encouragement.  A gift of my time.

Another couple, closer to home, are to be married this coming weekend. So I found their wedding gift list and hope to have encouraged them through chosing a gift for them.

I didn’t manage all three though.  Still waiting on ideas for donating my skills from a previous task.

The next challenge was a natural follow on from Mission.  We were called upon to look at persecution.

“what can we do in witnessing the persecution and suffering of others?”

I concur with the comment made by one follower on the 40acts website –

“It is God’s will I am sure that we move from prayer to action…easy to pray…but it takes courage to act and get into the middle of suffering. It requires us to work through petitions, phone calls, protests, voicing opposition to injustice, supporting groups that advocate for people. Not down playing prayer (as a minister especially)…but there is enough “thoughts and prayers” in the world and not enough action!”

and I am keen that Christians pay attention to the persecution of any people group, and not just believers in their own faith. I have a particular interest in the persecution of the Palestinians as a people group, and this includes the very few Christians who have remained in the very place where Christianity started. That is where my energies and actions are regularly focussed.  There is only one way to truly understand and empathise with persecuted people and that is to visit them, to see for yourself what situation and pressures they are living under.

However, yesterday, I took time out to read the copy of Release International that came through the door, addressed to my husband.  I am not in the habit of reading it, but made time, by not attending my regular photography club, to do so and find out more about persecution of Christians in Syria, Pakistan, China, Nigeria, Entria, North Korea.  Not a comforting read.

And on to today ….   and nearly the half way point.

Today’s challenge brought us right back to home, and to our next door neighbours.  I haven’t seen mine today, or had any opportunity to engage so that is another one that will have to wait.


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Wi’am Palestinian Conflict Transformation Centre in Bethlehem





Skills. & Dirty.

It is around this stage in 40Acts that I begin to come unstuck. It takes just a couple of successive days on which I am unable to address the challenges, before I start to get resentful of the headspace that they occupy and the frustration of knowing that I will not be able to weave them into my day.

So Acts 15 and 16 arrived on Friday and Saturday, and the only reason I am making a blog entry is in defiance to the notion of giving up.

Firstly, came the challenge to give away a skill that you could charge real money for.

“share your skills at a cost to yourself”

The day was fully scheduled – and I wasn’t at all sure what skills I might share amidst the agenda of food shopping,  an aqua class, a meeting over coffee, or cake baking.  It is not as if you can just drag someone off the street and say, hey, come in and I will teach you how to make a cake!  Later, and not for the first time since the start of 40Acts, I found the act being reversed, as a fellow member of my photography club gave up his evening, to come round to my house and help me to calibrate my computer screen.

I consider my skill set to be pretty limited. But I will be on the look out for a future opportunity to fulfil this task.

Saturday I had fully reserved for more baking – preparing for a charity cake sale that I have been running today.  I was somewhat apprehensive as I read the challenge –

“Find a grotty toilet, take a bag of cleaning equipment, and make that thing shine. Walk straight into the inconvenient, the uncomfortable, and the grimy. Serve low today.”

and I wasn’t impressed.  I won’t even begin to tell you what I thought about the suggestion given of going to a student flat and knocking on the door offering to clean their kitchen.  But lets just say after six hours or so in the kitchen cake making, involving copious rounds of washing up and sorting out sticky floors and surfaces, that was not ever going to be on my list for the couple of hours remaining in the day.

It has been another busy day today without opportunity to catch up on either of the two previous tasks  (unless you count trying to teach the father-in-law – again –  how to plan his food shopping and manage his fridge contents with regard to use by dates), but  I have just read the post of another 40Acts blogger which hilariously describes her efforts in cleaning the toilet in Costa!  I am suitably inspired to look at this task again during the week and try to ‘serve low’ one way or another.

We raised nearly £200 on the cakes and another £150 from my photographic greeting cards, so – a productive weekend in other respects, if not with 40Acts.

Anyone fancy a butterfly cake with home made lemon curd?

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Mundane. & Green.

Yesterday there was no way I was going to get anywhere near a decent stab at the challenge to pick up  on someone else’s mundane tasks, since I was too busy doing my own.   With deadlines to meet and the pressure on at work, it was more about other people’s generosity towards me to enable me to get tasks done.

The actual example cited in the challenge, was regarding someone elses washing up left in the sink – the sort of thing that one day someone might do on your behalf, and another day you might do for them – no big deal!

“Doing small, good deeds like this without ceremony and without thanks”

So perhaps it was appropriate that yesterday was not my turn to run around other people picking up their pieces.  My single tiny achievement was that I did manage to make sure that I left the house tidy after being home alone for a week, so that my husband didn’t have to come home from his travels and pick up my pieces (as might usually be the case, I confess).

Today, however, was different and I was able to tackle both this mundane, and the further challenge presented. The topic related to tackling green issues  –

“When it comes to making greener lifestyle changes, many of us simply don’t imagine we can. We envisage that using a KeepCup in a coffee shop is awkward, that getting around without a car is too hard, or that vegan food is boring. “

I like to think I already try hard to do my bit for the planet – I’ve been  a keen participant in the ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’ campaign. Afer all, I am that sad person that requested some reusable netting bags as a Christmas present – that I could use to put fruit and vegetable products in at the supermarket instead of using the roll of plastic bags.  I love using them.  I walk instead of drive as much as I can.  I abhor food wastage and push the use-by and best-before dates to their absolute limit. So, I needed to find something beyond these things to challenge myself for the day.

It didn’t take me long to realise that one thing that I am not so good at is careful use of the water supply, so I started off by focussing on that.

Todays tasks have been about the small things –  reducing the amount of water in the washing up bowl and using it efficiently,  having a shower with the absolute minimum amount of water needed, and filling the kettle up to the right amount only.  As I left the house to go to a conference, I grabbed my reusable cup – so as not to be confronted with paper cups.  It turned out that this wasn’t necessary and so instead, I deployed myself in the kitchen and did some washing up of cups for which the conference organisers were most grateful. (I’m in the charity sector, so we are talking about the church hall, DIY type conference rather than the outside caterer event or a hotel venue!).   Just for fun, I decided also to avoid the meat on the lunch buffet – obviously a token gesture – but a useful reminder that vegetarian products are kinder to the environment than animal products.

Back at the office, after a further meeting, it suited me to take a ten minute break so I nipped into the kitchen and unloaded and loaded up the dishwasher again, whilst no one was looking.

Vegetarian food again this evening was no big deal – already on the menu.  So thinking beyond the simple token gestures of today, I’m considering learning to cook more vegan dishes and will start by trying to have one vegan day a week.  I will start by building that into the shopping list before  I do the week’s food shop tomorrow.

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Yesterday, I may have written seven cards for my hidden heroes, but I hadn’t managed to deliver them. So that was on my mind when I awoke this morning.

Then I read the challenge which was asking me to pray in my local community as I walked around.  Well I am the sort of person who will run a mile from prayer walks, or anything that might seem to be intrusive or pushing my beliefs on to other people, so I was starting to feel a little uncomfortable with it.

“No matter how small we feel, our prayers bring light and life into every community we find ourselves in. So today, pray wherever you are: it makes a beautiful difference.”

Well yes I do feel small, and immensely shy about my faith – because I know exactly what I would think about it if I didn’t have it. And then,  and even worse than walking around praying in public, is writing about it in public.

Nevertheless, that was the task, and as I am committed to this blog, here goes. No one has to read it, and if they do, and think I am foolish, then that’s fine.

Well the good thing about doing a prayer walk on your own, is that it really isn’t  a lot different from being observant about things, and thoughtful about people and remembering their needs.  Then whilst offering those needs as prayer, being responsive to any prompts that occur along the way.  It is a very discreet activity.

This year at Christmas, my husband and I were able to hold an afternoon gathering to which we boldly invited practically everyone on our street in an attempt to do our little bit to revitalise the community spirit and get to know a few more people.  I cleverly asked people to respond by email, with their names and house numbers, and that way, we were able to increase our knowledge of who lives where.   The ‘party’ was well attended and very well received and most that came got to know a few more of their neighbours.

With this groundwork having been done, late this afternoon, I took the piece of tattered paper which my husband started keeping a good number of years ago to help us when writing Christmas cards, with all the updated house numbers and names of the people who live on our street. I walked up and down, reminding myself who these people were and remembering their situations and asking for more opportunities to encounter them, befriend them, help them and remember them.   We have lived on our street now for nearly 25 years, and a few who have been our neighbours for all this time, we are only just beginning to get to know following our little party.  This afternoon, I stopped to chat to one of these and she issued an invitation to us to go round for tea.

I also took time to deliver some of the cards and visit the local park – in a prayerful kind of way.

Back at home, I have drawn up a new diagrammatic copy of  our street with house names and numbers.  My objective is to be able to memorise as many of these as possible so that I can actually use peoples names when I see them!

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