Looking Beyond …

thoughts and deliberations .. a theme is too restrictive


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Getting the right focus

Solar Eclipse in Bedford

It was 18 February, when 40 days’ worth of challenges to be more generous in life stretched before me. Through the first couple of weeks, I awoke each day in anticipation as to what was likely to be shaping my day.  Whatever else was going on around me, I found the motivation to take on the task and allowed it to penetrate into situations that I found myself in.

One month on, and I have felt the focus beginning to slip.   This is public ‘note to self’.

Since Monday, I am supposed to have been giving away chocolate, paying attention to those who serve me, giving away hugs, engaging with someone outside of my normal circle of contacts and rolling my sleeves up to give practical help.  Each of these has failed to engage me in any challenging way although if I was being technical about it, I could declare them achieved.  After all, I bought a bar of chocolate – I even tried to give it to the young man on the street who I had given money to the week before – but he told me he didn’t like chocolate.  Instead, it went to the barista at Costa who was shutting up shop as I walked by, which should have delighted me because that was surely paying attention to the server.  She seemed pleased enough and said she would share it with her colleagues.  Yes, I have made the effort to have conversations with those with whom I don’t normally pass the time of day, and I have even dished out a few hugs where I have been sure they would be welcomed.  So, why the feeling that this has become more of a game than anything else?

Chocolate seems to be the sticking point for me this lent.  Ironically so, since the classic sacrificial act of lent seems to be giving up chocolate.  In addition to my second damp squib of a chocolate give away of this 40acts season, I was all set to go out one evening this week, with a great big box of chocolates that I had in the cupboard, when I realised that firstly, the box had gone out of date, and what is more, the very person who had given them to me in the first place was likely to be present at the gathering that evening.  Perhaps not such a great idea after all!

I suppose this has me thinking about making sure that my generous acts are truly generous, and not superficially generous, and this is much harder.  Harder to plan, harder to execute, and harder to make the sacrifice required.  It demands a real focus on the person or cause that you are trying to make a difference to.  It requires genuine love and it usually requires an ongoing commitment.

Experiencing the solar eclipse on Friday, my camera had a field day going in and out of focus as I tried to record the special effects of the occasion without damaging my eyes.  It was difficult to capture the true ‘magic’ of the moment, but easy to capture an image that was unclear, unimpressive or  just plain blank.

I don’t want my acts to be like the failed snaps.  I intend to take the time to find a better focus on the challenges next week.


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A taste of today ..

Asked to examine what was feeding into my head today from social media, news stories and the like, and to react a little more thoughtfully and prayerfully than usual, this is what I found:

(with thanks at various points throughout the day to Radio 4, The World Service, Facebook friends, Beds on Sunday and my Whatsapp? communicators)

 “Need wisdom in priorities and just getting through”

Disaster cyclone Pam damaged houses..torn down trees… lives extinguished .. needs, needs, needs | Polititians second job please, Mr Shapps get on your knees – openness, accountability, integrity, honesty | Business rates, a radical review, local services paid for , business in a stew |  Gays against gays, children of chemistry, Hostile environment .. the perfect storm | Red kite comeback vote now please | Teenage terrorists planned to cross the border Parents must be vigilent .. call for law and order |

“Back to Addenbrookes this morning”

That’s a shock for a Monday |Happy 4th Birthday to Roxy| Caths new designs | I have lost contact with Michael, says cryptic Jim | Waitrose taste of Israel insults Palestine|

“Perhaps better off in hospital for a few days?”

Historical abuse, suppressed evidence | how does it feel to be a Christian in Pakistan? |

“So sorry for any disturbance on Saturday”

Neurofoundation Snowdon Marathon | Ministry of transport gives creditation in Liberia | Joe and Stefs products purchased 9 months after sell by | Ampthill Country Market – you can’t go wrong| Handed in my notice today | sponsor me to Brighton |Fire raging through industrial park |The Jenin Freedom theatre  in the UK this Summer | Very excited I can track them all the way |

I’m shattered.  I need a holiday

The teen who cannot stay awake | the lollipop man banned from high-fives | Shut Down Yarl’s Wood | Councillors resign | Everyone invited to the Polish Festival | Psychic Philip knows you are coming to his show

Congratulations to Phyllis and Edward Dolan, together for seven decades.

If you recognise yourself in here, then today, you and the situation you highlighted have received – at least – my thoughts and prayers.  Sleep well all.


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Seeking ….. GSOH

daff

This post could go anywhere.  It has been written many times in my head space, each time with different content, emphasis, direction and quirky title.  It has been my last ever post, a beautiful poem, a heartfelt plea and a steady commentary.  And now, it will be what it will be.  It is getting towards late, on a Sunday night, it feels simply like it is now, or never.

My theme continues to be 40Acts.  Several more Acts have slipped by since I found myself hanging by a thread. We are, indeed, past half way.  Perseverance, being somewhat of a life theme for me, has paid off and I feel pretty much on track again.

The problem with blogging alongside Acting, is that the writing about the act can become more of a deal than the doing of the act, hence the written pieces in my head space.  This in no way represents my purpose of participating in the acts, and so I contemplated the over dramatic finale.

So lets just run through some of the things that I have been ticking off the list – a bumper crop on Friday as I finally got round to the supermarket shop. BOGOF deals seem to have had their day, but I was able to find creative and self satisfying alternatives which ended in a shopping haul quite unlike my standard weekly shop.  It was worryingly enjoyable to have an excuse to use up all those money off vouchers that would normally sit around for weeks only to be binned, and instead purchase items for the food bank;. to pick up the half price and sale items on stationary, and children’s items to stock up for the Samaritans Purse Shoe Boxes; and to even buy frivolous mini packaged cereal boxes in the hope of raising a smile from my homecoming son more used to a diet of sensible, nutritional and economical fare.

The mini cereals were part of my approach to dealing with Friday’s challenge to be silly.  It is probably about as silly as I will ever get!  Because seriously, I had real problems with this challenge. Don’t get me wrong, I am up for a laugh but I am more likely to fall about laughing at something that was never intended to be funny, or something that just happens to touch an undisclosed experience or thought that I have been carrying with me through the years, than any comic relief kind of attempt to raise a smile.  In emphasis of my disdain for contrived silliness, I was actually quite alarmed to confront the uncomfortable and miserable looking persons wearing towering daffodil imitation hats at the entrance to the supermarket collecting money for Marie Curie Cancer research.

Instead of silliness, I sought to achieve a more light hearted attitude to the day.  This worked for me, put a bit of a spring in my step and along the way I was able to notch off a few of the previously undone 40Acts tasks.

So this last week, against the odds, I have at times spoken to strangers, switched off my technological connections with the outside world, shopped for the benefit of others, got a little closer to one or two people I wouldn’t normally stop to acknowledge and also had a bit of fun.

I’m still a little worried about my sense of humour, and haven’t quite pulled off the apology task, but who knows what next week will bring?


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Hanging by a thread…..

crocus in christleton

This 40acts challenge is now barely hanging by a thread. The frustration grows as one day blurs into the next, ideas and challenges come and go, thought processes develop and disappear into the ether and I am left with little more than a list of undone tasks.

Or so it seems, but then it has been a pretty tricky week.  As the curveballs of life have continued to be delivered, and the number of disposable minutes in a day have been squeezed into nothing, I am taking just a couple of the minutes I haven’t really got to write this, for my own sake.  Because if I pause to think about things positively, I find that much has been achieved and that my focus has been right.

The progress through these 40 days leading up to Easter has focussed my mind on generosity and on developing an improved attitude in some previously unchallenged areas of my life.  Some of the tasks come back to revisit me ….   today, I was prompted to stop and talk to a young man who was asking me for money as I passed him on my way home from work.  No, I didn’t go and buy him a coffee or a sandwich.  I just gave him some money.  Who am I to make the judgement about how he was going to spend it?    I would not have done that a few weeks ago.  Other tasks remain untouched –  for instance, I don’t think I have even entered a shop since the BOGOF challenge was issued.  What’s more, one or two of my responses to the tasks, it would never be appropriate for me to write about here.

There are still a few things from this past week that I may come back to “philosophise” over.  For example, it was uncanny how on this day, having been challenged to befriend, write to or visit prisoners, I read a report by the local  Community Resettlement Support Project here in Bedford.  One of the recipients of their befriending scheme had written:

“A weakness is that it does depend to some extent on the individual volunteer and how comfortable you are with them. You have to build up a rapport. There are volunteers who are genuine ‘who have been there’ and there are those who are do-gooders – perhaps that’s why people don’t want to meet up with them. … The people who haven’t been there, they can’t help it, it’s not their fault, but they’re all do-gooders and it comes across as patronising sometimes. … Younger clients have a different attitude and they’ll just take whatever they can get from a do-gooder.”

So where does this middle class do-gooder begin?

… but for now, as I said, I am just hanging on by a thread.  As I have done once or twice before on these pages, when words seem too difficult, I think I will leave you with a couple of the spring photographs I managed to snap between crises at the weekend.  The power of light to change our view of things never ceases to amaze me:

plum blossom 2spring 3

the most beautiful crocus is damaged

crocus


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Lip Service, Gritted teeth and Mixed Motives …. 3 more acts

plastic packaging

Tuesday found me on a mission that bore no relation to 40Acts and left little time to even contemplate.  But I was being called upon to consider the impact of the volume of plastic we use and abuse through our daily life.  I have been well versed in the rigours of recycling for some years – having purchased a four compartment recycling bin for our fitted kitchen well before the councils started asking us to separate our discarded goods into categories for recycling.  I am ready with my righteous anger when ever I see over packaged goods.  I carry the reduce, reuse, recycle mantra in my head.  I feel a pang of conscience every time I confine something to the land fill section of the rubbish collection.

It was, however, without a great deal of conviction that I entered into the plastic challenge for that day.  I did start to note items of plastic that I came across for which alternatives might be found but that didn’t get beyond three items with the level of thinking I was able to apply.  As I rushed to catch a bus for a hospital visit, I grabbed the pack of sandwiches that had been sent home with my Dad the previous evening upon his hospital discharge, and hastily attempted to liven up the contents with some tomato slices.  This, I knew, was going to be my best chance of getting any refreshment during the day. Having consumed the less than appetising hospital fare, and not having yet had a chance to seek out a bin, the packaging was carried around with me for the rest of the day.  Later on, at the nursing home to which my mother had now been delivered, some rather more tasty looking sandwiches sat untouched on her tea time plate.  Rather more for the amusement of re-using the sandwich package than anything else, I was able to refill it with the superior offering and return it back to the fridge whence it had been taken at the start of the day.  Voila!  Dad now had ready-made supper – which with one arm completely out of action would be a blessing to him – and I had managed to pay lip service to the day’s challenge.

view of Ben Nevis

view of Ben Nevis

Wednesday, now back to my normal home/work routine, came the opportunity to respond to the nudge of generosity, whatever that was going to look like.  In fact, I knew what it was that I was being nudged about even as I was showering in the morning.  I can no longer remember how it came about that I spent the early minutes of my morning considering my general attitude to sponsorship requests, and being challenged to be more generous and less negative in my reaction.

I have never seen much point in sponsorship as a form of fundraising.  I remember as a painfully shy child being asked to collect sponsorship from friends and neighbours for activities – memories of which have long since faded into insignificance.  I would squirm as I squeamishly requested a penny per step, or skip, or word spell or whatever else the over zealous  leader of the village’s latest uniformed organisation had happened to dream up. I would have given my every last penny had I had any to give, in order to avoid having to ask.  As an adult, I have never really understood why donning a heavy sweat inducing animal costume to undertake some pointless activity should bear any relation to what constitutes a cause worthy of my giving; nor have I felt that kindly disposed to funding someone’s holiday adventure in disguise.

But for some reason, I got to thinking about the one time I voluntarily raised funds for the Neuro Foundation.  You see, everything changes when you have a personal connection.  When you see the value of a charity through your own personal experience, when you start to imagine what could be done if there were enough funds. Then you just want to do your bit, whatever it takes.  That is how I came to fleece all my friends and relations as I climbed Ben Nevis many years ago. On Wednesday,  I remembered the encouragement of their generosity which I had valued just as much as a message of support to the family as to the charity in their financial gain and exposure.    So, my act became a resolution to go back over the past few months and reconsider my initial responses, with a somewhat more generous heart.  My bank account is now somewhat lighter.

coffee

By Thursday, I felt ready to take on the next challenge.  The task “mind the gap” was about learning from and giving to different generations.  In a fit of enthusiasm and jumping directly to the ‘feeling inspired’ option, I was tasked with either looking at mentoring a young person or making regular visits to a care home.  The latter caused a decidedly audible kind of huffy response as I consider myself to be spending rather more time in a care home of late than is good for me.  Taking on extra visiting of this nature in order to fulfil this Lenten adventure – NO.

But, I did feel challenged to look again at why I find relationships with the younger generation so difficult.  I am not comfortable with teenagers or young adults (with the sometimes exception of my own!) and  I never seem to keep a conversation going without sounding like an inquisitor.  Becoming a mentor seemed a step too far, and yet I do have three god-daughters between 17 and 23 and so thoughts about the task remained with me through the day.    Carrying these thoughts with me, along with a work related motivation and a persistently ignored nagging that started pretty much with my new job near the town centre, I therefore decided that today was the day that I would venture into The Fountain YMCA Coffee shop  in the Bus station.

Sitting down with the café manager I hope I managed to offer a bit of interest, encouragement or support over an excellent coffee.  It wasn’t quite what I expected, but it did break the ice and I am sure I will be back.  Maybe one day, I will be in the position to offer a helping hand or word to one of the young people who frequent the coffee shop and spend much of the day there without daring to hope for much of a future, and if not, and with the quality and cost of the coffee, nothing lost if I don’t.


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Post it?

11021149_10153184687797848_3581808430021855347_n

I have had several discussions lately about the purpose of writing this blog.  I tend to think that a person’s full motivation in things are difficult to uncover and I do question myself each time I post – none more than today.  Aside of all the acceptable motivations that I claim, it does sometimes feel like the equivalent of wondering around with no clothes on.

Rather amusing then, to find that as I had been pondering the ‘to post or not to post’ question, the allotted task of the day involved the distribution of Post it notes. The idea was to  leave behind a trail of encouragement but as I read this, whilst attempting to enter the waking world this morning, I began to question the motivation of even the task.  It seemed like a pretty gimmicky  thing to do, and possibly more aimed at the satisfaction and titilation of the poster than the true encouragement of the reader.

In an attempt to overcome my sceptical thoughts I decided that it was high time my husband received a bit of the 40acts encouragement and managed to squeeze a hastily written cheery post it note into his lunch box.  I think it was appreciated but the question “am I a recipient of an ‘act’? rather told me what I needed to know. Such things need to be spontaneous.  I am afraid that the only post it notes that got written subsequently were the scribbled notes from the various conversations I had with hospital wards and care homes.

At the end of the day, I am back up North amidst the scenario consequent upon the seven hour hospital wait that occurred last week –  dealing with another emergency.  I’m not sure that I have managed to encourage anyone today but I have been encouraged  by others.

Perhaps it would be encouraging to record that?

I have been encouraged by an understanding husband and an understanding boss both of whom didn’t bat an eyelid at me turning round and heading off just a couple of days after I had arrived back.  I have been encouraged by prayerful and caring friends who I am so fortunate to have around me always ready with the right words and offers of support. I have been encouraged by the thoughtful neighbours of my family who often jump in when there is a crisis (and we seem to have more than our fair share!)  and I have been encouraged by hospital staff who took time and trouble to understand a complex situation, call me back even when the patient was no longer on the ward, and locate some missing paper work that had been mislaid in the drama.

So I decided to post it, just as it was.


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Invitation to be hands on..

P1040258

On Saturday, a beautifully crafted personal invitation came through the post.  It was clear from the moment the assortment of envelopes and flyers landed on the mat that this was the only one that had any chance of bringing pleasure.   The envelope was hand written with an actual royal mail stamp on it!

It is great to get a wedding invitation, and I immediately referenced back to a conversation earlier in the week about helping with printing envelopes to send off for a friend whose daughter is to be married this year. I thought how lovely it would be if I could offer to hand write all of these rather than get them printed.  It is the kind of thought that might have gone by without any further action, but it wasn’t long before I read the day’s challenge to “pick someone to bless today, and enjoy the freedom to create or fix something that’ll make them smile.”

And so that is what I shall be doing and I will enjoy getting my best hand writing out again for the occasion.  It won’t quite be calligraphy…I once did a course in that and remember spending several hours on perfecting just one word….but hopefully it will help to raise a smile or two.