Monday, 25 June 2012

Home is where the Heart is...

   As I am taking a year out from my University studies, I am needing to live somewhere other than my student flat. A couple from church (Bernard and Shirley) kindly offered their home and I gladly accepted. When I was packing my stuff up to move it was so strange. I felt sad that I was leaving my flat but at the same time I was so happy. When I was at Bernard and Shirley’s unpacking and putting stuff away it was so much fun. I have my own room (their eldest daughter's old room) and so much space to put my things.

   I’m finding I can easily make a space my own. When I moved into the city flat I quickly took to hanging stuff up - posters, canvases, bunting, plaques, pictures; placing colour coding nicknacks, homely touches and candles about too… Anna was pleasantly surprised when she came back for term starting, I had made decent contribution to the flat, on top of her splash-out of 4 navy blue blankets for the sofas! It hasn’t always been easy for me to feel comfortable in new places, but I am definitely learning that home is where the heart is.

   Mum never saw my flat in Dundee and I think that makes it easier to move. Mum imagined me in a space depicted by photographs and I guess now she has seen where I lived, and where I will live in the future too. It is hard doing new things without being able to tell her all about it, but I know she knows everything now, and I will say more on this in posts to come. She will be happy that I am living in a caring home. A family home. A warm home.

   Moving reminded me of Christmas last year. The idea that ‘Home is where the Heart is’ was on my mind so prominently a few months ago, and it was frightening to feel that when the biggest heart is taken away, a place can cease to be homely. It was so hard at Christmas being home in Peterborough. There were times when I literally wanted to just up and leave, get away from the unfamiliar space. It suddenly felt so alien, without Mum. Our house in Peterborough is lovely, it is the only home I have ever known living with my whole family, for almost 20 years now. I grew up there, in it resides my childhood and my adolescence. So many memories. And up until the end of September, all with Mum. She loved the ‘Beautiful Homes’ magazines, going through the pictures of the different decors ‘ooh’ing and ‘ah’ing at the different furnishings or wall hangings. She loved to decorate the house, always had something else to do, which in her last years never got done for one reason or another. She was very much into crafts, making cards, painting plaques, knitting, the house is full of her creations, each with some loving or Christian message or cute picture. It was heart breaking to see her hand and character on display in every room, but not herself.
   The house felt empty. Even with Dad, my sister and myself, it just felt empty. Kind of cold. Abandoned. It was as if Mum had been there just seconds ago, organising something, putting papers in a specific place, set aside her knitting for a moment and forgotten, never gone back to it. Like when someone takes off their shoe and their footprint still remains, as was our home.

   I met a guy a few years ago, we were both far away from home. When trying to guess where he was from I couldn’t - his accent was a blend of many I’d heard before, as if he had been in many different places for a long time. It was interesting to learn he was a Londoner, but had been traveling across Asia for 6 months at the time.
   It got me thinking though, about where we come from and who we become. Does the person who you have become reflect your roots? Should it? If the answers to these questions are opposites, then change it. On this earth we appear in a place by chance, we are born into a country and a home not of our choice, what we do with the opportunities God gives us after this fact is our own to control. I have learned that family is not everything. LOVE is. It has been said that ‘friends are the family you chose’, but I would also add that family is the family you chose to love. My Mother and Father were always host to strangers visiting the congregation we were part of, some nights us children would sleep on the floor in a room to accommodate people in our beds. This is Family. Sharing yourself and what you have with others, leaning on each other, rejoicing with each other. If Home is where the Heart is then Family is where the LOVE is.

As a Christian I believe that God is LOVE. My Home is not an earthly one. The LOVE I seek is everlasting, given by the One from whom I cannot run.
   I am no longer afraid of going to new places, meeting new people. If I take LOVE with me, I cannot fear anything, I can only LOVE more.

By the way, I do love our house in Peterborough. It is my home away from Home; Our family’s little piece of heaven.

John 14 was the first part of scripture I ever really read and memorised. It was the first place I randomly opened in my Bible one day many years ago, and it has continued to strike a chord in my heart, being an encouragement for the eternal hope I have in Him.

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going." [NLT, 1984]

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

When one door closes, another one opens.

“The most authentic thing about us is our capacity to create, to overcome, to endure, to transform, to love and to be greater than our suffering.” - Ben Okri

   I moved to Dundee in the summer of 2010 already knowing a lot of people living here. Some in the congregation I was familiar with I had known since I was about 5, some had met me further down my journey of life, and there were of course the friends-to-be.
   I met Jayne in this time, she was 23, had been married for 3 years, and we just clicked. Our friendship grew strong and fast particularly from the summer of 2011, so strong that September 2011 when Mum passed, she said she’d have hopped the very next train to Peterborough to be by my side and help me through it all if I had wanted. We have shared our life stories, confided in each other, laughed and cried together. 
   After Mum’s funeral in October I came back to Dundee and on our first get together after the funeral Jayne sat me down and giddily said she had some big news. I waited a few moments in suspense and she said, almost whispered, to me that she was pregnant - I was ecstatic. We threw our arms around each other and shed a few tears of joy, basking in the wonderful idea of this new baby appearing into this world. She admitted shortly after that she was unsure whether she should mention it so soon after Mum passing, but in all honesty I was thrilled. Relieved. 
   I realised that I was witnessing what is commonly referred to as the Circle of Life. Mum had lived and she died, and here was a new creation of life, right before me. I felt a hope spread through my heart that calmed the longing ache, I was just beginning to understand that it is ok for something to end, because something else always begins at the same time. It is this which initially inspired the line in my poem (posted earlier on): Yet that which we create and resolving not to hate, make the pain and the suffering more dim. 

Welcome to the world Eli Daniel Duncan!

   Similar reflections have come over me throughout these past few months, involving my relationships with those around me. Whilst it is not always good when a relationships ends, it is also often unavoidable. When doors like these close it can open up opportunities to evaluate your time spent with that person, the changes you have made and things you have gone through in that time - in the hope of improving yourself and other relationships you have in the future. I have been through some big changes in my relationships in the past few months, especially noticeable due to my situation and recent struggles. It is crazy that sometimes it is those which you least expect that step up to the plate - and in other cases it is the other way around. I have had to learn to live with some disappointments, a valuable life lesson for anybody, and also be the instigator myself, for my own good. 
   Sometimes going to someone for help and support is harder than just accepting it, but it is also so often necessary if people don’t know what you need.
As a Christian I try to remember to lean on God, though human reassurance can often have a more instant gratification and I rely on people instead of Him. On Sunday it was told that C. S. Lewis had said that by reaching out your hands to others you forget that God was there, loving you from the first. This is certainly something I am working on, and will continue to work on for the rest of my life.
"Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified [...], for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you." Deuteronomy 32:6

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Where there's a will there's a way...

In an episode of 'The Big Bang Theory' I just watched Sheldon - obsessive compulsive genius - wants to go to see the Hadron Collider in Switzerland with his friend Leonard in place of Leonard's girlfriend, Penny. In order to persuade Leonard to take him instead Sheldon directly confronts him several times, pleading his case. He tries to 'butter him up' with breakfast in bed and compliments, then he talks to Penny to plead his case for him. The point is that Sheldon wasn't going to give up on his childhood dream. 
    Another example of this same journey is, romantically, in 'A Walk To Remember' as popular but bad boy Landon Carter falls in love with Jamie Sullivan and wins her heart by becoming a Christian and literally making her bucket list a reality.
    The base line is: if you really want something, you will go to all sorts of lengths to get it. 
The trick is to never give up.

    When God has other plans, however, there seems to be nothing one can do. When it was evident that Mum wouldn't have much time left I was confused. How could this be God's plan? I was angry that he would dare take away such a loving, perfect human being. For what? What good could possibly come from an absence of such good? It didn't make sense. It still doesn't make sense. I couldn't accept that this was what God wanted, yet her passing seemed to be inevitable. I struggled to pray. So many had said they would pray for her to get better, pray for healing and to be honest neither were likely nor were they necessarily the best thing for her. Even if she had recovered fully physically, she would have suffered traumatically, and would have had to go through the same thing again, just later in life.

    In a coincidentally relevant Bible study, before we were rushed down to Papworth in September, we discussed whether things that happen are or are not in God's plan. We then talked about God's will for his people and whether everything that happens is condoned by God. Without thinking one could say of course everything that happens is meant to happen. But that would be the biggest misunderstanding of God's love and his good intentions, for in saying 'yes - everything that happens, God wants to happen' we include death, murder, rape, robbery, mugging and every other bad daily happening, which goes against everything God is. So, God is Love, he is all powerful, yet he doesn't want everything that does happen, to happen? Yes. Bad things happen because man has potential to be evil. Sometimes bad things happen because of a Butterfly Effect of factors, out of anyone's control. But God's control comes in when bad things do happen, because no matter how much you try avoid it bad things will happen. As long as there is free will and sin, bad things will happen. But with God, good can always come out of the consequences of any action. We are getting away from the point a bit, but it is all relevant...
    With this in mind - that not every action is wanted by God, and that he makes goo happen from bad - I began to think about how I was praying. I had been praying for months, years, that Mum would get better, that her illness would disappear from her body and that she be able to take walks with us, go on holiday, to the USA, back to work, even do gardening as she loved. On the other hand I had also been praying that 'your will be done, whatever it is.' 

    In our study we looked at Abraham's encounter with God, before Sodom was destroyed. (I am finding that in study I learn three times as much about 'Bible stories' now than when I first read them, fascinating stuff.) Genesis 18:22-33 tells of how Abraham intercedes for Sodom - in short, he bargains with the Lord to spare the city for even the 10 righteous that might remain there. In other words - he asks God (quite cheekily) to change his plan, if it is possible. 

    This struck me silent. The thought that I could actually come to God and ask him to do what I wanted, seemed far from giving my life to Him. But it makes sense. If you don't ask, you don't get. God knows our hearts, no doubt, he gives all good things, for sure. So asking for our most inward desire, well that just makes sense. I started praying "If it is possible for your will to continue, with Mum alive and well - do that, because I still need her here."

    Whilst it might seem a trivial revelation, in hindsight, at the time it was a wonderful release. 
I no longer felt bad for not wanting what God might be planning, but if His plan to be to take Mum then I was certain that that was what had to happen. A few weeks after the study He answered by taking Mum to be with Him, drifting from the midst of our family to His. And that's OK. (Sometimes it's not OK but that's a different story in sorts.)

    What I'm trying to get at is that if you want something enough, do everything you can to get it. It's even ok to go up against God, to ask Him for what you really want - not just the 'Christian' request of 'your will be done'. It's also OK to stand up for yourself, to tell others what you want and need, something which is also becoming easier for me to do.

'Delight in the Lord and he will grant you the desires of your heart.' Psalms 37:4

Sunday, 3 June 2012


O for a Faith that will not Shrink.

O, for a faith that will not shrink,
Though pressed by every foe,
That will not tremble on the brink
Of any earthly woe!

That will not murmur nor complain
Beneath the chastening rod,
But, in the hour of grief or pain,
Will lean upon its God.

A faith that shines more bright and clear
When tempests rage without;
That when in danger knows no fear,
In darkness feels no doubt.

Lord, give me such a faith as this,
And then, whate’er may come,
I’ll taste, e’en here, the hallowed bliss
Of an eternal home.

     We sang this song in Church this morning and in singing the words I read them. This might sound like a silly statement but all too often I passively worship in song, singing the words more focused on the tune than the lyrics. Lyrics in everything have completely different meanings now that Mum's gone. A 'lost love' is no longer tragically romantic but heart shatteringly realistic.
     In poetic form, the message really hits home - pun intended, just like the song which says "This earth is not my home, I'm just a'passing through." This earth was not Mum's home, she just passed through, but in doing so she touched so many lives for the better. Songs mean so much to me now, especially this one right now. I have an unshrinking Faith. I'm not saying I'm the perfect Christian or person, or that I haven't struggled with recent events. But I have done it with friends and family by my side, knowing always that God was there too. It's like a 'footprints in the sand' realisation... You are never alone.