dorothystewartblog

about writing and life and God

Sing to the Lord

I went to a very traditional Scottish Church this morning. We sang three Psalms, unaccompanied, led by the minister because their usual Precentor has gone to visit family. As I struggled to keep up (I knew the tune of the first one but not the other two), I got to thinking about what we sing in church and how we sing it.

As a lay preacher, I encounter almost Heinz’s 57 varieties of hymns books, organs and organists, pianos and bands and clever (hopefully!) machines that provide the accompaniment: a kind of holy karaoke machine.

For me singing is an intrinsic part of worship. I love to sing God’s praises. And I admit to enjoying traditional psalms and happy-clappy choruses. I even play guitar. As well as piano.

Put like that it looks like I’m hedging my bets!

But this morning, I got to wondering why only have the psalms in a Christian church? Surely, the psalms was the hymn book of a pre-Christian people? Won’t the theology underpinning what we’re singing be….. well, not quite right?

But then we sang a bit in the middle of Psalm 22 and it described folk casting lots for clothes. An incident from the account of Jesus’ crucifixion. In a pre-Christian psalm?

But, hang on: when did the Trinity come into being? It didn’t start with Jesus. Remember, “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God” .

So if God is Trinity from the very start, we should expect to find clear pointers to Jesus in the Old Testament, and the Psalms.

Theologically soothed, I can relax and enjoy singing psalms (though I’ll continue to enjoy Isaac Watts and Charles Wesley…. and Graham Kendrick et al!)

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Dementia Diary 10: There’s only me…

Burn-out. Oh yes, we all know about that. I reckon carers live teetering on the edge of burn-out most of the time, and tipped over the edge into full-on burn-out rather a lot of the time.

It goes with the territory. Right?

I wonder. Reading today’s text and the story that goes with it brought me up to a rather sudden crunch. It seems to me that I and other carers have a tendency to battle on in our own strength and on our own a lot of the time.

Have you ever heard yourself say (possibly crossly!) “Well, there is only me! Who else is there to do it?”

Elijah told God ‘And I only I am left’ (to carry on the work).

Yes, that’s how it feels. And it’s often how we operate, shouldering the whole weight of our situation. I only I.

Worse, we can feel we’re the only ones who know how to do things the right way, the way our loved one likes or needs. Only our way is the right way. I only I.

And that sets us up for burn-out. Because if it’s true that we’re the only ones who know, the only ones who can do things right… then we are indeed indispensable. We genuinely can’t take time off. We have to be there, seeing to everything night and day.

God told Elijah he’d got it wrong. In fact God had another bunch of people waiting in the wings to take over. Elijah needed a less self-centred perspective.

Oh yes. I wrote “self-centred” because that’s where Elijah was, doing things the way he though they should be done, telling it how it looked to him. And God had to tell him that wasn’t the only way.

We can get sucked into this trap. We can hang onto our too-heavy load too long because we have invested everything into our identity as ‘carers’. If we share the load – with paid carers who come in to help, or with a residential care home – then it’s no more “I only I” but a new shared role where we have to give up a lot of our power and control. Not easy.

I find it really hard to sort out in my head who I am now that my husband lives in residential care and I’m not doing the day-to-day caring. My role has changed. I’m no longer his carer. Living apart, the wife role has changed too. There’s a surprising amount of readjustment to deal with.

But for sure it’s no longer “I only I” doing the caring – and I need to accept the rightness of that. Not easy, but necessary. It only hurts us more to cling onto “I only I” when it’s past time to let go and share the care.

THE TEXT: 1 Kings 19: 10b “and I only I am left”

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, guard us from burn-out. Gently point out to us when we need to accept help, and when it is time to let others take over. Give us compassion for ourselves as well as our loved one!

SELF-CARE SUGGESTION: Do something just for you. Something that will not benefit anyone else in any way. Allocate 10 minutes of total selfishness today!

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Dementia Diary 9: Relax!

Wake to blue sky and sunshine. My sister is suggesting we go out today and do something holidayish.

It feels odd. Friday is my taking-my-husband-out day so a day “off” feels weird.

I’ve been here four days and I’m still sleeping late every morning. Big sister says not to worry about it. I obviously still have a sleep debt to catch up on. At home I usually wake between 5 and 6 a.m. Here it’s more like….. 9 a.m!

I hadn’t realised I even had a sleep debt!

This has to be a carer thing – where our own needs have been pushed so far down the heap that they disappear from our consciousness. Does this sound like you?

I realise I’ve been driving myself. Keeping myself busy, busy, because I feel guilty if I’m not. Sound familiar?

Doesn’t help us or our loved one. Just wears us out sooner…

So today, I’m going to try to relax and enjoy my day “off” with my sister. (You’ll recognise the need to try!)

THE TEXT: Let’s go for bust and have all of Psalm 23 today! Green pastures and peaty brown salmon rivers, yes!

THE PRAYER: Heavenly Father, You long for us to accept Your peace and love. Today, help us relax and rest in Your care for us.

SELF-CARE SUGGESTION: When you have time “off” make it really off-duty and enjoy (even if you have to make an effort to do it!)

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Like a mighty river flowing

Wick has an amazing Heritage Centre, which leads the visitor through the interesting history of the town – without the boring bits! No glass cases with bits of dusty fossil! Instead, rooms furnished in the characteristic style of the old times, a fabulous Edwardian costume display, the wonderful 3-generation Johnston photograpflowinghive, and lots, just lots about fishing.

For me, two things stand out. A six-minute video showing a herring drifter arrive in Wick harbour, unload and its catch gutted and packed by the fisher lassies – and all so close to the camera that I could really see what was going on. Very useful back-up for the novel!

The second was the reception I received, at reception! The first lady on duty turned out to be the mother of two Christian friends from when I first came to the Lord. Lots of catching up needed there. The other two ladies on duty knew me too – one I had worked alongside before I went to university. Her sister had beeen in my class as school…Again lots of catching up.

I took the long way back to my sister’s, through the main streets of the town, to give me thinking time.

Everything looked and felt so familiar – yet was subtly different. Some shops had closed, new ones taken their place. But the solid bridge that links the two sides of town remains. I stopped and looked out to sea.

The river is quite shallow at this point, but brown and peaty as a salmon river should be. And down to the sea the water goes. Except the seaweed clinging to the rocks at the side of the river tells me that the tide must come in, carrying salt water and seaweed.

There is something of the eternal and the continuous about the sea. Yet in life, we sometimes behave as if we live in the real-life bit and everything else is like the tv: when you’re not watching, when you’re not there, it switches off. Nothing happens.

Maybe this is a mechanism to protect us from sensory overload! Or maybe it’s a symptom of our intrinsic self-centredness!

But it teaches me I don’t live on Planet Dorothy, or even Planet East Anglia. In truth I don’t live on Rich Western Planet, or even (take the leap with me!) Planet Earth.

I live in God’s Kingdom, which is much bigger, wider and more welcoming than imaginable. And I live on it alongside all those folk I had relegated to the box labelled “past” or “back home” or “back then”. Because living in God’s Kingdom means living in the eternal and continuous now, alongside everyone belonging to it from the beginning of time to the end of time. “Like a mighty river flowing…”

It’s the only place to be.

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Getting your facts right

Here in the far north of Scotland, the weather is gloriously stormy and the sea is driving in with towering white-capped waves hurling themselves over the harbour wall.

So I spent yesterday afternoon in the local library working through the archives of local newspaper the John O’Groat Journal for 1921 and 1922.

One of the things I wanted to check was where local folk got married, so I could get it right for the two characters in my novel who marry in December 1921. And the answer was unexpected – which is why it is so important to do this kind of research for a novel!

Ordinary folk in 1921 did not get married either in church or in the Registry Office. A few got married in a local hotel, but most got married in the Manse, the home of the minister! I really had no idea that this ever happened but, looking at the marriage notices in the newspaper for about six months, made it plain that this was the general custom.

Today I must see if I can track down more information on this. Delightfully, one of the marriage notices I found was for a great-uncle of my own- and yes, he and his wife were married at the Manse. His daughters are both still alive so I may have an inside track to the info.

And this teaches me just how much useful information our own families have. My sister has provided lots of interesting background. I’m fortunate that one of her special interests is family and local history and she’s involved in the local family history society and their publications. Special provision once again!

The local paper included a cartoon in each edition. One showed an elderly peasant woman gazing at a fine multi-tiered wedding cake in a shop window. When the baker comes out, she asks him ‘what’s that war memorial for?’

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A lesson in trust

It could have been a disaster. Almost from the start. The train from London got held up by signal failures at Potter’s Bar – which must only have been about half an hour into its journey. But that meant it was late reaching the connection I was waiting for at Peterborough for stage two of my journey.

I didn’t know at that point that the whole of the rest of my journey had been wrecked. There was no way I’d be able to make the connections to get to my sister’s that night.

But here I am, sitting up in bed in her comfy guest room. And the only explanation is God’s amazing providence.

Let’s go back to me, waiting in the rain at Peterborough station. The display screen is saying that the approaching train is running ten minutes late – which endangers my chance of getting on the one after that.

There are a number of other people huddling out of the rain near me. Nearest is a couple around my own age. I hear the man say “Wick” so I step over and ask, “did you say Wick” and it turns out his wife is needing to make the same connection as me – which it looks like we’ll miss. But she’s been through this before and knows the ropes.

So when we reach Edinburgh on our delayed train and miss our connection to Inverness and thence on the last train up to Wick, she knows what to do. Off we go to East Coast trains reception where a brilliant woman called Pauline sorts things out for us: the next train to Perth, the one after to Inverness, and a taxi to take us plus another passenger onwards to our destinations.

And it all works like clockwork. At Inverness the taxi driver comes looking for us. My travelling companions are delightful company – and what is even more wonderful I am delivered to my sister’s door almost an hour before the train would have!

I believe in miracles. I believe in a wonderful loving God who looks after His children. But sometimes I forget I’m supposed to simply trust. Instead I can waste much time and energy fretting about things I can do nothing about.

Yesterday teaches me how silly that is. How amazingly smoothly God can fix things.

So here I am. Lesson learnt for the now. I just need to keep remembering it!

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Travelling not so light

I’m now on the second train of my of my four-train 700mile journey up to the town of my birth. Interestingly, I’ve been seated facing. Backwards to the direction of travel on both trains so far.

This gets me to wondering: am I in reality going backwards in going back to the town of my birth which I left so decisively at age 19?

When is going back not regressive? Can it really be a way to go forwards (as in fact the train is taking me)?

Another little curiosity of this trip is what I’ve forgotten to pack. When it comes to packing I am extremely well-organised. I’ve been travelling far and wide since I hit 19, sometimes for three months at a time. So I know about travelling light and checking and double-checking that I’ve packed everything I’ll need.

So it is really weird that on this going backwards journey, I have forgotten to pack my alarm clock.

More than that, yesterday at church, when I began the service, I took off my watch as usual and placed it on the lectern in front of me so I could keep an eye on the time. But I forgot to pick it up when I left. Fortunately I have another watch..

But what is this saying to me – about time? Going backwards to go forwards, and without a clock to keep track of the time?

I tried to work out how to set the alarm clock on my mobile phone and failed, so I set (I thought) the alarm clock function on the fancy Samsung telly in the hotel room. It didn’t work. I woke with 5minutes to spare before breakfast. But I made it.

Is this going to be a much-needed lesson in trust?

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What kind of harvest?

I’m just about ready to head off inland into the lovely countryside to lead a harvest festival service at a lovely Methodist chapel. My service reviews the year’s harvest and looks ahead to what God can produce next year.

I’ll be using my own garden as an example of what not to do!!!

I found the following piece some place – can’t remember where and don’t know who it’s by, so my apologies, and thanks.

These are the suggestions for what we might like to try planting for next year:

3 rows of peas                                                                        

Barrington Court’s walled kitchen garden 

  • peace of mind
  • peace of heart
  • peace of soul

4 rows of squash

  • squash gossip
  • squash indifference
  • squash grumbling
  • squash selfishness

4 rows of lettuce

  • let us (lettuce!) be faithful
  • let us be kind
  • let us be patient
  • let really love one another with Christian love

3 rows of turnips

  • turn up (turnip!) for meetings
  • turn up for service
  • turn up to help one another

And herbs: how about plenty of thyme?

  • time (thyme) for each other
  • time for family
  • time for friends
  • time for prayer

Water freely with patience and cultivate with love.

There should be much fruit: after all ‘as we sow, so shall we reap’!

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North – but not to Alaska!

Packing is easy.

Knowing what to pack is much more difficult!

I’m off up north to spend a week with my sister in the far north of Scotland. It is going to be significantly colder there than down here so I need to think carefully about what I’m going to need.

The ever-present danger is packing too much. Loading up the case so it’s horribly heavy. And then not needing it all.

 

I’ll be staying over a Sunday so I’m going to need church clothes. (Scotland is much more formal than England.) Hopefully the rest of the time, I can just scruff around in jeans and sweaters and a warm, rainproof jacket. And boots.

I’ve arranged for my kind neighbour to come in twice a day and feed the cats. She’s brilliant about talking to them and seeing that they’re ok. But no doubt they’ll work out that something is up when the suitcase comes out!

I’m going to try and continue the blog while I’m away. My plan is also to do some research on the novel I’m writing as it is partly set in Wick, my home town. I’m really looking forward to standing by the harbour and breathing in the chill air and absorbing the atmosphere. There is a good local history centre and a heritage centre with a focus on the herring fishing – all still open at this time of year. And I’ll bring my camera and take lots of pics!

I’m 23 chapters and 35,000 words into the novel so this is a good place to take a short research break. I’m sure it will freshen up the story and me!

Right. Must go and pack!

 

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Dementia Diary 8: Onwards and upwards!

So here I go again. Time to pick myself up off the floor, dust myself down. You know the rest.

Isn’t it weird how unpredictable this dementia thing is? Some days I can cope with almost anything, other days nothing goes wrong but the sheer grief overwhelms me. And the helplessness.

I think maybe the helplessness is the worst. I can’t do anything to make it better. I try to think up nice places for our outings and especially places for nice lunches with a big glass of wine for him to enjoy. But nowadays wherever I take him he says it’s ‘superb’ and that has become a kind of a knife that gets to me and hurts.

The fact that he cannot discriminate any more between rubbish food and poor service and really good food and excellent service is an in-my-face reminder of his illness and the fact that we live separately, will never live together again, that we’re in a horrid kind of divorce. And it’s not going to get any better for the foreseeable future.

But I need to remind myself that it’s me that’s hurting, not him. When he, bless him, says he enjoyed our day out and that it was ‘superb’, he is expressing pleasure, contentment, happiness as well as he is able. It’s been good for him. The fact that it’s not ever good for me – because he’s not there any more, not the person I knew and loved – and sometimes it’s genuinely not good when it’s raining and miserable and he’s quarrelsome and difficult, and the food’s poor and the service is desultory, well then I simply have to deal with it.

Where I’m going wrong is taking it home and poking at it like a sore tooth! That’s what I did yesterday, and it does not help!!

Maybe care homes need to build a soundproof hut on the way out, fill it with empty bottles and one of those bottle-banks where you can smash the bottles safely with a satisfyingly resounding crash – plus a really comfy armchair/sofa and boxes of tissues for the floods of tears that will come afterwards. And make it the norm that each visitor stops off there to let the grief and pain out in a healthy way before we go home!

Let me at it!!

The text:  “The Lord is close to the broken-hearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.’ Psalm 34:18

Prayer: Look with compassion on our broken hearts, Lord God. Draw us closer to You and comfort us, heal us and strengthen us. Lead us into Your green pastures that we may rest awhile. Amen.

Self-care suggestion: I have a friend who used to store up her empty bottles and jars for when her feelings threatened to explode, then it was down to the bottle-bank to smash and get rid of them. It does work!

(The pic is of Westcott House, Cambridge, a Church of England theological college.)

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