Monthly Archives: May 2008

I’m a Broad Brush

We are in the middle of what we call ‘de-cluttering’. My wife has spent two long spells in hospital over the last two years. That, together with the thought of moving house sometime in the future, has helped bring to our attention the clutter in our home. The vast amount of stuff we’ve accumulated over the years is just amazing. All squirrelled away, just in case it may be needed some day. Somehow it had crept up on us. We’d got used to it. Piles of old magazines waiting to be read, obsolete electrical appliances kept for spares, old curtains and material off-cuts that could come in useful, long-playing records, children’s toys and games, boxes and boxes of books .. You know the sort of things?

It seemed an overwhelming task: crawling into the loft, forcing a way into the basement, and sifting through cupboards and drawers. It called for a planned and structured strategy. The problem was, that it highlighted our differing approaches. My wife is a ‘detail person,’ she carefully and methodically sorts through each and every article, and after a thorough spring clean, tidily replaces most of the things. The remainder are set aside in neat piles, until a loving home is found for them.

Now, my approach is just the opposite. My way is to hire a skip and after a rapid radical assessment, tip most items into it, enjoy the extra space and get on with real life!

You see, I’m what I call, a ‘broad-brush’ person, something of a visionary. I get the overall picture of where we are heading firmly fixed in my mind – not ‘the big picture’ I leave that to God – and get there as soon as possible. Never mind the journey, I just want to get on with it, without any irrelevant diversions. I’m also an artist. I’m at my best working fast with a big brush, so I can finish and wait on my next inspiration. I have always wanted to get on to something new. You gather from these remarks, repair jobs are not my cup of tea. Give me a new extension or a garden landscaping project any day. Out comes the drawing board and I’m all fired up. But a dripping tap or sticking door, they can wait!

Now the thing with broad-brushes, they spend so much time dreaming and looking into the future, that they don’t always have their feet on the ground. This is where my wife comes in handy; she brings me down to earth. I’m a good starter, but not such a good finisher. You could liken it to a game of chess. I have a brilliant opening strategy, my middle game is err.., middling, and my end game is disastrous, I’ve usually lost interest by then.

Now detail people, often get so taken up with the nitty gritty itsy-bitsy routine things that they can miss out on the big stuff. They can’t see the wood for the trees, as the saying goes – for readers who may think bigger than this, substitute ‘forest’ for ‘wood’. But my wife is thorough, a marvellous finisher, and will see something through to the end, regardless.

So back to the de-cluttering. Maybe I have something to learn here. There’s room for negotiation, to find a middle way. My wife needs my foresight, my long arms and my limited strength and I need her thoroughness and sensitive persistence.

Things really changed when we came to sort out boxes of photo albums and slides. We came across wedding and honeymoon photos that hadn’t seem the light of day for many a year. We sat down and reminisced together with tears and laughter. So even the memories were de-cluttered and we could move on.

So the broad-brush and detail need each other. They go together like a horse and carriage, strawberries and cream. What seemed a daunting mundane task, proved to be enjoyable in part, even intimate. I’ll be glad when it’s finished though!

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Are You Sitting Too Comfortably?

If someone had said to me over the last few years, I was lethargic and lazy and must pull myself together, I would probably have felt like hitting them. As a good Christian, I would of course restrain myself? Some may have thought it but kept quiet. The fact is, you just don’t say that sort of thing to someone with chronic fatigue syndrome – CFS/CFIDS/ME – or a similar chronic illness. Right now however, there is some truth in the statement.

It took quite a while for me to learn to be kind to myself. After all it was probably because of the lack of that, because I was pushing myself, that was one of the contributing factors to the illness in the first place. But there is a difference between looking after yourself and over indulgent comfort. I found that the years of fatigue can have a dulling, if not soporific effect upon the mind and body and it is possible to develop ‘lazy’ habits and attitudes that can become the norm.

Now that I am in recovery – by that I mean most of the peripheral symptoms have long gone and the levels of fatigue are much lower – there is a need to sharpen up. I am keen therefore to recover that which has been lost. I don’t mean that I can go back to how it was. No more mountain climbing – possibly? I have let go of what was and have to go forward into the new things and ways and recovery is a process of discovering what these are. One thing is for sure. They will not be handed to me on a plate. That means taking action. No matter how seemingly small and insignificant, any action can be powerful. I am discovering over and over, what can be achieved with God’s help and strength, with very little physical effort upon my part. Something I needed to learn long ago!

I still have to be kind to myself, but things such as falling asleep in front of the TV of an evening or eating just too much, must stop. Any lazy habits that have been picked up must change. Just as muscles that have atrophied must be carefully and slowly brought back to life – and that can be painful – so the mind needs to be exercised and sharpened.

I looked up the dictionary meaning of comfort: “The act of consoling: giving relief in affliction:receiving moral or emotional strength: to make physically comfortable: a state of ease and satisfaction of bodily wants, with freedom from pain and anxiety:” I have also discovered that there is no real comfort that can rival that which comes from God. Any other comfort addictions such as sex, drink, chocolate, food, warmth, sleep, television or any other distraction are just a pale shadow of the real thing.

So, forward with changed attitude, sometimes with difficulty, but with God all things are possible!

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How We Slayed Smaug the Dragon

How my wife and I, despite the restrictions of chronic illness, attempted the 2.3 mile walk through our local country park. A walk that for most people would be an amble, became for us, an expedition of Tolkienesque proportions.

It had been our ambition for a while and so there we were on the hottest day of the year, setting out on our adventure! Make no mistake, it would be a real accomplishment. From the car park to the front door of the inn at the other end, was twice the length of anything I had walked in the previous three years. It was a challenge, comparable in relative terms, to my climb up Ben Nevis, when I was fit! So not only were we praying for strength to get there and a lift back to our car, but for there to be no ill after-effects! It was going to be interesting – me with my chronic fatigue symptoms and my wife with her walking finally balanced in her custom-made boots.

We set out, like two excited children, with our ali-folders strapped to our backs and my vest pockets stuffed with wallet, mobile phone, drink, emergency rations, camera, keys and sketch books and pencils. Even though the sun was full and hot, there was a gentle breeze from the sea and the going was level and smooth. This was familiar territory, but even so, we marvelled at the abundant greenness and the occasional wild flower that escaped our detailed knowledge – well my wife’s at least!

It seemed no time at all that we arrived at the first pond. Ready for a rest, we unfolded our seats and out came the sketchpads to record what we saw. There was a single open lily on the water and two ducks with their fledgling offspring and a brand-new bright red fibreglass rescue apparatus. Not being so good at drawing birds, I concentrated on the view back to the sea. After a swig of the water bottle and a cereal bar off we set again.

We rounded the bend along the straight to the next seat overlooking the large pond. This was a real picture, with a mass of lilies in full bloom and the reflections glinting in the sun. We took note of the several strange plants, with a view to looking them up back home. I made two calculations; we were just over a third of the way and the pub stopped serving food soon after two! I wasn’t sure how these conflicting facts equated, but we continued with added stimulus.

The next stretch seemed longer than expected and even though the sun was slightly veiled in wispy cloud, we were feeling the heat. However, the bridge came into sight with the signpost for the Otter Trail, indicating just over a mile to go. We crossed the river and swung right along the opposite bank towards the entrance to the woods.

We passed the point of no return and were into unknown territory. I was reminded of the book “The Hobbit”, as it felt like we were leaving Wilderland and entering Mirkwood. There was no air of mystery though, just a warm shady coolness and the gurgle of the murky river, with the occasional fallen tree interrupting the flow. We kept a lookout for otters or even a kingfisher, but had to be satisfied with the occasional dragonfly.

Up to this point we had walked side-by-side, but because of the narrow path and our different attitudes to the physical demands, we were tending to ‘string out’ somewhat. We met several fit ‘oldies’ appropriately dressed in boots, shorts and Tilley hats, striding out with purpose, but we persevered in our own way. My wife had to be more careful to avoid exposed tree roots, steps in the raised decking or the occasional stretch of mud. Whereas I was aware of my aching muscles and trying to find the right pace between full stop and a headlong adrenalin race to reach the end.

We were definitely slowing down and made several stops. I took the odd photo, but neither of us sketched anymore, we were too focussed on reaching our destination. A passing couple informed us that it was only five minutes to the end. We mentally multiplied that by three and sure enough we emerged from the delightfully cool woods to the searing hot sunshine fifteen minutes later. That was the most difficult stretch, short as it was, it was very, very hot and the road busy. My dry tongue stuck to the roof of my mouth and my eyes were on that pub doorway!

So we arrived at ‘Rivendell’ for our rest and refreshments. We pondered over the lunch menu as Ann the friendly and cool waitress hovered. I made for the bar to order drinks. I drooled over the tempting list of beers on draught, but dismissed the thought on considering what a pint of Tinners might do to my digestive system. I made a mental note however, to carry out a test in the next week or so, to see where I currently stood in that department! Just to sit in the cool bar room was a welcome relief and the hot chicken and bacon baguette made a real difference. I felt my limbs come back to life as my sugar levels rose. A lemon and lime, tomato juice and two coffees later we were ready to re-harness and hit the road back.

We set up our position in the searing sun. My wife was to do the thumbing, as I reckoned drivers were more likely to stop for her. In a few minutes several passed by, but weren’t inclined to stop. As I wondered if anyone would recognise us, a friend pulled in, wound down her window and called out. She turned the car around and took us all the way back to ‘Hobbiton’ and dropped us at our car, with just two minutes left on the ticket! How about that – we did it – praise God!

We felt like we’d been to the Lonely Mountain and slain Smaug the Dragon!

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