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Daddy Oh Daddy

This was a time when the child in me was deeply touched and moved by the closeness of Father God. I had never written a song before, but these words, simple and personal, just burst out as I walked along the beach. I offer them to you now, just as they came, unfinished. There was a tune too, but I didn’t write that down.

Father Oh Father
I love you I do
I want you to come and love me too
I want to feel you close to me
To walk and talk and play with me
How I love you Father I do
I love to dance and walk with you
I love to see the twinkle in your eyes.

Son, Oh son, I feel so proud
When you come and reach out your hand;
Something happens inside of me
When you want to walk and talk with me.

Daddy, O daddy, I love you too
I love to dance and skip with you,
Come and put your arms around me.

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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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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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My Clifftop Cabin Retreat

An important and significant two weeks.

I had entered my third year with Chronic Fatigue and although there was some improvement, I still experienced considerable physical restriction and the occasional relapse. I felt the urge to get right away on my own for a time. Some friends of ours had a cliff top cabin which became available for a couple of weeks and I jumped at the opportunity. This was the first time I had arranged to spend such a length of time away completely on my own.

At the end of a narrow Cornish lane, I eased open an old wooden gate and fought through overhanging foliage to reach a grassy clearing. Halfway along stood a bungalow. The cedar wood shiplap was bleached white with years of sunlight and salt-laden winds. Cared for, but it had seen better days. On three sides, trees and shrubs affording absolute privacy and seclusion, but allowed magnificent views out to sea.

The interior was very basic and functional, but I had all I needed. After unloading my belongings, I settled into an armchair and looked around. I took note of the thoughtful provision of little extras, like the bowl of fruit and selection of books. I had arrived! This was to be my home, my refuge, for the next ten days. No distracting phone calls, television or radio. Closed off from the world. It was a good feeling. I just sat for ages and feasted on the panoramic ocean view. Passing clouds cast moving shadows over the dappled surface of the sea. A coaster slowly disappeared over the horizon and fishing boats returned to port with the day’s catch.

I decided on an early night and snuggled under my quilt. The cabin didn’t have the luxury of insulation – not ideal for someone with a wonky body thermostat – and I soon woke feeling cold. I piled on extra blankets and pulled on a woolly hat, before trying to settle down again. As I lay there, the sound of the sea had increased to an incessant roar. The Atlantic rollers pounded the length of the bay below. I listened, fascinated, before eventually dozing off.

Next morning, feeling dazed and bleary-eyed, I sat with cornflakes and coffee, contemplating the first day of solitude. I just wanted to ‘be’, Father and I, drawn into intimacy. I needed to hear what He had to say to me, but realised I couldn’t force anything. It would come in His time and His way. I wandered outside and breathed in great gulps of the stiff Atlantic breeze as the gulls circled squawking overhead. It felt like taking in life itself and I wanted it to go on for ever!

The honeymoon period didn’t last however, as by the next morning doubts began to creep in. I was getting restless and began to question what on earth I was doing such a thing for. Perhaps I should call it a day and return home to reality? Thankfully, I dismissed the doubts and fears and pressed on. Sure enough, by the next day a peace began to set in. It’s hard to describe, except to say that I felt settled, stilled inside, at one with Father. Even when I ventured out for a very short walk, my ‘retreat’ went with me. I felt cocooned, set apart.

The following days fell into a sort of routine. Bible reading, listening, writing and journaling and more listening. Whatever thoughts and feelings came to the surface I explored them to see where they would lead. One day an emotional ‘wound’ that had dogged me for years was uncovered, cleansed and healed. As the truth took hold, I became aware of a tremendous sense of freedom and elation. On another, the reality sunk in concerning an important decision I had to make. I just knew what I had to do.

There were no further revelations during the remaining days, just a cementing-in of what I had already heard and received. My wife joined me for the last two days and we revelled in the fresh air and coastal scenery together. All too soon the day of departure arrived.

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Writing With Father

tn_journal.jpgI have kept a diary for many years. It all started when I read a biography of Pope John 23 based upon his diary. Not that I am of his persuasion, but I thought if it was good for him, so it might work for me. At first it was just a few jottings of anything that grabbed my attention, but over the years it developed into more of a prayer journal.

At it’s most basic it has been a diary listing in some detail what I have done each day; this would give me some understanding of where I was heading. I found it particularly helpful after I was diagnosed with chronic fatigue, in keeping a check on my progress in physical activity. I’ve also used it as a record of God’s dealing with me and what I have been shown through scripture and in other ways. I have found it very encouraging to look back on past months and see the progress made. I can write anywhere with a notepad to hand, but most of the time it’s when I am sitting at my computer.

Sometimes there’s a need to write more extensively and expressively. Usually when there have been issues or events on my mind or thoughts that keep recurring. This is where writing comes into it’s own. Once I am comfortable and assured of the presence of Jesus, I begin. I write about the happenings in detail, almost like painting a picture with words, leaving nothing out. I just let the writing flow, without worrying about grammar or spelling. I write as it comes – this is for no one else but myself. It may link into past events, in which case I just go with it and see where it leads. As I get in touch with feelings, I describe them and see where they are coming from. I write what my heart is saying.

I am aware that I am writing with Father, so it is at this stage that I may pause to see if He has an input. I may be led to a scripture or words may come to me. By this time my voice will have taken over from my pen or I may have just lapsed into a meaningful prayerful silence.

I have found this kind of writing can be very powerful, freeing and healing, but I don’t want to give the impression that it’s like this every time. Also my handwriting is so bad that I mostly use a computer. The free journal software I use – Here – is so easy to use and helps to keep me organised with dates, prayer lists and bible quotes etc..

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A Surprise Victory

tn_lake.jpgI sat in a deserted seaside parking lot. My wife was taking part in a reunion and I was left to my own devices. I was in to my second year with CFS, my fatigue level was average to high – at least three out of a maximum five – and I wondered what I had the strength to do?

I eased myself out of the car, slowly crossed the road and was transfixed by this ‘jewel!’ A large lake or ‘mere’ – as they say in those parts – nearly a mile long, tree-fringed with an island in the centre. The unbroken mirrored surface shimmered in the early autumn sunshine, inviting, everywhere quiet, not a soul about. Tidily moored up to a deserted jetty, old traditional clinker-built rowing boats, just waiting to be taken out.

I have a love of boats and water, ever since my father taught me to row on our local river as a boy, so my heart longed to be out there. But my head doubted whether rowing was the right action for a fatigued body. I paced back and forth debating and my heart won. A surly young man untied my selected craft and I cast off.

Gently, ever so gently, so as to make the least claim on my limited energy, I dipped the oars in now and again to gain momentum as we slid away from land. Resisting the temptation to pull with force, I continued at an almost effortless pace, feathering my oars on the return stroke like a professional.

After a few minutes I shipped the oars and listened. I, man and boy, enthralled with the experience! You could almost hear the silence, which was only broken by a flock of coots. Reluctantly I made to return, but took my time, determined to squeeze every ounce of enjoyment out of the half-hour hire.

It’s hard to explain to someone with normal energy what that experience meant to me. But I stepped out of the boat as if I was Captain Horatio Hornblower or Captain ‘lucky’ Jack Aubrey himself – of “Captain and Commander” fame – to the applause of the gathered crowds. It was a brilliant victory! “I’m proud of you son!”

Back in the car I was full of gratitude towards God, for arranging and enabling. Yes, I did suffer a minor relapse for a two or three weeks afterwards. Not sure whether it was the rowing or something else, but it didn’t matter. No one can take that achievement and memory away from me.

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Healing Memories from the Woodshed

The Carpenter and the Glue Pot

tn_carpenter.jpg Childhood memories can effect our lives as adults – this is one of the better ones.

My father wasn’t a demonstrative man, nor was he given over to emotion or displays of affection. Some of the times I felt closest to him were when he was in his woodshed. This was a modest weather-boarded, felt-roofed lean-to in our back yard. Often, if he found that things got too ‘hot’ for comfort in the house he would escape there. He would close the door of his refuge and immerse himself in the latest project. It was one of the places where he was at his happiest.

As a small boy, I regarded it as a man’s place. It was somewhere away from the women of the house and where you didn’t have to worry about a bit of dirt. I would love to watch him, perhaps creating an item of furniture in oak, skilfully handling his old wooden jack plane. Curls of shavings would cascade over the bench and floor. Occasionally he would pause to instruct me how to check for line and square. His large hands would guide and steady mine as I cast my ‘expert’ eye along the length of timber. These were special times for me. Father and son – a ‘chip off the old block’ – together.

It was like an ‘Aladdin’s cave’ of treasures to me. The tools of his trade adorned the walls – saws of all kinds, spokeshaves, bradawls, pincers… a rack of chisels sharpened and oiled ready for use. The patina of the old handles of ash or beech gave out a comforting glow in the light from the small window.

In the corner, a cast iron glue pot simmered away. These were the days before pva or resin adhesives. This was scotch glue, made from animal bones. It came in dark honey-coloured slabs or pearl-like beads. These were melted down with boiling water. The resultant hot sticky goo was satisfyingly applied to the joints with a brush. The pungent odour mingled with the sweet smell of sawdust and wood shavings. An unforgettable experience to rival that of freshly mown grass or the new leather of satchels on my first day of school.

He wasn’t just a good carpenter, but a Jack-Of-All-Trades. A hob iron and box of leather strips stood ready for repairing the family’s shoes, a valve radio needing attention or a broken toy requiring loving care. Some things however got him beat as one box contained old discarded clocks beyond repair. Lengths of timber hung from the roof, oak, mahogany, ramin and pine, salvaged from old furniture or buildings, waiting for an appropriate use. The real treasure trove was the bottom drawer of the bench. It was crammed with fascinating but mainly useless items and bits and bobs, kept ‘just in case!’

These are very good healing memories for me – something to savour. You can’t choose your memories of course. I had to allow them to come, good or bad. Is there really such a thing as a bad memory? Nevertheless, I sorted them through with Jesus, the Master Carpenter. The transformation involved taking responsibility for my feelings and forgiving where necessary.

I loved my father and though he died years ago, I often think of him. He did his very best for me, sacrificially at times, you can’t ask more than that from a man. We don’t have a shed now, but I can still go into my ‘woodshed’ anytime and be with my heavenly Father. He’s always there for me with open arms, ready to comfort, guide and steady. They are special times, Father and son together.

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