Act N° 16 : Adopt

The daily prompt yesterday was:

Adoption is a central concept in the Christian faith. The Bible says we’ve been adopted into God’s family and taken under his wing. With that in mind, how could you extend that generosity to others who may lack family, friends, role models or guidance?

GREEN: Count how many friends (not acquaintances, but actual friends) you have outside your age-group. It’s easy to live in a silo and expect that there’s nothing to learn from people who are older or younger than us. Be challenged today to make friends with someone from another generation.

AMBER: Think about short-term ways you can offer to care for others. You might babysit for your neighbour or for a family at church; you might offer to look after or regularly visit an elderly person to give their loved ones some respite from carer duties.

RED: Think longer-term. How might this act be challenging your heart today? Perhaps you’ve wanted to become a mentor for a while, but never got around to signing up. Maybe adoption or fostering is something you’ve felt called to for a while, but you’ve felt apprehensive about taking the first steps. Well, make those moves today. Let today become the catalyst for something that changes both your life and the lives you touch.

This Act has me stumped…I don’t often meet people from another generation, never mind know one well enough to make friends…not sure what I could offer in the way of the amber challenge, and the Red doesn’t push any buttons either.

But no problem: last year there were Acts that didn’t resonate at the time, but which caught up with me later in the year. Maybe this one is like that. I shall wait and see.

Meanwhile I have been challenged by Rob’s sermon today. Based on the reading from Exodus 3 when Moses encounters the burning bush, Rob pointed out that it was when Moses turned from the straight path, the path he’d mapped out for himself, to go and see what was happening that God challenged him. So many of us have chosen to take the easy path, the path that is not challenging, the path that doesn’t require much thought, but God calls us to leave that path, and to take a chance on the wibbley path, to get involved in the lives of others, and to face the challenges. Part of Rob’s reflection in our newsletter reads:

Curiosity kills the cat but it also ushers in new epochs in history. It changes the fortunes of those who allow themselves the luxury or the lunacy of not looking straight ahead. Were you chided by teachers, coaches and well-meaning uncles about not following the straight line? Would you not have been further ahead if you’d refined your resources, purified and concentrated your materials? “Straighten the lines of your progress.. Above all, don’t get distracted”!

God constantly stands in the midst of the settled paths of prophets, patriarchs and initiates to the Communion of Saints. Our iconography has a tendency to depict our heroes with resolute and slightly elevated gazes as they stare intently at their goals. But – before they were ever useful to God by being resolute and unshakable they were useful to him because they could be distracted – distracted from their day jobs and unstuck from all their several necessary trajectories. God could depend on them to shift their gaze from their desks and direct it out the window.

What view does God want me to see when I look out of the window, I wonder…

 

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Chasing my tail: Acts N° 14 & 15

I say “chasing my tail”, but it’s not really true; to be honest, I have been a tad lazy the last couple of days, as I’ve not been feeling great. On Wednesday I had no voice, so it would have been a bit daft trying to teach; on Thursday I had some voice – enough for my phone lessons – but I felt fed up and grumpy. Today, as it’s half term, my usual students can’t have their lessons so I’ve been released from working! Which is lovely in some ways, but as I’m self-employed, if I don’t work I don’t get paid!

The 40 Acts Challenges are becoming more challenging, I think. I’m finding it harder to think how I can apply them to my life, and what I’m doing here. But I imagine that some acts resonate more with some people than with others, and it is just important to bear in mind the impetus behind all of this: generosity. If I’m generous in a way that doesn’t quite fit the theme of the day, well…no matter!

Act N° 14 was about acknowledging what people have done for us…

Your grandma, your English teacher, your next-door neighbour from all those years ago… All of us know someone who influenced or impacted on our lives for the better. Today is about acknowledging their generosity, and returning the favour.

GREEN: If you’ve only got a few minutes today, reconnect with your blast from the past somehow. You might find them on Facebook, or you might have their contact details in an old address book somewhere. However you choose to do it, simply spend five minutes saying hello and finding out how they are these days.

AMBER: Assuming you’ve made initial contact and you’ve got a little more time, perhaps you could find a way to say thank you. Feel free to write it down in a letter – it might be a nice memento for the other person to keep.

RED: If you could repay the favour today, how would you do it? Perhaps that person used their skills, networks or resources to help you to get ahead. How could you do the same for them today? Make a plan and put it into action today.

Strangely, this was a difficult one for me…I’m not denying that many people have had great influence on me, but when I consider most of them, they’re either dead, or I can’t remember their names! I finally felt that there was a couple who we knew when we lived in MK who had influenced me a great deal.

D was my minister for several years. It was she who encouraged me to go forward into Licensed Lay Ministry, and she was there with non-judgmental support and advice when our marriage was going through a decidedly sticky patch.

K, her husband, shared my great love of drama, and we performed “Educating Rita” together, as well as several other plays, including several versions of Mystery plays. He was a minister too, and it was K who helped break some of my restricted views of God’s grace and genherosity. He always challenged me, never letting me take a lazy option.

So I wrote them a letter yesterday, thanking them for their support, and love, and generosity. I posted it today.

Today’s Act, N°15, is entitled: “More”

It’s easy to do the bare minimum, isn’t it? Or even to simply get the job done. Our time is precious, after all, and our energy is limited. But there’s a universal secret to delighting others: unexpected and undeserved abundance. Going above and beyond. Putting in 110%. Walking the extra mile. Pick your metaphor and dive right in today.

GREEN: If you’re at home today, or can’t find a way to do this act for someone else, simply spend a bit more time than usual in prayer. It’ll only ever be time and effort spent well!

AMBER: Find small ways to delight someone today. If someone asks for a cup of tea, give them biscuits too. If you are in a restaurant, leave an extra-generous tip or a glowing review online. Forget the cost and find your joy in the smile on someone else’s face.

RED:Go bonkers. Think of the most outlandish, extravagant act of generosity you could feasibly do today wherever you are, and then go for it. You might bake cookies not only for your neighbour but for everyone on your street. You might drive half an hour in the opposite direction to where you need to go, just to give someone a lift home. You might offer to make the coffee for your team – not just once but for the whole day. Whatever you choose, do it cheerfully.

Well, when I made Mr FD a cup of tea, I gave him a biscuit too – but I wanted one, so it wasn’t really very generous of me! I emptied the dishwasher – not my job! – but I’m thinking that my Act will be that when I do my ironing, I will also do Mr FD’s (we do our own in this household, due to the fact that most of the time I can’t be arsed doing any ironing until I run out of clothes!) That really IS a sacrifice!!! I suppose I’d better stop blogging and get on with it!

Well…it’s a good excuse not to do it, isn’t it?!

Act N°13: Second Fiddle

Sometimes I think that the Acts/Challenges/Call ’em what you will are ones that you can do that day, dust off your hands and say “Done!” But others are ones that call for a particular occasion, where you might hark back to the prompt and think “Now I’ve got the chance to do it!”, or simply thay call for a shift in how you think and act whenever possible.

I think today’s is like that. I can’t quite think how I might specifically fulfil this today, but I will try to keep it in mind for the future.

For some of us, relinquishing control and sacrificing our own agendas or plans is difficult. It means that (a) we don’t get our own way and (b) we have to trust someone else or put them first. But practising playing second fiddle sometimes is important and generous: it shows the other person that you recognise their worth.

GREEN: There are plenty of small ways to put others first. Perhaps hold the door open for more people than necessary. Give up your seat on public transport. Let someone else go ahead of you in the queue. Let someone else choose the TV channel.

AMBER: Don’t haggle – hand over. Consider a situation you’re in at the moment with a friend or family member where you might be at loggerheads over something. It could be anything from choosing a new paint colour for the lounge to disagreeing with your best friend over what to do at the weekend. Normally you’d find a happy medium – a compromise. Today though, let that person’s wishes and opinions trump yours. Let them know that you value their thoughts as much as your own.

RED: Plan a perfect day out for someone. Pick activities that they would love – not the things that you would love to do with them. You might hate hiking, clothes shopping, fishing or the cinema – but if that’s their thing, go for it. Joyfully. Without counting brownie points…

You can read the meditation here

So, today, instead of saying what I’m doing, I’ll share two things that I’ve found on t’internet which add something to the thoughts…

The first is this, from Leonard Bernstein:

And the second is a story shared on FaceBook, about someone who definitely did not put himself first – literally!

On December 2, Basque athlete Iván Fernández Anaya was competing in a cross-country race in Burlada, Navarre. He was running second, some distance behind race leader Abel Mutai – bronze medalist in the 3,000-meter steeplechase at the London Olympics. As they entered the finishing straight, he saw the Kenyan runner – the certain winner of the race – mistakenly pull up about 10 meters before the finish, thinking he had already crossed the line.

Fernández Anaya quickly caught up with him, but instead of exploiting Mutai’s mistake to speed past and claim an unlikely victory, he stayed behind and, using gestures, guided the Kenyan to the line and let him cross first.

Ivan Fernandez Anaya, a Basque runner of 24 years who is considered an athlete with a big future (champion of Spain of 5,000 meters in promise category two years ago) said after the test:

But even if they had told me that winning would have earned me a place in the Spanish team for the European championships, I wouldn’t have done it either. I also think that I have earned more of a name having done what I did than if I had won. And that is very important, because today, with the way things are in all circles, in soccer, in society, in politics, where it seems anything goes, a gesture of honesty goes down well.’

 

I don’t really think I need to add much comment to either.

Acts N°11 & 12…L.O.V.E. & Chocolate

ACT N°11: L.O.V.E.

Yesterday was a busy day for me…I had lessons all afternoon in Clermont, and had planned to leave early to go and do my preparation at the language school where I work. But when I got up all bleary eyed, I discovered that the milk we’d put in the fridge to defrost overnight had a dodgy seal and had leaked everywhere. Oh joy! Cleaning the fridge at 7.00 in the morning wasn’t how I’d planned to start the day!!

Never mind.I finally got to work about an hour later than planned, but I had plenty of time to prepare. The lessons, which were all with new students, went okay. I have a general idea of the levels I’m working with and can now plan in advance for them. It’s nice to have the opportunity to go into ILS in the morning and catch up with the teachers I don’t see very often.

So I didn’t really have much time to think about the Act.

see here

The prompt reads thus:

Love means a lot of different things to different people. It might look like hanging up the bathroom towels after you use them, instead of leaving them on the floor. It might look like a special surprise. It might look like a day spent in someone’s company. It might just be a pat on the back and a smile. But each of us is built to give and receive love. It’s a basic need. So give it to someone today.

GREEN/ AMBER/ RED (Only one challenge today):Show love to someone today. Consider two things before you do that, though: (1) In what ways does that person experience love the most? Do they prefer acts of service, gifts, quality time? (2) What kind of love do you most struggle to express? Have a think about the ways you might challenge yourself to step outside your comfort zone and love someone the way *they* need to be loved today.

The meditation can be read here and it links to another article talking about the 5 Languages of Love. When I first came across this, (I think it was on FaceBook) I dismissed it as being slightly sentimental OTT fare and didn’t take it very seriously. But as I consider it more, I am seeing ways that it might impact on my life with Mr FD. So, I don’t really want to say much more, but rest assured that I did give love today, and hope that it will continue.

And today, it is time for the famous…CHOCOLATE TUESDAY!!

Chocolate. Everywhere.

GREEN:Slip a bar of chocolate into someone’s bag with a note saying ‘#40acts’. Or leave a bar or two in your local library, on a park bench or on the train.

AMBER: Chocolate everyone in your department/road/ toddler group – or wherever you happen to be going today.

RED: Clear the confectionary aisles in your local supermarket and get out onto the streets, handing out free treats for all. Or you could do what some challengers did last year and announce free chocolate on your commute home!

And the meditation can be found here.

Last year, I bought and handed out mini boxes of Smarties in Carrefour. It didn’t go down too well, generally. Most people thought I was mad, I didn’t really know how to explain what I was doing, and finally a group of adolescents cleaned out the bag that was offered to them…I also bought 5 “rochers de praline” at the Jeff de Bruges chocolate shop, and asked the owner to give them to his next 5 customers. I assume he did so. He might have just pocketed the cash himself…Who knows? (Oh, I’m cynical today!)

What to do today? I struggle to explain myself in French, so I am probably going down the anonymous route…with a little note. I did this last year, popping some chocolate bars in letter boxes with a note saying “Le chocolat – profitez en. C’est bon pour le moral” I have no idea whether people thought they were drugged chocolate bars and threw them out, or whether they were accepted in the spirit with which they were given. I’m really not sure what my reaction would be to finding a random chocolate bar in my letter box!

But I didn’t quite feel this was enough. Who’d like some chocolate by post, I thought…I was thinking of my friends, but then a thought about women’s refuges popped unexpectedly into my head. So I’ve contacted a Refuge organisation in Milton Keynes, where I used to live, asking if there is a safe delivery address where I can send some Easter Eggs for the women & children who will be there at Easter. I’ll then order some of these

to be delivered.

I also have a big bar of White-chocolate-and-coconut chocklit which is just crying out to be shared with Mr FD!

No Act today: Let’s go for a walk!

I would like to thank everyone who has made comments over this first 10 days of 40 Acts, either on my blog or on FaceBook. I really appreciate people taking the time to comment, to encourage, to engage with what I have written. It makes me feel that I’m not just writing gobbledegook (spelling?) and casting it into the wilderness of the internet! Thank you.

Today is such a beautiful day that, although I had planned to do some craft work this afternoon, it seemed like a crime to stay indoors (and that’s coming from an inveterately lazy person!) I phoned my friend, Alison, to see if Marvin the dog wanted to comeout to play, but there was no reply, so I went out alone. Mr FD had cycled in the morning, while I was at church, so was too knackered to come out for a walk.

I planned to take a photo every 10 minutes along my route, but as I ended up with uninspiring views at the time my timer beeped I gave that up, and just took photos when there was something interesting to see.

So, please, join me on my walk…

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Ten minutes into the walk, and I’m looking towards Chalmazel, the nearest ski-station. You can maybe just see it in the centre of the picture (you definitely can if you click on the picture to make it bigger) . I don’t suppose there’s much skiing going on there really.

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Ten minutes later and I’m looking along the road in the direction I’m heading – but I’m taking an old track off to the right.

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Already fed up by the 10 minute rule I stop and take a photo of a barbed wire fence that has been incorporated into this tree. The bark has grown around it. And this has happened to about 4 of the trees along this stretch of track.

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I reach the hamlet of Veillas, where there is the memorial to those lost in the First World War. Often there are pots of flowers around the bottom, but not today. I paused to have a chat with two walkers.

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Leaving the hamlet I passed the old Lavoire, where in earlier days, the women would have gazthered to do their washing. As Veillas is on a bit of a hill, the lavoire is a few hundred metres outside, catching a stream as it flows through the fields. Sadly neglected now, it is surrounded by brambles.

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I stopped for a few minutes to watch a pair of buzzards turning lazily on the thermals over the valley. I tried to get a photo, but it just looked like a black dot on a bright blue background. So instead I took a photo of the bee hives nestling in the copse. On a spring or summer day the air in this area is heavy with the sound of buzzing but at the moment I imagine the bees are still sleeping.

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Looking back towards Veillas, and then carry on down the road until I reach a view of Saint Just. Usually around this time the fields up here have sheep and possibly lambs too, but there were none out at the moment. Maybe it is still too early, despite the balmy temperatures of 16° today!

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There may not have been lambs out, but there are signs of Spring with the catkins starting to sprout (or whatever catkins do!)

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And then we reach the outskirts of the village, with the plethora of signs that seems to always greet one on the entry to villages and towns…

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Finally, just as I get close to home I notice some sweet spring flowers starting to grow.

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I had planned to have deep and meaningful thoughts, but somehow my mind just skittered from inconsequential subject to inconsequential subject…I enjoyed the warmth of the sun, the intense blue of the sky, the sounds of birds and the rustle of tree in the breeze…I thought about this, and that, and nothing. It was lovely.

Act N°10: Spur On

No negativities here!! This is a Challenge I feel less controversial about!!

Our words have immense capacity for good. When we use them encouragingly, generously, and genuinely, there are few things that have more power. A timely word can change the course of someone’s day, or even someone’s life. Use words wisely.

GREEN: Grab a stack of Post-it notes or sticky labels, and write down some one-line encouragements. Then stick them up around your house, your gym, your work or your town for other people to find.

AMBER: For some people it’s really hard to actually say nice things. Writing nice things is simple, perhaps even texting nice things – but saying nice things? That takes a bit of courage. So today, try to give three verbal encouragements. Make them genuine and appropriate.

RED: Grab some chalk and head for the streets. Find a patch of pavement and get creative: write a public message of encouragement for everyone to see. It’s legal (it washes off in the rain!), and brightens everyone’s day. A great act to do with kids, too!

You can read the meditation here. It starts with the rather lovely words

I actually think that the Amber act is possibly harder than the Red one – although I’m not doing either! I will spend some time building up my collection of “Ninja Notes” – which are encouraging postcards which I leave in shopping trolleys, lifts, public toilets, car windscreens etc. This grew out of last year’s 40 Acts, (or even maybe 2014) and is something I have carried on with through the year. Then when I go for a walk, or I’m out shopping I will look for opportunities to put these Ninja Notes (secret and stealthy) in places. I trust that God will lead the right person to find them – as I’m writing them I sometimes imagine who might find them… The ones I like best are those that say:

I leave these tucked into baby change tables, imagining that a harassed young mother, or father, will find this just as they reacdh the end of their tether!

So, while I’m not exactly posting post-its, I am using words to encourage people. Some are religious, some are not, but all are meant to support, encourage and empower people.

I also posted this on my Facebook page

for all my wonderful friends who support me and help me to be flawesome!

Act N°9: Dial Up

I thought this one would be about phoning somebody we hadn’t spoken to for a long time, which would have been a bit scary, as (I’ve already said) I don’t like the phone.

But no!

Today’s act is all about activating the gift of prayer. Wait, what? How is prayer generous, you ask? When we pray, we spend time talking to a God who lives and moves and acts on our behalf and for the good of those who love him. It’s generous because you’re asking the creator of the universe to do a good thing for someone else. Powerful stuff, folks.

GREEN: Get your local newspaper or flick open your Facebook/Twitter newsfeed. Shoot up some quick arrow prayers for the stories you see listed there.

AMBER: Schedule a regular time throughout the day to pray for newsfeeds or your circles. Write down prayer points or download an app to organise your prayer life (our favourite is Prayer Mate).

RED: Not prayed much recently, or ever? It can seem hard at first but today’s the day to try. Jump over to TryPraying and see what it’s all about. Already a seasoned Prayer Warrior? Why not share the gift of prayer with others today? Order some books from TryPraying to share with others, in person or by leaving them in public places.

You can read the meditation here

So, we’re not phoning people. We’re praying.

Now, for a recently re-commissioned Licensed Lay Minister, I’m not sure that this is something I should admit but…

  • Hello, I’m Dormouse, and I don’t really believe that intercessionary prayer has much value.

Gasp! Shock! Horror!

I nearly wrote “I don’t think intercessionary prayer works” – but that made it sound like I was treating God like a slot machine: feed in the prayer, press a button, get your requested answer. But really I’m not convinced…

Yes, I pray (from time to time, & usually in church, where it is “expected”) but when I was doing it on a regular basis I got nothing from it, I didn’t see any tangible results, and I became rather discouraged. I had people say “Ah, yes, but you’re not praying in faith so how do you expect God to answer?”

Well, if I don’t really have faith, how does God expect me to pray in faith? Catch 22 really.

Yes, I have seen answer to prayer (this is the contrariness of my viewpoint) – especially when I ask for a slap-in-the-face-with-a-wet-fleece – but that’s not really intercessionary prayer. The type of prayer that I struggle with is two fold:

  1. The please-help-all-the-refugees-and-people-in-war-torn-areas (there! I’ve done my bit) kind of prayer. How in heaven’s name do we expect God to help all the refugees etc etc? That to me is an absolutely meaningless kind of prayer; it’s a salve-to-my-conscience prayer. What do I expect Him to do? What can He do?
  2. The please-heal- (insert name here) or the please-can-(insert name here) find-a-job prayer. Why should God heal Fred, or Henri, or Lauren, and not Gary, or Sharon, or Hélène just because we have prayed for some and not others? Do we really expect that of Him?

I remember reading of a study where people prayed for half the patients in a hospital ward, and not the other half. There was much celebration that those patients who were prayed for were healed more quickly, or didn’t die as much (bad grammar, but you know what I mean) as those who weren’t prayed for. For me, I felt there should be no celebration about a God who, apparently, only did something about certain “named” individuals who had been brought to his attention. Sod the others, no-one’s praying for them.

The Try Praying site offers this on the subject of unanswered prayer:  But, agonisingly, some things do not work out and we may question whether God is really there.

The answers may not be understood until eternity.

I can see that, really I can, and I think I believe it too. But it just seems like a real cop-out to me. It isn’t actually terribly helpful. Just a way of saying “Well, we don’t know. But just you wait and see.”

And (I’m on a roll now!) what about the statement in the prompt itself: When we pray, we spend time talking to a God who lives and moves and acts on our behalf and for the good of those who love him.

So does He not move and act on behalf of those who don’t love him? Hmm…

BUT

This is all about facing challenges, it’s all about thinking deeply. So, I will order the Try Praying app, I will pray today for others. But I’m afraid I’m not going to really be praying in faith.