The world’s a mess. So, did the Christmas angels get it wrong?

The classic nativity tells a lovely story but the reality was a lot messier. Perhaps the message of the angels sounded as preposterous then as now, given the state of the world. What can we make of it? This is my attempt.

“Joy to the world”, sang the angels that night;
“Peace to all men”. And the skies shone with light.
But whatever came of that heavenly pledge?
For just here and now life seems right on the edge.

Where was the peace when to Egypt they fled?
What joy could there be as the babies lay dead?
Slain by the word of a paranoid king;
Witnessed by those who had heard angels sing.

I wonder if stories of thousands of years,
Of people and families, their joy and their tears,
Are enough for the message we can’t get it right;
For nothing and everything causes a fight.

We’re faced with two choices: Is this all that’s there?
Is it just down to us to decide if we care?
To do what we can for world, family and friends
And accept when it’s over that that’s where it ends.

Or….did the angels sing?

Did they point to a hope that lies deep in our soul,
That everything matters; we’re part of a whole.
We’re held by a love that is vast and immense,
Even when what we’re going through doesn’t make sense.

If true joy and peace isn’t ours straightaway,
They gave heaven’s pledge that it will be one day.
Their song was a promise that broke through the fear,
Proclaiming to shepherds that God was so near.

So near at his birth, through his life and his death,
Sharing our suffering, until his last breath.
And then when he rose on that first Easter Day,
His body was new, all the pain gone away.

He promised He’s with us still, though we can’t see.
And through Him we glimpse how things one day will be.
A new world: creation, restored to its soul.
All brokenness banished; just perfect and whole.

Now it is messy, of that there’s no doubt.
Love and peace whisper: Hate has a shout.
But even in darkness, His hope can shine through,
Kindness and love can show faith to be true.

We might feel connections that can’t be explained;
Love that forgives, though impossibly strained,
Friendship persisting whatever the cost,
All echo His love for the broken and lost.

So join with the angels, and sing out their song,
Peace still eludes us but they were not wrong.
The hope of the world came to earth Christmas night.
He asks us to trust Him, and follow His light.”

 

I saw this picture at a market stall in Greece in 2017 which seemed to capture what I was trying to say. Apologies for not knowing the artist – if anyone does, please let me know!

 

IMAG2224 (2)

 

 

 

“I saw a bargain today”

As a child I thought shops made the things they sold. The idea that toys were made the other side of the world seemed outlandish. With online shopping it seems almost like magic. But, as Fairtrade Fortnight highlights, everything we buy is made and put together by real people, living real lives, every step of the way.

“I saw a bargain today”

A fabulous dress;
A pair of shoes:
Much cheaper online
How could I refuse?
Arriving tomorrow, at no extra cost.
I hurried to ‘click’, before it was lost.
But just as I hovered, I heard someone say
“Let me show you who paid for your bargain today”.

She showed me the fields where the cotton was grown;
And the pitiful payment the farmers took home.
She showed me the rivers where pesticides flow;
And the fields alongside them, where crops barely grow.

I covered my ears but I still heard her say:
“There are others who paid for your bargain today”

She showed me the factories away in the East,
Where shifts are the longest and wages the least.
She showed me the workers too scared to protest
As the contracts must follow the cheapest, not best.

I told her “Enough!” but I still heard her say:
“Yet others will pay for your bargain today.”

The packers from warehouses, too tired to stand;
The child breathing fumes from the couriers round;
The fish eating fibres washed down to the deep;
The families who live near the burning trash heap;

Then my children looked up and I heard them say:
“How long ’til we pay for your bargain today?”

I saw a bargain today.”

After this poem appeared on http://www.joyinenough.org in February 2021, Izzy Barrett (https://www.instagram.com/izustrations/) shared this  fabulous picture.

More family poems…

In November, a new nephew arrived just a few weeks before his brothers 3rd birthday, so I wrote this for him about the new arrival.

My Baby Brother

I have a baby brother,
And he looks a bit like me.
Now my family is different
From how it used to be.

He’s soft and he’s wrinkly,
And he wriggles when you touch
And his eyes are small and crinkly
And sometimes don’t open much.

I can let him hold my finger
I can show him all his toys.
I think there’s some that I had
‘Cos they’re all for little boys.

But he’s always needing feeding
Or he’s doing a big poo,
And he has so many cuddles
When I want to have them too.

My Mummy’s still my Mummy
But she’s now his Mummy too,
So I can’t do all the things I want,
Or what we used to do.

But I know that he’ll get bigger
And there won’t be all the fuss;
And then with my little brother
There won’t just be me, but US!

And this one was for my niece who turned ten last year. She has very long, very lovely hair.

My Hair

Long hair; Blonde hair; How to wear my hair:
French plait? Dutch braid? Pony Tail?
Too staid.

Half up? Half down?
Triple plaits round the crown?
Fishtail? Pull through? Boho-style?
Who Knew?

Blonde hair, Long hair, Fab hair My Hair!

The Battle for the Brownie

I watched Incredibles 2 over the holidays. What a great film! And how amazing that they could so perfectly capture my toddler’s tantrums without ever having met her! My children might not have super powers but they certainly have different identities. There doesn’t seem to be any middle ground, or average day. They are either brilliant or dreadful. This is not an original observation. We used to say that they both lived up to the curls in the middle of their foreheads, as the nursery rhyme goes.

So this poem was prompted by my 7 year old who, soon after starting Brownies, stormed into the house one evening declaring she couldn’t be a Brownie and announced she was a Frownie. And proceeded to be one all evening! I don’t think she’s the only one.

Brownie or Frownie?

I have just joined the Brownies: It’s all very cool
With the badges and toadstools and hoodies and all,
There’s Snowy and Brown Owl who tell us what’s what
And games where you all take a name from a hat.
I’m a Brownie, a Brownie, a Brownie, that’s me!
And it’s all going to be such a fun thing to be!

Now at Brownies we learned we should all lend a hand;
To do a good turn and to share the things round;
To think first of others before of ourselves
And to help out at home like we’re true little elves.
I’m a Brownie, a Brownie, a Brownie, that’s me!
What a perfectly lovely and good thing to be!

So I tried it at home when I cam back from school
But at teatime I felt not a Brownie at all.
Why should I do dishes instead of just play
After all, I’d been working at school all the day.
I’m a Brownie, a Brownie, a Brownie that’s me.
But it’s not always easy a Brownie to be.

So I stomped up the stairs and I went to my bed.
And d’you know what was running around in my head?
Am I really a Brownie if I stamp and shout?
Or is there a Frownie that needs letting out.
Am I Brownie or Frownie? A puzzle, that’s me
Cos I don’t always know which one I want to be.

When Frownie says “Yes” then the Brownie says “No”
But I can’t seem to stop when the Frownie says “Go!”
When Frownie’s in charge then it makes people sad
Then when I’m a Brownie I feel really bad.
I’m a Frownie, I guess I’m a Frownie that’s me.
But I’m really not sure it’s who I want to be.

Now at Brownies we learn we don’t do things alone
And I know that the Frownie won’t go on it’s own
It might need a cuddle, to chase it away,
And help win the battle for Brownie to stay.
If it’s Brownie or Frownie, it’s Brownie for me
But I need you to love me, whichever you see!

 

 

 

 

 

Beanbag Parenting

Recently, I have felt like a beanbag for my children. The shape I am in doesn’t matter; what matters is that I can make them comfortable and provide support, regardless of how angular their elbows or how heavily they are feeling the weight of the world. You don’t think about beanbags. You just need them to be there so you can throw yourself on them.

As well as being a constant assault on the senses, I have always thought that children live by the law “I am awake, therefore I make mess, need feeding and create laundry”. Which is why, whilst Inuit famously have 19 words for snow, mothers should have at least 19 different words for exhaustion. But, whilst it’s immensely frustrating, having your incessant, daily provision for their needs so utterly taken for granted is in some ways a privilege.

They can’t live their lives on the beanbag – growing older needs to bring with it a greater recognition of the mechanics of life. And you can’t let them take you for granted forever.

I started to try and express this in a poem. Then I realised that mothers weren’t the first to feel this way…

My Child

Your children do not see you are the ground beneath their feet.
Their window on the world, they look through you to those they meet.
They notice your provision only when it might fall short,
And thrash out all their feelings without giving yours a thought.

But underneath their feet is where you catch them when they fall,
They see life with their minds framed by your worldview on it all.
They carry something with them of your forethought every hour,
And your secure embrace is what they need to grow and flower.

‘My Child, let my Divine love be the rock on which you stand,
Your needs are met through all that was created by My hand.
There’s nothing you can say or do to lessen My embrace.
The love you bear your children is an echo of My grace.

So be their rock and comfort, be their guide and compass too,
And lead them daily in My love, and you will point them true.’

 

 

 

The reason that I sing….

I confess I’m struggling with what I’m writing at the moment, so here’s one I wrote previously – for the 5th Anniversary concert of Godalming Community Gospel Choir in 2016. I miss the singing and the choir friends!

What is my story? The reason that I sing?

I sing because the beauty of this world, the love and kindness I experience and see around me, the joy of living, calls forth a celebration that can only be expressed in song.
This is my story, it is the reason that I sing.

I sing because the brokenness I see, the agony of disease, fears and anxiety  that cripples those I love, the gruelling cruelty of which we know, calls forth a cry, a lament, that only music can express.
This is my story, it is the reason that I sing.

I sing to the One who uniquely holds together the joy and the sorrow, who is the source of all life and love, and yet who only holds the restoration of the brokenness and the healing for the pain. And I sing to him from the heart, for I have known a despair that only His everlasting arms could hold and been restored to a fuller life by His divine Grace.
This is my story, it is the Gospel that I sing.

I sing because the words we sing are the truths on which I base my being, and each time I sing them, I hear them afresh and engrave them ever deeper on my heart.
This is my story, it is the Gospel that I sing.

And through the choir my story joins that of others – all experiencing the same truth in different ways. And as we blend our stories and our friendships we reflect the truth that we were all made to live for more than ourselves – to lift our voices, as our lives, as part of a greater whole.
This is our story, it is the reason that we sing.

And as we sing we become part of the story of those who listen. Our hope is that through the music of joy and sorrow, of struggle and triumph, that hearts may be touched by a glimpse of joy, a sense of peace, something that lifts the soul and gives new strength to carry on.

This is our story, it is the reason we must sing.

Birthday Poems 2

Continuing with the family birthday poems, here is one for my 13 year old niece who is sceptical of the joys of adulthood, and one for my 5 year old nephew who is half of a formidable sibling duo!

Grown-ups

Is being a grown-up a fun thing to be?
Yes you get to drink wine and to make endless tea,
But the niggles and naggles of all that you juggle
Seem ever so dull and make nothing but trouble.

You might get the post and the calls on the phone,
But I get to be in my room, on my own.
I can sit on the floor, or lie on the bed,
Starting one book, then choosing another instead.

You can’t laugh too loudly or people will stare;
You can’t spend all day plaiting someone’s long hair;
You can’t kick through puddles or squelch in the mud,
For the first rule of grown-ups is “never look odd”.

So the grown-up’s in charge but we get all the fun.
But of course that will all change when I become one!

 

My Sister

I want someone to play with and I want someone right now.
I want to climb up there: I need a friend to show me how.
This climbing frame’s our pirate ship; this blanket is our den
Its my turn, your turn, who’s in charge? OK, I’ll play again.

I want to do things my way and to show my way to you.
But when you start on something else, I want to do that too.
I want things to myself sometimes, I want to be alone.
But when you’re out, I’m always asking when you’re coming home.

This puzzle is too hard for me, these words too long to read.
I’ll copy what I see you do, you’ll show me what I need.
I think you’ve had more sweets than me, I’ll shout that it’s not fair
But things I eat don’t taste as good unless you’ve had your share.

We do most stuff together; you don’t like some things I do.
I’m finding out what makes me me by growing up with you!

 

 

 

 

Still…I am

This is for anyone who feels that old age or illness have robbed them of their loved ones. I dont think anything can take away that spark of uniqueness that makes a person who they are, but it can be very hard to keep hold of when faced by someone so different. Although its written in the wrong voice, it is sort of for my Grandma.

I Am

Perhaps you knew the child who played;
carefree, seeking to explore, to please and be pleased.
I am still that child.

Perhaps you knew the youth who dreamed;
kicked stones, ran races, willed the world to spin around his axis:
I am still that youth.

Perhaps you knew the colleague who strived;
worked hard to impress, knew his stuff, got along with the others:
I am still that colleague.

Perhaps you knew the man who loved,
first his childhood family, then his own;
cradling his children, watching them play, providing, caring:
I am still that man.

Perhaps you knew the neighbour who greeted,
smiled, passed the time of day,
hosted and was hosted, saw the seasons pass and greeted still:
I am still that neighbour.

Perhaps you knew the friend who shared;
maybe pastimes, walked together, drank, ate, put the world to rights:
I am still that friend.

Still within me is the person you knew, and who, by knowing, you helped shape.
I appear different now.
I hope my instincts to you are kind.
Forgive me when they are not.

But the child, youth, colleague, father, friend, neighbour……whatever has been and whatever happens now….

Still,

I am.

Birthday poems 1

Inspired by the laundry (!) to write a silly poem, I sent it round my family for my niece’s birthday. My need for instant appreciation backfired when it became clear my nephew then expected one for his birthday the following month. As the proud aunt to 7 gorgeous nieephews, there will have to be more in this series. Its a good job they are a fun and inspiring bunch! Here are the first two.

My White Top

I’ve just had my birthday.  I got a white top.
It’s nice and warm and snuggly so I wear it a lot.
It goes with everything and it’s got a big hood.                                                                          But Mummy says it doesn’t stay as white as it should.

It’s ok at breakfast cos the milk blends in,
And so does the toothpaste when it dribbles off my chin.
But the string for the hood is turning a bit grey
Cos I chew it when I’m thinking and it’s starting to fray.

I knew I couldn’t paint unless I took it off
But my brother took a blue pen and drew right on the cuff
So I chased him round the garden and then made some daisy chains
But now it’s gone all yellowy green from all the grass stains.

I was careful to nibble when we had a chocolate cake
And Mummy said it just went all over my face.
But with pizza for lunch and then strawberries for tea
There is red and pink down my front as clear as can be!

My White Top’s had very busy day.
But I think that I prefer it rainbow coloured anyway!

Questions

My head is full of questions that keep buzzing to and fro
‘Cos why dont grown-ups tell you what it is you want to know?
It’s not about my spellings or the things I learn at school
But where do some things come from and why are they there at all?

To start with, there’s the tooth fairy; well, does she have a name?
And who was it invented things like cats and dogs again?
Does twirly pasta start to curl when on or off the tree?
And why is it my wee’s not green from all this broccoli?

And then there is my Daddy’s work; what does he do all day?
I know that when he works from home he hardly stops to play.
He says that he has meetings, yes but what about the rest?
Perhaps he just drinks coffee and hides underneath his desk.

Oh these questions keep on buzzing and it’s all just such a muddle.
I think that I will go and find my Daddy for a cuddle!

 

Two Streams

Re-sharing this poem as much has been made of the remarkable achievement of 73 years of marriage that ended yesterday with the death of Prince Philip. A marriage perhaps exemplifying what I was trying to express, written for my sisters’ wedding in 2014.

TWO STREAMS

Two streams joined together in a dappled glade
And thankful, Lord, that you had nurtured both
To this true moment, long I prayed
For all that life-long soulmates made
Whatever might befall their path.

The streams flowed faster now, as one
Quite danced along, and could be heard
Gurgling over rock and stone;
Their joys not just for themselves to own
But in each others, glimpsing your joy, Lord.

And whether through eddy or waterfall,
Together they flowed, inseparable;
Bound by your commands of love
And knowing those vows, so dear to both
Were truth, in a world inexplicable.

I shall be telling this, with a smile
To family, we pray children, whenever hence:
Two streams joined together in a dappled glade,
And Lord, where you were their strength and guide,
That made all the difference.

My youngest sister and her husband always loved Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken”. I am grateful for those who inspired it and those who helped as I was writing it.