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Well, an allergy alert for me anyway.  Until about 2 years ago I had escaped being susceptible to allergies of pretty much any kind.  Then I began to get hayfever-y type symptoms in the summer, and when I stayed with my parents.  No, I’m not allergic to my parents, thank goodness!  I just seemed to get sniffly when sleeping at their house, and eventually figured out it was because their cats sometimes slept on the bed that we slept in when we visited and a change of sheets didn’t seem to eradicate the problem.  We took our own pillows, and that, combined with a ‘cat on bed’ ban when we were there seems to have solved that problem. 

But the allergic-type symptoms have continued to become a more routine part of life, and I have often gotten wheezy and struggled to breathe, along with vigorous sneezing and madly watering and itching eyes.  The symptoms have seemingly started quite randomly.  I was given an inhaler to help get rid of the wheezing once and that has helped, but the inhaler wasn’t meant to become a routine part of life.

A few months back we were at the home of some of our dearest friends, spending a blissful Sunday afternoon eating, chatting, chilling, and just enjoying the mingling of our two little families.  As the afternoon progressed I noticed that my chest was feeling a bit tight, and I began to get very slightly wheezy.  Not enough to bother anyone else with, but enough for me to feel a bit uncomfortable.  Nothing was unusual about the afternoon, we’d eaten lovely food (but nothing I’d never had before), drunk a glass of wine or two over the course of a few hours, and basked in the atmospheric light of lots of pretty candles.  I wondered to myself if the scented candles were the source of the wheezy feeling, but didn’t bother much about it as I realised that we’d be heading home to get our daughter ready for bed shortly and thought that would be that.

However, as we headed out into the chilly night to our car and headed home, within a matter of about 10 minutes I was wheezing so badly that I had to gasp to my husband to take me to see a doctor – right then.  We dropped our daughter back at our friends’ home and by then I was so bad I couldn’t get a proper breath.  To cut a long story short, my husband called an ambulance, I was taken to hospital, and recovered rapidly – I just got seen by an out-of-hours doctor who said it did sound like an allergic reaction (surprise!) and gave me an inhaler to take on the way home. 

Since then I’ve begun to think about what is going on when I begin to get the symptoms, and then last Saturday conducted a private experiment when we were out for dinner with friends.  I had a small glass of red wine, which I’ve avoided having as I had begun to wonder if that could be a trigger.  Sure enough by the end of the evening my chest was tight and my breathing was beginning to get uncomfortable.  I was fine once I took my inhaler, then did a google search to find out if this was a likely allergy…and it would seem, anecdotally, it is quite common.

I’m gutted.  I genuinely felt that the day I began to appreciate red wine was the day I became an adult, with adult tastes!  I don’t really drink, other than a glass of wine sometimes, usually to accompany a meal, so it seems a bit unfair my ‘adult’ tastes have been lopped in half.  No more red wine for me. 

I also felt I had reached maturity when I began to like – even love – olives.  It’s funny the things that make us feel grown-up isn’t it?

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Well today (like many days in my life, it seems) I’m sick.  I think I’ve caught the bug my daughter was so poorly with last week.  After feeling a bit odd at various points yesterday and managing to dismiss them as the outworkings of a busy weekend and not enough sleep, I spent last night feeling increasingly yuck and then trying and failing to get myself functioning this morning. 

As is the way with these things, I find it’s often when I need the most sleep that I get the least.  So during my sleepless hours last night when I awoke feeling unwell I found myself ruminating on the kind of random tangents that the 2ams are so well known for.

One of the random tangents came from a conversation we’d had with a minister friend of ours who was round with his fantastic family on Saturday afternoon.  We’d been joking about my increasing interest in the idea of communal living and how this works itself out in communities we’ve come across.  After considering the areas we’d find most challenging about communal living (pretty much all of it) our friend said that they had approached it from the other direction and basically let people know they had an open house for anyone, whenever.  I wondered if this was an expectation of their role in the church he leads, but apparently not – so many of his congregation had never been inside the church manse until he took up post.  Marla has also spoken in various places on her (fantastic) blog about having doors open to whoever needs them.

As I lay tossing and turning in bed, head and body aching, mind whirring, I began to wonder how I would find communal living, or living with ‘open doors’ when, like today, I was unwell.

Would it be great to know that if I needed something there would likely be someone around to help me out?  Or would I struggle with feeling my space was restricted, that Iwould need to make conversation when I just wanted to lie or sit quietly?  And in terms of reciprocity would I be willing to go into someone else’s house when they were sick and be there for them? I would, but being the over-empathiser that I am, I tend to imagine others share the same feelings as me and wouldn’t welcome my presence.

I am full of admiration for those who open their homes to the world, and can see that actually the physical act of letting someone in the door is not always the big deal.  It’s the opening and sharing of lives which follows which is the real challenge, the real joy and the real act of servanthood and love.

I haven’t made any resolutions this year.  But this area is something I am challenged by and challenged into doing and not merely thinking about.  I intend to work on it this year.  I suspect it will be a lifelong project

The week I wanted?

  • An optimistic and motivated return to work after the Christmas break
  • A return to the security of routine, with a reluctant farewell to the freedom of holidays
  • A well- paced week, with each day a pleasant balance of rewarding work, refreshing sleep, delightful family time and blessed time with others
  • A week where I can enjoy my change from 5 day a week full-timer status at work, to 4 day a week part-timer status, by just enjoying spending time with my daughter on our shared day off mid-week
  • A week where I look around my home and feel the small pleasures of successful domesticity as I observe the well-ordered home we have achieved as we make the most of our refreshing break by spending a little time each evening tidying and putting away.

The week I got?

  • A week of slightly random work events, bubble-wrapped in the back to work torpor that I had forgotten always surrounds this returning week after Christmas
  • A week of frantically juggling a sick daughter with trying (and mostly failing) to get to work on time
  • A week of wakeful nights as our daughter became sicker as the week progressed, and the eventual pleasure today of seeing her well enough to go to nursery and now to have her finally sleeping well
  • A week of enormous delight in the company of others, from work colleagues, to my family, to our extended ‘small group family’ despite encroaching exhaustion and apparently terminal frustration
  • A week of observing our home fall into further chaos as we lack the time and energy to tidy up – until tonight

Overall, and all things considered, it was a pretty good week!  However, it should be noted that I am saying this tonight, as bedtime draws near, my daughter is (currently, and surprisingly, given the last 5 days) sleeping peacefully and a weekend of leisure and time with great friends beckons.

Have a great weekend too.  Sleep well!

Happy New Year!

As 2008 ended and we eased into 2009 my family were enjoying the company of some old and very good friends in a wee Aberdeenshire village.  We see far too little of them, but feel blessed in the knowledge that whenever we all do get together we seem to somehow manage to pick up where we left off.  Our friends were never ones for superficial chat when something of real significance could be said, and our time with them over Hogmanay and New Year’s Day was no different.  So many great conversations squeezed into so little time!  However, there was one particular strand of conversation that really struck home with me, as it echoed and expanded upon something I’ve been thinking about and somehow hadn’t manage to articulate. 

We were chatting about being settled versus the draw to new experiences.  I have to say I’m a sucker for a new experience (so long as it doesn’t involve bungee jumping), and novelty, fresh and short lived, is very attractive.  But I’ve been reflecting upon what this then costs, on how this renders things temporary and unstable. 

Our friend Mike had obviously done some thinking on this too, and managed to articulate his thinking much better than I could.  He contrasted the difference between ‘depth’ and ‘breadth’ in human experience.  A person of ‘deep’ experience will invest themselves fully and at length into what ever they feel called to do – or perhaps what they simply find themselves doing.  This long investment results, naturally, in a richness of knowledge and understanding beyond what might in the normal order of things be achieved.  This means, crudely, that they have a great deal of experience in a very narrow realm.  A person of ‘broad’ experience will instead have explored many areas, for example they may have had several careers or lived in many widely differing locations, but this will of course limit the amount of deep experience they might have – so they have a more ‘surface’ experience but across a much greater scope.

I’ve just read that back and I promise you Mike said it much better at the time!

This led me back to a train of thought I’d been on for a while.  What does it mean for my relationships with others?  We’ve got a small circle of really good friends, most of whom we’ve known now for many years, and we know that these are friends who we will grow old with as we walk through life and faith together.  Despite the fact that geography separates us from most of them, there seems to be a tacit understanding that these friendships are for keeps.  There is accountability, encouragement, shared joy and shared pain.  These have, with the passage of time, and the commitment that such relationships need, become friendships of depth.

Closer to home I look at the people who I walk alongside as fellow followers of Christ.  I am challenged to commit to relationships of depth there too.  To see those around me as people whom I should serve not just here and now, but (with the caveat of God calling me to something different) with commitment and an intention to serve and love for a lifetime. 

But the draw to new experience, and this year, to find a new challenge is still very strong, and finding the balance between the two is hard.  Can I have depth and breadth, I wonder?

 

What is your definition of ‘blessing’?  Is it a verb or a noun (or both)?  Well, the other night we were blessed by a guerrilla gift from our wonderful friends.  I have to say this was a blessing in several ways:

  • It had been a looooong week
  • Friday afternoon had finished in a pretty pants kind of way (see previous post)
  • We have received this particular form of blessing from these particular friends before, and I have to tell you it gets better every time, cos we know how amazing what’s inside the box is
  • It was getting late and we had just been contemplating how best to round off an evening of relaxation
  • We also knew these friends have been working their wee socks off, and to know they had thought of us in the middle of all that was mind-blowing
  • And, not to put too fine a point on it, the box contains the two best and most delicious cakes yet brought to man – or woman -kind’s bellies.  And they are huge!
  • This was also sacrificial giving above and beyond the call of duty.  The question I’m left with is if I were in their shoes could I have given the cakes freely away or would I have kept them for myself? Well the answer, my friends, is between me and my belly.

The best bit about it all was how it was given.  We got a text message that said ‘Ding dong!’.  As soon as we saw who it was from we knew we had to go to the door (they’re parents too and know the horror of the door bell ringing late at night and rousing sleeping children).  So my husband went and had a wee peek and there, sat prettily outside our front door, was our Fisher & Donaldson box, containing two coffee towers.  I’m sure they make other delicious cakes too but these are the only ones we’ve sampled and they’re awesome. 

The thing that gives this kind of surprise gift a real edge is the element of risk (yes, I realise my concept of risk is very relative here, but if you’ve not tried the cakes you don’t know what’s at stake).  It was raining – the box could have got soaked, thus ruining the gooey delights inside.  It was dark – we could have gone to the door and not seen the cakes and just gone away confused (and they really need to be eaten on the day of purchase…).  We have a local fox and several cats in the area, as well as the occasional hedgehog – I’m certain if the fox had got there first we’d not even have known there had been a cake on the doorstep, and the others would just have tragically messed with the box rendering it unfit for human consumption.   (I’m sorry if this list of possible disasters is causing distress to other coffee tower consumers out there) But I do like the fact the cakes made it through that sort of challenge to find their way to our gratefully outstretched hands.

So this was an example of supreme guerilla giving.  I’m inspired to do try and do something similar.

And hey N & A – thank you again and again.  And not just for the coffee towers.  We’d love you even if you didn’t bring us cakes.  Probably.  I mean obviously.

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