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What is the story we have to tell? Remembrance Sunday

All of our ancient parish churches contain war memorials, either inside the building or outside…such was the impact of the great war…the names had to be remembered….had to be honoured. There were so very many of them.

Nearly always those lost during the second world war have been added to them… but few since …although there have been enormous acts of heroism and lives sacrificed in more recent wars.

I have always been amazed at the losses sustained by small communities…often several members of the same family ….wealthy and poor, equal in sacrifice.  Whatever your links with these memorials or your family’s personal stories and losses …do always look as you go by and wonder about those names when you see them and try to imagine some of those stories. Was the death heroic or mere tragedy…were they desperately tragic…like that of the poet Wilfred Owen who having been awarded the Military Cross was killed just a matter of days before the armistice was signed in 1918.

 Certainly Each name represents a precious unique life, one we Christians believe is destined for union with God and each name reminds us…as it should…of at least two things…the brutality of war and of the dignity of sacrifice, the desperate need for peace.

How far back do your family stories go?…Many of us here have memories of the second world war. In my case waking up in an Anderson shelter, sleeping in the bottom drawer of a chest of drawers, being given a gas mask to play with so I wouldn’t be frightened if it was used for real………a grandfather who died of TB contracted in the wet and cold of the North Atlantic.

We grew up with shelters in our homes, gardens and schools…ration books,… concentrated orange juice and cod liver oil….remember it? And most of us without our fathers being around….….

You will each have your own story or if you are younger you will have your family story or maybe the trip to the military cemeteries of northern France or to Auschwitz organized by your teachers.

Or maybe you know that 456 servicemen and women died in Afghanistan alone… Their ages ranging between19 and 45…most being in their 20s and 30s.

From the trenches of the Somme, to the roar of spitfires over our land, from guarding our coast to the battle of the Atlantic, from the beaches of Normandy to the South Atlantic, from the Dambusters to Burma..Malaysia, Korea, Kuwait, Bosnia, Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan, and in many other places the men and women of our armed forces have represented you and me.

And now…rather than get better, things have got more confused. Civilians caught in the terror of Syria and the Yemen…the mess that is South Sudan to which so many of us have been committed over many years…and still this diocese supports with our medical aid and educational provision…..the sacrifice of individuals goes on from the midst of the chaos where it is not always clear who is friend or foe.

Lest we think it will leave us untouched. It is in very recent times that rhetoric from the States and here at home has sounded more like Germany in the 30s than England in the 21st century.

If we really honour these sacrifices, I think we will do two things…..we will live life to the full… not selfish lives but lives of service and gratitude… … embracing all those who need our help. We will work and pray for peace. We will cherish those who are close: those people God has given to us. We will give thanks for all those things which enrich our lives…. the beauty of the created world, the talents of those who delight us. I could go on….for these things I believe are God given.

…and we will not lose hope. We will live with our glasses half full. We will work untiringly for peace.

Hope is a Christian virtue…and why? Because if our God is real and if we dare believe that he loves us unconditionally all will be well.

St Paul said

…… neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord

The answers and the fulfillment of all God’s promises are found in Jesus. Our deaths all find meaning in his death and our hopes, our striving, our concerns and our loves find fulfilment in his resurrection.

Remembering and retelling the story is part of any culture

Dare to wrap those stories into the Christian story

It is the story of Jesus. It is seeing the truth in his life and death and resurrection. The story which was told in our baptism, the story we reenact over the course of every year and the story we tell in the great Eucharistic prayer Sunday by Sunday…it is our story

Here our spiritual needs are met, here a better world begins. Here Hope for the future is opened up, based on faith in the promises of God, where a new and a better world is not an idle dream – but a matter of faith and love and courage. It is the consequence of our resolute determination that evil shall not triumph because in Jesus it has ultimately already been destroyed.

It is not for us to despair….

And it is in this light…God’s light… that we can find meaning for all our sacrifices.

Our stories must be about gratitude and they must be about love …..for bereavement is the cost of loving another human being…the pain is the reverse of the coin which is the most precious gift we can be given…the love of another person.

As Christians we see this reflected in the death of Jesus. As he stands with Pilate, it is Pilate who is on trial…it is his need to protect himself that is being judged. Jesus is not the helpless victim. In St John’s gospel in particular it is clear this is far from the truth. It is rather, that his death is his chosen path. He is in control throughout. He has power to lay down his life he says and power to take it up again.

And Jesus’ decision to walk the path of suffering and embrace death is precisely the source of his authority and his kingship. It is how he bears witness to the truth.

When we see on thousands of war memorials the names of the fallen beneath the words of Jesus, ‘Greater love than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends’ we are face to face with the wish, that suffering can be given meaning by associating it with the purposeful death of Jesus….we are telling our story yet again.

Today pride and pain walk hand in hand. We would not be truly human if we did not remember with pain. We would not be good citizens if we did not remember with pride. But we bring our memories to the cross of the man   who did not die in vain. And that changes everything.

We are not alone and though we are only too aware of all the evil in our world we know our God is not indifferent to it nor will let it triumph in the end

I end by taking you back to that reading from the book of Revelation

“God will dwell with them;

they will be his peoples,

and God himself will be with them;

he will wipe every tear from their eyes.

Death will be no more;

mourning and crying and pain will be no more,

for the first things have passed away.”

…. that is our faith….

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jesus said “I have called you friends”

A Sermon preached in St Andrew’s Church in Great Durnford, Wiltshire  in 2005 reproduced here on request. I have read it through and there is little I would want to change. Recommended reading  Martin Buber: ‘I and Thou’

This morning I want to talk a little about friendship and a little about risk taking.

The risk taking I wish to explore is that which is personal.  It is about my manner of living, about my own inner life and my capacity to live life to the full. It is about all that is rooted in my relationships including my relationship with God. For real relationships…real friendships…embrace risk taking. There is a needful trusting of self to the other, a needful sharing and a needful self exposure in any relationship which is not superficial. It’s what makes friendship different from close acquaintances.

The risks involved in any untried relationship are quite considerable for we are vulnerable creatures and the potential for being hurt or ridiculed is high. That leaves aside the cost, the fact that commitment to another will involve energy and time…a making of space. If it is something we value we will  give it a priority.

On one level we instinctively know all this but a surprising number of us….perhaps all of us at certain times in our lives, find it difficult to entrust ourselves to others.

I found this poem (if that is what it is)  on the web

Risking

To laugh is to risk appearing the fool

To weep is to risk appearing sentimental

To reach out for another is to risk involvement

To express your feelings is to risk exposing your true self.

To place your ideas, your dreams before another is to risk ridicule.

To love is to risk not being loved in return

To live is to risk dying.

To hope is to risk despair.

To try is to risk failure.

Anon

 

All this, I suppose, is about avoiding pain and suffering; but the person who risks nothing does not avoid suffering and sorrow…..suffering and sorrow are an unavoidable part of life…to risk nothing means to give up the possibility of being loved and loving in return.. the possibility of living life to the full.

And Jesus says to his disciples: ‘You are my friends’  I have shared my dreams , my work. my commitment with you. I have shared everything with you. That is true even when they, when we, let him down.

‘Could you not stay awake with me even for one hour’?   ‘No, I do not know him’

Their (my) silly ambition about being the greatest….and so it goes on….

Jesus knows that they are his friends and absorbs their weaknesses and their failures and appears on an Easter beachside, in an upper room, shares a meal with them, comforts and stands alongside them and goes on being a friend because in real relationships, real friendships you can fail, you can turn back and be sorry, for real love does not evaporate with the morning mist.

….and he calls us his friends….WOW!

Let’s re- think what it means to risk

To love is to risk experiencing what it is to be loved in return.To laugh and share ideas and feelings is to find companionship. To reach out to another is to risk finding an inner healing and a commitment that will last. It is to find that failure is not to be ridiculed and that there is acceptance and willing forgiveness.  To cry is to risk being fully human.

And yes, if it all  goes wrong we are back to those negatives about rejection and failure and yes, if we lose the other through death or any other accident of living , we will be in pain…but we will know what the joy of loving is…what it means to share oneself with another…and we will experience all that security and joy which lies at its heart.

For as we know that God loves us unconditionally, we know also it is possible for us to mirror that love in our own relationships. The risk is worth taking.

Jesus wants us as his friends…indeed…he has risked himself…not by just wanting but by declaring…..’You are my friends’ He risks our turning him down, risks our limited response……but if we say, yes, it is also the path to that deep companionship with him which is not only at the heart of our other relationships but binds us with ties of love to him. It is there that the healing we all need begins. We will know that each of us is like a precious gem that he will not drop or break. Those few very special people I have in my life I see as precious gems placed in my hands to care for and not drop. but that image is of limited value unless I have entrusted myself into their hands too. Loving cannot be friendship unless it is mutual.

If something is important to us, we are willing to risk many things in order to attain it-loss, rejection, disapproval, laughter, sometimes even life itself, because what we want, what seems essential to our deepest self, is that much worth having.

Commitment of the heart is the basis for risk, a commitment to something we believe in- to an ideal. a way of life. a person whom we love. Even though there are other motives that propel us into taking risks, commitment of the heart is the one that is of the spirit because it bases risk taking on what we value and on what we love.

In his powerful and influential book ‘I and Thou’ twentieth century Jewish theologian Martin Buber spelled out articulately a theology of relationship. Buber held that there are fundamentally two concepts of self; the absolute self that exists separate from the world…if you like it is the hidden me that only I know and maybe even that knowledge is partial…the bit no one knows. Then there is the relational self that exists in relation to the world, a part of the world. This relational self is  the more profound as it is the self that knows God. It is also the self that makes profound relationships with other human beings.

Buber believed that human beings have a tendency to avoid this relational self probably because we have  a fear of being changed, being influenced or being hurt.

The wish to know God involves a willingness to allow ourselves to be shaped, formed and indeed changed. This is scary stuff….as it should be, if we are confronting our fears. We are changed as we allow God in…allow what Buber called an I-Thou relationship.

On one level faith is only another word for risk. God is the biggest risk-taker of them all. God created you and me with the right of refusal….the right to say no to him….to fail to respond. That does not mean that God is endangered by our right of refusal. We are free to give ourselves to him in the deepest of relationships, but it does mean God suffers when people hurt or when we have not ministered to them as he would. God created a cosmos where we can if we choose to, participate in his creativity and love. That is risky and that is our call.

It also means that whilst you and I are not offered safety, we are given joy and delight as we become the people God created us to be. We take risks with our creator. That’s being Church. That is opening ourselves to healing and also to being channels of his healing….because we are his friends.

At the Annunciation Mary said Yes to God and thereby enabled his healing to floe directly into our world. Jesus did the same in Gethsemane. Both profoundly risked all on God. Are we prepared say yes to God in the same way?

It is a risk I know I must take as I walk with him in those other relationships I make.

Jesus said, ‘You are my Friends’. What a risk he took.

Ann Philp (reproduced September 2017)



 

 

 

 

 

 

Love in Retirement. A woman’s view

“Happy is the husband of a good wife,
for the number of his years will be doubled”

 Random thoughts on the quest for intimacy in older age.

When I started my blogging I stated as a purpose to reflect on various aspects of ageing. This time I have written in a different style and it only minimally touches on my own life. Yes, intimacy is something I do yearn for but of course intimacy can be found in many ways and also expresses itself in many ways and I would not wish to limit myself to what follows. It saddens me that one writes about older people in this particular field as if we are somehow different from others.

Older people have many fears and amongst them is the fear that the one you believe has an affection/love for you is only ‘doing good’ in case you are lonely.  It sits side by side with that other fear that medical treatment will be withheld from you because you are old.

Few people have written about these fears but there is a vulnerability in being older that you understand when you get there. It diminishes us to feel as one woman said to me, ‘ I need someone to fight for me’  There are political issues here that need attention.

What follows does not reflect the insecurities that flow from all this, important though it they are.   This is about considered choice: how you choose to think about it and maybe what you will choose to do about it.  If you dare not commit or risk being let down that is your choice. I believe that if you never risk  your emotions you may avoid the most terrible of hurts and if you dismiss an opportunity to  commit to another you will be rejecting one of life’s God-given joys. Love always involves risk…whether its loss of a parent or the death of friend or partner…the hurt will come but real love is good and worth any amount of  that risk.

I write as a woman

My Biblical passages, this time, are there to enrich the reflections that follow.

Quotations are mainly from Ecclesiasticus: for meditation

 The Joy of a Good Wife

“Happy is the husband of a good wife;
the number of his days will be doubled.
A loyal wife brings joy to her husband,
and he will complete his years in peace.
A good wife is a great blessing;
she will be granted among the blessings of the man who fears the Lord.
Whether rich or poor, his heart is content,
and at all times his face is cheerful.”                   Ecclesiasticus

 

What are the Options?   Where will he be found?

 New partnerships where both are older

Roots in friendship

For older people the ideal is a partnership rooted in friendship where the potential partner is known and trusted possibly over many years. Intimacy grows with this trust.

The woman who wishes to remarry or indeed marry for the first time does well to look at those around her who fit this pattern but however good these unions are there are many women for whom this is not a possibility. There are still fewer single men around than women.

Sometimes there are hard hurdles to be jumped as children are often reluctant to see a parent remarry. It changes the family unit with which they are familiar and can falsely assume a disloyalty to their other parent.  This of course does not always happen but it is surprisingly frequent. Those of us who have conducted the marriages of these, oh so lucky folk, who have found this kind of love later in life, will have often helped them work towards a family acceptance.

 Those to be envied are those who have close friends, probably also widowed, who find a love after the death of both partners.

Built on a meeting of hearts and minds they will be surrounded and supported by a network of acquaintances and friends ready to support them and children who will accept.

There is also a happiness to be found where chance meeting, probably over a shared interest, leads to the same result.

Friendship is the basis on which relationships can be built.

 

Faithful friends are a sturdy shelter:
whoever finds one has found a treasure.
Faithful friends are beyond price;
no amount can balance their worth.
Faithful friends are life-saving medicine;
and those who fear the Lord will find them.
Those who fear the Lord direct their friendship aright,
for as they are, so are their neighbours also               Ecclesiasticus

 

 However this is not the experience of all people.

 So what about Dating web sites?

Three weeks ago I had the joy of meeting a couple both in their sixties who had met through that most modern way of courtship…the computer.

They told me all about it.

The woman had been afraid. After all how do you in your later years set off to meet a complete stranger in a public space? (And do make sure it is public for the first time at least) How do you know the person who advertises will even look the same as his photograph? Is he telling lies?

My informant, lets call her Sheila, had two false runs. In one case he had not turned up. How embarrassing and how vulnerable that must make you feel…? The next had simply not felt right. Her third attempt? Well on this occasion Sheila felt lucky. There was an instant liking which some months later had ended with two people sitting together on my settee talking about hymns for their wedding.

On the surface not much in common but there was no doubt about their love for each other.

I envied them their confidence, their daring. Both Christians, they were grasping at life and a  fresh start.

They will be fine. I sensed they were both prepared to commit, both willing to risk, and both very excited.

 

Why am I such a wimp I thought? Why run away from the idea of a complete stranger?

Perhaps a new generation will not be so wary

Be daring if you are hesitant, and be careful.

It is likely to be the  common practice in the future and if you are really looking for a partner there is a high chance of success.

.

He is seventy, she is fifty. What about age?

A seventy-year-old man can form an intimate relationship with a woman aged fifty whereas it is extraordinarily difficult for a 70-year woman to fall in love with and subsequently form a relationship with a 50-year-old man.

In our society there is a common expectation that the woman will be younger than the man.

Why should this be so?

Is it based solely on a perceived, if not always real, expectation that a man will go for the youngest, most beautiful and nubile woman he can find?   (does nothing for the self esteem of women)  Or… It has always been that way; men go for younger women? Does it assume that the older man wants to be nursed or perhaps is seeking a trophy wife? None of these thoughts are fair on the modern man although it still most certainly applies to some and is the expectation of many older people.

Where this is true it always militates against women, as it sees them primarily as sex objects and makes assumptions about the desirability of older women who then fall into the stereotypical pit of old age.  It is however one of the reasons more men than women find new or second partners.

These assumptions are not necessarily true of women who are often attracted, as they get older, to men who fall into a wider spectrum of age. Most women want maturity in their friends and partners. Age in the second half of life is not an issue as far as maturity is concerned.

 

So….To turn the illustration round…..

 

Assumptions are made if the woman is 70 and the man 50.

Cougars…therefore predatory (although some women see it as sexy!)

Frustrated mothers   (not for me!..I’d rather love the adult male with an equal tenderness)

Few women are actually what either of these assumptions simply imply.

 

The man who at 50 chases the 20 year old and who rejects the older woman may well be gaining a physical beauty no longer found in the older woman but loses those gifts which potentially offer much more.

 So what are these gifts?

The older woman is likely to be mature and bring a life experience that knows how to value and express a deep physical and emotional intimacy which is genuine and gentle. She is likely to be sensitive to the varying needs of the other, does not see sexual expression in terms of performance, has learned a kindness and has a recognition of the need to support her partner in his varying interests and concerns. She will be supportive of his career and not deprive him of the pleasure gained through interests and other friendships. She is likely to have a confidence about her which will bring a strength which is mutually enriching. Nearly all women value most the warmth of an intimacy which may or may not involve intercourse but majors in the knowledge of being loved, in mutual trust and sharing, of waking up in the arms of that same person knowing that whatever adventures fall that day, that mutuality will be an ongoing feature of life together even when physically apart. It is indeed a covenant relationship which is deep enough to embrace those around them.

 

Ooh la la. French president Emmanuel Macron is 24 years younger than his wife, Brigitte Trogneux.

This kind of relationship relies on the same things all relationships hinge on: finding a person who shares your interests, beliefs and principles. And if it scandalizes onlookers — all the better!

Ryan Gosling….Relationships

Notes

  1.  These notes have been set as between a man and a woman but would also be true of a same sex relationship.
  2. The views are my own and at the end of the day express my own thoughts.
  3. I recognize the many generalisations but believe the issues to be real. I know also that not all women or men are models of perfection but age does tend to bring a greater wisdom in choice, a liberality of views and a knowledge which is perceptive of the needs of the other.
  4. In any union or friendship where there is an age disparity there has to be an acceptance that there is a likelihood that one will die much sooner than the other.
  5. These thoughts also assume that there is no desperation, no assuming that to have a partner is the only thing that matters in life. If this is so, it will all end in tears…an expression my gran used frequently…….
  6. I do believe that we were created by a God who knew that  he designed us for close companionship.

 

Ode to a Capable Wife

“A capable wife who can find?
She is far more precious than jewels.

The heart of her husband trusts in her,
and he will have no lack of gain.
She does him good, and not harm,
all the days of her life.
She seeks wool and flax,
and works with willing hands.
She is like the ships of the merchant,
she brings her food from far away.
She rises while it is still night
and provides food for her household
and tasks for her servant-girls.
She considers a field and buys it;
with the fruit of her hands she plants a vineyard.
She girds herself with strength,
and makes her arms strong.
She perceives that her merchandise is profitable.
Her lamp does not go out at night.

She puts her hands to the distaff,
and her hands hold the spindle.
She opens her hand to the poor,
and reaches out her hands to the needy.
She is not afraid for her household when it snows,
for all her household are clothed in crimson.
She makes herself coverings;
her clothing is fine linen and purple.
Her husband is known in the city gates,
taking his seat among the elders of the land.
She makes linen garments and sells them;
she supplies the merchant with sashes.
Strength and dignity are her clothing,
and she laughs at the time to come.
She opens her mouth with wisdom,
and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.
She looks well to the ways of her household,
and does not eat the bread of idleness.
Her children rise up and call her happy;
her husband too, and he praises her:
‘Many women have done excellently,
but you surpass them all.’
Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain,
but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.
Give her a share in the fruit of her hands,
and let her works praise her in the city gates.”

Proverbs 31

Try writing this with the man you wish for as its subject.

“A capable man who can find

He is far more precious than jewels………”

(the Bible is not very good at this but you could be!)

 

Do older women still want physical intimacy?

Yes…despite what the young think! There is a new freedom. No childbearing, privacy,  and most physical issues can be sorted for both men and women. We know we feel better and even look better when we love.

 Do women still want to forge close friendships

(intimate or not)

Yes, of course they do. Real friendship cannot be replaced by ‘occasional visiting’ Friendship is companionship, it is trust, it is a knowledge of loyalty, it is a commitment.

Of course all men and women are different. They are different from childhood onwards. Some want a greater closeness than others. Some have never been fortunate enough to find a person to love deeply. This blog stated by talking about older people. All of us as we age, men and women, learn a deeper acceptance of others and we grow more understanding and are usually less prone to anger and intolerance. Most men and women are better at relationships as they age

Perhaps we even grow more loveable. What is true is that our basic humanity does not change. Fulfilment is usually found in holding out our hands and accepting the joy that comes by giving ourselves freely to another. If it comes your way accept it with  that joy.

Yes of course there is risk…..choose wisely…but what have we to lose? My marriage only lasted six years and it was all a long time ago….I would do it again for there was not only someone to be with but someone to love and care for. I received that love and care in return. I knew I was special. There is nothing quite like it.

It would be good to know in older age that my love was still welcomed……

“The fear of the Lord is glory and exultation,
and gladness and a crown of rejoicing.
The fear of the Lord delights the heart,
and gives gladness and joy and long life.
Those who fear the Lord will have a happy end;
on the day of their death they will be blessed.”                Ecclesiasticus.

Perhaps I’ll try on line dating after all????

Written on Trinity Sunday 2017    with faith in the God who is, himself, in relationship

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lord I believe

…….Help thou mine unbelief.

It seems fitting soon after Good Friday and Easter to focus on a contemporary cross in our world and ponder a little on what of resurrection shines through our dark places.

For me the crucifixion of Jesus speaks most clearly when I see him standing beside us in the places where we hurt most. He is the God who joins with us in our humanity and if our tragedies and pains are to find any meaning, for the Christian at least, they need to be swept up in Christ’s own suffering. I am not comfortable with the simplicity which simply asserts that Jesus died for our sins…it is far more complex than that.

The question that has haunted us all down the ages is, why does God allow suffering? Not all suffering is down to our sin although of course much of it is.

Suffering is part of the way an evolving world is. It is part of the complexity of our DNA, even of that which makes us individuals. It is here that the suffering of Jesus can speak to us most clearly. It is that which makes us resonate with the hymn, ‘simply to thy cross I cling.’ It is in that knowledge and that action where we find our redemption. It is the God who loves us beyond all imagining who holds us close in and through his own suffering that can give our suffering meaning.

In the mystery of the incarnation Christ lives and dies with us.

 

A family story is a focus for my thinking. One of the most challenging things for many of us is to watch those we love apparently grow away from us through dementia.

It is over simplistic, like so much of what I believe, to put it down to an aging population. Of course that is part of it but it is not that straightforward. That pain can start young.

My youngest brother Bob was in his early fifties when he showed the first signs that all was not well.

 

It is one of those tragic ironies that Bob’s mental state showed sign of deterioration so young just when he had, for the first time in his life, found a rewarding job that interested him and was well paid. Before this Bob had little.

For many years he worked for Redifusion, repairing television sets and brought his children piled in the back of the van to see Aunty Ann. His Redifusion van was often parked here in The Close in Salisbury. Bob married young. Bob’s wife was to prove his strength.

He married in Eastbourne Town Hall. At the time, I thought the marriage was destined to fail; so young, so few resources of any kind; but how wrong I was. We all supported them that day except for his father who refused to come. Bob and his wife worked hard at trying to have a reconciliation particularly after their first child was born but it was not to be. Out of family distress came something good however . Bob and Marilyn had a successful marriage. The young couple eventually had three children, my two nephews by birth and Sharah whom they adopted. A stable happy family.

 

I was always very close to Bob and I was fortunate that he wanted his children brought up close to me. I have benefitted ever since. When coming to stay in the vicarage at Woodford he would come to church with me and one day he suddenly said. Look Ann I either have to stop going or take it seriously. What do I have to do to join properly?

Some months later I had the pleasure of attending his confirmation and he and his wife became members of their local church.

 

It was about then he first began to show signs that something was wrong. He started hiding things; amongst them bottles and at first we thought there was a drink problem but that was not so…symptoms increased and got more complex. Eventually he was diagnosed with a form of Alzheimer’s disease. Bob and his wife threw themselves into working for the Alzheimer’s society helping to raise awareness as well as money. He made broadcasts and gave talks and as things grew steadily worse he did useful things like maintaining his local churchyard with his wife seeing him off from home and someone from the church ringing her to say he had arrived safely the other end. Eventually even that had to stop

Bob’s condition steadily deteriorated. He had a form of dementia known as Lewy Body Disease. It is close to both Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. (see below)

 

One of the later symptoms is hallucination, sleeplessness, and imaginings. In due course Bob had to go into residential care after some of his fantasies and imaginings, (usually played out in the night,) became impossible to cope with. He developed a physical strength that could not easily be contained.

It is not for me to reflect on how his wife and children coped or suffered. It was all so painful and they so faithful. Bob found walking difficult and steadily lost motor control but there was sometimes precious moments when he recognized something or someone and then his smile was infectious.

Those of you familiar with my Facebook feed will recognize the surname Noble and there you will see my family still supporting those societies which encompass the needs of those with dementia.

Those of you who have trod this path with loved ones will understand and understand why, I will not presume to write on behalf of my family. All have had to come to terms with the feelings of sadness, loss tiredness and distress that surrounds such illness, each in their own way. It is an illness that is both public and private but as a society we need to find ways of supporting individuals who are caring in ways that are generous and consistent, compassionate and effective.

 

Sitting in a sleek black undertaker’s car going to the crematorium in Eastbourne, how proud I was to have a police escort… Many motor bikes. Bob had been a special constable for many years. They did him well for the four miles or so from church to crematorium. Traffic was stopped, roundabouts shut off so the slow steady pace of cars and motorbikes was not interrupted nor overtaken. A four miles I shall always remember.

 

Bob was unique. He could be difficult and of uncertain temper; he had crazes (A wormery comes to mind) but he worked hard, loved his family and was loyal to  his friends and all those people with whom he worked or mixed with.

He died in his sixties.

Where is God in all this? It is only too easy to make simplistic or trite remarks about suffering. There is nothing pleasant or easy to say about dementia. It is a disease that is physical in origin and devastating to experience either as sufferer or carer.

What our faith can and does say is that every individual is a unique child of God who is loved by God deeply and for always. Of course we suffer to see our loved ones deteriorate. We are created to be interdependent. I do believe God holds our loved ones in his care. Our bodies do not cease to be temples of the Holy Spirit…temples where God dwells and temples we can love and care for. The context of the Christian faith is the eternal. The resurrection of Jesus points us to that eternity and that full glory of God which we usually call heaven. What happened before we were born and during our lifetime is not the whole story. Dementia is not the end. Each precious personality will be transformed into the kind of fulfilment in God we can only imagine. It is the Jesus who felt abandoned by God who is with us and in us, as we love and care for the frail in our midst. In Christian thought, the journey of life moves beyond death into the otherness of God. Just as God is with us now, so He awaits us in His transcendence where through his grace we will share in his glory. We see this glory in the resurrection stories of the gospel. Jesus is alive, not always recognisable but there we too can be found waiting like Mary Magdalene to hear His voice call each of us by name or like the faithful Thomas desperate to be sure. When there is a moment of recognition or memory in the eyes of those we seem to have lost we know that the person is there beyond the outward appearance hel din God’s love.

My brother Bob, your mother, friend or father, is known by God and will be held by him. Just as many of the miracles of Jesus rest on the faithfulness of others to bring the sick to him, and hold the distressed, so we do the same for those we love. The despair inherent in caring for one who seems lost to us, is really hard but no one is lost to God. We may not see it now but it is all embraced in that Easter cry

Alleluia, He is Risen,   He is risen indeed. Alleluia.

 

 


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Lewy Body Dementia

Signs, Symptoms, Treatment, and Caregiving for Dementia with Lewy Bodies

Lewy Body Dementia (sometimes called Dementia with Lewy bodies) is a common form of dementia that shares characteristics with both Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases. Since Lewy Body Dementia (LBD) symptoms resemble other diseases, it can be especially challenging to diagnose correctly. While there is currently no cure for LBD, that doesn’t mean there isn’t hope. Early diagnosis allows for important early treatment that can extend your independence and quality of life. As a caregiver, there is also much you can do to make the life of a loved one with LBD safer and more comfortable.

What is Lewy Body Dementia?

While not as well known as other dementias, Lewy Body Dementia (LBD) is the second most common type of progressive dementia after Alzheimer’s disease, accounting for up to 20 percent of dementia cases worldwide. The disease is caused by the accumulation in the brain of abnormal microscopic protein deposits—named Lewy bodies after the neurologist Frederick Lewy who first observed their effect. These deposits disrupt the brain’s normal functioning, causing it to slowly deteriorate.

LBD can take two forms: dementia with Lewy bodies or Parkinson’s disease dementia. The difference between them lies mainly in how the disease starts. In dementia with Lewy bodies, the person may have a memory disorder that looks like Alzheimer’s (/articles/ alzheimers-dementia/alzheimers-disease.htm) but later develop movement and other distinctive problems, such as hallucinations. In Parkinson’s disease dementia, the person may initially have a movement disorder that looks like Parkinson’s but later also develop

dementia symptoms. Over time, though, both diagnoses will appear the same. Most people with LBD develop a similar spectrum of problems that include variations in attention and alertness, recurrent visual hallucinations, shuffling gait, tremors, and blank expression, along with various sleep disorders.

While Lewy Body Dementia can bear a striking resemblance to Alzheimer’s disease or Parkinson’s disease (/articles/alzheimers-dementia/parkinsons-disease-and- dementia.htm), treatment can be very different, making early recognition of the signs and symptoms key to managing the condition.

Signs and symptoms of Lewy Body Dementia

As with Alzheimer’s disease or Parkinson’s disease, the symptoms of Lewy Body Dementia worsen over time, with intellectual and motor functions deteriorating, typically over several years. Despite the overlaps, however, there are symptoms that indicate the disorder is indeed LBD and not another disorder.

While patients with LBD lose cognitive function, they are less prone to the short-term memory loss associated with Alzheimer’s disease. More commonly, they experience greater problems with executive functions of planning, decision-making, and organization, as well as difficulties with visual perception, such as judging and navigating distances. This can cause them to fall frequently or become lost in familiar settings. Lewy Body Dementia can also cause sleep disturbances, including insomnia, daytime sleepiness, and REM behavior disorder, whereby they act out their dreams. Someone with Lewy Body Dementia will also exhibit at least two of three core features:

Changes or “fluctuations” in awareness and concentration. The person will swing from a state of alertness to appearing drowsy, confused, or staring into space. These episodes can be unpredictable and last anywhere from a few seconds to several hours.

Spontaneous Parkinson’s-like motor symptoms, such as slowness of movement, rigid muscles, tremor, lack of facial expression, or abnormal gait.

Recurrent visual hallucinations or delusions, such as seeing shapes, colors, people, or animals that aren’t there or conversing with deceased loved ones.

It is often these extra signs and symptoms that distinguish LBD from other types of dementia. In short, if you or a loved is experiencing cognitive decline without the archetypal problems with recent memory, it may indicate that you’re dealing with Lewy Body Dementia rather than another type of dementia.

Signs of Lewy Body Dementia

  1. Mental decline. Lewy Body patients may experience extreme swings between alertness and confusion or drowsiness, as well as reduced attention span.
  2. Recurrent visual hallucinations or depression. Hallucinations, usually related to people or animals, occur in most LBD patients. Depression is also common.
  3. Increasing problems handling the tasks of daily living. Tasks that used to be simple may become difficult for a person with Lewy Body Dementia.
  4. Repeated falls and fainting.
  5. Motor problems such as slow movement, shuffling walk, stiff limbs, or tremors.
  6. Sleep disturbances, including insomnia and acting out dreams—physically moving 
limbs, sleep talking, screaming, hitting, or even getting up and engaging in daytime 
activities.
  7. Fluctuations in autonomic processes. This includes blood pressure, body 
temperature, urinary difficulties, constipation, and difficulty swallowing.

Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and Lewy Body Dementia

Since Lewy Body Dementia is commonly misdiagnosed for both Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, it is helpful to understand how these diseases overlap.

Overlapping Symptoms of Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and Lewy Body Dementia  
Parkinson’s and Lewy Body Dementia Alzheimer’s and Lewy Body Dementia
Overlapping Symptoms of Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and Lewy Body Dementia  
Some of the motor symptoms found in both Parkinson’s and Lewy Body Disease’s patients include:

•   tremors

•   muscle stiffness

•   difficulties with balance

•   shuffling gait

•   stooped posture

•   slow movements

•   restless leg syndrome

Some of the cognitive symptoms found in both Alzheimer’s and Lewy Body’s patients include:

•   behavioral changes

•   decreased judgment

•   confusion and temporal/spatial 
disorientation

•   difficulty following directions

•   decreased ability to communicate

Diagnosis and treatment of Lewy Body Dementia

Since many of the symptoms can also be caused by other conditions, confirming a diagnosis of Lewy Body Dementia can be challenging. To help your doctor, take a friend or loved one along to appointments and keep detailed notes about how and when your symptoms occur.

How is Lewy Body Dementia diagnosed?

Since the Lewy bodies themselves can be identified only by autopsy, an accurate diagnosis relies heavily on physician awareness of the defining characteristics of the disease. Your doctor or specialist may:

Assess your symptoms, such as how long you have had memory problems and the presence of sleep disturbances or hallucinations.

Assess your mental abilities, such as language, organization, and communication skills, attention span, and ability to follow instructions.

Conduct a physical examination, including blood tests and review of current medications, to rule out other causes of symptoms.

Conduct brain scans. While a brain scan can detect mental deterioration, not the actual Lewy bodies, it may still be helpful in diagnosis.

What is the treatment for someone with Lewy Body Dementia?

While there is no cure at present for LBD, or any medications aimed at specifically treating LBD, doctors are able to treat many of its symptoms. Treatments are aimed at controlling the cognitive, motor, and psychiatric problems associated with the disorder, including hallucinations, depression, and sleep disturbances. There are also a number of self-help strategies that can help improve symptoms.

Medication for Lewy Body Dementia

Medications for the treatment of LBD can offer relief of cognitive, movement, and behavioral symptoms, and may include the same drugs used to treat Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease. However, some people with LBD can have extremely adverse reactions to certain medications and may react very differently than patients with Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s. Some medications can even worsen LBD symptoms, another reason why accurate early diagnosis is so important. Speak with your doctor about possible side effects for any medication prescribed.

Your doctor may use cholinesterase inhibitors, such as donepezil and rivastigmine, to treat the cognitive symptoms of Lewy Body Dementia. They can also be effective in treating visual hallucinations and other psychiatric symptoms.

Levodopa may help with movement and rigidity in some people with LBD.

Melatonin or clonazepam can help treat REM Sleep Behavior Disorder and other sleeping problems.

Dementia with Lewy bodies and neuroleptics

Neuroleptics, or antipsychotics, are strong tranquillizers usually given to people with severe mental health problems. They are sometimes also prescribed for people with dementia to treat hallucinations or other behavior problems. However, if taken by people with LBD, neuroleptics may be particularly dangerous. This class of drugs can induce Parkinson-like side-effects, including rigidity, immobility, and an inability to perform tasks or to communicate. Studies have shown that they may even cause sudden death in people with LBD. If a person with LBD must be prescribed a neuroleptic, this should be done with the utmost care, under constant supervision, and should be monitored carefully and regularly.

According to Lewy Body Dementia Association: Up to 50% of patients with LBD who are treated with any antipsychotic medication may experience severe neuroleptic sensitivity, such as worsening cognition, heavy sedation, increased or possibly irreversible parkinsonism, or symptoms resembling neuroleptic malignant syndrome (NMS), which can be fatal. (NMS causes severe fever, muscle rigidity and breakdown that can lead to kidney failure).

Self-help tips for living with Lewy Body Dementia

Being diagnosed with an incurable illness, especially one that involves dementia, can be an overwhelming experience. Because the treatment for Lewy Body dementia focuses primarily on symptom management, it’s helpful to take as proactive an approach as possible right away. This means reaching out to loved ones for support, working with your physician to control symptoms, and making lifestyle changes to accommodate the effects of the disease.

Become informed. Learn as much as you can about Lewy Body Dementia and how it is likely to specifically affect you, given your health history, age, and lifestyle. The more you know, the more control you’ll feel and the better you’ll be able to cope with symptoms.

Reduce stress. Stress and anxiety can make many symptoms of LBD worse. To find ways to relax, experiment with relaxation techniques such as music therapy, meditation, and deep breathing exercises. Pet therapy, involving visits from specially trained animals, can also help to relieve stress and improve the mood of people with LBD.

Treat depression. Depression can be common among those diagnosed with LBD. Report symptoms (/articles/depression/depression-signs-and-symptoms.htm) to your doctor and take steps to address the problem. Receiving treatment for depression can make it easier to handle the other challenges of LBD.

Avoid isolation. Reach out to family and friends for emotional support and join a support group for patients with Lewy Body Dementia. Talking to other people facing the same challenges can help with feelings of isolation and depression and provide a wealth of helpful information on coping with LBD.

Exercise can not only improve physical function, it can help relieve stress and boost your mood. Any type of physical activity that raises your heart rate can be beneficial, so find the activities that appeal to you.

Enjoy games and puzzles. Playing cards or word games such as Scrabble, or completing crossword and Sudoku puzzles can exercise your brain and may help slow cognitive decline in people with LBD.

 

Non-medical Treatments for Lewy Body Dementia

  • Physical therapy options include cardiovascular, strengthening, and flexibility exercises, as well as gait training. Physicians may also recommend general physical fitness programs such as aerobic, strengthening, or water exercise.
  • Speech therapy may be helpful for low voice volume and poor enunciation. Speech therapy may also improve muscular strength and swallowing difficulties.
  • Occupational therapy may help maintain skills and promote function and independence. In addition to these forms of therapy and treatment, music and aroma therapy can also reduce anxiety and improve mood.
  • Individual and family psychotherapy can be useful for learning strategies to manage emotional and behavioral symptoms and to help make plans that address individual and family concerns about the future. 
Source: LBDA

Caring for someone with Lewy Body Dementia

Caring for someone with Lewy Body Dementia, or any form of dementia, is hugely challenging. Just as LBD can impact every aspect of a person, caring for someone with the disease can impact every aspect of your daily life. You’ll likely face tests of stamina, problem solving, and resiliency. However, your caregiving journey can also be an intensely rewarding experience as long as you take care of yourself and get the support that you need.

How to help someone manage Lewy Body Dementia

When it comes to helping someone manage the symptoms of LBD, small things can often make a big difference.

Create a routine. It may help people with Lewy Body Dementia to have predictable routines, especially around meal times and sleep times.

Establish a nighttime ritual. Try to establish bedtime rituals that are calming and away from the noise of television, meal cleanup, and active family members. Limiting caffeine consumption during the day, discouraging daytime napping, and encouraging exercise can help curb restlessness at night.

Modify tasks. Break tasks into easier steps and focus on success, not failure.

Walk together. Taking a walk with the patient with LBD is a win-win activity. Being outdoors and exercising is vital for the health and state of mind for both the patient and you.

Strengthen senses. Have a doctor evaluate each the patient’s five senses in order to identify and treat any abnormalities. Then ask about exercises to improve them.

Make lifestyle changes. To help minimize the risk of fall-related injuries, you can help stabilize blood pressure. Help your loved one stay well hydrated, exercise, take in adequate sodium (salt), avoid prolonged bed rest, and stand up slowly.

Tips for managing behavioral changes

One of the major challenges of caring for a loved one with dementia can be coping with the troubling behavioral changes that often occur. As a caregiver, you can’t change the person with dementia, but you can employ strategies to modify or better accommodate any problem behaviors.

  • Remember, the person with dementia is not being deliberately difficult. Your loved one’s sense of reality may be different to yours, but it’s still very real to him or her.
  • Troubling behavior can often be a reaction to stress or a frustrated attempt to communicate. Try to establish why the patient is stressed or what is triggering the behavior. Is your loved one hungry, thirsty, tired, in pain, frustrated?
  • Speak calmly, softly and use body language. A dementia patient will often respond to your facial expression, tone of voice, and body language far more than the words you choose. Use eye contact, a smile, or reassuring touch to help convey your message.
  • The environment and atmosphere you create while caregiving can help a dementia patient feel calm and safe. Modify the environment to reduce potential stressors such as loud or unidentifiable noises. Try to remain flexible, patient, and relaxed. If you find yourself becoming anxious or losing control, take a time out to cool down.

Care for the caregiver

One of the most important ways that you as a caregiver can help the patient with LBD is to make sure you also take care of yourself (/articles/alzheimers-dementia/dementia-and- alzheimers-care.htm). If you don’t get the physical and emotional support you need, you won’t be able to provide the best level of care, and you face becoming overwhelmed. Help yourself cope by learning ways to prevent burnout, garner your own support, and improve your state of mind.

Ask for help. Reach out to other family members, friends, or volunteer organizations to help with the daily burden of caregiving. When someone offers to help, let them. Taking regular breaks does not mean you’re being neglectful or disloyal to your loved one. Caregivers who take regular time away not only provide better care, they also find more satisfaction in their caretaking roles.

Schedule daily mini-workouts. Regular exercise releases endorphins that actually keep you happy. Try ten-minute sessions sprinkled over the course of the day if you can’t block out an hour away.

Keep up your social ties. Stay connected to friends and family and welcome the support they give you. This will lighten the load of caretaking.

Talk to others in similar situations. Caring for someone with dementia can be very hard work—both physically and emotionally. Joining a support group can provide a welcome opportunity to speak frankly about your experiences with other caregivers.

Learn how to manage stress. Caregiving for a loved one with dementia can be one of the most stressful tasks you’ll undertake in life. Relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, rhythmic exercise, or yoga (/articles/stress/relaxation-techniques- for-stress-relief.htm) can help reduce stress and boost your mood and energy levels.

Related HelpGuide articles

  • Dementia:(/articles/alzheimers-dementia/understanding-dementia.htm) Recognizing Dementia Symptoms and Signs and What You Can Do About It
  • Parkinson’s Disease and Parkinson’s Dementia: (/articles/alzheimers-dementia/ parkinsons-disease-and-dementia.htm) Managing Symptoms, Getting Support, and Coping with Parkinson’s
  • Alzheimer’s Disease: (/articles/alzheimers-dementia/alzheimers-disease.htm) Your Guide to Alzheimer’s Symptoms, Stages, Diagnosis, and Coping Tips

Authors: Lawrence Robinson and Jeanne Segal, Ph.D. Last updated: April 2017.

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“He left them, went out of the city to Bethany, and spent the night there.”

After the noise of that journey into Jerusalem on the donkey with all the shouting and the waving of palms, and after the the losing of his temper with the traders in the temple…. more noise and confusion; it is not surprising that Jesus retreated to the home of his friends in Bethany. There he knew he would find a welcome and the peace of gentle companionship. There he would find a good meal and somewhere that nurtured him and would happily give him a bed.

I always find this simple sentence very moving. He may have taken his friends with him..Mary and Martha were generous, but they may have scattered to various homes in the city. We do not know. All we know is that Mary and Martha and Lazarus were his friends. There he was safe, there he was welcome.

The gospel writers are not very good at telling us much of the personal life of Jesus…just glimpses here and there… a dinner party here and , an invitation to a wedding…….but I am most glad of his friendships, of having a disciple who St John tells us was loved by Jesus, a family who supported him even if at times they thought he was mad and Mary and Martha and Lazarus his friends…..

Most of us can look at our lives and see those few extra special people who have been true friends to us . Those who support us steadfastly yet are not afraid to challenge us if necessary. Those who are instrumental in changing us..a very precious few.

I want to tell you about Mary.  Mary was born into a closed Brethren family but grew up to  step bravely out of that background when she discovered the study of theology. First went her fundamentalism, then  her narrow opinions, all to be replaced by a liberal Anglicanism and a deep love of the Old Testament. She was to finish her career as vice principal and senior lecturer in Divinity at what was then known as the Salisbury Diocesan Training College . Much later it was to be called Sarum St Michael. (so named because its chapel was dedicated to the Holy Angels; now the lecture room in the Salisbury Museum)  She was my tutor and later my friend .

When Mary had finished correcting my split infinitives she turned herself to bring out my latent abilities. She encouraged and stretched, recommended reading, painstakingly taught me skills of theological reflection, taught me to write fluently and with two others taught me New Testament Greek. She adopted me into a study group for  those who were handpicked for their theological competence from the community.  They were mostly clergy but not solely. She took me to St Anne’s Oxford where, from 1962 until 1982, I went for two weeks lectures from the leading theologians of the day every year without fail. I was excited by sitting at the feet of CH Dodd as he talked of the primacy of St John’s Gospel, SH Hooke  on the mythology of Genesis 1-11 (already well into retirement.. a slight lively man excited by his material), John Fenton who shocked some by saying that there was only one certain phrase from Jesus in the Synoptic Gospels (“The Kingdom of God is at Hand”) The theology has long moved on  but the memory can still excite me.

It was through her I gained my double distinctions in Divinity and Practical Teaching.

It was here that she had guided me, talked of faith, prevented me from becoming a fundamentalist. Through her I learned to appreciate the liturgy of the Cathedral, was introduced to Benediction at St Martins, made my first confession to one Father Mac who had 15 cats and was rector of St Martins. Eventually I settled at St Edmund’s  (now the Salisbury Arts Centre) that was eagerly embracing the new Family Communion movement. Sunday’s were fun, a lively congregation, a sung liturgy (Merbecke of course) followed by parish breakfast.

We gently became friends, I was senior student in her hall of residence and I chaired ‘Fellowship,’ a student led  group, that discussed all things theological.

I only once  remember being rebuked by her. It was my 21st birthday and my parents gave me a record player and I played Britten’s Missa Brevis far too loudly for her liking!

Occasionally  she drove me to the coast and we walked and talked.

I left Salisbury and taught in what was then called Middlesex. I wanted to go somewhere that was in need of teachers and which was tough. I was offered jobs by the LCC (London County Council) and Middlesex. I went to latter and taught in what was then colloquially known as Potter Street Sec  Mod. (please don’t pronounce the tt  in Potter) It is now the London Borough of Hillingdon.

It was not surprising therefore that after I had left and after my mother’s funeral, I drove to salisbury to see her. I can feel now the comfort of being back in her study looking at a painting she had done hanging over the fireplace. That same picture now hangs in my home here in Salisbury.

She helped me come to terms with mum’s death. She encouraged me to continue teaching leaving my brothers (17 and 14) in the care of my father. On one level I know she was right, on the other I might have been able to save my brothers much suffering . I am still torn to pieces by that decision..not knowing whether it was right or wrong.

It was much at that time she asked me to call her Mary and I said she could call me Ann. That will surprise some of you but there was a formality in those days. She was Miss Rogers, I was Miss Noble. To be asked to call her Mary was a big thing. It changed the relationship to one of intimacy and a friendship of commitment.

I could go on about Mary.  Suffice it to say she was an excellent teacher and a loyal friend. She lived in retirement with a contemporary and I visited them often in their home in Exeter where I was always welcomed and where I was always given space to talk and be myself.  I took her funeral in Exeter Cathedral where she had worshipped throughout her years of retirement.

Her home was something of a Bethany.

I am simple enough to believe that God sometimes gives us people. When it happens there may or may not be a reason but those people are always precious.

I am sure Jesus that night gave thanks for that little family at Bethany. A family that offered him a strength when he needed it most. Theirs was a most precious task. The Father trusted The Son into their hands. Jesus knew he could rely on them and trust them. My prayer is that I too may be that kind of friend. My prayer too is that I may receive such friendship.

Passiontide

Yesterday was passion Sunday, the day we consciously start walking the road to the cross and resurrection with Jesus. The readings at morning prayer today both feature a woman of ill repute. The first is Rahab, the prostitute who hid the Israelite spies before the conquest of Jericho. She is praised for her courage and her family saved from  the invading forces. There is no mention of her lifestyle. It is the wisdom and courage of her inner life that saves her. (Joshua  2:1-14) The second reading was that short story in St. John’s Gospel of the woman caught in the act of adultery for whom Jesus only has words of acceptance. ‘Go your way and sin no more’ (John 8:1-11)

The Psalm for today is that most familiar

“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures;
he leads me beside still waters;
he restores my soul.
He leads me in right paths
for his name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
I fear no evil;
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff—
they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
my whole life long.”

I pray that may be so. The more we meditate on these words the more wonderful they are. The second stanza never fails to move me and sometimes it is the joys in life that need that presence of God as well as the really dark places….wherever we find or stray into the darkest of valleys or when we feel out of our depth, we are not alone.

Sometimes we forget that we are to be there for others at those times too. Those lovely words in the story of Lazarus also come to mind “Come let us go and weep with him” We have each other. Don’t forget to hold on to those who really care.

One of the gaps in the last entry needs to be filled  if you wish to understand me.

The teenager that was Ann was lucky to have found her faith. From the age of 8 I had known I wanted to teach  and believed that God wanted me to do so and so I had to get there. I went to four different secondary schools in my quest to build the foundations I needed in terms of education and I consciously sought those things . My pleasures lay in music. I belonged to  a choir that specialised in medieval motets. The choir master was also my RE teacher and in due course I  became godmother to one of his children. I had piano lessons paid for by my great aunt Lily who was responsible for much of the enrichment I had. She took me to my first opera, my first ballet, and introduced me to Jane Austin. She walked me through the ruins of whole areas of London, stepping over the bricks and mortar and avoiding the tram lines……I became a Queen’s guide, Head Girl, in one school, Senior prefect in another. In every case I was given responsibility. In church I was running the Sunday School by the age of 16 and acting as server and taperer in the liturgy.

I suppose we were Prayer Book Catholics but I also went to Youth for Christ and to the Baptist church in the evenings with my friends.

However I have put all this under the heading of Passiontide because much of my energy was expended in avoiding some of the sadness at home.

Now we would call it autism, then no one new about it. Children were just badly behaved, adults were ‘difficult.’ I found a letter after his death from my paternal grandmother to her husband where she expressed the hope that marriage would ‘mellow him.’ referring to my father.

I can now forgive my father  . I now understand about autism; then I did not.

Dad was more than difficult. Things always had to be done his way….. always his permission was sought. I conformed. My small wish to go to one of the new coffee bars in town was refused. I conformed.

Both my brothers suffered more than me.’Why can’t you be more like Ann?”  (said at home and at school) Their perfectly normal teenage years would have been easier if I had rebelled too . I did not. I conformed.

Dad could lose his temper and I vividly remember standing between him and one of my brothers when he was about to hit him. There was much else but I know it has left me with an enormous self control and  deep dislike of conflict.  I have learned to cope with it. These skills can be taught!!

My mothers diary, read after her death, told me of her feelings. I was 22 when she died.

Dad of course was not all bad. I loved him very much. I was ‘his girl’ The prized daughter who was doing well at school but there were times then where that valley  full of shadows got very dark. It all deepened my faith and I had a small rotund very Welsh vicar for whom I shall always be grateful.

I also had a part time job in a local newsagents, owned by a family friend. Great excitement, I was earning and one Saturday I was given a five pound note with which to open my very own bank account. I am still with the same bank!

Dad never did accept the theology I wished to study. ‘Waste of a good education,  ‘why not teach a proper subject’ ? ‘Time all that nonsense was put behind you;’ but he was still proud that I had become a teacher.

The strain of autism runs down the male line in my family even now although both sets of  the latest parents are handling or have handled it so well that the outcomes are very different.  Advice has been sought, support given and there is love and understanding and a real patience. It will be very different for them as these latest of the boys grow up.

So where does this leave all of us in this Passiontide. Most of us at some point in our lives walk through hard times or times of feeling rejected or hurt. Most of us  can choose what we do with these times and whilst accepting that some people end up feeling so damaged that they can’t exercise choice,  others can choose to put the bad things behind them and even accept that there are places in the mess that such things leave behind, that are good. We can choose to learn from them and even use them to help support others.

I don’t know what the woman in John 8 did after she met Jesus  but one thing is certain she will have been changed by the experience.

We can choose to see our need for forgiveness and ask for it.

Who knows? Ann at 15 might have been an insufferable prig. Who knows?

One thing I do know is that God does not make a big fuss of our sins. He is very good at turning us around if we will but let him, he excels in giving us the strength to cope. He sees the strong points in us even as we show our weaknesses. I am sure that Jericho’s prostitute was a woman of strength and it is that which God chooses to see.

As Jesus yields his body into the hands of others he retains the strength to say, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do” The evil is overcome with good.

May we too be forgiven for those sins we do in ignorance as well as those sins we know about. May we know that God can use all our experience for good if we will but let him.

Amen

Born Old

Late one Sunday afternoon during the second world war I was born in my paternal grandmother’s sitting room. My mother’s  birthday book, which I read after her premature death, aged 43, simply read “My little Ann Carol born” I still have it…one of those treasures to be kept.My father was in the airforce and my grandfather on the Atlantic food run. He had been honoured with the Croix de Guerre in the first world war. We were proud of him.  A lifetime naval man, he was to be invalided out of the navy just before the end of the second  world war and died of TB when I was four years old. I can remember his downstairs bedroom (really a small back sitting room) with its open French windows into the back garden.  81 Channel View Road was a mid terrace house close to the seafront in Eastbourne. Mum and her new baby were strongly advised to move elsewhere. Eastbourne, lying under Beachy Head, was deemed to be an invasion point. So mother and little Ann moved to Bexhill-on-Sea to be near my other grandparents. We were lucky. We found a bungalow to rent and grandad was a butcher. We had occasional treats from him and we kept chickens (sadly to be lost to a fox  just before the war ended.)

I, therefore, was nurtured on eggs and home grown vegetables, not to mention the cod liver oil and concentrated orange juice that was delivered with the milk. The cod liver oil was truly horrid but I daresay very good for me.  Dad came home in 1946. My mother always said I was born old, and while I do not really know what she meant by it, it seems to have had something to do with books and being sickenly sensible and well behaved and responsible! Something I was later to regret but that is  part of another story.

We stayed in Bexhill until  two years after the war was ended. Dad was an electrician and mum had a part time job in Woolworths. We were allocated a council House back in Eastbourne. I was by this time at primary school and had acquired two younger brothers. My love affair with education is for another time but I eventually found myself as a qualified teacher of Religious Education in Northwest  Harrow sharing a flat with Carol, a lifetime friend, now in Australia.

I taught  in a large Secondary Modern School whose pupils were largely resettled Eastenders. I stayed there until that fateful night phone call telling me my mother had died suddenly of a heart attack. I made for Eastbourne driven by my landlord, the vicar of  Harrow Wealdstone. The church was on the main road not far from the Kodak factory…. He was a gentle giant of a man, an evangelical with a gorgeous curate with whom I ran a youth group. Sadly,  (at the time) my attempts to win the hand of the handsome curate failed but they were good days.

There are of course huge gaps in this story which spans the fifties and  early sixties and some gaps will be filled in, but you may well be wondering why I see all this as having anything to do with ageing. I firmly believe the foundations of our futures are laid in the early years of life. Most parents give of their best to their children and my parents were no different. Being the firstborn almost automatically brings with it responsibilities. Both my parents worked and I was often left in charge of the boys, giving them tea and organising the  going-to- bed routines. My triumph was having the washing up done and the boys in their pyjamas by the time my parents came home between six and half past.  It was during these years I started going to church. I took to it with a natural aptitude for hymn singing! i also wanted to teach in the Sunday school!     However,  perhaps because of all that and a love of Biblical studies, I ended up marrying a widower with two children more or less my own age. Of course I thought about the considerable age difference and because of that I said  ‘no’ to his regular proposals over about nine months before ‘giving in’. We married in a side chapel of Salisbury Cathedral one frosty December morning at 9am. I was 31  and a teacher in Salisbury. Other than the people who were especially invited to this quiet wedding we told no one other than my head mistress. We were married on Saturday and I went back to school on Monday. My only regret is that I had not told my upper sixth form theologians. I don’t think they ever forgave me that!

We were happy. We had much in common. He  was a sensitive man, intelligent and a Canon of the Cathedral. He had left a parish church to look after his sick wife; buying a lease on a house in Salisbury’s Cathedral Close in order to do so.

Sadly we only had six years of marriage.  They were good years. We took the car to France  ( he didn’t want to fly) we drove over Britain. He loved Cornwall,  the North East and the Lake District. We visited his son in Edinburgh and there were always the restaurants! He had an abiding passion for good food. We had always agreed that if either one of us wanted to bring someone home for a meal we could just do so…and we both did from time to time. We had people in to meals or drinks. Our own private ritual was having a gin and dubonet every  evening.  At Christmas time we always had a big party. The house was full!  I learned to cook…it was essential.

The last year was hard. He had  two strokes; the second eventually proved fatal. That last year was marked by real trauma for him and far from easy for me. He became doubly incontinent which he absolutely hated. There was of course a lot for me to cope with but when you love someone that is what you do.  In retrospect it was an enormous privilege. I had good neighbours. I remember calling in a retired bishop from the street below the bedroom window to help me lift him when he had slipped off the edge of the bed. Funny in retrospect, not so at the time.

He was at home until the last few days of his life. I can still remember walking home from Salisbury Infirmary (then in the centre of town) playing , in my head, with the words…’Ann you are a widow.’ I was still under 40.

I think it was all this that has taught me not to see age as a barrier to happiness. All life is fragile. My mother died at 43. My husband was  a lot older. Loss is always painful but if  we think like that we tend to forget the gift of life having the potential for great joy.

I have always, it seems, carried responsibility. It is my experience and may not be yours, but what each individual has are the gifts, either acquired or God given through which to express real love, the greatest gift of all. I always wanted to re marry and would still do so although that seems  unlikely now….but the  need to  give and receive love  does not cease.

Having said I would think about the Psalms in the introduction to this blog I would rather think of two Old Testament characters. The first is Abraham, who in the narrative, is called from Haran to go on a great journey when he is 75 years old. I believe there is still a journey in front of me be it long or short. That journey will be shot through with the purposes of God whether it  eventually ends its path on earth with joy  and great fulfilment or in  loneliness, suffering or that  most difficult  of all things, dementia. The other example is that of of Jeremiah who in his teens felt the call of God to go and preach a hard message to his people. When he says to God, “I am too young”, the answer he gets is “How dare you say you are too young?”…get on with it. God calls us to follow him wherever that may lead. He will  give us both the strength and  the gifts that are needed for the journey. In my journey I have met many wonderful people and I am grateful to them….Age has of course impacted on my relationship with some of them but it has never in itself been a less than rich experience. The impact  of age  (my own and others) on my life has been entirely positive in the tools it has given me for the journey  and the friendships that have been mine. I thank God for all these people and what  they have  given me.