ACW

ACW

Friday, 23 June 2017

Unappetising sandwiches and thin places - by Helen Murray

Forrest Gump's life was famously like a box of chocolates. Mine's more like a sandwich.

All the bits of my life are like layers: family, friends, health, work, church, and so on. It's a good sandwich. A well-filled, appetising one, most of the time. It's when something is off that it all goes wrong. 

My problem is my inability to compartmentalise. When something is wrong - a sandwich component is bad or absent - whether it's a touch of blue mould on the bread or a tang of rancid butter - the whole thing is inedible. No matter that the cheese is my favourite, and there's just the right amount of pickle, or the perfect crispy bit of lettuce, I can't enjoy the sandwich because part of it is not right. 

In times of stress or confusion, it's as if I've dropped the sandwich and it's landed on the floor in a heap of component parts. In accordance with the five-second-rule I scramble to pick it up, hastily reassembling it on my plate, but it doesn't really work. Now there are bits of carpet fluff and nothing is where it should be. It's not appetising any more. (And perhaps the metaphor is stretched a bit thin).

So, I find myself reflecting on what has gone wrong with my sandwich in recent months, or even years. For quite a while I thought that I was simply trying to get too much between the two slices of bread. Too many fillings meant that it was impossible to bite without everything sliding out of the other side and landing on your shirt-front. In response to this I pared down my commitments to concentrate on what was most important, along with the things that simply could not be changed. 

This worked for a while, but the stress slowly began to accumulate again. I found that the shoulds and oughts and musts crowded back in. Only recently have I realised that even my writing had become a burden; a heavy weight that was making me feel oppressed and anxious. 
  • should be writing. 
  • I have a gift for writing, and I should be using it. NB: the parable of the talents.
  • I've told people I'm writing a book; what will they think if I say I've given up?
  • If God has planted this dream in my heart, I should be working towards it.
Even my blog, my long-standing source of joy, comfort, inspiration and encouragement was too much. Too hard, too heavy. I have been overwhelmed. Something has had to give, and it is the writing. It's been all I can do to find something for this blog each month, and a long time since it had any relevance to writing. Apologies for that. 

Too much to do, so little space: physical, mental, spiritual. 

Then, two things happened. 

One.
I saw this Tweet:  
'Sometimes you've got to give up trying to fulfil your dreams and just fulfil your orders. Eventually you discover that the two will merge.'  @JarrodL Cooper
Two.
I went on the ACW Writers' Weekend at Scargill House, near Kettlewell in Yorkshire. A few days before the weekend I had a strong desire to phone up and cancel as it seemed simply too much effort to make on top of the normal non-stop hamster-wheel pace of life, but I reminded myself how wonderful last year's weekend was and how imperative it had seemed to me then, to book again for this year. I threw some things in a suitcase and hauled myself north. 


Ah, Scargill. They say it's a 'thin place' where heaven and earth seem closer than usual, and they're right. I've been three times now (booked four but did indeed cancel once) and each time I have met Jesus there right alongside some lovely lovely people. 

This time I did things a little differently. 

Usually I follow the programme assiduously, going to every workshop, every session, using all spare time in my little room writing away, because it's a writers' weekend and that's what you're supposed to do, no? I always do what I'm supposed to do. This time, I found myself exploring the breathtakingly beautiful grounds for the first time ever. It helped that the weather was perfect. 

I found a bench, I sat and gazed at the gorgeousness around me. I wrote in my journal. I felt the sun on my skin. I listened to the sheep, the cows, the birds, the wind in the trees. I saw a deer. I traced my way around the prayer labyrinth and wandered through the woods. I found another seat looking down on the striking Scargill chapel, with it's pointy roof just like a pair of praying hands. I breathed in the clean air and let my shoulders relax. 

'Give up trying to fulfil your dreams'. When your dreams become oppressive, perhaps it's time to put them to the side without feeling guilty about them. I don't want to write my book. There's so much going on just with normal everyday life that there's no space in my head for writing. If I claw out a little time to write these days, my mind snaps shut and I can't think of anything. It's become another should, another ought. 

'Just fulfil your orders...' Well, I am here, now, and my life is what it is. It is not this way by chance. This 'season' of life (I don't particularly like that term which smacks to me of Christian jargon, but I concede that it's probably right) is one that is fast and full. Full of good things; full of family, growing children, to-ings and fro-ings and crises and anti-climaxes, tears and laughter. Good things, that should be embraced, not resented. They won't last forever. I am needed. Trying to shoehorn in my dreams right now is proving stressful, and impossible.

I am here for a reason, with only so much time and energy. 
  • Yes, I am a writer. Okay, I will write when I can. 
  • Yes, I have gifts, but the God I know won't look at me, thin-lipped with disapproval if I can't do justice to my writing right now. It's not the only gift I have. I have my precious family to care for and bring up, my part to play in the ministry at church, the day-in-day-out job of keeping life on the rails. He has equipped me for those things too.
  • What people think is not my concern. I answer only to God.
  • As for the dream - I think perhaps if God planted that seed in my heart, then in His timing He will give it what it needs to grow. I am loved and accepted and approved of just as I am, whether I achieve or not. Jesus saw to that. 
So I'm back to the seasons. The beauty and stillness of Scargill seeped into my soul that summer Saturday afternoon when I 'should' perhaps have been learning much needed lessons about the craft of writing. I will learn them another time. Instead of listening to the readings in the house I was wondering at the handiwork of the Author of everything. For once, I didn't do what I was supposed to do, and I cannot describe the freedom of those couple of hours. 

I have made peace with the letting go of my writing dreams. I don't know if Mr Cooper is right in his assertion that my orders and my dreams will one day merge, but I know that holding onto them so tightly that my fists are clenched white has done me no good. The stagnant presence of those dreams in my life-sandwich has spoiled the taste of the whole thing, so I have lifted the crust and taken them out. *

Maybe those dreams are not discarded, just packaged up carefully to keep off the dust and placed gently on a shelf for another time. A less full, rushed, juggling kind of time. A more spacious time. I don't know, but I trust God with that. 

Until then, I need to concentrate on now. I have my orders. 

Love those who need loving. Do what needs to be done in the strength I have, in the place I'm in. Stop, when I can, and rest. Learn. 

Listen to His voice and do what I see Him doing. 

That's the Plan. 





*... in much the same way that one removes the slice of gherkin from a McDonalds cheeseburger. 




Helen Murray lives in Derbyshire, England, with her husband, two daughters and her mum.

As well as writing and reading, she drinks coffee, takes photographs, swims, breeds Aloe Vera plants and collects ceramic penguins.

Helen has a blog: Are We Nearly There Yet? where she writes about life and faith.

You can also find her here:

Pinterest: @HelenMMurray
Twitter: @helenmurray01






22 comments:

  1. I love this. Like you I have a family, a job, church responsibilities, school governor role... and I'm just beginning to write and want to write so much more. I swing from excitement to intense discouragement... there are so many bits of what you've written that I can apply and learn from. Thank you!

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    1. Thanks, Georgie. I know what a juggling act it is! I hope you can find your balance without too much stress. Thanks for your encouragement.

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  2. I love this. Like you I have a family, a job, church responsibilities, school governor role... and I'm just beginning to write and want to write so much more. I swing from excitement to intense discouragement... there are so many bits of what you've written that I can apply and learn from. Thank you!

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  3. So we need to stop eating unappetising sandwiches and just jump on the train...how amazing that our blogs were so in tune (I nearly said 'ran on parallel tracks'!). Thank you.

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    1. They certainly are! Trundling along together. British Rail sandwiches used to be notorious for being unappetising...

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  4. Thanks for being so honest Helen. Beautifully and courageously written. And thank you for transporting me back to Scargill through your post, and thanks again for sharing with me that bench so that I, too, could go and enjoy a bit of freedom and peace with the Author. xxx

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    1. It's a wonderful bench, in a wonderful place. I think we sat there in the company of a wonderful God. :-)

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  5. I felt exactly like that 30 years ago and came to pretty much the same conclusion. Then 20 years later, I retired from 'work' and began to write. It was my time. The writing flowed. I had time and I had headspace. In the past ten years, I've written four novels, tons of short stories and poems, attended a secular writing group and started a faith-based one . . . Your time will come. You may not even have to wait 20 years!

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    1. Thank you, Fran. That means a lot. I'm not sure I want to wait twenty years, but I feel pretty peaceful (at the moment) whether it comes back or not, and that's a bit of a miracle. Thanks very much for your encouragement and well done on all your achievements!

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  6. Love this...especially in light of the conversation we had in the Scargill dining room, which touched on this!

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    1. Thanks, Lucy. Yes, it was a thought process and that conversation was definitely part of it. Thank you for that. x

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  7. Thanks, Helen, this was just what I needed to hear too. Yes, when you have a young family writing time is scarce. I think I gave up on it too. However, my family are grown-up now but still, at this moment, I find myself in a frantically busy time - moving mother-in-law near us, helping son to start career as doctor etc etc and I keep feeling guilty as I get bombarded with emails telling me to write every day and not to be distracted. Sometimes I think we do need to just let go of all the good advice and let God take our days and time.

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    1. Life gets squarely in the way, doesn't it? Having been wrestling with guilt for a few years now it's a relief to put it down. That doesn't mean for one minute that I won't find myself picking it up again. We can only do as much as we can do. Thanks very much for the 'me too'. Means a lot.

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  8. Helen, this is lovely and v similar to my recent experience. I, too, wandered around dreamily in the sun at Scargill and only went to the main sessions. I have also given up on my own blog, which became an unnecessary pressure, and I have a sense that God is changing the timing (and also maybe the content) of my writing dream. My only regret is that I didn't get to chat to you properly at Scargill this year. A great, affirming post. Thank you! X

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    1. The weekend was over so quickly, wasn't it? A shame we didn't get to compare notes. Deborah, that sounds so familiar. It's taken me so long to trust God as I let go of the things that I thought he wanted me to do but have become so oppressive - to trust His timing and stop trying to put a quart into a pint pot, as my Grandma would have said. I hope I can hang onto the sense of acceptance that I feel now - and you too. I'm pretty sure He knows what He's doing.

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  9. Ah, the curse of 'should'. I know it so well. It sits on my shoulder. (Have just realised that the word 'should' also appears in 'shoulder'. Spooky moment!)

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    1. Whoa. What does that mean, then? They share a root? Will have to find out. Thanks for the Me Too, Fran.

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  10. Helen, you write so beautifully! I understand your sense that you need to let go for now, but I, for one, have been helped by your willingness to be vulnerable. Bless you. xx

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    1. Thank you, Fiona. I'm glad. That means a lot to me. x

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  11. Jane Brocklehurst24 June 2017 at 10:59

    Lovely! At your age I learned the same thing, you can have EVERYTHING God has for you but not all at once. Now, as retirement is close at hand for me, I see the streams converging. Your "orders" are to be who you are and you are fulfilling them beautifully. (PS I enjoyed the piece you read at Scargill very much.)

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    1. Thanks, Jane. The same thing from a different perspective really helps. thank you.

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