Beginning My Adventure With Spirituality

My earliest memory of my journey with spirituality started when I was about six. We lived in Singapore and on some Sundays my Dad would drop my little sister and I off at the Sunday School. I suspect that my mum and dad were after a little free time to themselves. My little sister is four years younger than me but I have a vague memory that she and I stayed together.

I remember that we would have these little books in which we got to stick stamps of Jesus in. I really liked the pictures. They were usually related to the stories that they taught us like the Good Samaritan. This was my favourite part of the Sunday School Class. That is probably why it is the only part that I remember.

When I was in the second year infants in Singapore, I was selected to be one of the narrators in the school nativity play. I loved, loved doing this! In those days, I had a incredible memory and I memorized not only my part but also everyone else’s. We have a tape that my dad made that Christmas when my maternal grandparents came out to visit us in Singapore and a lot of the tape has me reciting all of the narration. I still remember a lot of that narration. It feels as familiar as a glove.

I can still remember the wonderful feeling that I used to get every time we rehearsed and when we gave the performance. It wasn’t just the feeling of accomplishment that you get as you put on a play for parents, it was something else that I felt. It felt warm and safe.

In October 1968, we went back to England and after living with my grandparents in Southampton, we moved into our house in Fareham in January 1969. Whilst living with my paternal grandparents, my grandfather taught me how to pray. I used to say this prayer every night before I went to sleep for years.

“Gentle Jesus, meek and mild,
Look upon this little child.
Pity my simplicity,
Suffer me to come to Thee”

On my 8th birthday – May 1969 – my friend and I went down Fareham Park Road to a little church down on Gudgeheath Lane. I have just looked this Church up on the internet and it is the Hill Park Baptist Church. I have often wondered which religion it was and suspected that it was either a branch of the Baptist Church or some sort of Pentecostal Church.

I really enjoyed going to this church. I loved to sing the songs about Jesus and to hear the stories from the Bible. I went regularly and even took my little sister along. When I think how old I was and how little my sister was, I marvel at how my mum and dad would let me look after her and walk down Fareham Park Road and take her to church! Not something that I would let my children do when they were small. The world was a much safer place in those days.

I remember the Church giving me and my sister a Christmas present one year. Mine was a circular pink plastic box with a clear lid. Inside were lots of tiny beads of all sorts of different colors for threading. The lid swiveled and a little vent would open up to access the beads. I loved this gift and cherished it for a few years.

After a few months, I was invited to go to their Tuesday night meetings in downtown Fareham. We were always picked up on a coach at Fareham Park Road just outside Coppice Way which drove us down to the hall. I went alone or with my friends. My little sister was too young for this adventure. I went for a little while although I didn’t feel as comfortable in this church service as I did at the Sunday School. I didn’t like the feeling that I had when people ‘spoke in tongues’.

What added to that uncomfortable feeling was the man with one arm. It wasn’t his one arm that frightened me, it was the way that he paid too much attention to me and got into my personal space. After awhile, I told my mum that I didn’t want to go to the Tuesdays meetings anymore and soon after, I stopped going to the church on Sundays. The man was very creepy and I didn’t want to be around him.

Being christened in the Church of England, I took myself off to the Sunday Services at St. Columbia Church at the corner of Hillson Drive and Highlands Road when I was about fourteen. I wish that I could say that it was my spiritual interest that took me there, but it was a good looking boy from school that was in the choir. Just to get a glimpse at this young man entering the church and then singing was enough to get me there each Sunday. Sometimes a friend came with me. She was interested in taking confirmation classes, but I didn’t feel comfortable doing that. I didn’t want that type of commitment. I was familiar with the church service, but I had my own ideas. I didn’t feel that what they taught made sense to me. I didn’t necessarily think it was bad, it just seemed too mysterious and unclear. Spiritually, I felt at an impasse. After about eight months, I stopped attending the services at St. Columbia.

As life got more complicated in my teens and I grew very unhappy and depressed, I prayed often and even branched out from the set prayer that my Grandfather had taught me. I cried out to God to help me, to give me strength and to help me understand the chaos that surrounded me.

Then one day, He found me and I began receiving the answers that I had needed. It was the day that the lady that I babysat for asked my friend and I to keep two young men company at her house …..

Trailing Clouds of Glory!

Last Thursday evening, my husband and I began looking after our five grandchildren aged 9, 7, 5, 3 and 21 months, whilst my daughter went into the hospital early Friday morning to deliver her sixth child.

I think our task was much easier than my daughter’s, although I went back to work this week for a rest! It’s at times like this, that getting old is frustrating with the lessened ability to do as much as I could do in my prime. Nevertheless, we lost none of the children and no-one died. That is a success, right?

For Friday, Saturday and Sunday, we divided the children up with my daughter’s in-laws. This really helped with getting age appropriate activities going and being able to give the time and attention that the children needed.

This is a stock picture, not my grandson.

We received a text and cute pictures of our newest grandson late Friday afternoon. As a mum, it was with great relief that I knew that both Mum and baby were okay and healthy. As all parents know, you never stop worrying about your children and their offspring.

Saturday morning we took the two little ones to enjoy a few rides on the Canyon Model Railroad that were having a free day. They really enjoyed that. I think Grandma and Papi enjoyed it even more. Could have spent all day riding if it wasn’t for the scorching sun! Then off we went to visit my daughter, her husband and the new baby!

In America, it is really cool that the father can stay in the hospital with the mother and the new baby. Everyone has individual rooms with an ensuite. I remember my days in the hospital after the delivery of my children in England. We were in a large ward separated from the other mum’s and babies by a curtain that we would pull around our bed if we wished. My then husband wasn’t allowed to stay. He could come during visiting hours. When I was a child, children weren’t allowed into the hospital. I remember being lifted up and looking in through a window to be able to see my little sister after she was born.

My daughter was looking really well although tired from the birth and sore from the afterbirth pains (which get worse after each birth). My little new grandson was beyond gorgeous. My daughter’s husband introduced little William to his big little sisters. Both were so gentle with him. I think that the youngest finally understood what we had been telling her about the baby coming out of mummy’s tummy and was amazingly kind and tender to her little new brother. Seems this kindness and love just oozes out of this little girl.

Each of my grandchildren have amazing unique qualities that belong just to them. Those qualities came with them when they were born. Being a sociologist, I was always taught that we are a product of our environment. When I had my children I decided to do a social experiment. I had one girl and one boy. Both played with dolls and cars. (Both favourite toys of mine!). I dressed them mostly in unisex clothes and colors. They had the same books and the same opportunities. I know that you can’t control your environment and the way that you behave due to your upbringing so I’m sure that we were modeling many behaviours to our children unconsciously.

I was a single mum when my youngest child was four. Dad wasn’t around much for visiting. When my son was a young teenager, he one day turned around to me exclaiming that I used way to many words to explain things and suggested that I became more succinct! He didn’t mean to be sassy, he was just trying to express a frustration. Well, I’m still female and still use a lot of words to convey stuff; but my son showed me that he was very male and wanted concise conversation.

My daughter and son are like chalk and cheese. I brought them up the same way, but they are very different. They may share some similar mannerisms, but their personalities are distinct and very different. Even as little kids, they were different in the way they reacted to things. My daughter was a go-getter and loved to join in everything. My son would hide behind my skirts and was very retiring.

So too are my grandchildren. Each one has a very distinct personality and interests. As I held my new little grandson on Saturday, and as I have held my own children and each of my grandchildren as they have entered the world, I am moved to tears at their purity, their innocence, and their glory as they came straight from the presence of God. Wordsworth says it so well:

Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting:
The Soul that rises with us, our life’s Star,
Hath had elsewhere its setting,
And cometh from afar:
Not in entire forgetfulness,
And not in utter nakedness,
But trailing clouds of glory do we come
From God, who is our home:
Heaven lies about us in our infancy!

“Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood” by William Wordsworth.

What an honour it is to hold a child of God in my arms! To be entrusted with God’s child to rear, to protect, to teach, to respect, to honour, to nurture and to help them prepare for eternal life back with their Father in Heaven. I am grateful for my call to be a mother and grandmother. I reverence this sacred office and hope that I can do all that is expected of me with the trust that has been given to me by God.

Osmond Mania and What It Taught Me.

‘Top of the Pops’ was always on the television in our house each Thursday evening. My parents really enjoyed it, especially my dad. Early in the 1970’s, the Osmond’s became very popular with the English girls. New reports showed huge crowds of girls screaming and getting hysterical over the Osmond’s when they toured Britain. I never quite understood the hysteria and the need to touch the pop stars, but it was interesting to observe and wonder about.

My Dad would always call us down to watch the Osmonds whenever they were on – whether it was ‘Top of the Pops’ or the ‘Andy Williams Show’. My little sister was very taken with them and received a couple of their books one Christmas. Of course, I wouldn’t say that I liked them and tried to keep my feelings to myself. Mine was more a fascination of how they related to each other and their close family relationships.

So once my sister’s books went into the bookcase, I was able to ‘borrow’ them. One of my favourite things to do when I was a young girl was to read so I was able to read these books fairly quickly. Two things stick out in my mind from these books. First was that Donny Osmond liked to make things. He made a bed that he could raise up to the ceiling when he didn’t want it in the way and then he could bring it down when he needed to sleep in it. I have often thought of that bed and how cool that would have been! I tried to get my head around how he would be allowed to do something so major like that in his bedroom.

The second thing was something they said about their beliefs. They said that they img_0070believed they lived before they came to earth. In this earlier life, they were spirits, children of God. In this life they reached a plateau. When I read this, I really didn’t knew what a plateau was and imagined these spirit people stuck on ledges up a mountain. Yes, I know, such an odd picture. I can quite see why I came up with these pictures in my head because England has lovely green rolling hills and I had never heard of a plateau, mind seeing one. img_0067My experiences in Utah and Arizona have shown me what mountains are like and what Mesas are like. People in America love the outdoors and love to go hiking. Such a contrast from my sheltered suburban life ….

When I saw the word ‘plateau’ in the book, I automatically imagined something physical rather than relating to the word as a verb. I thought people sitting on ledges was such a img_0069weird concept. Although I didn’t fully understand what I had been reading, for some reason, this picture stuck in my head acting like a weird symbol, reminding me of living a pre-earth life. If you read my earlier blog – The Story With A Twist – you may remember that the story my school teacher read to us introduced me to the concept of living before we came to earth and being able to choose whether we accept our lives before we embarked upon them.

This was something that, as a child, I thought about a lot. For my fifteenth birthday, my boyfriend, out of the blue, bought me the Osmond’s cassette – ‘The Plan’. He didn’t know that I was fascinated by the Osmonds because of their family culture and because of these thoughts from the books that I had read. It was a nice surprise as we usually listened to Black Sabbath and Pink Floyd.

I have to say that my very favourite song on this album (that was on cassette) was ‘In The Beginning”. I just loved the words (the melody was pretty good too 😉 )

“Before the beginning we were living
Oh, so far away from here
And we called it home but didn’t stay
We knew that we could leave one day and cry
Before the beginning we were willing
To lay aside whom we had been
And take a chance to slip away
Or make it back to home one day, what for
Ever since we came to be
With the plan we’ve learned to see
We alone would guide our destiny
In the beginning we’d be living
As we would be, he once was
To look at him, to look at me
And think some day like him I’ll be, what more
Ever since we came to be
With the plan we learned to see
We control infinity, what more
What more“

Here is the link to the song on YouTube as I can tell you are dying to listen to it 😉 !

‘In The Beginning’ by the Osmonds

I don’t think it was by chance that I heard ‘The Story With A Twist’ and was given this music to listen to. I was being prepared for something greater that was to come into my life and radically change it. More on that on another day …..

Gossip or Pride?

100_0653-7During a trip back to Minnesota last year for training on my new job, my trainer whispered conspiratorially that she thought that our manager gave her work that she thought that her manager should do. “I’m not the one who has to write the reports”, she said. Earlier in the day, she had spoken to me not so quietly that the previous payroll person was just awful at the job. “I always had to correct him”, she exclaimed. “He just couldn’t do the job. I had to keep telling him the same thing over and over again!” She also told me that the new payroll person, wasn’t picking up the job as quickly as her past experience indicated that she could.

I didn’t respond to any of her comments. I should have come back with something a lot stronger than silence. My mind wasn’t so quiet. I knew the previous payroll person. He had left the company because of the way my trainer had treated him for the past eighteen months. She had been demoralizing him and criticizing him constantly. In a state of anguish, he had finally resigned. He had told me that he really liked the company and the other people that he worked with, but he just couldn’t take any more from my trainer who had made his life unbearable and caused him so much stress and degradation. I was quite astounded that she would also say something about her manager. She and the manager were pretty cozy.

image-18I learned a long time ago when I lived in Climping (outside of Littlehampton in West Sussex) never to believe what another person tells me about someone else. I was serving in a church leadership position and needed to find someone to oversee the homemaking meeting for the ladies at church. I felt inspired to suggest a particular lady’s name. I will call her Lynn although this is not her real name. Lynn accepted the call to serve as the Homemaking Leader and I worked closely with her. When she was called, I was approached several times about Lynn with people telling me to be careful as Lynn was a terrible gossip and very unreliable. This information did affect my relationship with her at the beginning. However, I learned very quickly that Lynn was not like that. She was such a sweet lady and would do anything for anyone. She also never talked badly about anyone in my presence. After this specific learning experience, I vowed that I would make my own mind up about people and not listen to what others say.

On that trip to Minnesota, I had been working twelve hour days without breaks. On the day before I flew back home, I took a lunch break for an hour with one of my friends from work who had been brought into town at the same time. It was nice chatting with her and catching up on each other’s news. When I got back to my desk, I grabbed some papers that I wanted to scan in so I had access to them when I got back to Utah. Whilst I was at the photocopier, I heard my trainer say to my manager in a surreptitious manner, “She’s back!” That just confirmed to me that the trainer was also talking behind my back about me in a derogatory way just as she had our manager and the two payroll people.

This behaviour is a good example of duplicity – when a person will talk about somebody when they aren’t present in a critical and demeaning way – but wouldn’t dream of saying the same things to the person if they were there. It can be guaranteed that a person who exhibits this type of behaviour with you will be saying things about your weaknesses or other untruths to someone else when you are not there. This is the opposite of integrity. Having integrity means to be loyal to those who are not present. In these types of situations, one should defend those who are absent. When you defend those that are absent, you build trust with others. My husband is a very good example of this. My husband and his first wife are divorced but my husband never says a bad word about her. He never runs her down. I know that my husband will never talk badly about me to someone else even if we have had a disagreement.

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In an earlier post, I talked about the acronym of ‘HARD’. To review, this stands for:

Honest
Appropriate
Respectful
Direct

I spoke about how it was hard for me to be ‘Honest’ and ‘Direct’. I particularly find confrontation and speaking about my feelings to be difficult. This amounts to dishonesty as one is not being honest due to omission. It also leads to being just like my trainer. I won’t tell the person that I’m upset with them but I will vent to my husband or a close friend. I do not see much difference in that than with the behaviour of my trainer.

I am a great fan of Stephen R. Covey and reading his book ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People’ about sixteen years ago really helped me put all of the pieces of the puzzle together. He says in this book that ‘Integrity includes but goes beyond honest. Honesty is telling the truth – in other words, conforming our words to reality. Integrity is conforming reality to our words – in other words, keeping promises and fulfilling expectations’. He further extrapolated “Integrity also means avoiding any communication that is deceptive, full of guile, or beneath the dignity of people. ‘A lie is any communication with intent to deceive,’ according to one definition of the word. Whether we communicate with words or behaviour, if we have integrity, our intent cannot be to deceive.” (Pg 195 and 197).

Instead of remaining silent when my trainer was sharing information about my manager and the payroll personnel, there is an alternative choice. Stephen Covey puts it like this: ‘… Suppose you were to start criticizing our supervisor and I basically told you that I agree with the content of some of the criticism and suggest that the two of us go directly to him and make an effective presentation on how things might be improved. Then what would you know I would do if someone were to criticize you to me behind your back?” This is something for me to seriously consider doing when these circumstances present themselves again. That way I will be ‘honest’ and ‘direct’. This will take great courage but it will help me to be congruent with myself. This is what I need to aim for.

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It is easier to take the course of least resistance: to belittle, to criticize, to betray confidences, to gossip about others behind their back. This is also a form of pride. One form of pride manifests itself when one seeks to build oneself up by pulling another down. Belittling, criticizing and gossiping function to knock the person it is aimed at down; at the same time aggrandizing the perpetrator. Pride is really destructive and possessing it is the means of destroying an individual, a family, and a society. When one is seeking to build oneself up at the expense of another person there is no respect for another person; there is no love. Stepping all over another person to gain respect or success is detrimental and self-sabotaging. How can one trust a person who does this?

The way in which you treat one person says a lot about you. It shows whether you can be trusted or not. What I learned from my parents was to have values and to make choices in my life based on principles. When I interact with any people, I need to do so by maintaining the same set of principles across the board. I wish to be a person who has integrity. There are some cracks in my armour as I have just discussed and my goal is to close up these weaknesses by learning to be honest and direct with those that I associate with. It is a work in progress but the most important thing is to be moving in the right direction.

(First published in Roaming Brit on 24th April, 2018)

The Kangaroo

From the age of five to seven and a half, we lived in Singapore. My father was in the British Navy and had been assigned to Singapore for two and a half years. These few years were my childhood – almost carefree years!

I found the cultural adjustment very easy – children are very adaptable. I soon started school at the Navy school which was twelve miles away. At five years old, in a strange country, I was put on the naval school bus which took us to school a long way from home. As long as my mum put me on the bus to go to school and the teachers put us on the bus to go home, I was happy.

Singapore is subject to the monsoon seasons. When the rains start it is like the floodgates open up. To cater for the deluge in water, six foot deep monsoon drains are built. The ones near our house were made of concrete. They lined the paths alongside the roads. Even though these cement ditches were six feet deep, they would fill up quickly and the roads would flood within hours.

Despite the flooding, the school buses would run and we would have to catch them. The most difficult thing about walking the flooded roads to the bus stop was trying to keep your flip flops on! Unaware of the potential dangers of falling over and drowning; or slipping into the now invisible monsoon drains and drowning; it was an adventure going to and fro from the bus stop. For my mother, it was a nightmare. As she carried my little sister in her arms and grasped hold of my hand, her anxiety of me falling into the monsoon drain with the fast flowing water was near panic level. One time, as the regular bus pulled up, it didn’t get the stopping position correct. One young woman got off the img_0008bus and stepped right into the monsoon drain. Several men on the bus managed to jump out without going down the monsoon drain and were able to rescue the soaking wet young woman who spent many minutes coughing up dirty water. Besides the worry of us children drowning, my mother also was wary of millipedes. One time, walking down to the bus, she got bitten by a millipede. I remember that it was very painful for her.

When the monsoon season was not upon us, we would see the now empty monsoon drains along side the path that we would walk to and fro from the bus stop. My mother’s new anxiety was that I would fall down into the concrete ditch and break my arm or leg. Constantly she would tell me to walk away from the monsoon drains. I have a vague recollection of sliding into one once and of my mum being really angry at me. Luckily, I didn’t break anything unlike the boy who lived across the road. I came home from school one day and found out that the boy across the road had broken his leg by falling into the monsoon drain. He was off school for many weeks.

One day, my mum took us shopping. We didn’t go to the market this time although we frequently did. I loved going to the market with its unique smells of Chinese cooking which made my mouth water, the unusual sounds of animals squealing and people speaking frantically in Chinese, and seeing all the local native crafts. This time, we must have gone to a department store. I vaguely remember the coolness of the store, the spaciousness and order. Inside the department store, my sister and I spotted these ornamental kangaroos with heads that bobbed up and down. We were totally fascinated with them and spent a long time watching them. We were absolutely delighted when mum said that we could get them for being such good girls that day.

We came home in the car. I was so excited to play with my kangaroo when we got home – at least have it on our table or window sill and touch its head so that it would go up and down. As we turned into the road that lead to our road of Jalan Belibus where our house was, my mum made a gasp.

“I forgot to get a present for the boy across the road!” She exclaimed. She paused momentarily and then said “Penelope, would you give your kangaroo to the boy for a gift?”

I gulped. My stomach lurched. I didn’t really want to give my kangaroo away. I hadn’t even had time to play with it yet.

‘Penelope?’ Mum probed.

Even at five or six years old, I already knew that it was the right thing to do. The young boy across the road must be awfully bored and uncomfortable from his broken leg, img_0009I reasoned. My kangaroo would make him happy and help him to pass the time. The nice feelings I had inside when I thought of giving up my new kangaroo with the bobbly head were slightly stronger than my desire and excitement to play with the kangaroo. When we arrived at our house and got out of the car, I handed the bag with the wrapped kangaroo over to my mum. After she had left us with our Ahma, she popped over to the boy’s house to give him the present. When my mum returned, she told me how thrilled the boy was with the kangaroo. This not only appeased the pain that I was feeling with it’s loss but made me feel very good about the sacrifice that I had made.

Making sacrifices became a lot easier after this first one. Today, the sacrifices involve time and resources, sometimes pride and inconvenience. However, as is the nature of making a sacrifice, there is always that strong pull between doing what the self wants to do and doing the right thing. As Neal A. Maxwell said: “Real, personal sacrifice never was placing an animal on the altar. Instead, it is a willingness to put the animal in us upon the altar and letting it be consumed!”

The Story With A Twist

During my sojourn at Fareham Park Comprehensive School, we would sometimes have a 30 minute period where we spent time with our tutor. Sometimes we would do homework or chat; sometimes our tutor would have something that she would needed to share with us. I had a wonderful tutor. Her name was Mrs Smith. She had beautiful auburn hair. She was my tutor for all of my five years at the school.

img_0005I recall one particular time where our time with our tutor was the last period before school finished. Mrs. Smith was not there for some reason so one of the other teachers, Mr. Gosden, filled in. He had planned to read us a story for those 30 minutes. He probably didn’t know that the story had a lasting impact on my life.

I remember that the story was about a man who was being ship wrecked in a ferocious storm. The man had been cast into the mountainous waves and each time he went under the waves, he would have flashbacks to moments in his life. He would relive precious moments such as when his daughter was born; the special memories he had of her growing up; of his sweet wife and the times they quarreled and made up; his son who loved football and the times he would watch his matches in the rain. img_0006Each time he went under, he recalled a different event in great detail. The final time that he went under, he knew he was close to death. He was called to account for his life – or so we thought.

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Then came the amazing twist to this story that stayed with me ever since. As the man was called to account for his life, he was preparing to talk about what he had accomplished and how he had used his time, when his Creator said to him, ‘This is what your life will be like. Do you still want to go?” The man eagerly agreed to come and experience this life even though he knew that it would end up with him drowning at sea.

At that point, either the story ended or the bell rang and we were dismissed from class.

Ever since I have pondered on this story. The twist had taken me quite by surprise. I still remember where I sat – at a different table than where I normally sat facing the windows looking out onto the fields – probably because Mr. Gosden had moved people around to keep order in the class. It was like that moment stood still. Were we shown a preview of our life before we came down to earth? Were we so eager to come and grasp hold of life that we would accept any circumstances to come? Did this man think that he could change some aspects of the life that he had been shown even though he wouldn’t remember it? Did we live before we came to earth?

I don’t know the name of the book that Mr. Gosden read from almost forty three years ago or who wrote the story but it has had a profound impact on how I think about life and its purpose. It prepared me for a life changing event that happened when I was 16 which I will write about at a later time. I’m so grateful to Mr. Gosden for reading that particular story and for covering for my tutor whilst she was out of school on that spring day.