Big World Small Boat

Private Diary of A Priest. OK, so we're not all angels...Everyone needs a place to get things off their chest! And yes, I do talk to God about it all! Even He has a sense of humour! Want proof? Well, he made me, didn't He? Oh, one last thought-If you don't like what I've written, please keep in mind - it's MY diary. Go write your own!

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Location: England, United Kingdom

I've been serving children in crisis for over twenty five years. My goals are not to raise money, but to find organisations and individuals who can help change lives! What may be outdated equipment for you could change the life of a child in Eastern Europe! To learn more please visit our site at: www.ProjectNewLife.org

Thursday

Mothers Day? Is it Just for Women?

I’ve always tended to look upon our school headteachers as wise captains of ships, full of young impressionable minds. A headteacher’s wisdom and guidance serves to nurture and inspire those dedicated teachers who give so much of their lives to help develop our nation’s children towards adulthood.

So I was shocked to read that Helen Starkey, the headteacher of Johnstown Primary School in Wales, made the decision to ban Mothers Day. Well, in fairness, as I understand it, she has banned the children from preparing Mother’s Day cards, and any associated events. Her reason was not out of cruelty, but I suspect, more so as a result of falling prey to the advancement of America’s commercial marketing grasp on the rest of the world. According to Mrs Starkey, her reason was out of ‘sensitivity,’ as five percent of her students were separated from their natural birth mother.

Here in Britain Mother’s Day is actually known as Mothering Sunday, and is celebrated on the fourth Sunday of Lent. However, it has no association with the American holiday in May known as Mother’s Day, or as some cynics call it, (me being the leader of that cynicism!) ‘Hallmark Day.’

The original translation from Latin is a derivative of ‘Refreshment’ or ‘Laetare Sunday,’ during Lent: the first words of the opening prayer of the Mass are Laetare Jerusalem (Rejoice Jerusalem), and honour is given to the Mother Church. The extension to actual mothers was gradual, and evolved at time when children, mainly daughters, who had gone to work as domestic servants, were given a day off to visit their family.

Now it is a day when children give presents, flowers, and cards to their mothers. But it can also be recognised, in its truest form, as a time to recognise those who practice the act of mothering. The dictionary defines ‘mothering’ as ‘to care for or protect.’ It is not gender specific. Unfortunately, as the distance between continents become shorter, the commercial aspects of this date overpower its broader and possibly purer origins.

‘Mothering’ comes from carers, nurses, male parents, or anyone who serves or cares for others, those who provide loving, nurturing care as if they were the mother to the individual. These people are so often forgotten or ignored and I find it heartbreaking that due recognition is seldom given. The individual who has cared for an invalid or elderly person, who needed mothering in its truest sense, may be forgotten this Sunday and at all other times.

Most Sundays in the year churchgoers in England worship at their nearest parish or ‘daughter church.’ Centuries ago, it was considered important for people to return to their home or ‘mother’ church once a year. So each year in the middle of Lent, everyone would visit the main church or Cathedral of the area.

Over time the return to the ‘mother’ church became an occasion for family reunions when children who were working away returned home. (It’s difficult to comprehend that less than a hundred years ago children who were as young as nine or ten would leave their village home to work in cities like London.)

And most historians believe that it was the return to the ‘Mother’ church which led to the tradition of children, particularly those working as domestic servants, or as apprentices, being given the day off to visit their families. As they travelled along country lanes, children would collect wild flowers or violets to take to church or give to their mother as a small gift.

The American holiday, which has sadly become so commercialised, began in 1912 when an International Mother’s Day association was formed, as a result of the efforts of a Methodist spinster, who recognised the importance of strengthening family ties. The United States Congress passed a joint resolution marking the second Sunday in May as ‘their’ official ‘Mother’s Day.’ It was then proclaimed as a national holiday.

The American date failed to catch on in countries where the US didn’t have strong influence or control, because within the resolution was the mandate that the American flag be displayed on all homes and government buildings in reverence to the mothers of America. It just smelled a bit too nationalist for other countries.

No matter who it is that nurtures, cares for, supports, defends, helps and loves, they certainly deserve accolades of gratitude, praise and love. Today, above all, please don’t forget to recognise them, no matter where in the world you may be!


And if you simply can’t think of anyone at all….you could always hug a priest. There’s not enough of that either!




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Monday

A Child's Funeral

Tomorrow at eleven I shall celebrate the funeral of a three-year-old boy. It will be difficult for me, but a thousand times more difficult, of course, for the young parents, the grandparents and the rest of the family. Here was a young life full of promise, welcomed with love and longing by his family and it all ended almost before it had begun.

The service for the funeral of a child is desperately moving; though for the family, the liturgy of faith and hope will not be easy either to say or to hear. Yet I know that the family will survive; in one sense life will go on and perhaps in time, they will even be strengthened by this dark and awful experience.

All around us, as we share the service together and lay the tiny coffin deep within the earth, the priorities of our world will continue. People will go about their daily work, their shopping, and their gardens. Newspapers will lay on the kitchen table, with headlines about war in Syria, President Obama, or the Royal Family.

For us, at the graveside, all the world will come to a standstill, just for a minute or two-there will be nothing more important than a small box and a few handfuls of soil. It seems like a parable on the subject of perspective.

Our perspectives for those fleeting moments will be unreservedly clear. Nothing else will matter. And then, of course, we shall return to what we call a ‘normal’ life, where perspectives are seldom clear and often hopelessly distorted. Before we know it, perhaps, the great and small issues of our days will take over, and it will be the price of petrol, or the continued rising deaths in Iraq that disturb our peace of mind.

Jesus accused some of the religious teachers of His time of ‘straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel’ - a very vivid way of saying that they’d got their priorities hopelessly out of perspective. Yet who, in our media-saturated world, really knows which are the gnats and which are the camels? What really matters, and what is of minimal and passing importance in the light of eternity?

In our moments of clear perspective, when our priorities are obvious, the values that tend to emerge are love, commitment, kindness, courage and hope. It’s when the tawdry agenda of every day takes over; celebrity, sport, news and gossip (which are often much the same thing), that we cater to the partisan, to cruel and unthinking words, and harsh, judgemental opinions.

It seems a pity that it takes very often a tragedy or crisis to help us see things so clearly.
As I stand by a child’s grave tomorrow morning I hope I won’t be too quick to forget what I learn there.


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Sunday

A Thought For Advent

This may seem an odd subject to write about at the beginning of Advent, but this year there have been many successes in the arrests of child-traffickers and those who exploit women and children for gain. I see this as a wonderful blessing. But there is still a long way to go.

The trafficking of the young and innocent is an appalling offence. It inevitably affects the most vulnerable and least secure of women and children, making them false promises and offering false hope. These girls from Eastern Europe, often struggling with poverty, come to our country in trust, dependent for their safety on those who brought them over, believing that here they’ll find a loving home, honest work and have legal protection.

Instead, they’re betrayed, exploited and abused by the very people they depend upon. Often lured by women working for the traffickers, the girls are sold the dream of a safe, loving family of other girls in similar circumstances who will care for them and help guide them along the way in their new life. How tragically different the truth is.


Enforced prostitution is an utter violation of women. It is a violation by a whole racketeering industry, which treats them as commodities and robs them of sexual integrity. It is a violation by individuals who want what the women have, without any respect for who they are.

And yet, this is an appropriate Christmas story. For it taps us into the darker side of Christmas. It reminds us this is the kind of world that God came into: a world where the vulnerable are abused and where to be fragile is to be easily exploited. Human violation of the defenceless was as great at that first Christmas as it is now; with homeless refugees on the move, and the slaughter of hundreds of innocent children.

The irony of the Christmas event is that God didn’t come as a great military hero to impose a new regime, or as the world’s policeman to do a clean-up job. He came precisely as one of the world’s most vulnerable: a baby, defenceless, fragile, unable to help himself, utterly dependent on those who were His protectors.

The Christian story challenges the very foundations of all our play-safe policies, our protection against being vulnerable, our fear of powerlessness. For it says instead, that the vulnerable matter, the weak are highly significant, the susceptible are important, the defenceless count. In taking on human vulnerability at its most fragile God gives dignity to each defenceless person, and requires us, in our relationships and our laws, to do the same.

Living without defences, Christ knows the sufferings of people who struggle under evil, whether girls sold into prostitution, or parents of murdered children, and God will act on their behalf. For in the vulnerability of a baby in a manger lies the power of divine love and justice.

The story of Christmas is Emmanuel, God with us.

May your own coming Christmas be filled with warmth and joy!

Father Bill Haymaker+

Publicat în memoria iubitoare de Părintele Bill
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Words of Comfort For the Dying

What do you say to someone who is dying? What words of comfort for the dying can you offer? And especially, how do we offer prayers for the dying?

A parent of friends of mine is currently in our local hospice. It’s sad to see that his deterioration has come so rapidly and particularly in that he has so clearly been fighting for survival. On Saturday, he was unconscious and it was thought that he would soon pass. But on Sunday morning, he was chatting with his wife and hospice staff. This is not unusual.

It’s a common occurrence to see people in the final hours of their lives, moving between a peaceful calm and an anxious state. There is clearly a struggle in their spirit to live. And it’s a fact that the strength of that spirit is undeniably tied to their struggle to remain on this earthly plain. Even though their physical bodies are failing and damaged beyond our ability to repair, the powerful spirit within that individual – that deep instinct to protect our human shell, fights to accept any kind of quality of life that is offered them.

Death is that moment of passing that comes as the spirit acknowledges that these mortal remains are no longer able to sustain its presence. And it is okay to acknowledge this, to accept it as yet another part of our journey. In fact, this is where the presence of family, friends and carers can often help most, with their words of comfort and prayers. The dying will come to accept the new journey that their spirit needs to take.

If you’re a family member, speak of the happy times you’ve shared together, the celebrations you’ve had, the joys you’ve experienced together and never forget to share how much you love them. Acknowledge that this is just an interval in time and that you will all be together again soon.

If you’ve had a spirited relationship with the person who’s dying, acknowledge that you’ve had your ‘ups and downs,’ but reaffirm the power of that love and ask them to forgive any transgression there may have been. Please, do not use this time to be accusatory or stating what your wishes may have been. This time is long past and by your presence and giving of yourself; you are providing the greatest blessing you could ever imagine – for both of you.

One of the greatest gifts you can provide, whether you’re a family member, friend, or professional carer is the gift of touch. Even when words can no longer be spoken, the gift of touch is a potent form of spiritual communication. I often rub the hands or feet of someone who is in transition. There are times when I stroke their hair. These gentle acts are no different than the loving embrace we receive as we come into this world.

And of course, there’s the power of prayer. Never underestimate the strength of that communication. As you offer your supplications, not only does God hear, but the living spiritual being you’re praying for hears as well. Acknowledging that it’s okay to let go, that there is life beyond is a form of blessing. And indeed, you too will be blessed.
Heavenly Father
You have given us so much. Thank You for the gift of life, for all the treasures we received, through the wealth of those who’ve loved us and those whom we’ve loved.
This body You have given is frail and damaged. And now we ask You to grant us peace, as we begin our next journey, to a new life, free of pain and suffering. Ease the sorrow of those we leave behind, knowing that we will always live on in their heart.
Take my hand and lead me now, until that time when we shall meet again, on that day where there is no sunset and no dawn. Amen
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Friday

Dying Alone

Today I celebrated the passing of a life. Emily Hanwell, age 95, died alone in her home. She had lived through two world wars, the sinking of the Titanic, the advent of television, and four monarchs. She is survived by two sons - both no longer living in the area.

Emily died in her bed. The coroner listed her cause of death as ‘suspected natural causes.’ It was the best the coroner could offer. Emily had been dead for several weeks before her body was discovered. Nature had followed God’s mandate and there was little of her mortal remains left.

I spoke with one of her sons. He had already been made aware of her death. He told me that he was 'too busy' to attend her funeral, but he was sure that his brother would ‘try to do something.’ He said his mother had become difficult to deal with and it was a ‘blessing’ that it was all over. I asked him when it was that he had last spoken with her. He said he had spoken to her on Christmas Day ‘when she had called him.’

When I arrived at the funeral directors, I discovered there were no flowers. There had been no calls about Emily, or anyone asking about her funeral. Her coffin was of the ‘particulate variety,’ a polite euphemism for cheap board, with colourless plastic handles, which was all the government would pay for. I went next door to the local florist and purchased several bunches of daffodils to place atop her coffin.

And so we headed to the chapel at our local crematory. In Britain the pallbearers are the professional staff of the funeral director. There was no one there to receive Emily. And it was impossible not to have tears form in my own eyes to see this pitiful coffin lifted up and placed upon the catafalque, with no one there to mourn her loss or celebrate her passing. Often my children have attended funerals I’ve celebrated, when I know there would be no one to attend. But in my heart I was certain that at least one of her sons would find time to attend their mother’s funeral.

Just as with any funeral I celebrate, I prepare a Homily that is unique to the deceased. Sadly, there are times when I have nothing more to guide me than looking at the face and hands of the deceased. For me, there is often an endless story that is revealed in the lines on someone’s face. This was the case with Emily. But in my Homily, I did say to the pallbearers that I wondered what the last days of her life were like.

One of the greatest fears that a human being can experience is the fear of being abandoned by family and friends and being left to live one’s life all alone. Prison guards know this when they place recalcitrant inmates in solitary confinement and torturers know it too when they need their victims to confess to fictitious crimes.

To be cut off from human contact is immensely painful, but it pales when compared to being cut off from God. And yet that is the daily experience of too many of His children, wandering about this earth with no sense of any larger purpose or destiny and no vision beyond the blank wall of death. What a tragedy, and how unnecessary it is!

And as Emily’s soul was committed to God’s care, I was able to smile, knowing that she was not alone, nor ever would be.


Emily, I know that as God opened His arms to receive you, the angels danced.


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Tuesday

A Bedside Prayer for Death of a Child

I was honoured to have attended a child’s passing last night. Kayleigh was nine years old. She would have turned ten in November. Leukaemia had ravaged her body and she was extremely weak from both the illness and the aggressive treatments she had endured over the past few months.

Several hours earlier, the doctors had worked determinedly to resuscitate her when her heart failed. I didn’t need to ask in this case, I instinctively knew that Kayleigh’s mother still had not moved to acceptance that her daughter’s body was failing and thus had refused to sign the ‘DNR’ order, allowing Kayleigh’s spirit to pass on without further interference with her body. But you could see in the eyes of the kind doctor and nurses that they knew what the inevitable outcome would be.

In the early afternoon Kayleigh was talking with her seven-year-old sister Justine and mother. I sat in a chair far in the corner of the room. I could still just barely hear them speak, but couldn’t always clearly hear what was being said. Justine had been devotedly swabbing Kayleigh’s lips with a small sponge on a stick to provide moisture to her lips.

It was just before 5 when Kayleigh’s mother said she needed to take Justine home where her grandmother was preparing dinner. She would return within the half-hour. I promised I would remain with Kayleigh while she was gone.

As I walked with the mother and child to the doors of the ward, Justine looked up at me and said ‘ Kayleigh said she is going to send each of us a card.’ She said it with that beautiful conviction that only children can show, as if they were speaking of Father Christmas arriving the following morning. ‘That’s wonderful Justine,’ I said. ‘I’ll look forward to hearing from her.’


I said goodbye at the hallway and watched the pitiful figure of the mother move down the hallway, with Justine half-skipping, half-running beside her. I could hear Justine cheerfully chatting away about something as I turned back into the hospital ward.
When I returned to Kayleigh’s room, she was still. Her eyes were open and in any other setting, saving the pale grey appearance of her skin, you might have thought she was just gazing at the ceiling. It had only been a matter of minutes from when we had walked out the door to my return and Kayleigh's body had taken its last breath.

I felt the tears welling up in my eyes, but I also felt myself smiling. She was at peace. But there was something much more powerful in the moments that had passed. Kayleigh had fought hard to remain there for her mother and sister – to impart that powerful message to Justine – that she’s only going on a journey, not that she simply wouldn’t exist anymore.

And for both her mother and sister, Kayleigh’s passing occurred at a moment when little Justine would not have been subjected to a repeat of her mother’s frantic and poignant fight to try to protect her daughter from a disease that had ravaged the child’s body.

One of the nurses named Betty, came into the room and saw me standing at the end of the bed. It only took seconds for her to realise that Kayleigh had passed. I was deeply touched because without any words she put her arms around me and hugged me. Betty removed the IV line whilst I closed Kayleigh’s eyes and together we straightened the bed and turned down the lights. I didn’t really think about it, but I took a floppy eared sock rabbit that Justine had brought her sister from the nightstand and tucked it in beside Kayleigh.

I asked Betty if she would like to stay with me as I offered prayers for Kayleigh. She held up her finger to indicate ‘just a moment,’ and she left the room. Seconds later she returned with another nurse and one of the ward assistants. We gathered around Kayleigh’s bed and prayed:
Christ Jesus, most merciful Saviour,
Hear our prayers as we gather in Your name
We commend this child into Your arms of mercy.
Kayleigh has been a blessing to all who knew her.

She brought laughter, warmth, and comfort to many
And in the moments when her mother and others showed despair
Kayleigh provided a noble message of hope and promise,
in her unfailing conviction that her life here may be limited
but is by no means final.

Grant comfort and strength to those who gather here now,
dedicating their lives to the care of others,
who often must face life as it moves to shadows.
Embrace them with Your eternal love
through everything they do.

Thank you for the love we would never have known,
but for Kayleigh’s brief days with us.

May the angels surround Kayleigh
and the saints welcome her with joy.

Lord God, we commend this child to Your everlasting care.

In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen

One of the staff very sweetly offered to remain with Kayleigh as I walked to the entrance of the hospital to await the return of her mother.
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Now Lord, You let Your servant go in peace. Your word has been fulfilled. Support us O Lord all the day long of this troublous life. Until the shadows lengthen and the evening comes. The busy world is hushed, The fever of life is over and our work is done. Then Lord, in Your mercy, grant us a safe lodging, A Holy rest, and peace at last. Through Christ our Lord. Amen
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Saturday

Thank You Sarah

It was just past midnight as I sat in hospital with my friend Sarah. Her children and grandchildren had gone home for some much needed rest. It was obvious that Sarah was at the end of this life's journey and preparing for her next. The nursing staff had kindly moved her into a private room, affording more privacy and dignity.

I had brought with me a small radio and a book, which I read to Sarah during the night. And I was prepared to offer her Viaticum (a prayer of provision for her journey) as morning broke. It was our private time together.

It was close to 2AM when Sarah opened her eyes. I had stopped reading and was watching the shallow rise and fall of her frame as her body instinctively fought, clinging to the last vestige of life. The music that softly played from the small radio was Vaughan Williams' The Lark Ascending.

I asked Sarah if she would mind my saying prayers for her now. She had such a sweet and lovely radiance in her face. I found a tissue in my pocket and wiped a tear that ran from her eye. I stroked her hair and briefly thought of her sisters and children.

Almighty God, look upon Your servant Sarah, as she lies here in weakness. Comfort her with the promise of life everlasting, given in the resurrection of Your Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Sarah surrendered her mortal life a few hours later, with dignity and embraced in love.

Thank you Sarah. Thank you for the honour of being my friend.



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Monday

Finding The Right Words of Comfort

What does one say to distraught and grieving parents who have just buried their young child?


Truthfully there isn’t much we can say that will help. We can express our sorrow and sympathy. We can offer words of care and concern and of course love. We can tell the parents that we shall pray for them. But for most of us the truth is that we don’t know what to say.

I stood a short distance from the family as mourners came to offer their condolences after the burial. And I watched and listened as people so desperately tried to convey their compassion over the tragic loss this young couple have just experienced.

Some fumbled with words then simply broke into tears. Others offered sentiments that some might consider to be inane or even cruel. ‘You’re both young, you’ll have more children,’ one woman offered. The couple were too lost in their grief to even comprehend what the woman had said.

Perhaps it’s because we don’t know what to say that we sometimes say the wrong things. In our distress with another person’s suffering we often feel that we must offer words that will somehow help move the grieving individuals along.

Personally, I feel there is much more of a spiritual connection and sentiment in the power of a silent embrace. No words are necessary to convey sharing the human emotion of pain and sorrow and loss. Especially when we all accept that there are no answers. And so we weep at what has happened. And so too - God weeps with us.

One elderly gentleman suggested that the child’s death was God’s will. I disagree. The God we worship, our God who watches over us, doesn’t will the death of children, or the pain of their parents. Many, many things that happen in this world are not the will of God. That is part of the price of the freedom we have been given by God.

I watched the couple stand in numb silence as an aunt told them that God wanted their son in Heaven with Him. While I am confident God has welcomed him into His kingdom, I am certain God did not want this child to die right now so that He could have him there.

Others continued to offer the same thought; that they were young and they could have more children. This may be true, but other children will never replace this little life. He was his own person. The empty place his death has left in their hearts will never be filled simply because they have another child. Nor should it be. Every child is unique and precious. I realise that people say such things with a desire to comfort the bereaved. They desperately long to find some way to help. May God Bless them for it.

But know that we are faced with a mystery - the mystery of life, and of death, in which there are no easy answers.

And for the grieving parents who may feel that no one will ever understand their pain?...

God understands. He has a son who died also.
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Friday

Faith Is Not A Crutch For Living

Our national charity for the elderly, Help the Aged, recently published a report entitled Dying in Older Age. It aims to lift the profile on the spiritual beliefs and stories of older people and help all of us avoid the nervousness with which we so often approach the subject of death.

Old age is often a synonym for ‘problem people’ - a liability to the optimism of our Brave New World. People fear the mortality of old age. But that's nothing new. The Irish poet, W B Yeats, who felt old from the age of forty, went kicking and screaming into old age.

‘What shall I do with this absurdity,
O heart, O troubled heart - this caricature,
Decrepit age which has been tied to me as to a dog's tail?' - he asked.

Not a great advert for senior citizenship then, is it?

But whenever I spoke with my friend Sarah I quickly had a rather un-Yeats like version of old age. She kept control of all her faculties to the very end of her life. You needed to be very careful what you whispered to anyone if you were sitting close to her. And a matter of hours before she died, even though she could no longer talk, I vividly recall her bearing down with her jaw, determined not to let anyone remove her false teeth.

And she's not alone. Britain has a veritable 'Methuselan' roll call of people who have accomplished great things in their advancing years. Like Elizabeth Scofield: At 84, and with an 80% mark, she became 'top girl' in her Reading and Writing Course. Or take Percy and Florence Arrow-Smith, married for 80 years. They hold the world record for the longest marriage. Sadly, Percy died a few weeks after their anniversary. But he was the quintessential model of dignity and marital endurance.

Old age still has a lot to say to us in life, as much as in death. It was only a little more than a few years ago that Pope John Paul brought the world to a standstill, pulling princes, politicians, and the public into his vulnerability and death.

We need models of how to live. But we also need to know how to finish well. Each of us has a responsibility to help our elderly finish with dignity and reverence. So beyond pension schemes and Meals on Wheels, respect and honour will go a long way in helping to achieve it.

Finishing well must be numbered amongst the great virtues of faith.
Faith is not a crutch for living. It's a springboard, which takes us beyond death. For Christians, it is faith in the living Christ, which best prepares us to finish well.If you're a young person reading this blog, please don't discount the infinite rewards of investing a few hours a week simply sharing thoughts with a senior person. You'll be amazed by how much they actually understand you! And if you're a person who already has a bit of snow on your roof, but still lots of fire in your furnace, there's plenty to be learned about a life to come.
Granted, you may not always like what you see, but you'll still have the energy to help change it!
And by sharing time with a senior, you may gain valuable insight as to how you'll cope in the years to come!
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Wednesday

Wanted: Part-Time Wife

"Wanted: Part-Time Wife…(only in a metaphorical sense!) Do you like sorting out hopeless men? Are you tidy almost to the point of being compulsive? Are you capable of putting a feminine touch in a home and organising a Father’s life? If so we need you! A Father who constantly travels needs a part-timer to first ‘fix it’ by doing a little decorating, organising things, do some shopping and possibly occasionally cook a meal when I’m away. Then discuss long-term plans to help keep us organised and feeling that we live in a home instead of a suitcase!" saveourmess@yahoo.com

Okay, perhaps it wasn’t the best composition I’ve ever created, but I was trying to sincerely yet accurately express what we needed. There have been times when I’ve either endured an extended hospital stay, or arrived home from a long journey and had so much to do the moment I landed, that a week could pass before I even remembered that my suitcase hadn’t been unpacked!

My son, being a typical teenage male, tends to take a rather ‘relaxed’ approach when it comes to doing much of anything around our home. And I would never have placed an expectation upon my daughter to have to help with the minutiae of household chores; decorating, laundry, opening the post, etc. I simply felt a bit of assistance, slightly beyond that of our conventional housekeeper might be helpful. And I certainly had no intention of enduring her wrath by suggesting that her culinary skills could be classified as biological warfare! Hell hath no fury as a cranky Mrs Higgins if I suggest that the cake she so kindly baked is lovely, but we already have several door-stops around the house!

Embraced with a fusion of trepidation and hope I submitted the ad on our local paper’s website. When I returned home that afternoon, I was surprised to see I had an email from the paper.



Unadulterated in any manner, here is the email I received:

Ad placement number: YI6O1FB1G
Unfortunately we were unable to process your advert. The reason for rejection is as follows: Sorry we are unable to accept your advert due to sexual discrimination. We apologise for any inconvenience caused and please be assured your credit card has not been charged for this advert. Kind Regards, The Friday-Ad Team
support@friday-ad.co.uk

‘How absurd,’ I muttered. I certainly hadn’t thought my ad to be sexist or discriminating against anyone. Considering the context of what I had written, I felt the public would have understood what I was trying to convey. Frankly my feathers were ruffled by the pedantic nature of the newspaper. And now with a twinge of irritation, I re-wrote the ad, believing the paper would see how absurd their response was. Here is the revised ad:

Wanted: Part-Time non-gender-specific individual. Do you like sorting out hopeless non-gender specific individuals? Are you tidy almost to the point of being compulsive? Capable of putting a non-gender specific touch in a home and organising someone’s life? We need you! A non-gender specific parent who constantly travels needs a part-timer to first ‘fix it!’ Then discuss long-term plans to help keep us organised and feeling that we live in a home instead of a suitcase. (please note: The Friday Ad says it’s discriminatory for me to use the words ‘Wife, Feminine, or Father’ in the context of this advert)
SaveOurMess@yahoo.com

The following morning I received an email from the newspaper:
Ad placement number: YI6O1FB1G
Unfortunately we were unable to process your advert. The reason for rejection is as follows: Sorry we are unable to accept your advert due to sexual discrimination and I cannot put this in about Friday-Ad. We apologise for any inconvenience caused and please be assured your credit card has not been charged for this advert. Kind Regards, The Friday-Ad Team
support@friday-ad.co.uk

Now I was becoming cranky. The paper has one of those ‘Live Contact’ buttons (an oxymoron if ever there was one!) on their web page, which allows you to ‘chat’ online with them about whatever problems you may be having with placing your ad. So online I went.

Thanks to the miracles of modern technology, I have been able to save the entire thread of our communication. Such has been my exasperation with the individual who was rejecting my ad, I thought it might be interesting to share our ‘chat’, warts and all: (not one single word has been modified, deleted, or enhanced!)
Friday Ad: Live Help Please wait for a site operator to respond.
Martin: You are now chatting with Martin. How may I help you?

Father Bill Haymaker: Good morning Martin, may I ask please, are you in the UK?
(I was giving them the benefit of doubt in case I was ‘chatting’ with one of those support centres in Bangladesh and this was what had caused the misunderstandings).

Martin: Yes
Father Bill Haymaker: Thank you, the reason I asked is that I thought perhaps I might be having a cultural challenge with someone misunderstanding the context of an ad I was trying to place. May I gave you an advert number to retrieve? It is YI601FB1G
Martin: I can see the email in our support inbox with the advert text

Father Bill Haymaker: I have been reading the mail I've received from your company regarding my advert. Personally I think it's quite daft. Do you REALLY believe that it is sexually discriminating?Martin: no but due to the Trading Standards law all job adverts are supposed to be equal for both males and females.
Father Bill Haymaker: I corrected the ad as you can see. But now you’ve rejected it because I’ve stated only what you quoted to me. Why is this then?Martin: I cannot put this in about Friday-Ad I'm afraid

Father Bill Haymaker: why not, it is your own statement to me.

Martin: its not our rule it comes from Trading Standards.

Father Bill Haymaker: Okay, then we can correct it! “Friday Ad says that trading standards prevents me from using the words 'Wife, feminine, or Father in the context of this advert." How’s that?

Martin: its not our rule it comes from Trading Standards
Father Bill Haymaker: You already said that and I’ve corrected the ad now, so you’re in the clear.
Martin: its also in the Advertising Procedures
Father Bill Haymaker: well then we can add that as well.

Martin: and we have to obey these rules
Father Bill Haymaker: Okay Martin, then we can add that we must obey these rules.


Father Bill Haymaker: anything else we need to add Martin? Wait a moment and I’ll re-write it.

Father Bill Haymaker: how’s this:

Wanted: Part-Time non-gender-specific individual.
Do you like sorting out hopeless non-gender specific individuals? Are you tidy almost to the point of being compulsive? Capable of putting a non-gender specific touch in a home and organising our non-gender specific lives? We need you! A non-gender specific parent who constantly travels needs a part-timer to first ‘fix it!’ Then discuss long-term plans to help keep us organised and feeling that we live in a home instead of a suitcase. (nb. Friday Ad says it’s discriminatory to use the words ‘wife, feminine, or father’ in the context of this advert AND it’s also in the Advertising Procedures AND we must obey these rules.’ SaveOurMess@yahoo.com

After a very long period I ‘nudged’ Martin, who I was beginning to imagine had gone out for a stiff drink.

Father Bill Haymaker: Martin?
Father Bill Haymaker: Martin? Are You There?
Father Bill Haymaker: Martin, if that isn't acceptable, here's an alternative:
Father Bill Haymaker: Sort our house, home, hovel...whatever you want to call it. …only non gender specific people may apply. email: SaveOurMess@yahoo.com

Martin: under the sex discrimination act here in the uk, it is illegal to discriminate on the grounds of sex, against either men or woman when advertising a position under situations vacant. Therefore i am not happy to print your advert containing the statement above!

Father Bill Haymaker: What?!! Does suggesting that we live in a home somehow offend a homeless female? I'm very confused now Martin! And thank you for reminding me that we're in the UK. In the midst of this thread I did feel compelled to look out my window just to make sure.
Martin: This is the wording that would be acceptable if you wish to continue in placing your advert! Cleaner re-queered, in Bexhill area. Please call .........

Father Bill Haymaker: Unfortunately, I’m afraid the term ‘re-queered’ might have a negative impact on people who are only just newly queered…whether they are originally queered or recently re-queered may be considered an act of discrimination against those just considering becoming queered for the first time.
Again, after a considerable period of time, I gave Martin a 'nudge.'
Father Bill Haymaker: Martin, are you there?
After a few minutes have passed...
Father Bill Haymaker: Martin, are you still in the UK?
After even a few more minutes passed...
Father Bill Haymaker: Sadly, this has really become an exercise in futility. Under the circumstances, you’ve left me with no alternative but to cancel the advert altogether. I certainly wouldn’t wish to offend anyone regardless of their gender, predilections, or ability to decipher an advert in the Friday Ad! Thank you for all your help today Martin.
Martin: Perfectly fine thank you using live chat!

Well, I thought it was all over. That is until a few days later when I received a call from a friend. Earlier in the week I had shared the story with her. She thought it was hilarious and typical of the messes I sometimes get myself into. ‘I think you’d better go out a grab a copy of the Friday Ad,’ she said.

In the Opportunities section of the paper was the following ad:

Part-Time non-gender-specific individual. Do you like sorting out hopeless non-gender specific individuals? Are you tidy almost to the point of being compulsive? Capable of putting a non-gender specific touch in a home and organising our non-gender specific lives? We need you! A non-gender specific parent who constantly travels needs a part-timer to first ‘fix it!’ Then discuss long-term plans to help keep us organised and feeling that we live in a home instead of a suitcase.
SaveOurMess@yahoo.com

By the end of the week we had received 18 responses. None of which really floated in my ‘comfort zone!’ There wasn't a single response relating to what the ad was intended to attract...although a few of the respondents suggested that all we needed was some discipline and they had the 'tool's for the job...yikes!

But the most confusing response was this:
"Would you be interested in a 23 year-old TV? If so give me a call. I think I have just what you’re looking for!"

Love Felicity XXOO

Crikey! We didn't even advertise for a television. Besides, we have enough trouble picking up the BBC on our two-year-old TV. I can’t imagine what we’d do with a 23 year old one!




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Sunday

When We Need a Little Help

If you’re a parent who works you most likely rely upon someone to help you with your children. It could be a relative, or it could be a paid carer. If you travel for a living you may leave your complete trust with your partner to compensate for your absence. And there can be times such as flight delays, illness, or even death, when you must have faith in people outside your typical circle to help you.

I too am grateful to so many who help me. This past year I’ve had some frustrating challenges with my health and it's that circle of friends who tirelessly do so much to help who often keep me energised. I even receive help in my email communications at times. And to those who work so hard to decipher my scribbled thoughts for my diary from time-to-time, I’m not only eternally grateful, but in awe over how they’re able to make any sense of my chicken-scratchings.

But there are times when you have to leave your trust in God and God alone to help.

Several years ago I boarded a night flight to Johannesburg. I was dreading the trip. I was facing a seven hour journey to Dubai, plus another eight hours on the next sector to Johannesburg. I was tired and really wasn’t looking forward to the flight. Although I had a book with me, I knew my eyes would be staring at the back of my eyelids long before the aircraft pushed back from the gate at Heathrow.

Dreading the journey so, I held back until everyone else had boarded. I was the only one remaining in the boarding lounge and the gate agent was piercing holes in my head with her eyes, as if she were frustrated that she couldn't close out the flight because of me, so I grudgingly presented my boarding pass, apologised, and sauntered down the jetway to the aircraft.

I worked my way through the cabin to my seat row and was delighted to discover the seat next to mine was unoccupied. The rest of the cabin was full. I immediately decided to nick the spare pillow and blanket, once the doors were shut, so I could prop them under my arms as I nestled in for my sleep.

But as I was doing my typical reconnaissance of my surroundings-how many rows to the nearest emergency exit, a quick glance at who was seated in my vicinity and digging out the eye mask from the amenity kit, I noticed a police officer come on board, followed by a girl, who I would guess was in her early twenties. Behind her was another officer.

I watched with curiosity as one of the officers briefly spoke with the senior flight attendant. She pointed to the girl to head down the aisle to find her seat; the officers left and the door was shut. Before the girl had moved past me my attention had already turned to making myself comfortable. But just as I picked up the pillow and blanket, she was standing beside me. She didn’t say anything. Her body language said she was to be seated beside me. I have no idea why I just assumed she’d be going into the cabins behind me. I later learned from the crew that an airline employee had been given the last seat in economy.

I apologised and mumbled that I didn’t think there would be anyone sitting beside me. As I stood up to let her move into the window seat she briefly said ‘ The hostess told me to sit here.’ I again apologised. I allowed her to get her seatbelt on and then handed her the pillow and blanket, again apologising. And at that my mind went back to my planned activity of going to sleep.

‘Are you going to Sydney?’ she asked. I replied that I wasn’t. I don’t recall saying where I was headed. I had answered her question, politely, but I didn’t wish to engage in any conversation. In fact, I closed my eyes at that, hoping to make the polite point that I was going to sleep.

‘Did you see the police come on with me?’ she asked. I had, but I thought it was more polite to say I hadn’t. ‘I was told I had to leave. I exceeded my visa. And if I stayed any longer I was going to get in a lot of trouble.’ I told her that must have been a frightening experience. And I added that I had hoped Her Majesty's Government had been, at the very least, polite about the whole experience.

The girl began talking. And to be honest, I don’t recall her stopping from that point. She had met a boy from England when he came to the Northern Territory in Australia two years earlier. When he returned home she had flown to England to be with him. But apparently the relationship didn’t last a month, especially when she discovered that he already had a girlfriend-something he had accidentally forgotten to share with her.

The girl, like so many who come to Britain and become part of the patina of London’s multiculturalism, didn’t want to return. The outback town she came from offered nothing but an endless open cattle range of dust and loneliness. She had found herself a job as a waitress in one of London’s many anonymous café’s.

She told me that her father was ‘mean’ and that her mother had wanted them to leave him for ‘a long time.’ She was ‘caught’ in London when two Home Office Immigration Officers came to the café to check the paperwork of all the staff. She was very emotional about what might await her once she arrived in Australia. She had the (wrong) impression that she would be arrested for having overstayed her visa in the UK.

I asked her how she was going to get back to her town, which was about 200km north of Alice Springs. She said she didn’t know, especially as the least expensive ticket she could find only took her to Sydney. She didn’t know anyone in Sydney, but was more concerned over what might await her because she had stayed beyond the date HM Customs had stamped in her passport.

During the meal (yes, I ended up eating) and throughout the flight I reinforced the fact that nothing would happen to her for overstaying her visa. She seemed to physically calm over this and then her concerns turned to what she was going to do in Sydney. She told me that she really didn’t want to go back to where her dad was and she wistfully mentioned that perhaps her mum could come to her.

I remembered how many youth hostels there were in the areas of Kings Cross and Wooloomooloo and told her how easy it would be to get there and suggested that she stay in one for a few nights and she could check the boards for part-time jobs. This seemed to have sparked a more positive attitude from her. Her demeanour slowly changed from the frightened and nervous passenger, to one who was now clinging to a mustard seed of ideas.

As the morning sun was cresting over the Arabian Sea we prepared for landing in Dubai. Seven hours had passed and I don’t think the girl had once stopped talking. I looked at the headset, with its wires still wrapped into a neat little bow, poking out of my seatback pocket and imagined how nice it would be to get on the next flight and go to sleep!

As the plane taxied to the gate, the girl, (I never knew her name, nor she mine), said something to me that I shall never forget. ‘Thank you for talking to me all this time. I had actually said a prayer to God that it would have been nice to have a priest, or someone like that, sit next to me to talk to, but I’m glad it was you instead.’

'Perhaps I was meant to be here too,' I replied.
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I rise before dawn and cry for help; I have put my hope in Your word. Psalm 119:147
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Tuesday

Falling In Love At Clapham Junction

Yesterday I celebrated the passing of a life. Of course, I do this often. But there are some funerals that remain with you; they capture part of your heart and refuse to let you go.

Funerals are a constant in my village. We have an enormous senior community. According to those people who stay locked away in windowless rooms, fiddling with numbers and such throughout the day and night, the average age mean where I live is … well … more or less … deceased! So to say I celebrated a funeral today is a bit like saying I brushed my teeth this morning.
Last November I celebrated the life of his wife. Sixty-seven years they had been married! Look at the divorce rate today. It’s an actuarial fact that the average marriage will not survive more than 7.5 years now.

But this couple were in it for the long run. Till death do us part. Back then, people took their words before God seriously. But just as with so many other things today, solemn words are little more than just words. And when I hear people proudly tell me of all those years they lived together, I feel a burst of wholehearted admiration for them.

The day I went to their home to discuss his wife’s funeral, I couldn’t wrestle away the thought of how lonely he was going to be. Elderly British men have it particularly rough when their wives die. Not only are there all the understandable emotional sorrows, but most of them have never once set foot in a kitchen.
He was severely deaf and his hearing aid seemed to be more of a nuisance than helpful. And sadly, he was at that awful beginning of ageing dementia, where everyone but you is becoming concerned about your welfare.

I was so grateful that his daughter was there. She was making all the arrangements for her mother. She kindly shared with me many personal private thoughts about her parents. I wanted to speak with her father as well, but without exaggerating, I literally had to forcefully yell in order for him to hear me. And even then I wasn’t assured that he had fully comprehended what I said.

But he did say something that stuck with me for all this time. He told me of when he and his wife first met and where they would rendezvous-beneath the large clock at Clapham Junction Railway Station. He really wasn’t able to share much more with me. But it was this thought that remained at the forefront of his mind.

There’s an old British maxim that says when you die and go to Heaven, you will have to change at Clapham Junction. And as I left them that day, I couldn’t escape the image of this young couple; she was 17, he was 18, meeting time after time at Clapham Junction, Europe's busiest railway station.

If you’re in your late seventy’s and reading this, you will easily be able to recreate the image. If you’re fifty and below, it would be difficult. You have to remember that during that time, the station would have been shrouded in a miasma of smog and smoke. The endless arrival and departure of trains, not the ‘quiet’ ones we enjoy today, but the powerful steel horses, snorting like an enraged team of black stallions, and belching bellowing black plumes of soot and ash into the air, amid the ever-oppressive drone of the tannoy, calling out such exotic destinations as Crossbush, Liphook and Brighton ("well, Hove actually.")
It all creates such a powerful juxtaposition-young lovers, oblivious to the raging world around them. And raging it indeed was. The great depression would have been in full swing when they first met. And Europe was in turmoil. Our government was grasping at any able-bodied young male, preparing to drag them into the caldron of war.

Each passing of a life leaves a passport to the future in its children and grandchildren. And it is those sweet memories that reside within us and embrace us years later when we begin to prepare for our own next journey. But it’s a powerful force when someone’s passing gently touches another.

Yesterday, when we committed your soul to God’s care, you gave me something that I will draw upon from time to time, whenever I need to momentarily escape from the belching, snorting, steel horses around me.

I’ll think of those two young lovers, back together again, meeting beneath the clock at Clapham Junction.
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