The First Flowers of Spring.

My daughter, husband and four children came to visit yesterday. They have to make a three hour journey from the south of Ireland.  This was their Christmas visit as life was too busy for us all to see each other then.  The children have past the baby and play school stage. No buggies or car seats to contend with. Now the grandchildren are approaching the teenage years. Long legs and reaching arms need room.  They are blooming like the flowers Shann reached me.  Mark’s people carrier Jeep has served the family well.

They all poured out of the vehicle, glad of the stretch. We shared hugs, so glad to see each other. Bags of presents weren’t forgotten in the back seat. I didn’t notice their visiting student from Spain at first. She is staying with them for six weeks to improve her English. A student exchange has been working between Ireland and Spain for many years. The Spanish like the tone of the English the Irish use.

I remembered back to when we would take our children on trips in our van to the beach, the playground or a forest. They poured out of the van and ran in every direction like calves released from the stall. Brendan would whistle and they would come back when it was time for home.

We gathered in the kitchen for lunch. The children were excited to be back at Granda’s house.

“I’m sorry they’re a bit battered and bruised,” Shann said. I wasn’t paying attention as I reached a bowl from the cupboard. There was clattering of delph and cutlery as the girls set the table.
“Did Mark have to stop and deal with the children?” I said thinking it was the children Shann was talking about.  I looked up.  She was referring to the bunch of flowers she had given me.
We all had a good laugh. I love this first bunch of spring flowers.

“Did you come across on the ferry?” I asked Mark. “Yes” he said. “The attendant informed me there was a special offer on this Sunday. If you buy a return ticket we can deal with any children who have misbehaved. We throw them overboard.” We burst out laughing again. This is Irish humour. I hope the Spanish girl didn’t mind.

On the sunny afternoon all the girls headed down to the shore. Hannah arranged a competition to see who could pick the most sea glass for granny.  That was good idea because it motivated them to search all over the place. They had the extra blessing of seeing different birds, a heron, gulls, oystercatchers, Brent geese and redshanks.

Back at the house the treasure was displayed and counted. Ten points for each blue glass, five for green and three for white. The winner was announced, cheered and rewarded. They had good fun. I have the added benefit of all that sea glass to work with.

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Meanwhile Mark, with some helpers loaded up bicycles, table and chairs he had stored with us since they moved house. He secured it to the top of the jeep. No worries with Mark. Too soon it was time to go. Mark sped off with a bigger load. I hope they got across on the ferry with no one or nothing going overboard.  A great day.

Forgiven Much, Loves Much.

 

Today I experienced a little of what it is like to be forgiven much and to love much.

Abraham returned to Scotland today.  I was leaving him to the ferry at the Port of Belfast.  Hannah warned me that 1000 cyclists were out somewhere in the Ards Peninsula today, Sunday.  To avoid hold ups or upsetting cyclists because I try to overtake them, I decided to take the ferry to Strangford.  After farewells to family at home, Abraham and I set off.

We boarded the nine forty five ferry from Portaferry to Strangford.  There were about eighteen cars on board.  The ticket master came to check my card.  One can buy a card for twenty journeys for half the price.  He said “Your journey have been paid for.”  I looked around to see if there was someone who knew me and kindly paid for my fare.  But no.  The ticket collector told me someone has paid for everyone on the ferry.  A gentleman had bought a card and would not be using it again.

Abraham and I looked at each other.  Whoa!  That was an unlooked for blessing.  It felt unusual to receive this kindness from a complete stranger.  Abraham commented that anyone on board who has to pay the full fare will benefit the most from this man’s generosity.

For a moment I felt the love and presence of God.  I thought this is what it feels like for someone to pay the price for something I was responsible for.  I was able to go free.  I experienced a little bit of what Jesus paid for on the cross when he died to forgive my sins, heal my diseases and give me  eternal life in heaven.  He paid the price for me to go free instead of having to suffer for my wrongdoings and go to hell.

Here is a reading from scripture which tells us about Jesus forgiveness.

“When one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, he went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table.
A woman in that town who lived a sinful life learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, so she came there with an alabaster jar of perfume.
As she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.
When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.”
Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to tell you.” “Tell me, teacher,” he said. “Two people owed money to a certain moneylender.
One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty.
Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he forgave the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?”
Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven.” “You have judged correctly,”
Jesus said. Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house.
You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair.
You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet.
You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet.
Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.””

I did not argue with the ticketmaster and say, “I don’t want to accept this man’s offer.  I insist on paying for my own passage.”  Perhaps one can feel as if one doesn’t deserve this kindness.  One has to learn to receive.  Sometimes we say something like that to Jesus when we don’t accept his sacrifice on the cross to pay for one’s sins and go free.  Let us be like the woman who washed Jesus feet.  She received Jesus forgiveness. Having been forgiven much let us love much.
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A Cruise Ship is Anchored Offshore

Portaferry was a busy port many years ago when fuel and goods were transported by ships.  It has a natural, sheltered harbour and had easy access to England across the Irish Sea. There were not the road networks we enjoy today, when many goods  are transported in lorries.  Many ships would have been docked at the port waiting to unload and then restock with local wheat or potatoes.

But the big ships do not visit any more.  There are some yachts parked in the Marina. The Portaferry Strangford ferry is the biggest vehicle in these parts.

I was pleasantly surprised one evening back in July.  Brendan and I had just returned from visiting our daughter and her husband in Scotland.  I had the pleasure of seeing a luxury liner enter the waters of Strangford Lough and put down anchor in the bay in front of our home.  No it was not the Queen Mary or the Queen Elizabeth.  It was the Hebridean Princess, a small ship but never the less a luxury one.   It caters for fifty people in sheer luxury, according to its website.  Out there on the lough the customers will be settling down to fine dining.  The ship was visiting Irish waters to let their customers see our green land.

It was Gala Week on the lough.  Many yachts with their colourful sails were messing about on the water.  I looked out and saw many yachts with their sails catching the evening wind.  Red, blue, white, small and tall sails.  In the middle of the flotilla the Hebridean Princess appears.

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I wanted to find some information about this ship.  Where did it come from? Was it from Scotland, maybe the Hebrides off Scotland. To my delight I discovered the vessel was originally a ferry that traveled between the Scotland mainland and a Scottish Island.  It had been bought in 1989 and was restructured to become a cruise ship.

MV Hebridean Princess is a cruise ship operated by Hebridean Island Cruises. She started life as the MacBrayne car ferry and Royal Mail Ship, initially RMS then MV Columba, based in Oban for the first 25 years of her life, carrying up to 600 passengers, and 50 cars, between the Scottish islands.

My son in law’s father was the manager of the Caledonian Mac Brayne fleet.  He was instrumental in putting into service ferries that would connect the Scottish Islands to the mainland.  He did a great job. I appreciate the service our local ferry provides, connecting Portaferry to Strangford.

The Caledonian MacBrayne fleet is the largest fleet of car and passenger ferries in the United Kingdom. With 30 units in operation, the company provides lifeline services to 22 islands off the west coast of Scotland, as well as operating routes across the River Clyde.

I was touched that I am connected to the history of the cruise ship that came to visit Strangford Lough that day.

This post is dedicated to Stuart.  Happy Birthday!

Sentimental Saturday. Left Behind.

Ten thousand visitors took to the country to Castle Ward, a National Trust property near where I live, on Easter Monday and Tuesday.  There were two ferries operating between Strangford and Portaferry to cope with the traffic.  I often wandered why there was an ice cream shop in Strangford.  Now I realise it is there to provide for the children who are waiting for the next ferry.  My own grandchildren had the extra delight of getting ice cream slushies as they waited for the ferry.  Delicious.

In an article in a Belfast newspaper there is a story about an one arm teddy bear that got left behind at Castle Ward.  Some little child would be missing his cuddly toy that night.  I hope teddy and child will be reunited.

Over the past week some of my own children and grandchildren came to visit to celebrate Easter and my fifth year anniversary free from cancer.  Bedrooms were overflowing with people, like the luggage hanging out of suitcases.  I had to make sure there was plenty of hot water for all the showers going.  Hair dryers were buzzing.
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The fridges were full, the range at full heat, logs were gathered in, plenty of supply of toilet roll and tissue, the boiler timed for heat and hot water, and the dishwasher was spinning. The kitchen was full of activity as meals were prepared and ate. For a few nights it was like the old days when we would gather around the fire with Brendan telling stories, then prayers and bedtime, for old and young.

In the mornings I heard voices from the bedrooms. Sisters were talking and laughing as they caught up with each other’s news. Three of them did a workout in the morning sun. Four children were tempted to take a swim in lough below. In the afternoon some collapsed on the lawn with heads together chatting and enjoying the warmth of the sun.

One of my girls had the flu when she returned.  With love, rest and prayer she recovered and headed off to Kenya for work on Tuesday.  Some of my grandchildren had tummy upsets and chills.  One of them went to the doctor.  He could find no infection.  Praise The Lord it was a demonstration of God healing her.  She had a smile on her face when she returned.  Mum and child had no need to worry.  Grand Da’s home is a place of refuge and healing from the storms of life.

All the grandchildren left today.  The house is silent.  The fridges are empty, only ashes in the fireplace, the dishwasher and hair dryers are quiet.  The bin is full of empty Easter egg packages and drink bottles. Bedcovers are tossled on empty beds.  Damp towels are left on the floors.

I had a relaxing bath and went to bed early trying to cope with the emotion of it all.  I awoke in the middle of the night to get a cup of tea.  Brendan joined me.  We are together again, just the two of us.
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A children’s I Pad, some Easter eggs and vases of colorful tulips are left behind.  On the floor a toy donkey was lying with its leg over his head.  Perhaps it was wiping away his tears at missing the children.  A toy bird lay on the table.  There was no more screaming laughter from Grand Da’s antics with the puppet bird.  A bunny rabbit sat forlorn with a toenail broken.  I can understand where the inspiration for Toy Story came from.

But I have lots of love and memories in our hearts.  And I have clean carpets and a new Hoover.  My daughter could see the dust.  The dust and the grandchildren have gone.  They will return.

I Miss the Ferry Today

Today in Northern Ireland the media is celebrating Red Nose Day.  Money is raised for charity by celebrities doing fun things.  There will be plenty of buzz on the radio and TV to distract people who are annoyed with others who go on strike.

It is also the day the Unions for Public Transport Workers, Teachers and Health Care Workers called a strike in protest for more pay.  Don’t we take for granted the services we enjoy, until they are not there and only then we appreciate the service they provide.

From the front of our home we look out on Strangford Lough.  We see the Strangford – Portaferry ferry cross over the channel ever fifteen minutes.  Today there is no sign of the boat.  I feel lonely and  bereft.  I miss the security of the ferry.  I love to see the boat cross, regular as clock work from seven thirty am till eleven pm.  When we are taking a trip into town we have to take the ferry.  We can leave the house a few minutes before the ferry is due to leave the port.  We get there on time.  No waiting around.

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We cross over on this ferry often.  When we were moving house here a few months ago, one of the workers on the ferry said to my husband, “You will soon own this ferry with all the money you are spending.”  My daughter stayed here a few weeks ago.  She said the ferry was company as she watched it lights as it moved to and fro across the lough. There were lights even though it is not Christmas.

There have been storms this week.  The ferry stills works even through gales, snow  and chilling winds.  Often the men’s hands and faces are blue from the cold, as they collect the fare.  The weather does not stop them being cheery and give a pleasant greeting. But today they are having a day off, even though they are taking unpaid leave. They deserve a reward for the service they provide.  Thank you.

The sea is calm, the sky is bright, no dark clouds or cold winds.  There is no activity beyond on the channel of Stranford Lough today. There is no chug chug from the diesel engines. Only the sound of birds shrilling in the warm sunlight. Today is one of only a few days that the ferry does not operate.  I am so thankful for this service.  God bless the workers today.

Please Call Me Mrs Rock The Boat

I have been known to be controversial in my life.  Who wouldn’t be, being the mother of fourteen children and being healed of cancer.

I tend to unsettle the settled, but comfort the uncomfortable.  I have confronted ministers, doctors and teachers in defence of my children or values I have.

I challenge people’s mindsets just by being alive.
I had an experience last night which demonstrated the reality of what I can do in situations, unwittingly.

As I look out my window I see the ferry pass to and fro across the channel between Portaferry and Strangford.  It keeps going in fair or stormy weather.  I appreciate the work the men do who keep it operating.

I was returning from visiting relatives last evening.  I was the first in the queue to catch the eight pm ferry from Strangford to Portaferry.  I arrived just as the ferry was docking.  My children and I looked out and noticed the the ferry boat was moving from side to side and not docking.  I wondered what was happening.  There was no strong wind blowing and the sea was calm.

I switched off my lights which were in full beam!   The boat docked.  The few cars  and passengers disembarked.  I turned on my engine and moved forward onto the rampart and was about to park my car.   Normally the drivers are waved to move forward to the front of the deck.  I was waved to a stop by an irrate attendant.

He waved his finger as he berrated me for stopping the ferry docking.  I didn’t understand.  He added your lights were in full beam and the driver could not see to dock the ferry.  “Did you not read the notice that drivers are to turn off their lights!”

I apologised profusely not knowing that I had just “rocked the boat.”  I must have caused some annoyance to the ferry workers.

I was laughing about my experience when I was reflecting this morning.

That was the second time recently someone waved his finger at me.

I am adjusting to the new environment in which we now live.  The narrow roads are popular with cyclists. I had a limited time to get to Belfast the other morning.  I was trying to overtake a bunch of cyclists that were strung out in front of me.  I took the opportunity to overtake  but couldn’t make it.  I probably frightened not only my passengers but all the cyclists.  I had the last cyclist wave his finger at me!

Thankfully I didn’t hear what the cyclists or ferry workers said about me.