On living through black dog weeks…

It’s been one of those dark head black dog kind of weeks. I haven’t had one for a while which is why I was surprised and somewhat annoyed when it came along. Right now there are shafts of light in my dark cave and I’m able to notice what’s going on and see the entrance again. This feels like a good time to sit and reflect about how I got in the cave and what is helping in the slow crawl out. As ever I’m writing this mainly to remember myself but in the hope it might help someone else or part of this might be useful I share it here.

Dear Kath.

You are probably here because of the intensity of the last few weeks. Pushing through whilst having a cold takes a toll on your body. It was right to push through when you did but it’s ok to notice the payback and go easy on yourself. You had a full few weeks and your body is catching up. You haven’t exercised much in this last week because of your cough. You are probably coming down from the endorphins swirling around over the last few weeks. Son2 has been particularly full on recently. It’s ok to be affected by that. It’s ok to notice you’ve absorbed lots of that in your body and soul. Being a container not a sponge is easier said than done and will probably take a lifetime to learn. It’s ok to feel this way. There is a lot in your head right now. It’s ok for this all to have affected you.

Notice what is going on. Be aware. Sometimes you just need to say. You are in the cave. It’s ok.

Cry. It’s ok.

Listen to music. Loud. Sing along. Fill your lungs. Go back to your default soothers. Martyn Joseph will always work, Snow Patrol’s Wildness album is working at the moment. Play the same songs over and over as they work their way deep in your soul. You are ok.

It’s not the end. It’s a place. You may be here a day, a week or a month. You are here. You are ok.

It’s ok to distract yourself for a bit. Numbing has it’s place. You aren’t the worst person because you numb the pain with your phone. It’s ok. Wait for the shafts of light and trust that you will have energy again to put the phone down when you can. You are ok.

Do some normal stuff. You aren’t a fake if you can smile and do joy at the same time as feeling like the world should end. Both feelings can coexist. Sometimes the doing the normal can bring you back out of the cave. You know that. It’s ok if it doesn’t.

Notice that your reactions might not be true. It might not be the end of your friendships, you might not be the ugliest person in the world. You might not be a horrible mother. You might just be doing ok. Maybe. Sneak those strong thoughts in the back door. The black dog will never notice. Maybe. Shhhh.

When the light shifts do some chipping away at the mountains to turn them back into mole hills. Only do this when the light shifts towards hope. It’s good to move the small when the weight has become disproportional to the reality. Examples. Thank you cards done. Glasses sorted. Haircut done. Now your head doesn’t need to contain the worry cycles about these things anymore. And they didn’t take that much time. Try and remember that. It’s ok if you can’t.

You are ok. You get things wrong. That’s ok. You are amazing. That’s ok too. Best of all you are loved. Held. Known. Seen. Always. And that’s more than ok.

 

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Revillaging.

My friend Adele has got me thinking again. Good friends have a habit of doing that. She is all about the term revillaging right now. In a similar vein to the need to rewild and get back to nature she’s sensing in us all a need to get back to the idea that we need a village around us. Well not just the idea but actual people.

Most often that metaphor is used for new mothers, to be honest I found it all a bit hard to stomach when people would tell me that it takes a village to raise a child and as a good friend said to me over coffee today, well where is the f***ing village then?

I slowly found my people through our NCT group, until the small ones went to school we met faithfully each week and a small part of the village was found. We also had a tiny church who felt like a significant part of the village until it closed down and now we are part of a bigger church where people are busy (including us) and it’s hard to maintain the structure to live village like with others. Mostly I hold out arms of love in passing on a Sunday morning and feel the ache of it not being enough.

It’s not just parents who need a village. I think it takes a village to live a flourishing life for us all. Revillaging is insanely appealing but for some reason I feel exhausted thinking about it in our world right now.

So here are my rambling questions and thoughts. Honestly I hope this can be the start of a conversation. I want some solidarity, answers and advice. I want to be challenged where my thinking has got a bit negative. I want a hug and to be told it’s going to be alright.

I love the concept of a village around me but at the moment I feel swamped by the idea of what that means. Frankly I would love an actual village to be in, one location, one set of people, one shared life. I feel the problem of location. I want one space and yet the supposed village I am part of extends across a lot of space and time. There are loads of connections with people. How do we know where to start? Where to invest relationship? Who to push towards? Most people I know seem uber busy, and for some reason our diary is super full but still I feel no nearer to having this village thing.

Maybe the problem is one of my expectations being too big, I want community/village life to look everydayish. I want to be able to walk to peoples houses, to share houses and gardens, to naturally overlap more so it feels less exhausting to push out into people’s lives, never quite sure if you are wanted or welcome.

I want this and yet I feel overwhelmed by how to create it or even if it’s realistic or actually just wanting people to reach out to me rather than me doing the leg work. I want to be part of change but I am tired and I want it to be simple.

Back in the summer I was in some angst about this whole thing and I came to the conclusion that lots of this is about showing up in places and trusting that time will do it’s work. I think that’s still true but I’m now wondering what the end result is? Will I ever be content with our level of community? Will I ever think it’s enough? I know my craving for connection seems endless and I have trouble looking at what I have and being grateful. I wonder how I can rest in what we have whilst being generous to those who seem to have more and deeper connections.

Maybe my materialistic consumer mindset is winning when it comes to relationships as well. Maybe I see community as a commodity rather than a flesh and blood reality in which I and you together are working on loving each other through this life.

I don’t know. All I have are some jumbled questions and some angst. I want to see what I have and be thankful. I want to lean into the village spaces of our local area/school/church and be open to the people in front of me. And yes I want and crave the deep connection stuff of being known and truely knowing. I want to know the Other who dwells in all these connections. I wonder if my deepest needs for connection are met in that Other and the dance which has existed before time. I wonder if I knew that more then I would be freer to rejoice in others connections and be content with the ones I have.

Over to you. What do you make of all this? Do you have a village, do you want a village? How do we get a village? How lonely are you? How can that be eased?

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Thoughts from a long walk…

I sit in an ancient oak-beamed Sussex pub (as always props to Adrian Plass for capturing Sussex joys so well). Before me a pint of beer sits on the table. Locals chat around me as I wait for the food menu, my impatient stomach longing for food to replace the energy I’ve extended today.  

I was dropped at Housedean Farm by my family about 6 hours ago. From there I set out, braced against the wind and rain to walk to Firle where a pub dinner and posh shed in someone’s back garden awaited for me for the night. 

It was a long walk. 12 miles later and my feet are complaining. My face, though, has that warm glow of being battered by high winds on top of the South Downs. 

Today and tomorrow I am walking some of the South Downs Way. Towards the end of the summer holidays I got itchy feet and as son2 settles into school life I wanted to mark the big change in our rhythms of life. I wanted time away from Lego and cuddles and shouty emotions poured out on me because I am safe. I wanted time to process. Time to remember and time to enjoy the arms of love provided by my Maker, my reason, my friend who calls me loved. 

We have reached the end of the preschool years. For seven years my daily life has been lived in the close immediate world of early years parenting. When son1 was born I felt very strongly that the metaphor for my life was of a forest glade, the horizon limited down to what I could see in front of me. Life was about the immediate. The here and now as I rocked my boy to sleep and shuffled through years of sleep deprivation. Eventually I found time to explore the forest a bit more but the views never quite returned in the same way. 

Oddly my children mostly sleep now. They are growing slowly less all consuming as the days and weeks go on. Life is getting better in many ways. We can do more than we used to and we are growing up as a family together. 

As I walk along the South Downs Way over these couple of days I’m processing the changes of these 7 years. I used to think I was looking forward to the end of these years so I could get life back. As I walked away from my gorgeous family today I had an overwhelming sense that I am not now suddenly going to get life back. Even more overwhelming was the feeling that I didn’t want to get my old life back. I am irreversibly different to the Kath of 7 years ago. I have been changed and altered in so many ways by the wonder of my two beautiful boys. By the persevering in the pain of love, by the walking through the long parched desert of early years parenting, by coming to terms with the reality that parts of me are now walking around without needing to be attached to me all the time (80% of the time still for the youngest but that’s still 20% for me to drink coffee and read books)  

We are 7 years into this parenting lark and for me the horizon is moving again. Walking along the top of the Downs reminds me that there is a world out here with wide open views. I’m feel like I’m on the edge of my forest gazing out at paths before me. As I look out I sense the small ones next to me, hand in hand looking out over the fields eager to explore with me, or their beloved Daddy or on their own. I wonder where the paths will take us. I wonder what life will look like when they set out to form their own paths. 

Whatever happens I know that always, within me, the forest glade will be there in our relationship. There will always need to be space for us to gaze at each other in the deep present, those moments might be less as the years go by but I always want to offer that space where we focus in and leave the wide open spaces for the safe quiet places, where we can listen to each other and remember how we love and are loved.

I want to listen to the old old story again of love that never lets go and pass that on to my boys.  I want to embrace the wonder of journeying through life with them and I want to do that from the deep places in me where I am secure in that love which never lets go. I know myself more after 7 years of parenting, I know what I need to sustain me, I know how to help my mental health, I know every now and again that I am so so loved. Out on the downs I felt the parent love of God, the pride of a parent gazing down at me and delighting in all I am. 

I know when I look at my boys in love my face changes. I was talking to a friend on Skype once when son2 was smaller, he came down from his nap, I gazed at him and plonked him on my lap to carry on the chat. My friend gasped in delight and said my whole face had changed when he came into the room. I was not aware of it at all but she could see the love I have for him written all over my being. 

 It seems so crazy to dare to believe that I am loved like that. So crazy to dare to enjoy that wonderful delighted love of my Parent who has loved and nurtured and held onto me throughout my life. And yet why wouldn’t the God of the universe love like that? Why would the One who never ever gave up on the creatures created despite their forgetfulness ever give up on me? The story of love is written across the skies and it is one I cannot escape. 

I don’t know what will happen in the next 7 years of my life. I’m still a Mother, I’m still a lover of two wonderful insane boys, I’m still Kath, the one who likes to overanalyse every thought, who forgets she is loved to the moon and back everyday by the Maker of the world, who loves hanging out with her favourite and best, the lovely husbandface, who deeply enjoys coffee, tea, conversations, friends, being outside, beaches, mountains, music, endorphin rushes, the Lake District, cuddles and more.

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I am still Kath who every now and again manages to remember not to compare and to be content with all I have been given. I am Kath who feels insecure most of the time and yet is told by many how lovely I am. I am Kath, full of wonder at how loved I am and growing in becoming slightly more secure in that love. Whatever the next few years hold I am still me, I don’t have to get back to some older version, I can walk on knowing that I am growing, changing and held by everlasting arms as I do so. 

The preschool years might be over, my new course in Spritual Direction might be starting, the husbandface might be going freelance but in all of the big changes the hands which have held us thus far will lead us on and lead us home. Having children has changed me forever. There is no going back, just walking on with hope to see what is out there beyond this forest. 

 

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Clinging to Summer…

I hold off Autumns chill, the dying death,
The golden, bright decay.
The all encompassing beauty of endings.

I hold it at a distance and raise my face to the September sun,
I soak in the warmth, the brilliant blue skies,
the trees ripe with full green leaves, bursting with fruit,
dancing long as the darkness circles, tightening the day.

I hold off the cosy evenings in,
warm blankets, candles,
fireside stories.

Not yet, not yet.

I cling to summer as it clings to all around
in this flourishing display of life,
in all the full crazy joy.

I dance with it, slow and present,
a celebration of all this energy,
a celebration of survival, of thriving wonder,
we have made it through the long summer days

I dance with this bursting fruitful world,
soaking, storing, secreting away all this energy
preparing for autumn’s glorious death and the silence of winter.

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Saying goodbye…

Bea

Today I went to the funeral of a 93 year old friend. We’d only known each other for the last year or so. She was a member of our church, housebound in the time I knew her. I hung out with her each Thursday lunchtime with a few others for a small group run in her home. Beryl was an incredible lady, a tour de force of a human being, a passionate woman, a deep lover of the overlooked and forgotten and I’m still trying to wrap my head around the many lessons I learnt from hanging out with her for an hour or so each week. I didn’t know her very well, I wish I had known her in her more exuberant younger years, I wish there had been more time to soak up her active nature into my soul.

She had lived a fascinating life and was very open in talking about her past, the children she’d had, the ups and downs, the heartache and the stretching situations she had lived in.  She never stopped being hopeful even in the midst of despairing over the state of the world and the injustices she saw all around her.  She was a walking example of someone who genuinely counted her blessings, I loved her delight in her electric blanket, the birds singing on her balcony and the ways she felt she was rich in this last season of life.

I’m employed for 16 hours a week to oversee pastoral care in our church, to facilitate small groups looking out for each other and ensure we are seeking to be more connected to each other as a church community. As soon as she found out about my job Beryl was on at me to improve the situation, to make sure we put words into action. She was utterly passionate about those who had no voice being given a voice, about the overlooked being seen and the vulnerable cared for. She couldn’t get out much in the last year of her life but she rang whoever she could to harangue them into caring about the burning situations on her heart. She lay awake trying to figure out how to make this world a better place.

I felt like life came into focus when I was sitting in her flat listening to her rage about the people who needed looking after, when I saw her putting action to words and doing what she could to show people she cared.  I’m not sure she ever really got just how much she was a massive part of the pastoral care which she so longed to see deepen in our community. She had a profound faith, simple, doubting like the rest of us but secure in the knowledge that she was loved by Jesus and that he loved everyone in this world. She struggled to understand the depression and mental illness that clings so tightly to many but enduringly prayed that these people would know breakthrough. I valued her prayers and concern for husbandface so much.

I loved hearing her stories of the people she would phone each day and week, the teenage lads she met with each week who kept on coming to see her, even when their official involvement in the good neighbour scheme they were part of came to an end. I loved her desire to go to a good party.  I’m going to miss sitting in her flat and remembering again the reality that God deeply cares for the people in this world, I’m going to miss the reminders each week that so many people are living on the margins of life and we need to care for each other. I am going to miss someone badgering me to care more for the people on the edges of our lives and community. I’m going to miss being reminded that sometimes all we need to do is to pick up the phone and talk to each other. I’m going to miss her optimism, the ways she got annoyed but never held a grudge and her passion for people.

I hope that I’ll learn from her legacy, I hope that I will get better in caring, in bringing action to my desire to care for people and I long, in someway, to live differently in honour of what she brought to my life and the lives of many.

So long Beryl, have fun ranting at God and enjoying his love as you hang out in eternity. See you soon.

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My first love…

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_d187It was love at first sight, the evening we drove up from London, two friends and I, escaping the noise and claustrophobia of summer in the city.

It was love at first sight as I drove into the twilight

Up the M25, M40, M6, turning off at the A66 towards Keswick and then the winding road down past Derwent Water, up the Borrowdale Valley and onto the Honister Pass.

The sky grew silent and darkened.

The sharp walls of the valley reaching for the sky, silenced me in wonder.

Random sheep scattered everywhere made us laugh nervously, their alien forms a stark contrast to the urban landscape we had left behind.

Huge boulders littered the slopes, I slowed down, feeling remote, cut off, in another world.

We rounded the corner, driving along the shores of Buttermere, all around fells lined the sky.

Fells that soon I would know all the names of, Fleetwith Pike, Haystacks, Seat, High Stile, Red Pike, Robinson, for now unknown, unexplored, unfamiliar yet aching to be known.

I could not stop staring.

It was love at first sight.

It is hard to put into words the affect this lake and it’s surrounding watching hills has on my subconscious. The first time I came to Buttermere I spent hours staring at the fells out of the youth hostel window. There is something insanely profound about gazing on something which hasn’t been built by humans, which has been around for 100s of years, which has seen humans come and go for generations and yet has stayed pretty much the same. Nature changes in slow seeping ways, not in the quick fixes we seem to enjoy as we hop from one project to the next. Nature takes its time. Rivers run and run and the landscape morphs around them. Glaciers retreat and leave their deposits, giant rocks, rolling landscapes and sheer escarpments.

The analogies to life with God spring almost too easily to my lips, the unchanging immutable nature of the Divine, the way the mountains surround and protect. The experiences of the people of God journeying through mountain country to Jerusalem to worship at the temple are echoed in these Fells. I join in with them as they draw their own spiritual analogies from the hills around them. “Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion, which cannot be shaken, but endures forever. As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the Lord surrounds his people, both now and forevermore.”

After the initial wonder of my first encounter with Buttermere, it became a place where I could not escape the reality which runs through my fingers so often in my life back home. Here became the place I longed to escape to. As the years went on I came back over and over again, almost addicted to this feeling of wonder and love. Desperate for more of these mountains who spoke so much to me of my Makers safe hand on my life.

Then I got married, had children and could no longer plan all time off work to be space where I drove the long road to my place of peace. Life altered, changed, I had to learn how to be me all over again. I didn’t want to bring my small ones into this space, I didn’t want them to have to compete with this love. I didn’t want their all encompassing nature to take me away from this love which I jealously clutched to my chest. I didn’t want divided attention, I didn’t want to have to try and share this place with people too small to understand that sometimes Mummy needed to not have demands in front of her face all the time and who didn’t understand how to stop and stare for hours. I didn’t want the resentment of these wonders to creep in, didn’t want them to disturb the peace without realising and for me to like them less because of it.

They slowly grew, I became less the star they orbit around. They are able to not be with me constantly and I let myself hope that one day my two loves could meet. Last year I gingerly drove my roads and felt the pull of wonder again. I introduced one of them to the slopes, the lake and then held my breath. I uttered a quick hello to my hills again and promised to return.

 

This year we lured the small ones up the mountain slopes, sugar helping their steps, a secret lake enticed them further up and I felt breezes of wonder hit their small brains. The sun shone and the luminous green hills lit up around us. We paddled in Bleaberry Tarn, in the shadow of Red Pike. We stumbled up and down mountain paths and ate ice cream. I felt the joy, I saw glimpses of it gripping them and let myself smile, holding loosely to the hope of them sharing my addiction to this place.

Buttermere will always be there for me, I know they must find their own loves, places and joys which sing the love song of their Maker to them. For now I rest content that the two deepest loves of my life can coexist, rest together and form new paths in the years to come.

My family met my first love.

It went well.

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20 years of friendship…

unadjustednonraw_thumb_c7f120 years ago

The start of ‘Relay’ training.

The start of a year out programme that was fairly impossible to explain to anyone, um, a year of discipleship, helping CU’s in universities, helping people learn about God, encouraging students, reading the Bible with people, drinking tea and being generally lovely to students in Chichester and Bognor Regis, getting to meet up with other people doing the same thing a few times in the year. Working with a ‘staff worker’. People either stared at me blankly or smiled in a vague encouraging way. Kath is going to do something for God. Sounds ok.

This was our first time together. Relay 1. The first of three training conferences.

I sat in talks.

I sang the words, ‘your majesty, I can but bow, I lay my all before you now’. I felt entirely me, that this thing, this encouraging people thing, was what I had been made to do. I felt alive. 

The first evening.

Sent into a room after a talk on integrity to be honest with a few others, to pray, to start a journey together of talking about how we were really, deep inside.

Anna and Sarah. Anna showed us pictures of her new nephew. Sarah had an actual proper mobile phone contract, the first person I knew to have Orange everyday 50, she used it to talk to her fiance, James, each night. I would be working with Sarah in the year, she in Portsmouth, me in Chichester. Anna would be in Exeter.

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Anna and Sarah. I have no idea what we talked about on that first night but from then the expectation was set. We met up on team days and conferences throughout the year, thrown together in a room late at night to pray. The weirdness of being the only people we knew who fully understood this strange program we were part of drew us together. The wonder of being able to be honest and call out to our God together bound us tight. My sisters.

The end of the year- Relay 3.

The final talk. Where would we be in 10 years time? Would we still be telling tales of God’s work in our lives? Would we still be in touch with anyone from this formative year?

We determined that we would carry on praying together.

We’d been through something. We needed each other’s understanding of this year to process and move forward. We needed each other’s tender gaze and the simple question ‘how are you?’ We needed each others understanding that we meant the answer to be much deeper than the ‘I’m fine’ automated response.

We said, we’ll do it, we’ll keep on showing up and giving our lives over to our Maker together.

And we did. Through weddings, moves to London, moves back home, starting new things, doing the same old thing, journalism courses, knowing the next step, not knowing anything, through tears and pain, through joys and wonder, through cancer, through the darkest days, through a funeral, through the forming of new lives, through miscarriage, through finding partners to walk this life with, through more weddings, through childbirth again and again and again, through job changes, sickness, through the plodding on, through the seasons of our lives, we stuck together.

To say I am thankful for these two amazing ladies and the life we have shared over the last 20 years is an understatement. I don’t know how I would have ridden the storms of life without them, I am honoured to have shared in riding some of their storms with them.

I cannot express the wonder of friendships over the years, of people who know me inside out and have seen me throughout the changing seasons of life. I love these two sisters of mine. I’m so glad to know them and to know that we have a few more years in us to finally get a photo of the three of us where we all look good.

Anna and Sarah, I never had sisters, until I met you. Here’s to the next 20 years of journeying through this crazy wonderful life with God thing.

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