The morning here starts with mist.

The morning here starts with mist
Covering the lake
Trees, hills, cows, shadows in the sky.

We stumble downstairs
Drink coffee out of beautiful mugs
Do puzzles, read books and wait for the dawn light.

We are joined by our friendswhoarefamily
Children bumbling around our feet.

Easy silence, easy conversation
Breakfast cooks, more coffee drunk
Outside the world waits

The morning here starts with mist
Encircling with closeness
Wrapping around us.

No view. No horizon
Yesterday we saw the lake,
Bright sunshine burned the intimate gloom away.

And so we wait.
Safely held in this immediate
Enjoying this present

The morning here starts with mist.

And you.

Like the encircling swirling white

Here

Holding

One day

Revealing.

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The one with the weekly roundup

It’s the weekly roundup, it’s the weekly round up, da da, da, da, it’s the weekly roundup.

If only you could hear the bright sunny tune in my head.

Where was I?

Ah yes. I haven’t done one of these for a few weeks. So. Without further ado. The week as it was in the land of Team Cunningham:

Mostly I think it’s been good. I’ve still been full of energy post retreat last week and generally full of sunshine and happy thoughts. I realised I’ve been quite despairing recently when I hung out with some friends on Tuesday night and they actually gasped in amazement that I was doing well this week. It’s a welcome relief to feel normal again, like I can take another step forward and to be able to enjoy the forest we are living in at the moment (no view on the horizon but a very interesting, pretty, complex, sometimes full of joy, sometimes dark and scary view in our immediate gaze).

Saturday saw me head off to London for the epic loveliness that is Anna and Sarah day (been praying together for 19 years, ain’t gonna stop anytime soon). We chatted, ate incredible cake and prayed. It was, as always, refreshing, good for the soul and really lovely to know the deep deep love of friends who are a safe place for each other. I left happy and very grateful.

We had the first of our series on ‘Things that are Killing us’ at church on Sunday, cheery eh? This week we explored Anxiety, the weeks to come we’ll be looking at the News, Consumerism, Busyness, Self Image and Pornography. A fairly wide spectrum of things that affect us all in different ways. The aim is to find something of the presence of God in the midst of our struggles, to find a more Jesus way of living and to know the peace of God as we try and walk God’s ways in the 21st Century.  It feels like a significant series and I’m hoping it will lead to deeper conversations, more awareness of God with us and transformation in our lives.

I had a fairly quiet week after Sunday, meetings were cancelled and I found myself walking outside more, having thoughts again and getting on with writing some of them down, which always helps me process what’s going on internally. I’m now in the somewhat ironic situation of loving being away from social media more and the free space in my head to get creative but then feeling the pull back to social media to share my blogposts and get others in on the conversation. Ah well. I want to use social media well but I’m really loving not staring at my phone all the time. I’m still seeking a healthy route through all of that and I think that’s ok. I’m a work in progress.

The boys had their final week of this half term. They’ve both done really well and are tired but not completely exhausted at this point. I think our duvet day last Friday helped us all reconnect, post my retreat, and aid recovery from colds. I sadly still have the last part of the ‘marriage wrecking cough’ (pity the poor husbandface as I hack away all night) but I think today it’s slowly heading out of the door.

Husbandface now officially only works 4 days a week. He now has Thursdays off to recover from the first half of the week and counselling first thing in the morning. It’s guilt free time off to sleep, rest and generally be a helpful safety valve. He then picks the boys up and cooks dinner, meaning I can work later or just enjoy time with the boys without having to think about food. It feels very freeing to have margins in life again and I’m glad of a new, more helpful rhythm to our weeks.

I’m loving writing more, loving the autumn sunshine, golden leaves and general October vibes all around. We are in Bristol this weekend with excellent friends and then have a night away from the boys on Monday night. It will be the first time we’ve been away from them together. They are very excited about being with their beloved Nana and Grandad (who may be slightly less excited but at least it’s only for 24 hours…) and we are so much looking forward to an afternoon to ourselves, a bed to ourselves and no-one shouting in our faces at 6 in the morning.

Now there’s a positive blog post for you.

And so, enjoy the sunshine, breathe deep and gaze into the blue skies (or snuggle up under a blanket with a cup of tea and listen to the sound of the rain soothing your soul).

I’m off to do likewise.

 

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A poem.

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I want to share other people’s writing here as well as my own so here’s a letter/poem that I read last week, which was up on the wall at Penhurst.

From Telihard de Chardin (nope I have no idea who he is either…)in a letter to his sister in 1915.

Above all, trust in the slow work of God,
We are, quite naturally,
impatient in everything to reach the end
without delay.
We should like to skip
the intermediate stages.
We are impatient of being
on the way to something unknown,
something new.
And yet it is the law of all progress
that it is made by passing through
some stages of instability-
And that it may take a very long time.

And so I think it is with you.
Your ideas mature gradually –
let them grow,
let them shape themselves,
without undue haste.
Don’t try and force them on,
as though you could be today
what time (that is to say, grace and
circumstances acting
on your own good will)
will make you tomorrow.

Only God could say what this new spirit
gradually forming within you will be.
Give our Lord the benefit of believing
that his hand is leading you,

and accept the anxiety of
feeling yourself in suspense and incomplete.

I love that phrase near the end, ‘Give our Lord the benefit of believing that his hand is leading you’. In all my churning thoughts about faith and how my understanding of things is changing I love that God is holding me, leading me and is bigger than mine or anyone else’s understanding of what it means to follow Jesus. I am in suspense and incomplete in many ways but in the midst of that I am held, led and cared for. The slow work of God is happening and it might be good for me to remember to slow down to taste it once in a while.

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Books I’ve read, the July-October edition.

For my birthday this year I got a whole load of books based on a list compiled from shouting out on Facebook for my friends to share their recommends of the year. It was a great list and a brilliant selection arrived on my doorstep in July. I’ve finally finished working my way through them so here you go:

How to Stop Time- Matt Haig. 

I love Matt Haig, I love his thoughts on living in this world and think there is much wisdom in how he approaches life. This is a great read, a love story over many generations, imagining a world where a few people live for a whole lot longer than the rest of us. We follow someone who hung out with Shakespeare and is now dealing with life in the 21st Century. It was a book that helped me grasp again that people back in history were still people, with the same emotions we experience today. It made me want to join the dots more and learn a bit more about how humans have grappled with living life over the centuries. I really enjoyed the read, even if it did make me think it was a bit of a younger brother, simpler version, of David Mitchell’s The Bone Clocks (which you should go and read right now if you haven’t already..)

Notes on a Nervous Planet- Matt Haig. 

Have I mentioned that I love this man? Anyways, this book is full of practical wisdom as to how to get off your phone, stop worrying about what everyone thinks around you and live life differently. I really liked this book but thought there was something missing all over it. Obviously as a God botherer I’m going to think that there was another few dots to connect us back to our Maker, the source of our love and worth in this world. I wish that something like this could be written with a few of those connections made to a stronger better love and a Spirit who has power to help us live a different way. Ah well. Putting that slight grumble aside it’s still a fantastic read and worth getting and giving to those around you.

My Name is Leon- Kit de Waal. 

Really good novel from the perspective of a mixed race foster kid growing up in the 80s. Heartbreaking. Definitely worth a read.

The End We Start From- Megan Hunter. 

Really sparsely written post-apocalyptic book, almost too sparse. I wanted slightly more detail and a friend who read it wanted more geographical accuracy. I think worth a read though because it was beautiful. Maybe borrow it from the library and see what you think.

Everything I Never Told You- Celeste Ng

Another good novel, themes of motherhood, identity, putting pressure on yourself and your kids to be something you or they aren’t. Pretty sad but a good read.

The Lido- Libby Page. 

I really loved this gentle story of how saving a Lido gives friends and family to an anxious young reporter new to London life. It’s a bit too everything can be lovely in the end but who cares, sometimes you need sunny optimistic books that are real about the hard stuff but offer light as well as shade.

Lucy Mangan – Bookworm

A beautiful journey through the books she loved as a child. I related to much of this book, and skipped through the ones I didn’t know so well. A lovely, funny read, especially if you are around my age or a bit older and can remember with great fondness Milly, Molly, Mandy or The Family From One End Street.  Also interesting seeing her grapple with trying to let her son discover a deep love of books without too much pressure from her.

Educated- Tara Westover. 

Oh my word. There aren’t enough superlatives to describe this one. It’s a heartbreaking memoir of a girl growing up to be a woman in the midst of a religious family living off the beaten track in the heartlands of America. It explores what it means to be educated and live differently from the assumed culture around you or in your family life. It’s a fairly traumatic read in places but one of the most beautifully written books I’ve ever read. I didn’t want it to end. Absolutely worth reading.

Dear Mrs Bird- AJ Pearce 

Set in World War 2 in the blitz with the protagonist working out how to respond better to those who write into the agony aunt column of the magazine she finds herself working for. Also explores themes of friendship and love in the midst of a city being bombed each night. Not amazing but pretty enjoyable.

Nobody Told Me- Hollie McNish. 

The book that *almost* made me regret not having a third child (almost being the key word there) It’s a document of Hollie’s first 3 years of motherhood with poems she wrote along the way. It’s an incredible read, one that had me shouting in agreement and sobbing all over again at the way the small people turn your life upside down and inside out. I read it during the time I realised that my world, which I had carefully crafted over the last 6 years of being a stay at home mum, was changing once more. It helped me grieve the loss of what I had come to love. I spent so many of those years wishing they would end and now I’m sad they have. This is a beautiful read and perfectly encapsulates the early years of small people so well. I think the whole wanting another baby again was a longing for the chance to do it better, or right or give it another go now I’m more used to it. Then I remembered the stuff I found so unbelievably hard about the early years and why we stopped at two. For me the smallest years are done and I am at peace with that, whilst being amused at my brain for getting nostalgic for a time I found quite so tricky. I guess there were good things in the midst of those sleepless nights after all.

Quiet- Susan Cain. 

Written in a totally US context this is a fantastic exploration of the importance of introverts in a world that values extroversion to a crazy degree. It kind of made me glad I didn’t grow up in America and it made me wish someone would translate this into a UK context. I wonder what the differences would be. It contained a fairly terrifying documentation of how the rise of the extrovert happened and the affects on business and society. It’s a good book to affirm you if you are an introvert and to make you think if you think being an extrovert is an ideal we all need to aim for. Most relevant felt the end chapter on raising introvert kids. Although, again, it is most suited for a US context it did remind me of the importance of being kind to my introvert boys and helping them through social situations rather than instantly expecting certain behaviours. I also felt very nurturing of my introvert tendencies and allowing myself to create healthy margins so I don’t get exhausted.

The Moth Snowstorm – Michael McCarthy

I have much more to say about this one, but in a different blog post. Michael’s point is that we need to feel the joy and wonder of the natural world in order to be motivated to care for it. (He reminded me of some Christian writers on joy and the need to feel the joy and wonder of God before we are in anyway motivated to live God’s ways). The book is a memoir of where he has tasted the wonder and joy of nature and the affects it had on him throughout his life. It’s also a beautiful tribute to the role his mother’s breakdown and eventual restoration to the family had on him and his brother. There are some heartbreaking chapters of the loss caused by humans ploughing on with industrialisation and I’m still in shock over the loss of sparrows from London. It’s a brilliant read and has inspired me to write more on my own relationship with the natural world over the years. (more to come soon.)

Right, I’m off to ask Facebook for more recommendations for my Christmas list…

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Life on retreat

IMG_1844One of my birthday presents this year was a night away on a retreat (I have excellent friends) and last week I finally got around to going to Penhurst Retreat Centre in deepest darkest East Sussex.

I went in need of some sleep, a morning without someone shouting at me from 6am to go down the ‘dairs and in need of remembering that there was indeed a God.

It was with some apprehension that I set out in Gracie last Wednesday morning, what if God didn’t show up? What was the set up like at the retreat place? What was I going to do for 24 hours on my own? Thankfully, as often happens, my fears were settled on arrival. As I opened the door I was greeted with a sign that said, ‘Welcome, Breathe, Be Still, You have arrived.’ I breathed in deep and pushed through my fears to embrace whatever was to come.

Penhurst is a lovely place, it has a fair few structured retreats throughout the year but also, if space allows, welcomes random visitors to come and go and use the house, gardens and prayer spaces as you like. I rocked up mid morning, was shown my room, told the times of meals and left to my own devices. I spent some time exploring the grounds, sitting enjoying the silence and a very beautiful hour lying under a tree in the sunshine, overwhelmed by the peace of the place and the slightly unnerving feeling that it seemed obvious that God was real, present and with me.

Lunchtime revealed that there were about 6 other people staying in the house that week (It’s a small place), I was uber grateful for amazing food that I didn’t have to cook or endure anyone whinging about the state of it in front of me. I was also grateful I have the ability to know that I didn’t want random conversation over food and so stayed pretty quiet and left swiftly. I think you can ask for food in your room if you want to be totally silent but I was fine with eating and disappearing. I shrugged off my desire for politeness and the introvert inside dragged me back to some space on my own.

After a nap, I made a cup of tea and headed out into the sunny Orchard behind the house.

I thought I was going on retreat to drag up the latest of my theological baggage to see whether I could get any closer to a nice neat worldview. I thought I might need to cry all day because of how hard life is right now. I thought lots of things.

As I wandered about my chat with God went a bit like this:

Me: So, I’m here (fumbles around in her brain, didn’t we have BIG things to deal with?) 

God: Look at that amazing tree, how beautiful are those leaves? Look this pretty acorn case and this tree with a hidden nook in it. Isn’t the sun amazingly warm on your face. (Big silence as I appreciate all these things) 

Me: Yeah but God what about… 

God: Wait, have you SEEN how shinny these apples are, so red and delightful. 

Me: Ok, I’m going to go and sit down in that summer house now. What is it that I’m doing here? 

God: Well, I think you know don’t you, lovely one? You’ve been numbing the pain of life for a while now, you might just need to stop scrolling on your phone so much and filling your head with all that information from other people and other sources, you know it doesn’t really help with living a present life attentive to my love and the people around you don’t you… 

Me: er. oh. yes. 

God: And please remember that I’m the fount of living water, the best stuff to drink from, the one who loves you most, are you really looking for the red ‘like’ button more than basking in how much I love you? 

Me: Um. Oh. I’m really sorry about that. Seems a bit daft when you look at it like that. 

God: Kath, I forgive you, I love you, look at this beautiful world, how green the grass is, how blue the sky, hear those birds sing, I look after this world and that’s nothing compared to how much I love you and am looking out for you. Remember dear heart, I love you, 

Oh and Kath, seriously, you aren’t as broken as you think you are. You’re tired and weary but also complete, whole, you can keep walking.  I love you so much. You know I’ve got you don’t you? You can feel it here can’t you? Here is your green pasture, lie in it, enjoy it, you are known, you are seen, you are adored by me. You will always want to lose yourself in others but I am your source. Drink deep from me. 

Me: Yeah, it seems odd that I’d ever rage against you when I’m sat in this place. (feels deep sense of peace and that everything might be ok after all, tries a few times to feel a bit angsty about theology or despairing about things with the lovely husbandface, gives up after it doesn’t work. Feels some more peace. Smiles. Laughs. Gazes at the sunny orchard in front of her and the shinny apples) 

 

 

The rest of my time was taken up with reading the excellent Quiet by Susan Cain, talking to God in the freest loveliest way I have for a very long time, gazing at pretty things, ducking out of odd conversations over dinner, being glad God has to love us all however weird or odd our views on life are, grinning with delight at being able to go to bed at 8pm, drawing, noticing, resting, soaking in the wonder of being oddly full of belief that God was real and loving remembering all over again that God has got me and isn’t going to let me go. Being away from my phone and the endless scrolling I’ve got into the habit of was so refreshing and I am trying hard to change my habits now I’m back home.

I’m still smiling a week on and I can see hope again. My phone is less in my hand, I’m trying different ways of accessing social media and slowly remembering each day who I belong to. In the midst of my angst at life the call remains. To love as I am loved.  This life with God can seem disarmingly simple at times…

Obviously my personality now wants to stamp on this joy and not write it down for fear it will disappear tomorrow, but even if it does it was still real, still meaningful and will return. I am enjoying these days of tasting hope, goodness, light and a weird unshakable feeling that someone has our back.

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Books that I have read recently pt 1 (May-July)

I haven’t written a round up of books I’ve read for a very long time. April was the last time I wrote my random thoughts on the books I read that month. It’s now October. So here we go. This one is the list from May- July. I’ll see what I can remember…

Caitlin Moran- Moranifesto. 

This woman makes me happy whenever I read her. She is a miracle worker with words. So many times I exclaimed YES! loudly when I read this. It’s a collection of her Times column and is humbling, thought provoking, encouraging and hilarious.

When Darkness Seems My Closest Friend- Mark Meynell. 

This is a brilliant book to read if you have ever struggled with depression, are doing so or know anyone who has. (so really everyone should read it). It’s written from a particular tribe of Christianity but that shouldn’t make any difference in appreciating the book. Mark is writing out his experience of life with the Black Dog and it’s a beautiful read. It’s not a manual, a how to deal with it, but a moving honest account of living in the dark cave of depression and what that is like for him. I wept through vast swathes of the book as it so much summed up times I have had and that the lovely husbandface has had. There was also the lovely surprise of my song of the year (The Rain Keeps Falling by Andrew Peterson) being the lynch pin around which the book turned and the even lovelier surprise of finding this blog mentioned at the end of the book as a helpful blog to read as companions in the dark. I’m so thankful for Mark’s honesty and gift of his story to the world.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine- Gail Honeyman

What reviewers might call a ‘joyously uplifting read’. Quite. It’s a lovely tale of someone who doesn’t quite fit in this world and her journey to becoming a bit more comfortable with who she is and how she can relate to others. I loved her so much. I think that’s the sign of a pretty good book…

Holding up the Universe- Jennifer Niven

Another great book, I loved reading this account of two teenagers working out how to live in the world. One the former fattest teen in the US and the other a boy who can’t remember the faces of the people he meets. A lovely read.

Together- Julie Cohen

One of those ‘what’s really going on under the surface in this relationship’ books (but not one of the abusive odd power dynamic thrillers that I read too many of last year). A page turner. Not all that memorable but not a waste of a read.

Vicky Beeching- Undivided. 

I think I consumed this in an afternoon. It was a beautiful read. It was so interesting reading about someone who grew up in English Christian circles at a very similar time to me. I could identify with many of Vicky’s experiences and the impact that had on her life and faith.  I ended up being oddly grateful that the church I went to didn’t emphasis things in the same way and that I survived the few no sex before marriage talks we had in our youth group with relatively little baggage. It’s also a hard read as most of the time I just wanted to give Vicky a big hug and be somehow magically able to protect her from the hideous things people have said to her over the years.  It was a book that made want to be more comfortable in my own skin, in my own style of dressing and being me in this world. Whatever your opinions are on Vicky’s coming out story this is a vital read to increase understanding, love and compassion for those around us. I’m astounded by her faith and love of God which pours out on every page of this book and I’d love to give her that hug one day and thank her for her gift of herself.  I felt so affirmed by this book and more in love with God. Another read of the year.

The Power- Naomi Alderman

Wow I’ve read some good books this year, what I’ve lacked in quantity I’ve made up for in quality… This novel which imagines a world where women become stronger physically than men is an incredible read. One to disturb and provoke many thoughts.

Little Fires Everywhere- Celeste Ng

Aside from wondering about the authors relationship with her mother and whether she needed some counselling, I really enjoyed this novel. Hard to sum up neatly but set in an American suburb with a some themes of family life,  questioning privilege and exploring motherhood in it. Worth a try.

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It’s blogging month… (There you go, I just invented a festival…)

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I’ve decided it’s blogging month, in my head anyway.

Why?

Well, I love writing, exploring ideas and processing my thoughts. I love this space to do that and experience connection with others as I do that. I love the space to try and write properly.

So I shall aim to post here once a day for a month. Because sometimes my soul just needs a kick in the right direction. It might be my random thoughts, pictures of the day or quotes I love. I miss this space as an outlet of my creativity and although Instagram is probably the new space to do these kind of things on, I like the opt in nature of blogs, if you want to read this you had to actually click on something, it didn’t just appear on your screen because one day you followed me and now can’t remember why or where the unfollow button is.

I’ve been pondering my relationship with social media and my phone (in that slightly boring 21st Century way that I think we should all do once or twice a year). I’m not sure what conclusions I’m coming to other than I want to relate to the world less through my phone. I’m aware that’s hard because my phone is my banking, my navigational source, my music player, my source of weather, a space to vaguely be aware of the news in the world, my source of information in general and of course, my source of connection with people beyond my immediate physical surroundings.

I don’t want to get rid of it, it’s a valuable tool and an excellent conduit for connection and friendship in this world.

I do want to stop stroking it so much.

I’ve noticed for a while now that I am scrolling for no reason, flipping from app to app in a vague meaningless search for something to fill my mind. Honestly, it’s a bit odd how much I’ve got into scrolling for no reason, convincing myself that the little red like button or the new notification is a replacement for connection or meaningful one on one communication.

I love the things my phone can do, I’ve just been thinking of how I can approach my phone differently. I want to hold off my immediate, yes I shall post that thing I’m doing right now, instinct. I want to embrace the moment as it is happening a little more and share when the day has settled. I’ve noticed I often post and then spend the next hour wondering who has looked at it, liked it and miss out on life in front of me. If I have (what I think are) interesting comments to make I’m trying to text them to actual people rather than just put them out there. I think the simple aim is to not spend my life staring at a screen for no reason. I’m reassessing my relationship with this tiny computer I carry around with me.

I know we all have a vast array of different approaches to our phones, I know some who only have a landline, some who have a very basic text and call phone, some who seem able not to stare at their smartphone all the time but still use it for life and some who seem fairly attached to it on all occasions.  We all have different limits of what is helpful for us at different stages and seasons of our lives.

For me in October 2018, I’ve been consciously trying to not look at my phone so much in the last few days and I’ve read more, prayed more and felt more present in the world than I have for a long time.  I want to write more, the irony being that to blog well I need to get off my phone more. To be creative I need to step away from the screen a bit more and stop numbing my head with random scrolling.

Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are off it for the time being and this time it feels different from the times I’ve tried cold turkey before. I think because I’m not actually going cold turkey completely. I’ll still be hanging around those places but I want to use these tools well, I love blogging and writing and I know others find it helpful to share in my meandering thoughts. And so I continue because of the advantages of this social media thing. We’ll see how it goes.

Over to you, do you have times away from the phone if you have one? Do you notice any improvement/changes in life when you do? What are the brilliant things about having a tiny computer you can carry around with you? What are the weird things?

 

 

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