What I’ve read: The August-October Edition

I think my reading mojo has disappeared somewhere in the busy nature of life in this autumn term. Thankfully as November rolls on I can feel my inner need to hibernate growing.  I’m putting down a marker for the books I’ve managed to get through in the last few months and hoping for more quiet reading moments as winter kicks in and my sofa becomes more and more appealing. 

Ordinary People- Diana Evans

This is a very very well written book, it follows the lives of two couples with young children and their lives within the landscape of London, or having left London. It’s a fascinating insight into the strains on marriage, racial identity and what love means in your late 30s. It’s a Good Book. All that said it felt all a bit too close to life here, it messed with my head, I absorbed too many of the characters issues within their own marriages and I had to mentally pull myself out of their lives and stop being grumpy with the lovely husbandface for things he hadn’t done. I guess that’s a sign of good writing but it should come with a bit of a health warning. It was a bit like Sally Rooney’s ‘Normal People’ but for people my age, and with better characters. I’ve no idea if I’m recommending it or not based on that description as I really didn’t like ‘Normal People’. Ah well. It’s a good book but not essential.

The Great Alone- Kristin Hannah

This follows the life of a family relocating to Alaska to give them a chance of doing life well despite the Dad’s PTSD and trauma from Vietnam. It doesn’t go all that well. It’s a beautiful, brutal read, I wasn’t that convinced, then became hooked, then wept loads, then sighed with joy. It’s big, vast and complicated, much like living in Alaska I imagine. Wonderful descriptions of life up there and a story to keep you guessing. I recommend.  

The book you wish your parents had read and your children will be glad you did- Philippa Perry

I loved this but also felt it came up short towards the end. I love her child centred approach, the acknowledgement of the valid feelings of your child, the sense of seeking to understand what’s going on with your child. I loved the freedom she gives to see things from your child’s point of view. The book is worth it alone for the first couple of chapters on owning your own past and how that affects your feelings towards your kids, and the hope of knowing that ruptures in relationship can be repaired, that there is a way forward through the times we get it wrong. I would have loved a chapter on siblings and how to help them with their understanding of each other and how to do this child centred approach when another child also needs our full attention at the same time. (If anyone knows of a good book along similar lines with that sibling stuff in it I’d love to know about it.)

Inspired- Rachel Held Evans

A great read, made all the more poignant by the horrible knowledge that there will be no more books from her. I loved her take on the Bible, her passion for the content and God, I loved her retelling of stories and I love her writing. Having read some Peter Enns earlier in the year I think I pretty much knew what I was getting but it was still refreshing to read. A book that added to the books this year which have helped me love the Bible more and want to read it more. 

Beast Quest- Adam Blade (can’t remember the title but it was something along the lines of Magma the bone cruncher) 

I read this because son1 is slowly working his way through every Beast Quest book ever written, we constantly trawl the libraries of Brighton and Hove to discover ones he hasn’t read. I’m astonished he can remember which ones he has and hasn’t because they all have the same awful title. I can kind of see why he likes them. They are trash for 7 year olds. Easy to read, basic plot, a beast, a quest, some heroes and a happy ending every time. They are SO badly written though. Thankfully I don’t have to read them out loud and I’m hoping the phase will pass soon. Meanwhile I have to try and hold my feelings in check (I’m not very good at that..) 

Cressida Cowell- Knock Three TImes (Wizards of Once series) 

Ahhhh. Such a joyous wonder to read this out loud to the boys, we’ve loved this new series of hers and I refused to let son1 skip ahead by himself so me and son2 could enjoy it at the same pace as him. She can write, her characters are interesting, her plots gripping and she’s funny. So different from the awful Beast Quest. But I guess we all need some good writing and some trash in our lives right? 

Walking Away -Simon Armitage

I read this because I went on a long walk on the South Down’s Way for a couple of days back at the end of September and was looking for inspiration. It’s his recounting of walking the South West Coast Path, seeing if he could survive on poetry readings and the goodwill of people along the way. It’s ok, ish. The trouble is I want my walking books now to have the redemptive power and wonder of The Salt Path, this just feels dull in comparison. There isn’t much personal redemption joy and I skipped through the book rather uninspired. Sorry Simon. 

When I lost you – Merylin Davies

My own personal Beast Quest style trash. A rambling cop story trying to work out whether the pathologist in baby loss cases was causing the wrong people to be convicted. Gripping enough but fairly forgettable.

The Confession- Jessie Burton

I like Jessie Burton books, she’s got good at the duel time frame vibe in a novel. This one follows someone in the present day searching for her mother, and then follows her mother in the past and we see how their lives take shape. Really engaging and a good read. 

The Power of Belonging – Will Van der Hart and Rob Waller 

I bought this at a Mind and Soul Foundation conference recently, I sensed the message of working through shame in leadership might just hit the spot. I wasn’t wrong. It’s a book which takes lots of the Brene Brown shame and vulnerability stuff and applies it to church leaders. I found it so helpful to start to think through my own shame around my work, the ways I retreat when I perceive myself to have failed and my strategies to avoid feeling embarrassed or found out. It helped me remember that life is best lived when I’m secure in my belonging to God and so able to work without the gripping panic of failure. When my core is at peace I can fail and know forgiveness and ways through rather than it being catastrophic. When I know I am beloved I can then be open about my weaknesses and live life without a fear of the ‘real me’ being found out.  Good reminders in an easy to read format. 

Walking back to Happiness- Penelope Swithinbank

I jumped at the chance get a free copy of this, I’m always happy to read anything in the walking to redemption genre. This one had the added promise of a God perspective on the redemptive power of nature and walking outside. Penelope and her husband Kim walked across France to try and regain a sense of who they were in their marriage after some very difficult years. I lapped it up in a couple of days. It’s a really gentle lovely book. Penelope recounts the steps that led them to the decision to walk, she talks beautifully about the journey and the people they stayed with and drops in what she’s learning and discovering about God’s call to love and what that means within her marriage and in wider life. I am always fascinated by other people and this was a lovely insight into their life together with really simple insights into how life with the Maker of the world affected her on a personal level. A warm nourishing hug of a read. I’m grateful to people who share their stories like this. It encourages me to keep on blogging and putting down what I’ve been learning through the everyday moments of life. There is so much value in gazing into someone else’s world, seeing how they have made sense of it and the ways God has been working in them.

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Rambling chat…

It’s Friday. I sit and write on a cold sunny November morning. The sunshine seems to have brought out the writer lady at the back of my brain and as always with the intention of closing the gap between theory and reality I type away. I am a writer. This means I write.

I used to write Friday roundups of our lives when our world felt pressurised and painful over the last three years. It was good to have a space to download the week and then move into the next. And yes it was good to know more people were aware of the pain and I felt less isolated and alone.
Life moves on. The husbandface is in a good place, he still lives with anxiety and ptsd effects lurk, but more in the window of tolerance and awareness. It’s a good place for him and us. I’m not in such a state of desperately wanting our struggles to be seen so we can feel less alone.

Time passes by, the earth rotates and we carry on living our days. We’re in the post preschool years. I work, he works, the boys jump all over us and still need constant snuggles to fill their love tanks. We listen to their needs, we talk to their teachers about what’s going on in their heads. This week son1 was appointed monitor of the visual timetable because it’s incorrectness at times was worrying him (that’s my boy, on oh so many levels…). Son2 needs his teacher to be aware of anything hurting him or troubling him and so we talk through his sore fingers/legs/ankles etc each morning. I’m grateful their teachers listen and care.

I go to work. I ponder the unseen and how to measure anything. I pray for the Spirit to be at the centre of our community life together as a church. I forget to pray. I listen, I plan, I talk, I dream.

I’m half way through my first term of my spiritual direction course. So far I have felt strongly the absence of God in my life, the weirdness of the last 7 years of having to weigh up my relationship with my Maker in many different ways than before, the ease in which I slip into numbing and distraction from the unseen reality which guides my footsteps in this world. Sitting in a room with 15 people each week, all of us intentionally talking about how to pay attention to the work of God in our lives and others lives has made me aware of the hole, the lack. In that absence I’ve sensed again the presence who has me. The longing has led me closer to the tangible sense of desiring God again and I am deeply grateful for the ache leading me to seek quenching for my thirst and satisfaction for my hunger.

I marvel at it being 3 years since we walked through the doors of our church, weary, grieving and hurting. I enjoy remembering those first few months, crying in every service at this new freer world we had found ourselves in. I remember the service when both boys fell asleep in our arms and we swayed to songs reminding us that when we see God we can find strength to face the day. I remember the touch of the Spirit in so many ways reminding us that our source and hope still had us, and held tight. I remember and I am grateful.

Last weekend husbandface’s sister and our nephew came to stay. We had lovely times together, at many points over the weekend she articulated good things about our world and encouraged us effusively. I bathed in the joy of someone seeing our lives, noticing our world and being verbally specifically encouraging. It was a shock how much I needed that and bore in me a much greater desire to encourage others and a greater awareness of the need for specific verbal encouragement in our lives. We all long to be seen and known and whilst it is incredible to belong to a God who sees and knows us so well I think one of the major ways of divine means of encouragement is each other. So do it. If you think something good about someone, tell them. If you notice, don’t assume they know you’ve noticed. Tell them. Let’s start an anti stupid English understated culture revolution and give some words of hope to each other.

I think that’s most of my rambling thoughts for now. Time to enjoy the sun some more, walk around and appreciate Autumns burning beauty. Potentially more rambling chat to follow next week.

How’s your world?

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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.

IMG_6733

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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