On moving to a whole other country.

And now for the blog post. 

In most transition times, or times of big news, there is a communication ripple. First people close to you hear, then others and then wider groups you are part of.  Then there is the wider catch all that previously might have been the Christmas Card list (if you were into such things) and now appears to be your facebook contact list, or email contact list or however you collate the info of people you love and care about but don’t see on a daily or weekly basis and therefore haven’t heard your big news. Those people you’d love to be in direct communication with but life has a habit of getting in the way.  

Cue a revisit to the chat me and the husbandface had when we were just housemates on the day my first nephew was born. We drove to church together and he questioned why my brother hadn’t sent a blanket text out as soon as his child was born. I explained the etiquette of news sharing, personal is best for whoever you can, family are first in these situations etc etc. He then said randomly, ‘so if we got married you’d be the one to know this stuff’. 9 months later we did happen to get married and yes I do know this stuff. 

It should be said though, pandemic life is a bit of a curve ball and we haven’t been able to have this chat in person with as many people as we would have liked, so if you are hearing this in this fairly impersonal way and would have liked the actual conversation/personal direct communication, I am sorry. 

Ok, onto the news. 

We are about to move to Northern Ireland for a year or so. 

There’s a sentence I would never have thought we’d be saying. We sat down a while ago, drank a bottle of wine, watched the final episode of Mare of Easttown and, as I watched small town messy family life sharing pain and joy together, I turned to the aforementioned husbandface and said I think we might need to go and live near your sister for a bit and share our messy life with her, hang out, pour out some love and maybe be able to give her capacity in her running of her brilliant archery business, looking after her son and caring for her and husbandface’s Daddy. We laughed and then couldn’t get the idea of our of head. We played with it. We realised we couldn’t answer any of the questions or concerns until we’d actually gone. The idea didn’t go away. I looked around at our abundant life and wondered what it would be like to go from that place of abundance rather than cling to it. We felt the urge to love and be loved in the same place as family. We talked about it with the boys and they were up for the plan. We held the idea close until the summer and then as we drove home from our amazing holiday over there made the decision to buy a house.

We plan on renting our Brighton base, we’ve bought a house in the lovely village of Dundrum (subject to all the legal stuff going through ok) about a 6 minute drive from our family. We’ll then hopefully be able to rent it out as a holiday home when we come back and have a base to stay in when we go over there.  All things being well we will be out of our house by the end of October. It’s all starting to feel a little bit real now. That’s really only 6 weeks away. I quit my job last week and will finish on the 31st October.

We’re planning on throwing all of life up in the air when we get there and finding new rhythms and routines to feed our souls. We’ll be unschooling the boys, I’ll have a couple of days to write and finish my spiritual direction course and the husbandface will carry on his remote working around that. We’ll hang out with family, have our boys doted on, help out with the business and generally share more of our lives together. We’ll be living near the Mourne Mountains (insanely pretty) and on the doorstep of a beautiful nature reserve. I think we’ll be ok for amazing walks and beautiful scenery to fill our souls.

I am excited, scared, intrigued, hopeful, delighted, in awe, overwhelmed and more. I plan on watching the West Wing through the autumn as I have done in lots of major transition times (literally I watched about 10 episodes in labour with Son1 and the whole thing during those long breastfeeding nights with both the boys). I plan on leaning into the God who doesn’t change and who lives over in Northern Ireland and has good stuff for us to be involved with and people to love and be loved by. I plan on writing and breathing and delighting in my course. I plan on helping my boys, I plan on learning what it is to live in a different culture and land. 

So, there you go. That’s our news. Come visit. It’s a wonderful place. I’ll leave you with a couple of pictures of the beach near our village to make you jealous of where we’ll be living, a poem from Ted Loder which sums it all up so well and Red from Shawshank whose excitement at a new adventure I echo right now.

I Tremble on the Edge of a Maybe

O God of beginnings, as your Spirit moved over the face of the deep on the first day of creation, move with me now in my time of beginnings,

when the air is rain-washed, the bloom is on the bush, and the world seems fresh and full of possibilities, and I feel ready and full.

I tremble on the edge of a maybe, a first time, a new thing, a tentative start, and the wonder of it lays its finger on my lips.

In silence, Lord, I share now my eagerness and my uneasiness about this something different I would be or do;

and I listen for your leading to help me separate the light from the darkness in the change I seek to shape and which is shaping me. (Ted Loder)

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Books I’ve read May-September 2021

Apparently it takes a while to create a new website, so until we do that I’ll be posting here as normal… It’s time for another round up of books I’ve read in the last few months. There are some treats here. Enjoy!

The Forgiveness Project- Marina Cantacuzino

A collection of stories where forgiveness has played a crucial role in lives, either as the one forgiving or the recipient. A book utterly needed in our age, a book which explores the complexity of forgiveness, which highlights the care to be taken but also the astounding changes forgiveness can bring internally and externally. One to ponder on, meditate on and let your brain wrap around the depth and power of forgiveness. 

Grown Ups- Marian Keyes

I really enjoyed this sprawling trawl through a Irish family, the interconnection of their lives, the choices they make and the humanness of them all. A pretty fun read. 

How to train a Dragon- Cressida Cowell

I read the whole series to Son2 over about 2 months. I started loving them about 5 books in when she really got into her writing groove. The first few books are a bit similar and fairly irritating in the constant use of fat as a descriptor, and don’t even get me started on ‘Big Boobied Bertha…’ Thankfully Cressida seems to figure out this is pretty irritating and drops most of the annoying content and settles into a fantastic quest of love, sacrifice, friendship and what it really means to be a hero. 

The Vanishing Half- Brit Bennett

Really interesting book about twins from a town inhabited by light skinned African Americans. They both leave town together but part ways when one of them sees she can pass as white and heads off to live life as a white woman. It’s a fascinating exploration of race, of identity and what happens when the truth comes out to the next generation. Really recommend. 

The Three of us- Ruth Jones

I can’t remember much about this, other than it’s a book that follows three friends over their lives, through the things that undo them and challenge their friendship. Pretty good easy read. 

On Looking- Alexandra Horowitz 

Husbandface bought this for me a year or so ago on my birthday and I’ve only just got around to reading it. It’s a really interesting book documenting walks the author takes with various people in her local area, each of them help her see the familiar in a totally different way and change the way she thinks when walking and looking at the world around her. I remember wanting to look deeper as I walked as a result of reading this. 

Wild- Kristin Hannah

This beautiful novel about the connection between a lost girl found after years living in the woods and the psychiatrist who helps her had me in many tears. A lovely story of hope in the darkest of circumstances. 

The Preaching Life- Barbara Brown Taylor

A collection of essays and sermons from Barbara, really fun to read. I loved her gently profound wisdom. 

Days of Wonder- Keith Stuart

A novel about a girl and her father and their relationship as she lives with a fairly debilitating illness and he learns how to give her independence and trust her in the midst of that. Pretty good. 

The Anthropocene Reviewed – John Green

This is my must read book of the year, I adore John Green and the youtube channel he runs with his brother Hank. They are committed to decreasing world suck and curate a community dedicated to doing that amongst celebrating nerds and the difference we can make to the world. I love this mans writings and his thoughts, I love his beautiful reflections on life, I love his hope, I love that I looked at the world in a different way after reading this book. I loved that I cried through many of these essays. I love that he wrote essays reviewing things on a 5 star rating, from Diet Dr Pepper to the song You’ll Never Walk Alone and a whole load of other things in-between. Really you must buy this book and enjoy the beautiful wonder for yourself. I give it 5 stars.

Home Stretch- Graham Norton

A pretty good novel about an accident shaping the life of a man and his family over the course of his life. I really liked this.

Nothing But Blue Sky – Kathleen MacMahon

A beautifully written book about a man reflecting on life after the death of his wife. Contains a whole load of ponderings on what it is to be human and to love. Wonderfully written as well. 

The Truants- Kate Weinberg

Billed as similar to The Secret History this novel follows a student caught in the spell of a tutor at her university and the compelling pull to go against the norms and accepted routes of the social conventions around them. Pretty good but not quite as good as The Secret History… 

Thin Places- Kerri ni Dochartaigh

A memoir of Kerri’s life from the trauma of growing up in Derry/Daire/Londonderry to her working out how to live with that trauma, with a particular emphasis on how nature has put her back together. A beautiful read and a really important read in adding to the understanding of what it is to grow up in the divided world of Northern Ireland. 

Let Your Life Speak- Parker Palmer

I adored this short book reflecting on vocation and living out of who we are. I loved the questions he explores and the sense of freedom and love that comes out of the inner journey. Often the inner journey can be dismissed as distracting us from love, rather than seeing it as the essential path to being able to love each other freely. The question posed which stayed with me from the book was ‘Whose are you?’. It’s a question that turns over and over in my mind. Whose am I and am I living out of that reality? Really worth a read. 

The Dutch House- Ann Patchett

A beautiful novel about a brother and sister and the events surrounding the house they grew up in. One of those really satisfying reads, following them over the course of their lives and seeing how they were shaped by the events of the past. 

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A change is gonna come…

Our spiral of symbols from the end of our second year on the course…

It seems only right that there should be a blogpost reflecting on the end of the second year of my Spiritual Direction course, and I think, to headline where this might be going, that it might also signal the start of me wrapping this blog up in some nice neat box and sticking it in a corner of the internet.  I (in actuality husbandface) want to create a new space on the internet which will reflect me, where I am right now in life and be a space to explain what I might be able to offer as a Spiritual Accompanier in others lives. 

This lovely blog will sit in a digital garden in a side room of that space for me to reference and if anyone is bored late at night they can read through some of the more enduring posts from it. I am deeply fond of the last 16 years of writing and of looking back at who I used to be, the articulation I spoke of some things with and some other things I wrote which I wouldn’t touch with a barge pole now. It’s an evolving journey of someone figuring out faith and life on the long walk home. 

I’m more interested now in how I can accompany others, how we can journey together. I feel finally free from the need to write thoughts to the world proving how interesting and articulate I am. I know I’m articulate and interesting and I would quite like to write from that space of security and freedom. 

Before blogging, way way back in the mists of time,  I stream-of-conscious wrote into my computer in the desperate desire to write my way into existence, I think I wrote to God, longing to be known, to know myself. Launching out on the blog was a helpful lesson in writing. I have loved writing here, trying to put things in words that I feel. I know having a space where I suspect people might stumble across my writing has made me write, it has honed my craft. 

I would like to see what comes out of me in a space where I don’t feel the need for validation from my writing. I would like to see what I write when I am just writing for the joy of writing or intentionally trying to shape a subject to be helpful for others. I would love to have a space for my poems, for my writing that is half way between a poem and prose and some of my other reflections on life. I would like to offer that space to whoever wants to take part in it. 

Offering Spiritual Direction from a camper van was part of the reason I started my course, I wanted to take people out in our beautiful world, in a third space, and give them tea, listen to them, notice, sense, feel and wonder in reflection back to them and be someone who offered space to hang out with God. I still want to do that, I’m less insistent that it be linked to the van but I like the idea of a faith in a van website. It combines some of my main loves and might be a bit of an intrigue for anyone to hook into. 

Hang on a minute, didn’t I just say this post was about reflecting on my course. Ah yes. I did. The thing that makes the above possible is the transformation that has happened within me this year. I have found a deeper freedom. I have found in a more tangible way that I am loved with a love that will not go out. A love which is the bedrock of my life, a love I have known for years and years and years but which this year I have come to realise dwells in me, is protected and safe and encompasses the whole of me.  I have welcomed back parts of me I’ve been rejecting for years, I have made peace with my inner critic, I feel more coherent and whole that I have ever felt in my life. 

Wow. Writing it out like that feels a little like tempting fate, I don’t imagine I’ll be skipping my way through life without a care in the world now BUT there has been insane transformation in my inner world over the last year and as a result I think I’m going to try writing in a different way, I’ll probably always list out books I’ve read, reflect on Advent and have a space to ponder in but I think it will be with a different emphasis and a different perspective and more importantly a different kind of peace, not so much concerned with what others think and more congruent with life. 

I also want to write about faith and life with God again and I think doing that within the context of spiritual direction provides a safe place for that. I have no interest in doctrinal shibboleths or tedious online arguments. The context of a place where people are welcomed to explore the landscape of their lives with God feels like a more healthy place to reflect on faith. I want to relate life to the earthy everyday reality of being found in the love of God and I want to be of use to people in their journey. 

Mainly I feel like my identity and security have been anchored in a deep place within, protected by love and held in love. And from that springboard I would like there to be new life. 

This might not happen tomorrow but you know, watch this space. Transformation is occurring… 

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Musing on 48 hours out of time..

Getting on a train again. Rucksack on my back. Just me. Just me. Sitting. Reading. Listening to music. Heading into what feels like a time vault. Time with friends who have known me the longest outside family. Who have lived and loved alongside me as we have journeyed through this life. Friends outside each other’s immediate context providing that perspective which helps so much.

Arriving. Eating amazing food together. The three of us in person again. Nothing has stopped this meeting of bliss. Complex arrangements have been made all round for us to step outside of the normal, to leave behind our everyday lives and to slip into another world for a while.

We talk, laugh, enjoy eating food our children would reject and moan about, we walk around pretty places, enjoying freedom of movement, enjoying sharing tales from our worlds. We sit in the sun. We gaze at each other and ask ‘how are you?’ We tell of our tiredness, our exhaustion, our aching bodies, our desires, our lives, our joys, our hopes and fears. We gaze at blue sky and green grass. We offer these things into the hands of the God who made us, walks with us, delights in us.

We hug one of us goodbye, back to her boys, knowing the future may offer us more of her and her more of us. For now we are grateful for the time given.

The two of us left ponder dinner, buy lovely food, drink wine, ask each other deep questions and remember again the joy of a world beyond the time of the normal, no others to make any demands on us.

We laugh and watch Friends, an apt choice for this foray back in time to our 20s when we didn’t have to move heaven and earth to hang out together.

Sleep is followed by a leisurely breakfast in the garden, a long walk in the sunshine ending up at a pub for lunch. We head back for naps and reading in the sunshine. We watch the Friends reunion, even more drawn back into our former lives, then munch chocolate in awe that we managed to have such a day together.

Slowly I feel the pull of reality, the relationships that define and shape my everyday. The small ones whose faces I miss against mine. The sad faces this morning on my phone wanting Mummy cuddles. The tinges of guilt over such a luxury of a couple of days getting to do whatever I want. The remembrance that I belong with my beautiful husband, with my gorgeous boys.

I stand sipping coffee on a train platform amazed at the novelty of this act in our pandemic world. I gaze at rusty bridges and am transported back to times in Eastern Europe in my 20s, to travelling on trains through the Polish countryside with students. I try to link the parts of me together, try to sew together the past and present. I sit and read and write and imagine my life in Brighton as the train rattles towards it, grateful for the sun, my friends, my family, my job, my location and the chance to slip out of it all for 48 hours.

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The One Church Brighton Psalm

Yesterday I talked on Psalm 146 and the idea of praise, the season of summer and how we can count leaves to bring us into places of praise and delicious wonder. (I borrowed a lot from the work of Mary Oliver as ever). At the end we wrote a Psalm together. A Psalm full of the stuff we are loving about God right now, the stuff that has made it through deconstruction, the stuff that we might be a little bit sure of some of the time. The stuff that keeps us part of this whole belonging to the Maker of the world thing.

Here it is in all it’s wonder. There might be lines in this that we feel less convinced of lots of the time but the thing I love about this Psalm is that it’s made up from us as a church community, we own this reality together, we believe for others when they can’t, we hope for others when they have lost all hope, we joyfully dance in the summer sun because these things hold us to this earth.

Enjoy!

Praise God!

Come, hear the goodness of God deep in your being. 

Hear the wonder of this world, made for our joy, deep in your body, 

God, Jesus, Spirit. 

beloved, source, maker, divine love that runs through our body mind and soul,

We love that you know where we are at the moment, 

We are reassured that you are with us. 

We thank you for your faithfulness from one generation to the next, 

God, we are in awe of how you help us feel whole in a society full of holes, 

how you are a firm foundation giving us steadfast, wide, deep vast love.

We thank you for the details of life, for cornflowers on the windowsill, for joyful people, 

Thank you for sunrise, that each day can bring new hope and a new adventure

Thank you for family, for being able to be back in the building together, 

We love how you are still there and still listening to all our questions. 

We love that there is so much more to you than we will ever be able to know or articulate, 

and that it is all love. 

Thank you for your kindness through the seasons of our lives

Thank you for being totally dependable, for being utterly and absolutely good, 

thank you that your heart is to do us good, 

in a world that seems to want to harm us we are so grateful for your overwhelming goodness. 

God, there is so much to thank you for:

Thank you for being able to find you through language, through the Bible.

Thank you for listening so closely, for your groundedness and the peace you give 

We love that you provide other people to hold us and be with us, 

We love walking through the rhythm of life with you 

Thank you for the creatures beneath our feet in the soil, on the leaves, the trees, bugs, birds, bees and the cycle of life, and the systems of nature

Thank you for the abundance of beauty all around, for fluffy animals, for the joyous chorus of the birds as they sing their song of praise.

We praise you for the sea, both it’s vast majesty and the gentle waves on our feet

We love that you see every part of us and still say, “you are enough”, even when we don’t feel it. 

Thank you for peace, joyful peace, calm but full of bright energy. It feels like home. 

Thank you for the people who know and love us, 

Thank you that you are a vast ocean of never ending care

We thank you God that you are gentle with us, and that you are constant in your love towards us.

We love that you are so much bigger than everything 

and yet still intimately interested in who we are. 

We love that you have created us as unique individuals 

with different interests, experiences, gifts and talents. 

God of abundance, of care, of love, 

God of beauty overwhelming and wonders

God of closeness and hope 

We love you

We are grateful 

We sing out our praise of You. 

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Books I’ve read Feb-May 2021…

It’s been a while, but then again time feels slippery and swirly whirly at the moment so I think that’s ok. Here are the books I’ve read over these last few months. 

Queenie- Candice Carty-Williams 

Loads of people said how much they had loved this and as I read it I wondered why, it wasn’t an easy read to begin with, being an observer to someone whose life is going through so much turmoil and trauma wasn’t all that fun. As I read on though I realised why everyone does love it… Thankfully there is some real honest wonderful redemption that goes on in the midst of it all. At times I though I was reading a modern day Bridget Jones and at times a therapy narrative. It was great, fun, fast and thoughtful. 

Beartown – Fredrick Backman

I really loved this novel as well. It’s a super intense tale of a small town ice hockey team. Following the lives of the players and their families as they circle around one dramatic event. Really tense, well written and thoughtful. 

Night Music- JoJo Moyes

A fairly average tale of a house inherited by a widow and her children and the odd relationship between her and a man who wanted it to be his. I didn’t really like any of the characters and especially was bored of reading about super aggressive gaslighting men.

Faith after Doubt- Brian McClaren. 

I found this a really helpful read in framing some of the stages or points of faith on the journey we make through this world. Our church holds a lot of people who are at some stage of deconstruction of faith. Who are on some kind of journey to finding God again through the pain of being burnt out in other churches or just finding their questions weren’t welcome or their certainties had changed. This is a really helpful book for anyone going through that or walking alongside others in those states. It gave me hope that there is life, joy and faith after deconstruction. He’s also really helpful in saying that these aren’t hierarchies and getting away from any sense of superiority people in stages beyond stage 1 and 2 might feel. I particularly loved the sense that we might need to be in different stages at different points of our lives and the clear call to faith working itself out in love that stage 4 dwells in. 

How the Bible Actually Works- Pete Enns. 

I love Pete Enns because he writes with humour and manages to explain complex stuff in really helpful ways. This is a book which helped me on the journey back to enjoying reading the Bible again. If you have ever found yourself with a ton of questions about the Bible and the old answers just don’t work anymore then grab anything Pete Enns has written and I think you’ll probably find some refreshing hope. 

The Trick To Time- Kit de Waal. 

A beautiful book about long lost love, baby loss and the honouring of story. A fairly slow wonderful read but if you’ve experienced baby loss and miscarriage I’d think about whether to read it. I think it honours beautifully babies who have been still born or miscarried but it might just be too raw to read depending on your story.

The Switch – Beth O’Leary

This is a lovely hopeful story. It follows the lives of a Grandmother and Granddaughter who trade lives, from a sleepy village in Yorkshire to London. It’s a warm hug of a book and I think that’s not a bad thing in this weird world of ours. One for a long afternoon with many cups of tea.

Mum and Dad- Joanna Trollope. 

Just don’t bother. Fairly annoying read which really had no redeeming characters in it at all. 

All the Lonely People- Mike Gayle. 

Like Beth O’Leary’s book this was another beautifully hopeful redemptive story about friendship and love. Wonderful to lose yourself in. 

The Colour of Water- James McBride. 

A memoir of James’ mother with his story interwoven around it. A fairly incredible story of a white mother raising 12 black children in America in the 50s. She comes across as an incredible tour de force and it’s a fascinating insight into their lives. Really interesting and powerful read. 

The Woman Who Stole My Life- Marian Keyes

The jury is still out on whether I loved this book but it was a great read. Following the life of someone who experienced Locked-in-Syndrome, wrote a self help book by accident out of that experience, lives in New York for a bit and experiences a whole load of family drama along the way. Pretty clever and funny as well.

The Book of Forgiving- Desmond Tutu and Mpho Tutu

I pretty much think everyone should read this book as it’s a insanely helpful journey to enabling forgiveness to take place. It takes us through the four stages of forgiveness with really helpful exercises and reflections. This book never minimises the trauma or the process of forgiveness but points to a deeper reality where we all have worth and dignity. It points to a world where forgiveness is possible and brings freedom to the victim rather than the pain of being stuck in a cycle of revenge. In a world where forgiveness isn’t talked about much this really helps to start the conversation and helped me move on from some past stuff that was still lurking. It manages to talk about forgiveness in a way that made it seem possible. Challenging and healing reading. 

The Frequency of Us- Keith Stuart

A really compelling story of man who thinks he’s lost his mind or memories after a bomb hit his back garden in the war. Slowly we follow his carer as she tries to piece together what is real and what isn’t from his back story. Really engaging. 

Lullaby Beach- Stella Duffy

Really interesting novel about several generations of women and the secrets they held coming out into the light. Utterly absorbing.

The Children of Castle Rock- Natasha Farrant

I got this out of the library for son1 but ended up sitting with it one afternoon. It’s a lovely tale of a girl getting sent to an out of the way boarding school in Scotland and the adventure she and her new friends have. It has such a modern Enid Blyton feel to it, a classic adventure tale set in sweeping wild landscapes with a dose of wonderful friendship thrown in. She writes of the landscape so vividly and wonderfully that I wanted to move to Scotland straight away.  Son1 is currently loving it as well. 

 Jungledrop- Abi Elphinstone

The next in the Unmapped Chronicles series which we adore, I’ve read this one twice to son2 in the last couple of months. It’s a wonderful tale of transformation, redemption and has some of my favourite ever lines about forgiveness and grace, all wrapped up in an epic quest. These books are full of hope, what it means to have good character and personal transformation (and without being ‘worthy’ or obvious about it). In a children’s market saturated by books of varied quality written by celebrity authors it’s brilliant to find the gems like this which speak real wisdom into our kids lives. I highly recommend.

Gift from the Sea- Anne Morrow Lindbergh

I sense this is a book I shall read and read again, I’ve already bought it for two of my friends. It contains her thoughts from a couple of weeks of retreating by the sea from her family, 5 kids and other commitments and although written in the 1950s it feels insanely contemporary. It’s all about the call to the contemplative life and how we find that as women in the midst of the many things we juggle and the distractions around us. It contains beautiful reflections on how to stay centred at our core, making space and time to be still and to find ourselves in the whirlwind of life. I’d say it was essential reading for any mother. I found it deeply refreshing for my soul and grateful for the profound wisdom on how to live a centred life.

She says things like this: “With a new awareness, both painful and humorous, I begin to understand why the saints were rarely married women. I am convinced it has nothing inherently to do, as I once supposed, with chastity or children. It has to do primarily with distractions. The bearing, rearing, feeding and educating of children; the running of a house with its thousand details; human relationships with their myriad pulls–woman’s normal occupations in general run counter to creative life, or contemplative life, or saintly life. The problem is not merely one of Woman and Career, Woman and the Home, Woman and Independence. It is more basically: how to remain whole in the midst of the distractions of life; how to remain balanced, no matter what centrifugal forces tend to pull one off center; how to remain strong, no matter what shocks come in at the periphery and tend to crack the hub of the wheel.”

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Stamping out some lies for Mental Health Awareness Week 2021…

Apparently it is Mental Health awareness week, a week where we get to remind each other that our Mental Health is important. Where we say YES it is vital to take care of ourselves, to recognise what is going on in our inner worlds, to stop and look around, to take note of how our environment and our circumstances are playing into how we think about and process what is going on in ourselves and the world around us. 

I’ve taken a few steps back in the last week or so to be still, to stop the work I can stop (it being harder to stop hanging out with my kids than doing the part of life I am paid to do). I’ve been doing the things that I know are abundantly good for my Mental Health. I have been reading, walking with friends, listening to loud music, sleeping, having time to stop and stare at the birds which are starting to finally feed from the bird feeder in our front garden. I’ve taken note of the world we live in, I’ve been reflecting with my Maker, I’ve been eating things that are less processed and I’ve been regularly sitting and reading things which are good for my soul, which remind me of the core of who I am in the midst of this life. 

I’ve recognised how much I’ve been reacting to the world around me from a place of exhaustion, reactive rather than thoughtful, first reaction rather than a slower, more even tempered, reaction. I notice how I’ve come to react out of insecurity rather than from the security of knowing who I am and knowing how loved I am. I can see how all of this has played into friendships, work life, home life, parenting, everywhere. 

I listened to a couple of online webinars this week on restoration and helping kids with their mental health and both times the message came away strong, we have to look after ourselves, we have to take care of ourselves if we are to have any hope of living well in this world. Our kids look to us in the way we look to air stewards when planes make funny noises, if they are fine, we go back to our books and tell ourselves it’s ok. My kids absorb my inner world. I need to take care of it and I long for them to see and notice that taking care of our inner worlds is vital for living well. 

But here’s the thing. 

I don’t know why but I still have a voice in my head which says I am selfish and self absorbed if I take care of myself. I still have the loud caveats in my mind which say, yes take care of yourself but remember to take care of others too. Guess which one of those statements stays in my mind when I hear those together. I’m always going to hear the second over the first. 

There is a thing that voice NEVER tells you, and here is when I feel anger coursing through my veins at the horrible lie which so many of us have believed and absorbed, this lie that taking care of yourself is foolish and self pitying and self centred. 

IT’S A LIE. 

The thing that no-one is saying LOUD and LONG is that taking care of yourself will naturally lead to love. Seriously, even writing that seems like a crazy thing to write. Surely I have to say, obviously there will be times when you can be too self absorbed etc etc blah blah blah. 

(and I think maybe there is a subtle grain of truth which gets distorted here, obviously I could live the rest of my life absorbed in myself and my woes. BUT THAT IS NOT ME TAKING CARE OF MYSELF… I am most self absorbed and self centred when I am not taking care of myself, when I numb my pain, when I beat myself up for not being loving enough, when I drown the call to silent retreat in any number of ‘worthy’ things, when I compare and judge others.) 

Here’s the TRUTH (take note future Kath, still my most avid reader) 

When I take care of myself, when I own my pain, when I walk in nature, when I sit and am still, when I stop chasing my worth and value in my likes and comments of adoration, when I am still enough to find myself through the comparisons and judgements, when I look at myself with the compassionate eyes of my Maker, when I am quieted and held by never stopping never failing never giving up love I become oh so delightfully and deliciously free. Free to love, free from my tangles to really see and hear the person in front of me, free to love reading to my small boy instead of wishing he would flipping go to bed already, free to cuddle and snuggle rather than sigh and scold. 

So, stupid voice, wherever you come from you can go back there. 

Looking after yourself results in freedom. And if you are of some kind of faith persuasion it works with God too. Focusing entirely on God’s love for me only ever leads to me becoming a more loving, more beautiful person. The rest flows from that source of unquenchable love. The rest takes care of itself. It is not self centred or self absorbed to place yourself on the bedrock of unfailing, overwhelming love and to see what wonderful, secure, appropriate, helpful, intentional love flows from that place. 

Freedom is the result of looking after yourself. 

Freedom to be yourself, freedom from insecurity, freedom to love without demands, freedom to have boundaries in your love of others, freedom to say YES and NO without fear, freedom to give space for others knowing you are taken care of and held. Freedom to be.

Freedom is the result of looking after yourself. 

Freedom to grin and dance and clap hands, exalt, play on and laugh because you are loved. 

Go on try it, take care of yourself, forget about the should and oughts, put the caveats in the bin and go find yourself in the flow of never stopping, never failing love. Dare to see what happens… 

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Easter Saturday thoughts…

It’s Easter Saturday and I find myself reading through my blog again and again, trying to trace the journey of me and Easter, trying to remember my way into this story. It hasn’t been a great week in my head, I have had a cold, I’ve been looking after a son with croup, husbandface is in one of his less great cycles in his mental health and we are in a global pandemic. I’m tired. I’m weary and for the first time this year I felt the weight of the black dog sitting in my head again. That it’s the first time this year is in itself is a wonderful thing to notice. This has been a hard hard winter but it’s also been one of freedom in my thoughts, freedom to know I am loved, freely and unconditionally. My Spiritual Direction course has been instrumental in helping me process and know and own this simple reality of my worth as beloved. I have felt like my inner world has been decluttered from a lot of the rubbish that goes on in it at times. It has been brilliant. This week does not deny the goodness of the last few months. This week does not mean I am back in another part of my journey and story, this week does not negate or wipe out the very real stuff that has been going on as I have moved forward in this awareness of how loved I am. This week has just been one of those weeks. 

I search through my head for triggers to this weighted blanket on my head, stopping me from knowing how loved I am.  I remember how this week I have read about the abuse carried out in the conservative church circles I was once part of. I remember that I have been reliving memories of people I knew in Durham at Uni, the conferences I went on, the times I heard this man preach, the ways the heavy shepherding culture affected me, the ways I saw it affect and damage friends, the horrid nature of a world where you were taught to be suspicious of others and look for those who were ‘sound’, the grimness of measuring people’s eternal destiny by the theological framework they subscribed to. It’s an exhausting journey, even as one who escaped relatively unscathed. I am deeply glad of having left much of that tribe behind me yet I’m still aware of the messages that swirl around my brain. I feel for all more deeply affected, I try and pray for hope and for clarity and for the love of Jesus to hold all those hurt by this situation.  I go back to a post I wrote last year after another abuse story from a different corner of that tribe hit. I long for people of gentle integrity to bring light and hope. 

And so I imagine this week’s darkness has come as a combination of the above and also the reality that this is again a transition week into a new way of being. Just as we get used to one way of living, the goal posts shift again and we have to relearn what we are allowed to do and who might want to do it with us. After months of being in a fair amount of solitude suddenly we are allowed to meet up with other people again, all of which begs the questions of who? Who might want to meet with us, does anyone want to? Do we have the energy within to take initiative, why are others meeting up without us? How can we enjoy knowing about other peoples friendships without jealously or competition? How can I take this huge wonder of knowing I am secure in love into my friendships and into this world where we can physically encounter others again? 

The questions are huge and although I had almost learnt to live without that rolling train of thought in my head. I am glad to notice it, to write it out, to see and be aware and remember again the source and safety of my love and remember how to reach out to others because of love rather than because I think I should be connected to everyone in the whole universe. My deep well of need to be loved is met in the bedrock reality of the Maker of this world singing love songs over me. I am loved, I am loved, I am loved. I smile. I can walk on, I can speak out resurrection hope tomorrow because I am loved, not because it proves anything about me, but because I am able to offer the wonder of this Jesus who loves and calls me by name to the people I have the privilege to serve and work for in our church (and their mum’s who seem to watch most of the services online as well). 

Big sigh. 

It hasn’t been a great week but I’m here, on Easter Saturday, pondering the hope and light of a man who stands in a garden saying my name. That hope nourishes me, draws me close, warms me and helps me trust that holding it out tomorrow morning will speak volumes to me and anyone else in need of a light to carry through this exhausting world. 

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Resurrection Eggs

A friend asked about our Resurrection Eggs on Instagram so here’s the file where I’ve put together what we do. We nicked the idea from countless others but the basic idea is we have some eggs into which go a picture, a bible passage, a reference to the story in the Jesus Story Book Bible and an activity to do. We then read out one each day which tells a different aspect of the Easter story. Generally I’m ok with the aspects we’ve used but today I realised I should have put in the woman anointing Jesus so I think I’ll put that in next year.

We bluetac the pictures and verses up in the house so that we can see them build up over the week before Easter. For full disclosure we don’t have an idylic thoughtful meaningful time as we read these out each morning. Mainly there are fights over who gets to open the egg, who gets to read, who gets to put the pictures up. The boys wander around and insert the word poo regularly into otherwise normal sentences and generally someone cries (just telling it like it is round here…).

BUT.

Each day I look up and am reminded of this story that wraps around us. Each day I am reminded of what our God is like, the God who came to be with us, who washes our feet, whom we expect much of and get disappointed by when our immediate issues are not sorted out by the king who comes on a donkey, the God who entered death and suffered horribly, the God who knows what it’s like to face the darkest loneliest night when your friends fall asleep and all is dark, the God who tore the curtain of separation and welcomes us into a life of love as beloved, the God who knows tears and scars and who in deepest mystery set us all free to live this life in a kingdom that values the brokenhearted, which says love is the bedrock of reality and the God who offers deep inexplicable hope of the day creation itself can stop groaning and a new world will form with no more crying, mourning, pain or death. (what do you mean paragraphs need full stops…)

As much as I don’t understand much of this story and how it works, I cannot escape it. I do not want to forget it and I love the ways it holds me to this world. I don’t know how my boys will react to this story over the years, I am not in control of that, but I do know I want it to be the air they breathe whilst they are with us. I would love this never stopping, never failing, never giving up love to be their core, their bedrock, their security and safe place in this life and so we remember, we live in the midst of this story of love, bound in it, bringing our reality to it and being changed by it.

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On being extraordinarily kind to my soul

A good friend told me at the start of this week to make sure it was full of things that were extraordinarily kind to my soul. Which led me to a place where I wanted to write down all those things this week which have been kind to my soul.

Sitting drinking tea in my grey chair
Book in hand
Sun streaming through the windows

Noticing my feelings
Noticing what my body is doing
Noticing the places of tension
The anger, frustration
Noticing what brings peace.

Walking in the hills.
Sun on my face
Big rolling downs
Slopes full of sheep
That made me cry at
All the beauty in this world

Conversations with wonderful friends
Uninterrupted
Enjoying the presence of
Those who know me deep.

Lamenting. Noticing loss
Noticing the gentle touch of
Hope as disrupted narratives
Get altered and reformed
As the Other comes and breathes
On this pain.

Noticing the change
The empty quiet house
The swirl of emotions as I see
Less of my boys
Less of their wonder and more of their pain
Noticing the call to love
And love again.

Noticing my desire to go tender
To quieten the old authoritarian voice
And enter their world
Feel their pain and
Love them through
This fragile world

Being aware that I am loved
That the simple is all I need
I am loved
Held
Known
Seen.

Gazing at big crashing waves
stopping the tv that was bad for my soul
Enjoying fun tv
Enjoying the call of Mary Oliver
To sit and enjoy this beautiful world
To know I don’t have to be good
To love this soft animal of my body

Napping. Reading. Holding in this space.
Singing loud in the car
Grinning big at the sky
More tea, more reading, more sitting still
More being loved.
More peace.

Smiling at my favourite and best
Laughing in the space time off supplies
Sitting in silence together.

All these things and more have brought kindness to my soul this week.

And you?

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