Life in Lockdown week 1-2

And so the sun sets on our second week of lockdown. These strange days compel me to write and record and take notice as the days blur into one and we relive the same routine over and over again. 

We’ve mainly ridden out the rollercoaster of these two weeks, which have felt long and short all at the same time. Ah time, that timey whimey thing which swirls and whirls and leaves us confused as how it’s half way through January and also why is January taking so long to get on with it?

We have settled into lockdown routine pt 2, a few tweaks here and there from last spring. Mostly for the good. Husbandface has his walk, I have my walk, he spends time with the boys first thing to attempt some school work, I take them for walks/watch Deadly 60 with them (we are fast amassing amazing facts about a whole load of animals and have come up with our own tv show of Non Deadly 60, featuring a cup of tea or a fluffy teddy…). We amble through the mornings depending on the weather and mainly I tidy things around the boys whilst they do lego or drawing or piano playing or endless games. I am good at tidying, they create constant mess and I like the soothing nature of putting things back where they came from, I like the slow time to do it, the sense of the illusion of control it gives me. 

The afternoons hold audio books, the sacred wonder of quiet time where I get to sleep and they listen. The Green Ember series has been a joy for them in these last two weeks. Then it’s film afternoon because, well, it’s winter, why not? Somedays we go into the garden after to get the screen time wiggles out, sometimes we just fight until dinner time. Then it’s bedtime and endless bargaining of how many chapters can be read before the youngest will concede it’s time for sleep. He’s regressed in his confidence and each night I sit in our spare room so he knows someone is near and can drift off to sleep. I don’t mind. I sit with the eldest, both of us with heads in books, both of us drifting into other worlds and times to escape these days. 

An hour or so of TV with the husbandface follows. We give Schitts Creek a go so we can watch something other than Bones. We cry through ‘This is Us’ every Thursday night and we occasionally ponder staying up late enough to watch a film. Most nights tiredness gets us and we stumble to bed soon after 9 to listen to podcasts and fall asleep waiting for 5.30 to hit and for the youngest to wake up with his questions of ‘what will we do today?’ I refer him to the above and we go downstairs to read books and I drink coffee, walk and live this day again. 

Food marks the changes of the days, more sugar at weekends, fudge made and distributed to friends in the local area, blondies put in the oven to delight us all, different breakfasts pronounce it’s Saturday. Sunday has to be different because it’s church in the morning and I run an after church zoom catch up session. We all struggle with the change in routine but also like it because something at least is different. 

During the day I fit in some hours to work, to walk with people, to plan and talk to my colleagues, I was furloughed for half my hours this week and am delighting in the guilt being taken off my shoulders, grateful not to have to worry about where to fit in the rest of my work. My body is grateful for slow afternoons to read and reflect. My body is not well, I am relearning good breathing, my back aches and aches and I suspect it’s stress and tension and book an appointment with an Osteopath to see what magic they might be able to work. 

I have read, memoirs seem to be my book of choice at the moment, I loved Dara McNaulty’s excellent Nature diary and ache for the Mourne Mountains and our Irish family. It’s been far too long since we went over there. I plan trips in my head for the summer, surely we can make it over there this summer? I read Wild Silence, the follow up to The Salt Path, I search houses in Cornwall aching for different surroundings and then I walk our neighbourhood and remember again all the people we love in these streets and remember that we are home here, rooted. I remember we have a National Park two minutes walk from our doorstep. I remember we live in nature. We are ok here and now. 

I notice shoots, I tell husbandface about them again and again until he mocks my repetitions. I tell him because I need to tell myself. Spring is coming. Hope is built into this world as the seasons change and turn. 

I show up to my Spiritual Direction course each Wednesday night delighted by the chance to see different people, to interact beyond Brighton, beyond our world through the wonders of a screen. I fight tiredness. I try to stay aware, in the room and I taste the touch of God reminding me that I am loved, held, known, seen. 

I notice the joys, the combination of tea, clementine and fudge on my tastebuds. The murmuration of starlings which swirl around our hills. The insanely wonderful frosty weekend we had last week which brought joy and ease to getting the boys out of the house. I soak in the cuddles I am attacked with each moment of the day. 

I notice the sadness in my boys, the unsettled moods, the angst, the body of the eldest which aches in strange places and bears the mark of anxiety in his days. I notice the frustration, the desire to see friends, the huge emotions which take over them. I hug them close, I rage at them and then we cuddle hard to repair relationship, all of us confused at the storms our emotions bring. I gaze at their faces, whilst trying to cope with this love in me which is desperate to protect and provide safety for them. I wonder at the fierceness of this love. I wonder at how brilliant and how brutal this parenting thing is. 

I listen to music, I try to soothe my soul. I breathe deep from my stomach and not from my chest. I stop scrolling through news, I take a step back, I make the most of the moments I want to reach out to friends and I breathe through the moments I want to hide until all this is over. I notice the desire to compare, to feel bad about what we are ‘achieving’. I wait until it settles down and keep on walking through the days. 

It’s Friday. Beer is in the fridge, takeout will be ordered soon. It is Friday. The weeks roll on. The days go by and I desire to stay in the place of awareness. Aware of the joys, aware of my huge feelings, aware of the ups and downs, aware. 

How’s it for you, in your boat, in your part of the storm? 

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In which I notice some stuff about my Spiritual Direction course…

I love how this tree is supported by another tree. A fairly obvious metaphor of our life together but I like it.

Last night I returned to husbandface’s shed at 6pm and started another term of spiritual direction training. I love this group of people who are journeying together through these three years of starting to learn the art of providing space for people to encounter God. I love how the simple magic of people showing up, being vulnerable and open in a atmosphere of love and acceptance creates deep love for each other. Maybe it’s not magic, maybe it’s something to do with Spirit and this God who weaves around us as we talk and listen. Anyway I wrote this to honour those people and our times together:

We used to rock up in a room, weaving through the dark streets of London, dodging commuters, fighting against the flow of people going home. We used to grab food as we walked, Leon, Waitrose, Chipotle, Marks and Spencer sandwiches, one person always brought food from home. We used to walk up the narrow street to the big brown wooden door, knock loud and be let in from the cold, make tea, catch up and talk about how our days had been. We used to queue upstairs for the loo, quietly browse the library, find a quiet spot before deep reflection. We used to sit in a circle, physical presence, finding the same seat, catching the eye of someone across the room. We used to lean in to hear each other over the noise, we used to be together physically, aware of body language, aware of the space and energy each other had. 

We now rock up on a screen, faces blinking in across the course of 10 minutes. Waves, half snatched conversations, blank faces, zoom faces, trying to engage, smile, be aware of each other. We look at boxes and wish we could instead walk across a room and sit and say hello, or glance and raise and eyebrow to acknowledge we are glad to be with each other. Now we stare at the screen and try to see through it into each other. I stare at someone wondering if she knows I’m staring at her, smiling for her or whether such nuance is lost in a sea of faces. 

We still want to engage, one person sticks their thumbs up lots and leans forward smiling, we become animated on request, we stick our hands up and try to speak. We are on mute, always someone is on mute, we laugh at the same old zoom annoyances. We freeze mid crucial sentence, and then have to start all over again. We get blindfolded and put into breakout rooms unaware of who we will be with until, ahh it’s you. We practise in this blinkered environment, lots of our senses on mute as we try and sense, notice, feel and wonder. 

We find it surprising how much love you can still feel on a screen, surprising how much depth and empathy you can feel through distance, surprised at how much connection is possible in such strangeness. The ache of not being with each other is real but so are the precious drops of communication we do have, the look, the silent holding presence, the wonder of love as people share their souls with each other. 

I went out for a walk this morning on the hills and couldn’t stop grinning at the ways God is at work in this group of people I meet with each Wednesday night. At the ways that always, always it works: experiencing someone sharing their soul in a real way means I am full of love for them.  Observing someone direct someone else with loving presence means I too catch something of that loving presence and means I can love myself more wholly and love that person more fully. 

I love that in the beginning we turned up in a room together, with all our preformed judgements, instant reactions of who we might connect with and then the simple wondrous act of hearing our real stories shared in a place of love and acceptance each week has meant that these judgements fall away. It might just be me, but I feel like our instant reactions have changed, don’t mean much anymore, and this insane big love for each other grows. I am in awe of this process. It’s beautiful and wondrous and I want to always be part of such spaces. I love that these are the ways of our God, this big picture all encompassing freeing love. I love that these are the ways to flourish as a human.

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Books I have read in 2020, the full list.

Here’s the list. I’m pondering whether to aim for 100 in the year to come, I reckon more lockdown living and I could do it, but also I’m aware I need to slow down more as I read, to drink things in and taste ideas rather than rushing through. So no number to aim for, just an appreciation of what I have read. This year I’ve read so many good books, I’ve highlighted the outstanding ones as usual although there are SO many who didn’t quite make the everyone should read this now list.

1. Anatomy of Dreams- Chloe Benjamin.

2. The Hidden Life of Trees- Peter Wohlleben

3. Miss Jane- Brad Watson.

4. Home Fire- Kamila Shamsie

5. How to Own the Room- Viv Groskop.

6. View from the No12 Bus- Sandi Toskvig

7. Unfollow – Megan Phelps-Roper.

8. Shadow Doctor- The Past Awaits- Adrian Plass

9. The Flatshare- Beth O’Leary

10. The Next Five People You Meet in Heaven- Mitch Albom

11. Where the Forest Meets the Stars- Glendy Vanderah

12. Sunny Side Up, A Story of Kindness and Joy- Susan Calman

13. 3 Things About Elsie- Joanna Cannon

14. An Alter in the World- Barbara Brown Taylor

15. Little White Lies- Philippa East

16. The Land of Roar- Jenny Maclachlan

17. The Other Half of Augusta Hope- Joanna Glen

18. The Other Wife- Claire McGowan

19. Bridge to Terebithia- Katherine Paterson

20. The Way Under Our Feet (A spirituality of walking) – Graham B Usher.

21. Restoring the Woven Cord- Michael Mitton

22. The Celtic Way of Prayer- Ester De Waal

23. The Naked Hermit- Nick Mayhew-Smith

24. We need to talk about Race- Ben Lindsay 

25. 100 essays I don’t have time to write- Sarah Ruhl

26. A Beautifully Foolish Endeavour- Hank Green 

27. Little Disasters- Sarah Vaughan

28. Little Friends- Jane Shemilt 

29. The Book of Queer Prophets – Ed by Ruth Hunt 

30. Half a World Away/The Hope Family Calendar- Mike Gayle

31. Three Hours- Rosamund Lupton

32. The Power of Ritual- Casper Ter Kile 

33. Come Again- Robert Webb 

34. Losing Eden – Lucy Jones 

35. Firefly Lane- Kirsten Hannah 

36. The Electricity of Every Living Thing- Katherine May

37. Return to Roar- Jenny McLachlan

38. The Midnight Library- Matt Haig. 

39. American Dirt- Jeanine Cummins

40. Braiding Sweetgrass- Robin Wall Kimmerer

41. The Glass Hotel- Emily St John Mandel. 

42. The Gift of Being Yourself- David Benner. 

43. The City is my Monastery- Richard Carter

44. More Than a Woman- Catlin Moran

45. Motherhood- The best, most awful, Job- Ed by Katherine May

46. Sweet Sorrow- David Nicholls

47. I’m still here- Austin Channing Brown. 

48. Girl, Woman, Other– Bernardine Evaristo

49. Lost Connections- Johann Hari

50. 5 Rivers Met on a Wooded Plain- Barney Norris

51. The Man I Think I Know- Mike Gayle. 

52. The Wild Robot- Peter Brown

53. Science Geek Sam- Cees Dekker

54. The Family Tree- Sairish Hussain 

55. Miracles and Other Reasonable Things- Sarah Bessey

56. The Light Keeper- Cole Morton

57. What is the Bible? – Rob Bell

58. Unexpected Lessons in Love- Lucy Dillon

59. The Giver of Stars- Jojo Moyes

60. The Diary of a Bookseller- Shaun Bythell

61. The Thursday Murder Club- Richard Osman

62. Wintering- Katherine May

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Books I’ve read, the December 2020 edition.

I’ve just realised it’s about to be the end of the year, which means I need to get on my last round up of books I’ve read recently and start to unfold my list of books read this year. Without further ado then, here we go… 

Science Geek Sam- Cees Dekker

This is really one I bought for son1, it follows Sam as he tries to wrap his head around the theories of evolution and some Christians in his school who say God just made the world in 6 literal days. I think it does a brilliant job of exploring the wonders of science and evolution and our creator God. It’s very much in the Genesis accounts are poetry and not a textbook of how God made the world camp and I love it for that. Sam and his class get a whole load of different perspectives on creation and he ends up in awe of God and the wonderful world he lives in. It’s well done and I think helpfully introduced son1 to the reality that people don’t always agree on how God made the world, but thats ok and you can love science and God.

The Family Tree- Sairish Hussain 

I loved this big sprawling tense novel following a British Pakistani family living in the North of England. Really engaging, tense, made me cry and want to read more about the characters. Can’t ask for much more than that from a book.

Miracles and Other Reasonable Things- Sarah Bessey

This was not what I was expecting at all (I think I was expecting more of a dealing with faith deconstruction thing) It’s the story of her car crash and how she came to embrace rest and slow. I love her writing SO much and I love that she is someone who has journeyed through so much disorientation and reorientation of faith and yet maintains this passion for Jesus through it all. I love her voice which cuts through some of the tired empty cynicism that deconstruction can lead to and gives me hope and light in forming a new orientation of faith. This was the book I needed to read at the start of a month of illness and having to stop and go slow. 

The Light Keeper- Cole Morton

I loved this short novel mainly because it was set up on the South Downs near Birling Gap. The landscape drew me in to a fairly tense story of love and loss and working out what matters in this life. 

What is the Bible? – Rob Bell

I usually avoid Rob Bell books due to some weird desire to avoid over popular authors and I don’t often read books about God by men (although some have been creeping back in over the last year), I really enjoyed this though, it helped me ponder the Bible a bit differently, is written in the most easy to read way and made me more hopeful of reading the Bible through again with a different perspective. One to read if you haven’t picked up the Bible in forever and would like some refreshing perspectives on it. 

Unexpected Lessons in Love- Lucy Dillon

Standard love story novel. Fairly forgettable but enjoyable at the time. 

The Giver of Stars- Jojo Moyes

I really liked this story of a library and women in 1930s America. Loads of brilliant characters, tension and the transformative power of books. Wonderful. 

The Diary of a Bookseller- Shaun Bythell

A book that made me want to buy all my books from independent sellers from now on. A fun trawl through a year in the life of The Bookshop in Wigdown. I loved the thread of people in all their quirks and strangeness which stood out throughout the book. It reminded me again of how diverse and wonderful we all are and that there isn’t an ideal way to live this life, just us pottering along, doing our best to get through the days. 

The Thursday Murder Club- Richard Osman

I usually hate it when people write ‘laugh out loud’ on the front of books but this one genuinely made me chuckle. I loved the characters and the hints that there might be more to come. 

Wintering- Katherine May

I loved reading her gentle reflections on wintering as a season and her explorations of winter and how to be kind to yourself in such seasons. A lovely warm read of a book, which is exactly what you need in winter. 

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Advent 24

Happy Christmas one and all! Today the wonder was fairly easy to find, a sun filled freezing walk at Cuckmere Haven, a browse in a book shop, a snooze after lunch, a walk with an excellent friend around the block, the boys figuring out it’s Christmas and going crazy and the brilliance of Emmanuel. God in flesh. Come down to earth from heaven. Residing with us. Meeting us in our hopes and fears. Being born in us today. Abiding with us. Whatever the strangeness of this year holds for us there is hope and reality, and this beautiful blessing by Jan Richardson…

How the Light Comes

I cannot tell you
how the light comes.

What I know
is that it is more ancient
than imagining.

That it travels
across an astounding expanse
to reach us.

That it loves
searching out
what is hidden,
what is lost,
what is forgotten
or in peril
or in pain.

That it has a fondness
for the body,
for finding its way
toward flesh,
for tracing the edges
of form,
for shining forth
through the eye,
the hand,
the heart.

I cannot tell you
how the light comes,
but that it does.
That it will.
That it works its way
into the deepest dark
that enfolds you,
though it may seem
long ages in coming
or arrive in a shape
you did not foresee.

And so
may we this day
turn ourselves toward it.
May we lift our faces
to let it find us.
May we bend our bodies
to follow the arc it makes.
May we open
and open more
and open still

to the blessed light
that comes.

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Advent 23

I trace the wonder through the day: it was found in finding myself awake for a planning chat with my excellent colleagues, in getting out to some very quiet National Trust joy, in the blue sky and big clouds, in the joy of being out of the house again. The wonder came in singing loudly to the Come From Away soundtrack and crying along to the invitation, ‘To the ones who’ve left, you’ve never truly gone, the candle’s in the window and the kettle’s always on…to the ones who’ve come from away, we say ‘welcome to the rock’. For me that’s a wonderful picture of God’s welcome to us and I end up in tears every time I listen as I hear in it the voice of our Maker calling us in from the wind and rain to a cup of tea by an open fire.

Wonder was also found in the green shoots coming up from an expanse of mulch, which reminded me of the third verse of Joy to the World:

No more let sins and sorrows grow,
nor thorns infest the ground.
He comes to make his blessings flow
far as the curse is found,
far as the curse is found,
far as, far as the curse is found.

The blessings of those green shoots reminded me that Spring will come, and our Eternal Spring will also come, that these weary days will end and the things we see and know in part we will fully know in all wonder. Phew.

I’m sitting in our spare room waiting for son2 to fall asleep whilst son1 marvels at his new microscope/telescope pen he bought in the gift shop today. He is full of wonder at the detail to be found in looking through the microscope at lots of different book covers and discovering what looks like full colour is actually made up of a whole load of dots. I’m pretty much in awe of that too…

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Advent 22

As we approach the strange wonder of Christmas Day I am reminded again and again that the wonder is always found in the deeper magic, the story that goes back to the dawn which tells of the dawn to come. I am reminded that whatever our world looks like we have light that shines on, we have hope and hope of better to come. This is no vain hope but a real lasting one. Jesus has come into the world, Jesus will come again, we live now in the in-between wonder of Jesus walking with us in this troubled beautiful world. And so I hold onto hope.

There was also much wonder today in being let out of isolation, we went up to the woods at the top of our road and pottered about in the fresh air. I took son2 to the park this afternoon and delighted in seeing him happy running around. Lovely to see that December misty gloom, damp green bark and empty trees against the grey sky. Something in me loves these short days as the year turns and we journey towards the dawn. Like Lucy yesterday I feel a bit better, the darkness hasn’t gone but I feel a little changed because of the One who also inhabits these days.

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Advent 21

And we’ve done it, 10 days in our house. Tomorrow we get to go somewhere. I’m not really sure I want to go anywhere, but the option is there at least. Today the wonder came in the gentle rhythm of survival, boardgames, reading books, a film that I could read my book in, food arriving in our online delivery, a chat with my Mum, Husbandface able to finish early for Christmas so these next few days aren’t just more of the same. It was the shortest day today, the day we turn our eyes up and look for the dawn. We are reading The Voyage of The Dawn Treader at the moment, I think it’s one of my favourites from the Narnia series. I love this prayer of Lucy’s from the dark when all looks lost.

“Lucy leant her head on the edge of the fighting-top and whispered, ‘Aslan, Aslan, if ever you loved us at all, send us help now.‘ The darkness did not grow any less, but she began to feel a little – a very, very little – better...There was a tiny speck of light ahead, and while they watched a broad beam of light fell from it upon the ship…It did not alter the surrounding darkness, but the whole ship was lit up as if by searchlight.
Lucy looked along the beam and presently saw something in it. At first it looked like a cross, then it looked like an aeroplane, then it looked like a kite, and at last with a whirring of wings it was right overhead and was an albatross…It called out in a strong sweet voice what seemed to be words though no one understood them…no one except Lucy knew that as it circled the mast it had whispered to her, ‘Courage, dear heart,” and the voice, she felt sure, was Aslan’s, and with the voice a delicious smell breathed in her face.” – C. S. Lewis, Voyage of the Dawn Treader

I’m pretty sure we all need lion breath courage to face our worlds each day. I love that even though the darkness doesn’t grow any less it begins to feel a bit better as she cries out in desperation to Aslan. On this short day I too rest my head down and whisper, come Lord Jesus, come into our dark and help us navigate our way through it, give courage to our hearts, breathe on us and enable us to take the next step forward.

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Advent 20

Today the wonder came through our two Christmas services, despite the strangeness of not being physically present at either of them it was beautiful to have such a light relief joy fest in the morning. Tonight it was odd but wonder filled to sit in our candle lit living room and sing carols loudly and hear of the light that burns on in the darkness and will not be put out. I don’t know what Christmas ‘should’ feel like this year, it’s the weirdest one I’ve had in a long time, but I do know that these truths we remember at this point in the year are the stuff which will carry us through. The light is still shinning, we are loved, known and held by the God who stepped into the world to be with us. I do not understand how this God works most of the time but I think I possibly do understand that this God is showing up amongst us, helping us walk alongside each other, giving us a bigger picture and a bigger love, offering a deeper and better hope. Amidst the weirdness around us I want to swim in the wonder of that.

Also, we only have one more day to go until we can leave the house, I have taken to doing laps of our front and back garden like a caged lion, I’ll be grateful for that moment we can walk around our streets in the dark and see the lights burning hope into the bleak. I’ll be grateful to be able to pop to the shops, or meet up with a friend for a walk. The wonder is deep in the details this year eh.

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Advent 19, the one with the wedding anniversary…

It’s that time of year where I get to say that we used to look like this: 

And now we look like this: 

And somehow 11 years have gone by, over a decade of adventuring through the ups and downs life has thrown our way, over a decade of enjoying each other, learning about each other and weathering storms together. As years go this one has been particularly strange, getting through a global pandemic together has certainly added a new dimension to our world. I was wondering if I should just link to all the many other blog posts I’ve written over the years in praise of this wonderful man I’m married to but I reckon each year brings it’s own flavour of life together. 

This year I have loved seeing him flourish in his work, his many side hustles which I can’t comprehend most of the time. I love seeing his passions for teaching, doing and learning thrive and be put to good use. I’ve loved bumbling around with him during the strangeness of this year, co-parenting together as we’ve sought to help our small ones get their heads around being in a global pandemic. We’ve had to remember how to be more of a team as his health has got better over the last few months and it’s been brilliant to work those things out. I love his cheerleading of me, I love how he loves, I love doing life with this brilliant man and being team together. 

There’s a song by Christie Moore that we heard earlier in the year which sums up all I want to say about the wonderful husbandface. We now have a strange crew that make sailing this ship a whole lot harder, but, on the good days, a whole lot more fun too. 

Here’s some of the lyrics and below is the full thing. Life isn’t always easy, there are many times we get it wrong but we are still in this ship together, figuring it out, committed to each other and deeply, wonderfully for each other. 

With no maps to guide us we steered our own course
Rode out the storms when the winds were gale force
Sat out the doldrums in patience and hope
Working together we learned how to cope

Life is an ocean and love is a boat
In troubled waters that keeps us afloat
When we started the voyage, there was just me and you
Now gathered round us, we have our own crew

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