70 years of Dad (MBE)

It seems rude not to have a blog post to mark the occasion of my lovely Dad turning 70. It’s a milestone almost as big as the day we walked through the tunnel which earned him his MBE.It’s also incredibly rubbish that we don’t get to spend tomorrow with him, or go on the lovely family weekend we had planned. I know it’s small fry in the bigger picture of being sensible and safe (especially as he now hits the jackpot of underlying health conditions and age to be very at risk in these pandemic days) but it’s sad nonetheless. It is fairly gutting not to be with this lovely man on his birthday.

I like a list about a family member. See previous blogposts. My brother at 30, and40,My mum at 60and it’s about time Dad had a list at 70.

So here goes.

Things I love about my Dad. 

His steady steadfastness (some might call this stubbornness but today I choose to rejoice in the good aspects of stubbornness). He is a deeply committed man, true to his word and has taught me lots about the slow steady plod on this long walk home.

He gave me my love of nature. By taking us for walks in the country every Saturday and Sunday afternoon he gave me my obsessive need to get outdoors at least once (preferably more) a day. Those times are ingrained on my soul. It’s fairly certain that I’ll ingrain that on my kids souls too.

He taught me how to walk up mountains. Slowly, step by step, small steps at a time. It’s a good way to walk through life too.

He taught me about how much Jesus means. Throughout my childhood and teenage years I knew every morning he would go to his study, read his Bible, pray and desired for God to make an actual difference in his life.

He’s incredibly generous and kind. I love this man and his generous love bailing me out of many a situation in my 20s.

He’s super shy but to us he has always been our Dad who made us laugh. I valued his humour growing up as well as his ability to be someone in whose arms I could safely let out all my anger and rage.

He is a walking example of the acts of service love language. Every morning growing up he would bring Mum a cup of tea and us a glass of squash and brought it to our bedrooms, before going off to talk to Jesus. He did stuff around the house, he cleaned, washed up, got stuck into household chores and made amazing things. He was an incredible example to my brother of how to be a gentle, kind, servant hearted man. Unsurprisingly my brother has grown up to be just such a man to his family. Unsurprisingly I married a man who was kind, gentle and servant hearted. His legacy is strong.

He never really says it, and I think he’s phoned me up once in his life but I know he is crazy about me and loves me to the moon and back. It’s odd how that can happen without many words but it can. And I am glad I know. (I also know this because of his wonderful chat with husbandface when he was slightly old fashionably asking my Dad if he could marry me).

When he gave me away at our wedding (I think more for his sanity and sense of handing over his over-fatherly sense of responsibility than for any reality that I was someone who could be given away) he gave the loudest I DO ever. He made everyone laugh. I know that meant he loved me and was very glad this day was happening.

I loved that his wedding speech was full of in jokes and references that only he and I and Mum and Mark would get. It made it way more personal and lovely.

He wasn’t afraid to talk to me as a teenager about whether I was seeking to be closer to Jesus in my friendships and relationships. That might sound overly heavy but it was a deep expression of his love for me, he talked to me about these things and I’ll never forget the life turning night when he challenged me about a relationship that wasn’t great for me and to seek my relationship with Jesus. I acted on that challenge and lots changed that night. I am grateful that he cared.

I could go on. I am so grateful to have this man as my Dad. I once asked my Mum why she’d married him and she said one of the reasons was because she knew he would be a great Dad (no idea if you remember that Mum!?), as someone who didn’t have a Dad from the age of 5 she had that desire firmly in her head. I am glad because I got an amazingly kind, generous, loving Dad who I had a lot of fun with.

Lastly I count myself as privileged to be unconditionally loved by this man and glad of the echo there of the unconditional love I have from my heavenly parent. I can understand God’s love a little better because I had a Daddy I could cry on, who I could batter with my arms when in rage and still be held. I do not take that for granted at all. I am deeply grateful and long to be the kind of parent that through all my flaws and failings am still a little bit of an echo of the massive love God has for my kids.

He isn’t perfect, who is? I could list the things that wind me up about my Dad and although in keeping with our family tradition of being rude to each other to show love I don’t think I will. No back handed compliments today. Just a whole lot of appreciation and love.

 

 

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Holy Week

It’s Holy Week, lent is almost over and with Palm Sunday yesterday and Good Friday in a few days time we have this week between. A time where we sit and remember the events of over 2000 years ago, the events which changed everything. Last year I wrote that I’ve always been an Easter person. I wrote out of pain and sadness that things were still pretty grim in our day to day lives, out of the pain of seeing my favourite and best still be haunted and affected by the ghosts of the past. He’s still not great but we ride up and down the waves of the good and bad moments each day.  Last year, through the pain, I wrote out of a desire to connect with the events of Easter again.

Yesterday I spoke to my lovely brother and we talked of the weirdness of not being able to do Easter in church this year. We reminisced about events which marked our childhood. We mentioned the rhythms involved in our Easter celebrations when we were teenagers: Word Alive for a week followed by events at our home church, St Saviours, in Guildford. Good Friday- for him with his Urban Saints group and me up at the Cathedral or at the 3 hours at the cross service at church.  Easter Sunday and the sunrise service by the river that we both got up early and cycled to, whilst our parents stayed in bed, then the joys and party like atmosphere at our Easter Praise evening service, the music, the sight of our Vicar thumping along with the band on the organ to Thine be the Glory (organ solos are a thing people). Easter was a BIG deal for us.

Easter still is a big deal in my heart and mind. Whatever I make of the stuff which surrounds this faith in Jesus thing, this is the story I can never get away from. The story that grounds me to the earth. The story of a curtain torn, God and God’s people reconciled together, the beginning of the sadness of the world coming undone by the man taking on the brokenness of the world deep within himself, the silence of the darkest day echoing the silence of our darkest days and then the wonder and joy of resurrection, new life, death losing it’s sting and there being hope for our lives beyond this immediate world in front of our eyes.

I loved joining our church a few years ago because we are a church that does Easter well, with Passover suppers, dark sad Good Friday services, then wonder filled coffee on the beach coupled with big joyful songs back in our church building on Easter Sunday morning. I am gutted we won’t be doing these things in person this year. However, I remain determined not to forget the reality of Easter in these strange times we live in.

I could talk about Easter for days. And so I probably will over this week, to remind myself, to bring me hope in these lockdown days, to hold onto the reality of Easter even though this year it will be devastating not to be able to mark the events together with our church family.

Each morning we open resurrection eggs with the boys and try not to get too annoyed about the fights as to who gets to open the egg and who gets to blue-tac the picture and bible verses to the wall. Each morning we remember a different aspect of the Easter story. This year we are zoning in on Palm Sunday, the upper room and feet washing, the breaking of bread and drinking of wine, Gethsemane, Peter’s rejection and the guards mockery, the death of Jesus, the quietness of Saturday and then the Empty Tomb on Sunday morning.

This morning we read about Jesus washing his disciples feet and again I was amazed at the kind of God we have, a God who came to serve and not be served. Son1 is obsessed with Greek Gods at the moment, having read a lot of Percy Jackson books. It’s so telling that when we thought about the Greek gods we wondered if they would ever wash people’s feet. It seems such a scandal to have a God like ours, one we would never create on our own. The gods we create are those which reflect our love of power, control and being in charge. The God of gods blows away all of that and doesn’t grasp power, rejects control and comes to wash our feet. Jesus came to do something for us rather than have us do something for him.

I am full of negative comparisons at the moment, full of feeling a lack of productivity in my work, feeling like I can’t do much in this full on world we inhabit at the moment. Maybe that’s ok, maybe this world can show to me how much Jesus wants to do for me and the ways of service, rather than me doing lots or proving how brilliant I am. Maybe it’s ok not to be in control or in charge. Maybe it’s ok to stick my feet out and have them washed clean.

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Go find yourself a tree…

In these times
Go out. Find a tree
Sit on a branch
And let it tell you it’s story

Feel the gentle sway
Above you
Talk to the birds also finding refuge.

Notice the new life
Slowly emerging from
The shadows of winter past

In these times. Go out.
Find your tree
And let it tell you it’s story.

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Life in lockdown: Week 2.

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I forget what day we are now on. It’s the second week anyway. The second week of trying to navigate this new normal, to process the changes taking places in our society and world. To find new patterns of living as a family, new ways to connect to each other as friends and, for us, new ways to live as church together.

There has been a whole lot of new. Which is exhausting. A whole lot of change. Which is exhausting. A whole lot of grief as future plans are laid to the side. Which again is exhausting. It is no wonder that most people I talk to are tired, finding it hard to concentrate, experiencing their emotions much nearer to the surface. Change on this level takes a long time to slowly adjust to.

This week I met with my small group from my Spiritual Direction course over Zoom (how else do we do anything these days..?) we talked about what we were noticing in our bodies, our prayer lives, our experience each day and where we might be finding God at the moment. It was such a helpful time to remember and focus in again on the unseen realities of this world. I was reminded that there is more going on than my immediate emotions and felt the desire again to sit with my Maker and remember the ground underneath my feet.

Mainly what I am noticing this week is a deep return to my childhood and the things I experienced around the age of 8 to 11. I have found more and more as I have hit my 40s that I am returning to threads and themes which have stuck with me throughout the path life has taken me on. One of these threads is a strong love of nature. I remember deeply loving the outdoors, searching out the names of the natural world around me, craving a pond to find newts in and spending lots of time outside.

Across the road from the house I grew up in was a patch of wasteland. When we first moved in this land was covered in brambles but held hidden delights for a 8 year old. There was an old shed containing various random rusty tools, a fallen down tree which became a spaceship or army tank depending on what games we played on it with the boys from up the road. There was a stream running through it and best of all, around a corner, an old orchard (rather glamorous name for a patch of land with some fruit trees on it). I can still remember it now, the green grass, the apple tree we climbed in and the secret path through to another part of our cul-de-sac road. I spent lots of time over in that land, knowing it, exploring, becoming familiar with its landscape.

Wasteland

One of the only photos we have of the waste ground…slightly flooded…

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Me, bright eyes, full heart, outside.

And then the developers came and flattened it, tore up the trees, put the stream in a pipe and eventually built houses on it. I was fairly devastated. Our playground had gone. I ached for its return.

Back to the present: In these last couple of weeks we have spent part of each day walking up to the woods at the top of the estate we live in. These woods are little more than a narrow patch of trees between a main road into Brighton and the start of the housing but they contain untold delights for us. The trees are budding, the floor is carpeted in green with some kind of vegetation which name I have yet to discover, primroses and wood anemones splash colour all around. We walk through the woods to a clearing at the end, put our picnic blanket down by an old den we want to improve and I read to the boys. This rhythm connects me deeply with a world I grew up in. Going to the same place day in and day out is doing something deep in our souls. Son1 said that he knew every inch of the woods yesterday. I’m not sure he does yet but both of them are discovering the geography of where they live in a fascinating way. 

This week we finished reading The Tanglewoods Secret by Patricia St John. This was written in 1948 and has taken us back in time to a place where children did play in woods all day long. It’s a book I remember loving as a child, a gentle book with lots of very low key normal references to Jesus. It’s fairly moralistic at times, as you might expect from a 1940s book with lots of talk of how naughty the main character feels and her longings to be ‘good’. (I definitely over identified with her as a child.) But it’s a book that also oozes the grace and love of Jesus our Shepherd coming for us, seeking us out and loving us whatever we are like. Reading it again brought me back to some of the simple bedrock realities of faith in Jesus and how Jesus can make a difference in our day to day choices in life. I was in tears for lots of it as I sensed again my Shepherd holding me and my boys in these confusing troubling times. It was also a lovely reminder for the boys that Jesus can be their Shepherd too and loves them deeply. It was a book which has led me to pray more, to ask for forgiveness when I notice my ego getting in the way of life and to remember that there is more to this world which can transform the immediate circumstances of the day.

However odd, unsettling, exhausting and confusing these times are (and it’s good to acknowledge that they are) I am also deeply grateful for this time to slow and pay attention to where we live. I am grateful for these gentle rhythms to our days. It gives me hope that in this world, where I mooch around with my 7 and 5 year old boys all day, they too might find depth and meaning in this simple strangeness we now inhabit.

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Processing life in lockdown

It is Day 4 of lockdown. Day 8 since we took the kids off school because of a cough. About 2 -3 weeks since I started looking at the news an unhealthy amount, mainlined sugar again and gave up all my vague lent practices.

We’ve been in a strange new world for about a week, a world that has got smaller and smaller each day. A slow squeeze into the immediate world in front of our eyes. Gradually each day the restrictions on our lives have progressed, the today of a few days ago was different to now. We are learning new normals and it’s a rocky process trying to figure that all out.

Tonight though I sit on a sofa in our spare room and discover that the weather howling in my brain has calmed down a little. I find that the writer at the back of my mind has woken up and is tentatively offering her services to start to try and process thoughts.

So here we are.

We have two boys adjusting to full time life at home. They have told me it is not the same as school holiday’s because we aren’t going to different fun places each day. They’ve said school is better than this, but maybe homeschooling like the cousins with actual groups and seeing people would be a good idea.

We have slowly formed a very loose routine, fun exercise in the morning (sorry Joe Wicks you do not have fans in our house, we prefer super movers) followed by a bit of the work sent in from their school when they are at their most alert. Then we slowly move to baking, garden fun, ‘educational’ screen time (online maths games etc), drawing, colouring or playing. Then lunch followed by quiet time (genius idea of my sister in law) where they listen to audio books or read in rooms on their own and I mumble to God and then fall asleep for a bit. Then we are out for our walk of the day, up to the woods near our house where we do some den building, forest bathing (they manage about 20seconds of quiet staring before fighting again) and reading out loud on picnic blankets, after which we go home for more playing, power rangers and dinner. It takes effort to get them outside lots of the time but bribery and corruption seem to be working for now.

My routine revolves around their own but differs slightly, I get my exercise time and alone time first thing around 7. I also get some focused work done a couple of mornings in the shed whilst husbandface helps with their morning ‘school’ and play before lunch. I also work a bit around their screen times, checking in with people in and around the flow of the day. My course is still carrying on in a new way on a Tuesday evening over zoom and our church small group meets on a Wednesday, again on zoom. The rest of the evenings we talk to friends online or mainly just watch Friday Night Lights. I’m kind of confused that I’ve watch a season and a half of this drama about a small town American High School Football team and I still have NO idea what American football is all about.

Weekends we chuck most of this routine out of the window and I’m hoping we’ll do a big walk on Saturday mornings, Sunday morning is church online and then films/play/gardening in the afternoons.

The boys have mainly (I say very tentatively, hoping it won’t all change tomorrow) transitioned into this now after a fairly turbulent week of adjusting. They still fight, still have big emotions but are slightly less explosive than earlier in the week. I’m still a shouty mess some of the time but have also settled down a bit. I’m reading the news a whole lot less and morning exercise is helping my brain.  I want to get into a reading groove again and then most of my self care strategies will be back in place.

It’s taken time to even feel like settling into this could be possible. I’ve been in various states of numbness, overwhelm, tears, exhaustion and anxiety. I’ve compared myself too much to other people’s lovely routines and amazing school work and how easy they have made it all look, whilst also holding down jobs and being incredibly intentional in their communities. I’ve felt like I’m barely surviving, barely hanging on, being battered by the waves of emotion which knock me down again just after I’ve got back on my feet. Yet somehow the waves are growing calmer and I’m starting to ease into our new normal.

(I would talk about husbandface’s routine but it hasn’t really changed much. He has to tag out a couple of mornings a week to do fun with the boys whilst I work but he’s still working from his shed, still doing cool stuff online, still a bit ill. He’s been prepping for this for the last few months of home working and is frankly finding all this desire for more online connection a bit tiring. He likes his quiet shed…)

I find it fairly ironic that my word of the year was ‘Here’, that I wanted to live more in the present each day. This new world of global lockdown certainly has dragged me kicking and screaming into the present of life. I can’t live in my plans for the future anymore. All holidays are off for the foreseeable future. I am faced with this today being enough.  Obviously I can still be taken away from the present of my boys and husband by the online world but I want to try and find the new normal in online noise. I want to find better spaces to check my phone and actively engage with others, in ways that are helpful and that fuel connection. One step at a time eh. 

So, here I am.

Wrapping my head around this new normal. Wondering what good this will bring. Hoping against hope. 

For me writing and processing are the start of accepting this world. I’m glad the writer lady is back and I’m looking forward to what she might produce in these coming days and weeks.

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What I’ve read: The Jan-Feb edition…

March is upon us, the daffodils are out, buds are emerging, lighter mornings and evenings are upon us, all around rumours of Spring abound. In this sensing of a new season it feels fairly fitting to round up the books I’ve read so far this year.

Anatomy of Dreams- Chloe Benjamin.

Not as good as the last one I read by her but still a fairly intriguing novel looking at themes around whether we can control our dreams, what is real and people pushing the edges of research boundaries.

The Hidden Life of Trees- Peter Wohlleben

I so desperately wanted to like this book, it’s all about trees, how they interact with each other and how they fit in with the world around them. It has some pretty cool tree facts in there, I didn’t know trees feed each other and rely on each other in quite the way they do in a healthy forest environment. Sadly though the writing was fairly dull and it could have been half the size or a quarter of the size and still have had the same impact. Ah well.

Miss Jane- Brad Watson.

A beautiful novel about a woman in rural America growing up without normal sex organs, how she grows to manage her condition and interact with the world around her. I really enjoyed reading this It has beautiful descriptions of the natural world and is incredibly tender. Worth sitting down with.

Home Fire- Kamila Shamsie

Such a good book. I find it hard to describe but it’s all about the tensions within a family whose father died on the way to Guantánamo, the brother has left to join the media arm of Isis and whose sisters are fighting about the responses they have to the situation. All against the backdrop of being observed by the Home Office and living in worlds where much is assumed but little is heard. It’s heartbreaking, tense and fairly disturbing.

How to Own the Room- Viv Groskop.

A romp (she’s really funny) through a whole load of women speakers and how they own the rooms they are talking to. So helpful to reflect on how different women do it and a massive encouragement to keep on believing I have a right to speak and be heard in whatever room I am in.

View from the No12 Bus- Sandi Toskvig

Sandi’s take on a memoir offers reflections inspired by stops on her regular bus journey and the memories sparked by them. She’s funny and it kind of works. My big take away was a load of sadness and rage because of how much homophobia and sexism she has had to face in her life. I forget how rare openly out families existed in the public eye during the 80s and 90s, and maybe the 00’s. Brighton is such an echo chamber bubble at times that it’s easy to forget how far we’ve come in accepting and loving people as they are, and how the challenge will always remain to not treat people as ‘other’.

Unfollow – Megan Phelps-Roper.

This one pretty much blew my mind. It’s Megan’s story of growing up in the Westboro Baptist community and how she found herself leaving it a few years ago. It’s a very disturbing read (especially if you’ve ever been in a fairly full on religious community). It was a book that challenged my perceptions of these people who have picketed around the world with their message of hate for gay people. They don’t come across as cartoon villains, stupid people to be dismissed. They are a group of intelligent lawyers who back in the 1970s/80s fought for the civil rights movement. It seems strange that such love and such hate can coexist together.  Megan describes a full bodied picture of a family bound by love, care and fun. She doesn’t shy away from talking about the tight family rules and the iron fist of control as well, but it seems within that controlled environment there were many moments of joy and delight.

I found it fascinating that this wasn’t a family who tried to protect their people from the world around but their confidence was in having what they saw as a better story, they had a deeper, stronger pull of familial ties. They also had a load of fairly controlling behaviour to ensure that everyone thought along the same lines and was clear about their own particular interpretation of the Bible. Group discussion and open leadership only led to the family line becoming more clear and more convincing for her. Interestingly she only started to think about leaving when the leadership structures changed, the community became less loving, women were kept out of the main elders meetings and there was less openness within the decision making process. This lack of love within the community eventually convinced her that this wasn’t a group following the Bible anymore. A relationship with someone on Twitter, who she had interesting and fun chats with, also helped to change her mind about the community she was part of.  There are so many fascinating insights into how kindness and care from people outside the community (the ones she had been taught to see as outside the kingdom of God) helped to convince her that there was another, potentially better way to live.  Read it, be disturbed and ponder how we can be better humans.

Shadow Doctor- The Past Awaits- Adrian Plass

Oh I love this man and his writing. This one is a follow up to last year’s Shadow Doctor book. It’s a great companion because it answers all the questions I had at the end of the last book which ended way too soon for my liking. It follows a man and his apprentice style friend who drop into people’s lives in fairly unusual ways and are often used to bring hope and freedom to them. It was a book that made me ache to be in deeper communion with God again. I have no idea if you would feel that or if the close connections between my understanding of God and Adrian Plass’s writing about God over the years have made this book quite so helpful for me. I’d love to know what you would make of this series.

The Flatshare- Beth O’Leary

It’s rare for me to read any kind of vaguely romantic fiction but I quite enjoyed this one.  The concept is that Leon and Tiffy share a one bedroom flat but never see each other because Leon works nights and is away at weekends. They take different sides of the bed and start to get to know each other based on the various possessions they have, the details of what they’ve left in the flat before they go to work and post it note communication. Throw in a gaslighting ex for Tiffy and a brother in jail for Leon and it’s a fairly good read of how they eventually meet and their lives become intwined. 

And there you have it, over to you, what have you enjoyed reading recently?

 

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Refreshment in Arizona.

If you’ve chatted to me or husbandface for longer than a few hours about our lives you’ll probably be aware of this American family we have. I can’t quite believe they’ve never had official blog post recognition before but better late than never. They are amazing and it’s hard to know how to express our gratitude for them in meaningful ways.

The story starts around 25 years ago when husbandface was 12. He participated in an exchange programme which took Northern Irish Catholics and Protestants over to America for 6 weeks. Presumably to help the Irish realise they had far more in common with each other than these crazy Americans they were encountering. It’s fairly chancy that husbandface got on the programme, he really wasn’t the target demographic at all.

On the other side of the pond a lovely lady called Deb happened to see a newspaper advert for hosts wanted on this programme. She tells the story well, saying she just somehow knew that they should do this programme, she had no idea why or what would result but they signed up to be a host family.

That first summer husbandface wasn’t actually placed with them but struck up a beautiful geek friendship with their son. So much so that in the next couple of years when they came over to Ireland to visit they hung out loads and when he returned to America, aged 15, husbandface was nabbed by them to stay at theirs for the summer. They’ve never let go since.

Every year they’ve seen him, took him on holiday with them, kept in touch with him and claimed him as their third child. They have consistently poured out love and grace on him and they’ve been a massive part of the rock underneath his feet. They demonstrate to me what being part of this body of Jesus thing is about on earth. They’ve been constant examples of generosity and unconditional love.

If God is the foundation we build life on then these guys have been outward physical signs of that foundation for husbandface. The story of how husbandface has been wrapped into this family is another one of those inexplicable maybe-there-is-a-God stories that we carry around with us for when the universe seems too dark and random to contain a loving, present, real, Maker involved in our lives.

I’ve had the privilege of hanging out with these guys for 10 years now. When we first met I had heard of them but hadn’t quite clocked the significance of them coming over to England a few weeks before our wedding to hang out with us and presumably check me out. (They returned for the wedding and read some lovely Revelation passages for us so I think I passed the test) As the first meal I had with them unfolded I suddenly realised I was meeting my other in-laws and still remember the weeping moments we shared as we told stories and enjoyed husbandface together. I loved meeting some more people who adored this man, had known him for years and really got him.

Since then they have welcomed me, and now our boys into the family. I loved the confused looks on some faces as they introduced us to people at their daughter’s wedding a few years ago, ‘here’s our son and daughter in law’ (cue slight double take when the English and Irish accents came out).

They have poured out more and more love upon us over the years, enabling husbandface to retrain after he had to give up teaching and providing wise counsel in the process. They’ve been an incredible safety net, a source of wisdom and grace. We’ve loved the moments of sharing life with them through the changing circumstances of our lives in this last stormy decade.

We are currently enjoying their wonderful hospitality in Arizona and being looked after in another season of husbandface not doing that great. We know better how to cope with these times but it’s still so lovely to be taken care of and be in a safe place away from normal life. I’m soaking up some much needed sun and blue skies and the boys are loving messing about in a swimming pool and learning lots of cactus facts.

It’s refreshing being loved.

I am so grateful for how God does this, how ordinary everyday life has been infused with the presence of God and lives have been changed. I feel constantly inspired to follow this example of unconditional love and covenantal care which Keith and Deb have shown us. We are reading Ruth as a church this month and, like with that story, I reckon this God working in the ordinary to transform peoples lives is a good story to tell over and over again.

Here’s to more and more years of family and friendship. Raise your glasses to the excellent Keith and Deb.

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Trying to use my anger in a positive way…

I find myself incredibly angry this morning, I’ve spent the last 24 hours mulling an article I’ve read. It outlines another depressing tale of a man abusing his power in a church context. My anger is intensified because it’s a tale from a familiar church context, from a tribe I was part of and I can see echos of the story in my experience.

I’m angry because it’s familiar. I’m angry because I know a string of people who have been hurt by a multiple of situations such as this, because it’s not just limited to one type of church or culture or tribe.

I’m angry because spiritual power should be treated with utter respect and care and it is all too easy to drive down the road of we know exactly how this Christian life thing should be lived out and everyone around us must fit into that mould. I’m angry at the lack of accountability for church leaders.

I’m angry at situations I know are continuing because there is no structure of support to stop it happening. I’m angry because I can see this type of thing all over the place in some of my own history with conservative theology. (I’m sure the same happens in other tribes and churches as well, but the conservative world is the one I’ve had most encounter with.)

This from someone reflecting on their experience with Crowded House sums up things so well.  “the sense in The Crowded House that it is the right or best way to do mission and be biblically faithful means you are left with the feeling that if you disagree you are somehow disagreeing with the Bible, or somehow falling short of God’s ideal, or not really giving up your life for Christ.”

The issue I have is that I’ve felt this from a whole load of situations and people, it’s not just restricted to The Crowded House network, it’s not just about this one man. I’ve been in some situations where one person’s understanding of the Bible is elevated to the ‘right way’ to do everything, where questioning that leaves people in doubt about your salvation or whether you are really a committed Christian. I have heard the phrase: ‘the Bible clearly says’ many times, with the inference that if you disagree then you are not taking the Bible seriously.

I’m angry that I don’t want to be honest about some things I think at the moment about this life with God thing in case I lose friendships. I’ve seen it happen to people around me and it scares me.

I’m angry because, to be honest, I’ve felt the pull myself to the clear right answer world, where things make sense and there are boundaries to who is in and out and we can make those judgments. It appeals to our human desire for order and wrapping things up in neat parcels. 

I’m angry because I can hear voices in my head that give the reasons for this kind of behaviour to others, that it’s all done in ‘love’. I’m not sure being loved should feel like being beat up.  Maybe I’m wrong.

But what can I do with this anger? I could rant on for a long time further about the grimness but I want to add something helpful to this world of spiritual abuse and power games. So here are my fairly unthought through suggestions which might be helpful. I’m so sick of seeing this stuff go on in friends and families I know. We have to push for change.

1. Please stop staying ‘the Bible clearly says’, (I’m totally sure I’ve used this one myself, I am sorry). It might be clear to you but the person/people you are talking to will be different from you, with different understandings, different backgrounds, different thoughts about what this passage might be about. If you want to say something like that then at least caveat it with, ‘for me, this seems pretty clear’. Check in with others to try and understand why it might not be abundantly clear for everyone else. Listen to the warnings in Jeremiah, we tend to think we aren’t the people saying ‘this is the word of the Lord, the word of the Lord’ and then speaking things God isn’t saying. I think we tend to apply those verses to whoever we disagree with. But it could be you. You could be saying this is the word of the Lord and actually God isn’t saying anything of the sort. Using the phrase ‘the Bible clearly says’ means it will be harder for people to disagree or work things out for themselves.

2. If you are in any kind of spiritual leadership- recognise your power and give it away: Beven said that the purpose of power is to give it away. (pretty sure Jesus nailed that one too, made himself nothing, rejected the lure of ruling the world etc) It’s not to be grasped, nourished or nurtured. Make sure you aren’t the only person who has a voice in a situation, make sure you ask questions and listen to the answers, make sure you change your mind about some stuff every now and again. Whisper to yourself every now and again ‘I could be wrong’. Go away from your context, have seasons of stopping, let someone else do it. Get some people in your life who can speak truth to power (ask some people who are a different gender/background to you their thoughts). Listen to them. Be aware that you could have blind spots. Get in touch with your feelings, notice your insecurities, get to know yourself and be ok with yourself. I think good leadership might just flow out of a secure person who is open to being wrong, to others being more gifted and used than them and who delights in others being celebrated. (I know I struggle with all of those things but maybe noticing is the start of the journey). Run to God for your security and peace in this world.  Don’t just talk to people who’ve known you for years about these things, they may have blind spots about you as well. Don’t just talk to people outside your context, they won’t have seen how you actually interact with people on a day to day basis.

3. Treat people as Jesus seemed to: Jesus was annoying to those of us who like clear answers, systems and strategies. I don’t think he had them, he walked around loving people, hanging out with people who were definitely out of the inner circles. He raged against those who put heavy burdens on others, who looked good on the outside but who had no love. Listen to Jesus. He didn’t seem to answer anyone’s questions but asked a whole lot. He told stories about Fathers who run in love to those who distance themselves from that love, both the religious ones and the unreligious ones.  Hang out with Jesus.

4. Find the world of nuance: really listen to those who you disagree with, not just their ideas on life but their actual whole lives. Get to know them, what do they love, what makes them smile, what has hurt them?  Be vulnerable with them, you’ll probably end up really loving them. The ideas might just become less important. Connect as people rather than what you think about a set of theological ideas.

5. Don’t make friendship dependent on adherence to the church you are part of/the tribal norms of your group/the theological framework you subscribe to. It sucks. If someone changes their mind on something massively important to you, listen to them and try to save any deep emotional reaction to pour out on someone else, they don’t need to feel like they need to make you ok or like they can’t be honest because you now think they have fallen away from the one true way. Clearly you can disagree with each other but lets find out how to do it well, friendship can last through disagreement, I’m really hoping it can.

6. Don’t try and control people. Trust that they might have good reasons for not spending their whole life in church stuff. Support people in their lives, get to know them, be a safe place where people can talk about God stuff without feeling like you are trying to get them to serve more or think the ‘right thoughts’ about God. Be grateful if they are being helped by others and not just your church. Reject territorial thinking whenever you can.

7. Trust the Spirit’s work, you might feel like this thing you want to say is from ‘the Lord’, so maybe offer it gently and quietly without the loaded language and see how it lands. Trust that the Spirit knows how to transform us and if it was from the Lord then the Lord can enable your words to bring light, freedom, life and love (rather than joyless condemnation and self hatred which seem to come out a lot in some churches)

8. Live the fruit of the Spirit. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, faithfulness, goodness, gentleness, self control.

9. All of this takes time. Take the time. Reflect, be still, find your centre of security and humility in the arms of God. Love from that place. Say sorry when you get it wrong, because we all do, and ask for forgiveness and grace.

This list is incomplete and fairly flawed, but it’s a start. Add your voice, lets talk about this stuff and ask for change, if you are a leader lead from gentleness, love, understanding and trust in God. Read Escaping the Maze of Spiritual Abuse yourself or as a leadership team in your church and talk about these things.

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It turns out I actually like writing…

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Friday morning.

I blow the dust off the keyboard. Sit down. And start to type.

The choice lurks. To continue

with a style of slow.

Or to find the chatty voice,

the recaller of time and space which I have inhabited, dwelt in

throughout this month.

Friday morning

I blow the dust off the keyboard, sit down, and start to type.

It’s too hard to keep up that style of writing, so I’ll go on with a good old Friday round up style, my traditional space for reflecting on the week just gone.

It’s been a month or so since I wrote, and whilst that might be good on one level, I call myself a writer and the whole deal with being a writer is that you write. So here I am again.

I hesitate to name it out loud but I’m pretty sure this January was one of my best on record (see other January blogposts for the record). I’m not a frozen tree frog anymore (read that post if you have a small baby or toddlers, it gets better, it really does..). I haven’t drunk my way through many bottles of wine to survive this month. I haven’t bemoaned my existence for more than about a day or two and all in all it’s been a surprisingly ok time. The grey murk hasn’t helped much but there have been days of sunshine and blue skies, days which always help my soul start to believe in good things again.

There have been threads throughout the month. I’m into threads and themes at the moment, as a way to reflect on my life, watching them weaving through my days. I prefer calling them threads rather than plates to spin or items to juggle to keep up in the air.

Thread 1. My Spiritual Direction course.

This term we’ve been on a journey through a whole load of different spiritualities, the Celts, Ignatius, the Mystics, Benedict and the Desert Mothers and Fathers. It’s been a fascinating ride through the history of people trying to connect deeper with God. I’ve loved seeing the things these people all had in common in trying to get a grip on who God is and God’s involvement in our lives. We’ve also started getting a bit more serious about practising being spiritual directors with each other. It’s fairly intense to try and listen to a part of someone’s life whilst three other people write down observations on your listening skills, but I think it’s teaching me good things. I’ve got a long way to go but it’s a fascinating process to try and notice what God is up to in someone’s life, together with them.

Thread 2. Work.

I have really enjoyed the addition of a new team member into the mix of life working for the lovely One Church Brighton. Sam is our new Associate Minister and it’s been a joy to work with him over the last couple of months. I thrive working in a team and it feels more team like than ever which is a Good Thing. I feel glad to have this job, privileged and curious as to God will do in the next few months in our beautiful messy broken church. 

Thread 3. Family life

We have lived another month, the boys have gone to school and we help them through their large emotions after school, they fight, they adore each other, they fight again. We talk about huge topics like heaven and the moral of all the films we’ve watched. We sing songs replacing key words with the word Poo (no idea when that stops being funny…). We laugh, we cry, I feel like I’m stuck on repeat most mornings and wish for a robot to say, ‘get dressed, get ready, put your shoes on’. We read books, we play Mario Odyssey and they sweetly encourage me or tell me to get Daddy to get through the hard bit. We snuggle on sofas. We sleep (finally, we have hit a spot where they both sleep in their own bed all night… 7 years on. Past Kath- you’ll get there. Future Kath, don’t hate me for jinxing it by saying it out loud). They can swim and have opinions on life, they are not babies or toddlers or preschoolers anymore. They are growing taller and taller and are like two giant puppy dogs who orbit my world.

Husbandface ploughs on, not better but not hugely worse. I look back over the last 4 years and ponder the journey we have come on. I feel less panicky, less alone, less fearful. We are more mindful of the ups and downs, we wait out this latest downward spiral with more hope than last time. We smile at each other and watch more Grey’s Anatomy under blankets, wine in hand, waiting for the storm to pass once more. We also got to see ‘Dear Evan Hansen’ in London this month which was an amazing musical, it might have exhausted us for a week after but it was so worth it.

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Thread 4: Sabbath/self care.

January was all about Sabbath, we pondered it as a church and I had many conversations about what Sabbath might be about which various different people. I went back to the lovely Eugene Peterson’s writing about it and remembered why I need Sabbath times.

“One of the ways God has provided for us to stay aware of and responsive to him as the determining and centering reality of our lives, in a world that doesn’t care about it, is by sabbath-keeping. At regular intervals we all need to quit our work and contemplate his, quit talking to each other and listen to him. God knows we need this and has given us a means in Sabbath- a day for praying and playing, simply enjoying what he is.” (E. Peterson)

I need time with God, time to remember that I can trust God’s provision, that filling my week with stuff to try and validate my existence isn’t necessary. I can opt to stop, to hang out with the One who really does validate my existence, who speaks words of love over me, who called me Beloved and is the foundation of my life. So, I’ve done more of that this month, more time sitting quietly in the arms of the one who loves me most. I’ve had more times intentionally getting outside and stomping on the downs, by myself and with friends, talking through how life is. I relate most to God on walks and so I’ve walked.

Thankfully walking also helps my body feel good and my mind be at peace, so maybe Sabbath helps me take care of myself so I have more ability to care for those around me. Maybe there is something in this hanging out with God thing after all…

I’ve also read a whole load of books, been on runs, taken care of my back, listened to some amazing music and done the stuff I know will help my soul be ok.

Thread 5: Noticing my monthly cycle.

I’m pretty sure I’ve written about this before but this month was a brilliant month to notice my body and how my menstrual cycle was affecting me. I read ‘Period’ which is a brilliant book all people should read to help make it normal to talk about something which affects over half the population of the world. I then had a wonderfully normal monthly cycle, some months it never quite works out in such a text book way but this month was brilliantly predictable. I had two weeks of super joy, high energy and feeling on top of the world. I then sunk into tiredness and had a day in bed exhausted, I levelled off into low energy and then into a week of fairly high sensitivity and sadness. Things that I hadn’t thought about for a while came back into my head, I grieved the loss of community from our last church and felt sad and a bit disconnected from life, and then my period came. I found it so helpful noticing all that was going on, it didn’t mean my sadness wasn’t real, it was just highlighting a grief that was there, which could then be acknowledged and felt.  I feel a bit differently this week after being fairly high energy again and able to see a wider picture of community happening in different ways.  It’s fascinating to notice all that goes on in my head and body, I’m sure not everything is down to my monthly cycle but lots appears to be and it’s good to ride the rollercoaster with that in mind.

And there we are.

Happy Friday to you all.

How’s your month been?

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Books I read 2019

Here’s the list with my must reads (there are gems amongst the others but these are the solid diamonds) of the year in bold…

1. Milkman – Anna Burns

2. The Sermon on the Mount and Human Flourishing – J.T.Pennington

3. 84K- Claire North

4. How to be Famous – Catlin Moran

5. Rewild Yourself – Simon Barnes

6. Mystics and Misfits- Christiana Peterson

7. An Absolutely Remarkable Thing – Hank Green.

8. The Greatest Love Story Ever Told- Nick Offerman and Megan Mullally

9. Hello World- Hannah Fry.

10. Dogs of War – Adrian Tchaikovsky

11. Very Married – Katherine Willis Pershey

12. Michelle Obama- Becoming. 

13. Let Me Lie- Claire Mackintosh

14. Shadow Doctor- Adrian Plass. 

15. The Sin of Certainty- Peter Enns

16. The Bible Tells Me So- Peter Enns. 

17. Uncommon Type- Tom Hanks

18. Shameless- Nadia Bolz-Weber

19. The Immortalists- Chloe Benjamin 

20. Becoming Friends of Time – John Swinton. 

21. Phoebe – Paula Gooder

22. Searching for Sunday- Rachel Held Evans.

23. Middle England – Jonathan Coe

24. The Outrun- Amy Liptrot

25. Being Christian- Rowan Williams

26. The Salt Path- Raynor Winn

27. The Core of the Sun- Johanna Sinisalo

28. The Clockmakers Daughter- Kate Morton

29. Trials of Morrigan Crow- Jessica Townsend

30. Spiritual Direction- Sue Pickering.

31. End of the World Running Club- Adrian J Walker

32. The Day the World Came to Town- Jim Defied

33. Where the Crawdad’s Sing- Delia Owens

34. Normal People- Sally Rooney

35. Ordinary People- Diana Evans

36. The Great Alone- Kristin Hannah

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

38. Inspired- Rachel Held Evans

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

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

41. Walking Away -Simon Armitage

42. When I lost you – Merylin Davies

43. The Confession- Jessie Burton

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

45. Walking back to Happiness- Penelope Swithinbank

46. Orkney- Amy Sackville

47. East of Croydon – Sue Perkins

48. Unsheltered- Barbara Kingsolver

49. Handmaids Tale- Margaret Atwood

50. Escaping the Maze of Spiritual Abuse- Lisa Oakley and Justin Humphreys

51. The Examined Life- Stephen Grosz

52. Today will be different- Maria Semple

53. Period- Emma Barnett

54. A Sky Painted Gold- Laura Wood

55. Akin- Emma Donoghue

56. Padraig O’Tuama – In the Shelter

I’m looking forward to getting stuck into the rest of my Christmas haul in the long bleak month before us… (January is for duvets and books right?)

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