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. 


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…).


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
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

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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Life in Lockdown… the one where the end is in sight.

And so here we are, on the edge of putting some normality back into our routines and life again. On the edge of finding the margins once more, of the boys going to another space for 6 hours a day, of learning how to live with space and openness, learning how to order time to enable us to lean into how loved we are so we can love with open arms of expansive love. 

Here we are. 

I breathe in deep. These weeks have not come easy, they have been full of slow walking on, riding the waves of times when I felt I could cope and times when I felt myself sinking low, sobbing into my pillow whilst my eldest stroked my back saying it’s ok, it’s ok, I’ve got you (my words repeated back at me, reassuring me that sometimes we get things right in parenting and that if he knows how to soothe a sad person he’ll be ok in this thing called life). 

We’ve had times where I’ve loved the endless cuddles and love which pours out from my two puppy like beauties. We’ve had times where I have wandered around screaming ‘GO BACK TO SCHOOL’, as if that would help the situation. Times when the endless talk of poo, the fights, the more fighting, the screams of IT’s NOT FAIR have got too much. No it is not fair. Nothing about this is fair and we have it way better than many others and that’s not fair either my son. 

I breathe in deep, stretch my back out each morning, remember to breathe from my stomach not my chest, my stomach not my chest. I breathe in deep through my nose and expel air from my mouth feeling my back get back into some kind of sensible posture as I do so. I breathe in deep. 

And still the days rolled on, walks, lunch, audio books, films. Walks, lunch, audio books, films. And on and on and on we went. Some days brought warm sun and we remembered that we loved being outdoors, bikes and scooters, trampolines. Evenings running up and down the street. Then the cold hit again and we ached for certainty of warmth in our days. 

And still, somehow, time rolled on.  I see the cycles of flowers, so deeply enjoyed this past year start again. Snowdrops, crocuses, daffodils, wild primroses and now the blossom is starting to emerge and I cannot believe it has been a year now, a year of this uncertain strange disconnection keeping me far from those I love feeling. I can’t believe we’ve been in this place for a year. A year. 

We sit on the edge of change.

As we wait it out we find ourselves as containers of huge emotions, sometimes we can’t help but be sponges and end up spiking out on each other. Snapping and hurting in the overwhelm. 

So we sit on the edge and look to hope. 

Hope in the sunrise each morning, in the green carpet beginning to overtake the woods where I walk each morning. In the green shoots coming out of the buds which have been sitting there all winter, reminding me that we are never truly dead. In the sun streaming through windows, the lighter mornings and evenings, the endless swooping starlings swirling at dinner time out our back window. In the cuddles, the repair after the rupture, in the reading of stories, in the lego models adorning the window sills, in the quiet moments when our feet touch in the morning and we remember we are together in this, in the snatched kisses, the coffee in cold parks walking around and around whilst they play away from us for a few moments. 

I look to hope in the here, the today. 

I need it here as I notice and sense and feel the weight in my body at the moment. As I look to a few days time wondering what space will bring, wondering how much of a crash will come. I look to hope now, to tasting now the wonder of this world. To knowing whatever comes on Monday that I am held. Known, seen and loved. Whatever this next stage looks like I am loved. There are loving arms to fall into this coming week, to hold me as I sit on my grey chair and drink tea, to hold me as I walk dazed around our quiet house, as I read books and walk out on my own around our local area. There is a love that will put me back together again, breathe life into my aching bones and give me strength for this. 

We sit on the edge and breathe. We have made it through this stage. I smile wryly, glad of all the mess, joy, pain and wonder of these last few weeks, grateful, thankful and relieved that change will come on Monday morning. 

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Books I’ve read Jan- Feb 2021

A Manual for Heartache- Cathy Rentzenbrink

A lovely book, really helpful words on what helps when your world has been devastated or doesn’t look like you ever thought. Practical, earthy, real, hopeful and easy to read. 

The 10,000 doors of January- Alix E Harrow

I adored this novel following a girl called January through doors into other worlds. A story of love, commitment, hope and wonder. It altered how I looked at the world around me and I don’t think there is a much higher compliment I could pay to a novel. So good to immerse yourself in. 

Diary of a Young Naturalist- Dara McAnulty

I loved this journey through a year with Dara, a teenage boy who loves the natural world and who also lives with autitism, as do many other members of his family. It’s such a wonderful read. I really appreciated seeing the strategies he uses to live well in the world. I loved the portraits painted of his family and the love and care his Mum clearly has for him. I love how she’s helped him learn how to experience and live well with the things which overwhelm him. It gave me great hope for my boys, a greater desire to be gentle with them and help them with the situations they find hard. Also it made me ache to be back over in Northern Ireland with our family over there and the Mourne Mountains. Dara loves this beautiful world of ours and it was brilliant to journey with him and his reflections on it. 

Everything is Spiritual – Rob Bell

Oh I wanted to love this a lot. Really good friends described how helpful it was and I wanted to delight in it too. But I just didn’t connect with it. Ah well. Maybe a good lesson in how different we all are and what works for some won’t work for others. 

The Wild Silence – Raynor Winn

This however I adored. I love her writing SO much, she also helps me write better as my internal monologue soaks in her prose. This is the wonderful follow up to The Salt Path and I think I liked it more. It’s the story of how they returned to a stable life, how The Salt Path was written and a journey into learning to trust people again. Essential reading I reckon, (but then people said that about the Rob Bell book so take my words with a pinch of salt…). I also loved how much of the divine I found in the book (not that she would call it that on any level..) but the ending resounded loud of the God I know and love. 

Ask Again Yes- Mary Beth Keane

A beautiful novel following the life of two neighbouring families and the lives of two of their kids who grow up together, stay together and form a life together whilst trying to grapple with an incident which tore the families apart. It’s a tale of redemption, hope and the power of real love. Such a good hopeful book. 

Utopia Avenue- David Mitchell

I love David Mitchell. This is a sprawling tale of the band Utopia Avenue and their journey of recording two albums in the middle of the 60s. It’s full of nods to other bands and artists of the time, full of his usual slightly twisty turney plots, full of the normal and bizarre together and any fans of his will love the story arch which turns up in most of his books. I really want to read them all over again to appreciate the depths and intricacies of the world he has created. No idea what you’d make of it if you’d never read any David Mitchell but I loved it. 

Dear Reader- Cathy Rentzenbrink

Another beautiful memoir (I seem to have read loads over the last couple of months) based around her love of reading, how books have held her and been her companions throughout her life so far and some of her story told through the books she was reading at the time. A book which made me want to keep on reading and reading. Beautifully written as well. 

Lectio Divina- Christine Valters Painter

Really helpful book taking you through the different stages and types of Lectio Divina (sacred reading) . I found it gave me a sense of wanting to sit more with the things I read, to notice and be aware of God in the world around me, in the books I read, in the words of the Bible I read. It helped me want to slow life down and take notice. Really easy to read and absorb and one to come back to again and again. 

Once Upon a River- Diane Setterfield

I didn’t love this as much as I know others have, probably because I read it in a fairly disjointed way on my kindle, it might have been more absorbing in a couple of good deep sessions of reading. A great story though of what happens in a local community on the river Thames when a man enters a pub one night carrying what seems to be a dead girl. A fascinating journey of several people connected to the girl and seeing their interconnected lives play out to a surprising conclusion. 

Rumblestar- Abi Elpinstone

This is my pick of the books the boys have read either with me or on their own this month. She might just be my new favourite author. This is a brilliant book of magical worlds but really it’s about friendship, loyalty, how to make friends and keep them and how to deal with anger and sadness without it spilling out on everyone around you, all in a brilliantly fun adventure story. It has a fair few moments of tension but isn’t that scary. (we leave the super cliff hanger chapters for when we read in the day time!). It might just be better than The Land of Roar which was our book of the year last year.

This month they’ve also loved The Boy who Sang with Dragons by Andy Shepherd (the end of a wonderful series which is great if you want some lovely stories without much tension), Pizazz by Sophy Henn (amazingly sarcastic superhero who does some excellent eye rolling), Oliver and the Seawigs by Philip Reeve (a fun adventure story without any scaries).  Son1 loved the start of The Wingfeather Saga by Andrew Peterson but it has some pretty horrid bad guys early on that gave son2 nightmares, he’s decided to save it for a few years time, probably best aged 8/9 and up. They adore The Phoenix comic which arrives on our doorstep every Friday and it’s always a sweet moment when they break off from fighting each other and son1 reads it to son2. 

And you? What good reads have rocked your world this month? 

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Life in Lockdown 2 weeks 3-5

We could argue whether this is lockdown 2 or 3 but for us in the world of small children at home it’s lockdown 2 for sure. The weird fake lockdown that happened in November just doesn’t count, I could still sit on my sofa and read without a small boy trying to sit on my face. That aside. Here we are, one more week to go until Half Term (an arbitrary maker point in the sand, nothing will change around here other than our collective guilt at failing to do any school work will go down a notch or two). 

I’m sitting in our shed typing away with the lovely Binface (search for Binface in previous blogposts from the last 15 years if you want to know who she is and why she’s called Binface) in a zoom box in the corner of my screen as I type. We’re doing this thing where we write together and it feels less lonely and more actual writing takes place. I would like to do it again soon. It makes me write rather than search facebook constantly, I mean she probably wouldn’t know if I was searching facebook but then again maybe deep down she would. Maybe. Anyway, it’s reassuring to know she’s there trying to write whilst I sit here trying to write. 

Husbandface sent me this quote the other day from the wonderful Mary Oliver: 

“The most regretful people on earth are those who felt the call to creative work, who felt their own creative power restive and uprising, and gave to it neither power nor time.”

Those words felt like a big hello to the writer in me who never quite gets enough time to play on this screen. I read Midnight Library recently by Matt Haig and was struck by how few regrets I think I have so far in life. But if life goes on much further without me having sat down and tried to write more, express what I think I have in me, to give it a go, I think I might have a massive regret in a few years time. So here I am. 

Obviously I’m right now writing a blog post but I think that’s all part of the process, I’ve written other stuff in our time together this afternoon and I think I have a next step in my project to tap into next time I sit down and write. But I also wanted to write without thinking too much about it, which I think is a part of my blog post process. Here lies the writing that comes easy rather than the stuff I dig deep for and refine. Both are good, but the easy stuff feels like a good win for this first foray into actually intentionally sitting down to write, rather than feeling the wave catching me and grabbing a moment to tap on my screen or laptop. 

Self analysis of why I’m in a cold shed on a Saturday afternoon over. 

Lockdown life eh. Well it’s much the same as when I last wrote, except we are more tired, more fed up of this blergh landscape, of the endless grey. The questions of when will this be over loom loud. We know hope is on the horizon, the sun will shine again, the Spring is coming, the great cycle of flowers has begun again with snowdrops all over the place. But still. It’s hard and relentless and a big old slippy walk in the mud on a grey misty day. 

Honestly, that’s about all I’ve got. 

The biggest bright spot in my week is, as usual, my spiritual direction course. Each Wednesday I slump into the shed, lock the door with a huge sigh of relief and sigh. Each Wednesday I am drawn back into the reality of love that will not let me go, into depth and into reminders of the One whose love goes deeper than the deepest crap of this world. 

This week we had to write a poem based around the hinge point of the phrase ‘And Yet…’ To write down our worlds without covering over the cracks but then to write ‘and yet’ and see what came out of that about the reality of God in our lives. I groaned a little inwardly, fearing it would be trite, a forcing of the nice neat bow on the end of the story, especially when I felt more in a Psalm 88 place. Then I grudgingly remembered that more often than not the Psalms end in these places of reminders and hope. They end in the-  but I know this of you God or they remind us of the character of God, or they scream come on and show up already because you love us God. 

For me it turned into a powerful exercise in reminding myself that the reality of God always goes deeper than the darkest deep, that even in the most extreme horrid there is always an ‘and yet’. Even if those are the only words on the page. Even if those are the only words we are able to write. We wait for our ‘and yet’ and maybe in the waiting we are somehow finding it. Psalm 88 doesn’t end with any nice joy at the reality of God but the fact it is expressed to God provides it’s own ‘and yet’. 

Here is my slightly raw edged rant with the ‘And Yet’. 

Weighted heavy thoughts
trudging through the mist.
Scared I’m messing those boys up
Scared at my anger, rage,
frustration at this
relentless long bleak walk

Where is there hope? How can I keep going?
How long will this take?
Will we be able to repair and repair after so much rupture?

Questions I throw at your feet in anger
Questions I sob through the night.
Questions I shout into the resounding dark.
Questions I can’t be bothered to ask any more.

And yet

The relentlessness of this slog
is matched by
your relentless love, perseverance, grace
when all is gone of me again.
Your relentless patient endurance, presence
light, hope,
the bedrock at the bottom
the damp-proof liner in these walls
the safety net, the catch me when I fall,
the hands
the hands
that will not
let me go.

And to some it will still sound trite, but on Wednesday night it made a whole lot of difference and gave me some strength to keep on walking. 

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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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