Sunday 10 December 2023

A - Z Challenge: P - People

Well, this could have gone several different ways. Given that my blog productivity moves at the pace of a glacier, if I say that it's taken me longer than usual to decide what to write about for the letter P, you'll understand the magnitude of my dilemma. I had a more than a few ideas (P for prolific). Here are the runners and riders:

P for Pain. Hmm. People wiser than me have not got to the bottom of this one. Theologians and philosophers have mulled it over but I've not heard of anyone who has come to any conclusions that actually help the average, normal person who wants to understand why there is so much sadness around. On the road I live in (and it's small) in recent times there have been frightening diagnoses, bereavements, mental health issues, chronic illness, broken marriages, accidents, devastating family news, violence and loneliness. Should I attempt to explore why God lets this happen? 

P for Prayer. Bit like the last one. Where is God when I need him? When I know that he CAN answer prayer, why doesn't he? Is there any point?

P for Purr. One cat post in an alphabet is probably enough for the average person, but I was tempted to mention once again what a delight and comfort my furry family members are. Bean is my special cat. Yes, I love all three, but Bean is the one who has chosen me, and when she curls up in the crook of my arm or on my chest and purrs (as she is right now), I purr back.

P for Progress. Should I ramble on into the ether about the fact that I am doing a bit better these days - getting out and about a bit more after the hermit-like retreat of the last few years? 

P for Painting. In an effort to increase my creativity levels, I decided this year to do something creative every day. This could be writing, doodling, gardening, or indeed, painting. I got myself a water colour set and quickly became frustrated that I couldn't make things look how I wanted them to, and then bought a cheap set of acrylics that seem to be more my thing. I like painting pebbles. P for Pebbles! 

There were more. P is a good letter for inspiration, it seems, and so my P was held up while I vacillated. 

Until today. Today I went back to church, for the second time since pre-covid days. Steady on. 

There are a number of reasons why I haven't been, not all of which I can go into, but suffice it to say that there have been times when I would not have been able to cope with lots of people asking me how I was, how things were, where I've been etc. Habits change, and one of my daughters is now away at university, the other took on a voluntary job teaching swimming on Sunday mornings and my husband works Sundays now to allow him to take time off in the week. Result - not been to church in years, and the longer I was away, the harder it felt to go back. I do want to say that I never thought I'd actually left church, still read the newsletters, felt as if it was my church; it was just the actual going on a Sunday morning that was problematic. P for problem. 

I was quite nervous walking down the road this morning. 

Would I still feel as if I belonged? Would I be left too far behind? Had I been forgotten? Would I still know anybody? This building that I used to feel was home, a safe place: would it still feel that way? 

Oh, my word. What a gift God had for me this morning. Before I'd chosen a seat, a friend came over and invited me to sit with her. Someone on the row behind hugged me and told me how good it was to see me. We chatted as the band warmed up, at the start of the service. Someone waved extravagantly to attract my attention in the first song and gave me a huge smile. Another dear friend blew me a kiss as she came in late and walked past to a spare seat. Someone else winked, another did a double take when he saw me and grinned broadly. 

The sermon was about the promises of God. P for Promises. About God's faithfulness when his people are unfaithful. About his nearness, his patience (P for Patience) and his unfailing love. His willingness to seek us out and bring us home, to bering about restoration. It was about hope. Exactly what I needed, having been lost in my own wilderness for what feels like a long time. 

Afterwards, I had given myself the option of sneaking out during the final hymn so that I wouldn't have to make conversation (and negotiate those awkward questions) if I didn't want to. And then when it got to that point, it turned out that the final hymn was one that was very special to me, with words that have given me hope to hold onto in recent years. When it was over, some people sought me out for hugs and said some lovely things to me. 

'How wonderful to see you!'

'I've been praying for you.'

'I'm so glad you came!'

For the first time in my life, I was one of the last few people to leave the church building. Never happened before. I even have plans! P for plans! I am meeting a friend for coffee on Tuesday, and another on Thursday, and next week another two for a catch up over a glass of wine one evening. You know that feeling where you see someone you haven't seen in years and it's exactly as if you've never been apart? That. 

I walked home in the cold drizzle with a smile on my face, and smiles have been in short supply for quite a while. 

So, this post is about people. P for People. It's also about prayer, about pain, about peace, about God's presence, about a sense of place, and about progress, but most of all it's about people. 

The people of God, and my people. 

Tuesday 2 May 2023

A - Z Challenge - O: One (Opinion)

Years ago, I wrote an angst-ridden blog post called 'An Audience of One', reminding myself that the only opinion that matters is God's. I clearly needed a lot of reminding; as I read that post now I hear my somewhat shrill voice worrying about what I look like, what I sound like, what people think, what I should do, what I should say... in fact, who I actually am. I use italics a lot. I repeat myself a lot. 

I'll give 2013 me a lot of credit for being honest about things, and for pouring it all out in an authentic way - I remember people got in touch because of this post and used those wonderful words, 'Me too', so I'm not going to be too disparaging. But what struck me as I read that old post was how some things change, and some don't. 

I am ten years older, and what a decade it's been. I am thankful that I didn't know what the future held back then; indeed how glad I am that I don't know what still lies ahead; I have less curiosity than ever. Since I wrote that post I have nursed my lovely mum through increasing infirmity and held her hand as she drew her last breath. I have cleaned up pools of blood, spent days and nights in hospitals and waited on ambulances that never came (I have voted in general elections, you can be quite sure of that). I have made phone calls that I never wanted to make, heard news that I had been dreading. I have walked alongside (and continue to support) loved ones who have been through some of the worst trauma that you can imagine. I have witnessed terror and confusion, despair and fear, but also hope, resilience, and peace and healing, in lots of different forms, and not always the kind of healing that we want. 

I am greyer than I was, with crows feet and jowls that I never used to have and no amount of 'upward massage' and night cream is going to take away the frown lines between my eyes. I am heavier than I was, and I worried about the way I looked even then. My eyesight is worse, my knees hurt more and I get more indigestion. 

Do I still worry about other people's opinions? Maybe, but not so much. Not because I'm getting things right that I used to get wrong, but because I care a lot less what people think. With the exception of a very few people, I try to take no notice. They don't know me. They don't see the world as I do. And if I wouldn't go to someone for advice, I will not accept their criticism. 

I don't spend a lot of time making small talk with people I don't want to be with. My world shrank as Mum needed more and more care, and now I am free to push back the boundaries again, I find that I am choosing which things I want to reinstate, and that is liberating. My time and energy are limited.

Do I still rehash conversations and phone calls and worry about whether I got it right? Sometimes, a little, I think, but after years of fighting for support services, making arrangements and appointments, legal enquiries and advocating for one person or another I worry less about the small things. 

That's what it comes down to: the small things. Working out what really matters, and what doesn't. I suppose by the time most people get to their fifties they have had their share of sadnesses and hurts, and I hope that I have tried to begin to learn what there is to learn from the way that life changes you, and adjustments that must be made, though I know that I still have a way to go. Sometimes you can only reflect on something when it is in the rear view mirror, so to speak, and some of the heavy stuff is still very much current. 

Here are a few disorganised thoughts about things that matter (and maybe things that don't).

I loved my Mum, and she knew that she was loved. My care for her in those last months, weeks, days, hours, minutes... it was imperfect, but I did my best. She died comfortably in her own bed with her family around her, and that's what she wanted. I am proud that I managed to give that to her. 

We have been, and are going through some tough times that most people don't have to navigate. It is hard and I am doing my best. The first time someone said that to me, I cried. Since then, I have been able to pass that wonderful bit of wisdom along to others, and it often elicits the same response. 

"This is hard, and you are doing your best." 

I try to forgive myself when I get things wrong. I get tired, I get irritable, I get overwhelmed. Sometimes I don't know the answer. I need time to myself even when other people think I should be available for them. If I can't do it, I can't do it. 

It's ok if someone doesn't think well of me. People are capable of handling disappointment and I will manage to survive someone's scowl or sulk. If I say the wrong thing in a conversation in the frozen food department of the supermarket with someone I haven't seen in a few years, well, it'll probably be a few more years before I see them again. And I do most of my shopping online now, anyway. 

I cannot control everything. Not everything is my fault. It's ok to say no. These days I say no more than I say yes, to be honest, and I'm alright with that. Would ten-year-ago-me be alright with it? I don't know, but I suspect not. Am I happy about what I had to go through to learn about saying no? No, certainly not, but let's celebrate that I got there at all. 

Every cat is a therapy cat. I have three black rescue cats, Noodle, Spike and Bean. They were sent from God to make me smile. When Spike tries to catch a fly and falls off the windowsill, or when Bean curls up on my lap and purrs, those are moments that matter, I am sure of it.

So I think I was right to remind myself that the only opinion that matters is God's opinion. I had the right idea. What's different is that I worried about such a lot of small things that don't seem very important or relevant any more. It's all a matter of perspective. 

Yes, I play to an audience of One, but the audience is not dissatisfied and giving me a slow hand-clap; he is cheering me on. He is proud of me. This is hard and I am doing my best. If God wants more from me, then he'll have to give me what I need to deliver more, but I am persuaded that he knows how hard it's been, how hard I've been trying, how tired I am. 

In the words of the wonderful Adrian Plass, God is nice, and he loves me. I don't think he cares about a lot of the small stuff. And, maybe, just as my ten year old blog post seems a bit lightweight and trivial (but it really didn't feel that way at the time), maybe an awful lot more of life is smaller than we think.

Lord God, teach me what actually matters.

Monday 20 March 2023

A - Z Challenge - N: Noticing

Today is the first day of Spring, my favourite season of the year. Today is rainy so I am staying inside, but yesterday was the very best sort of day, the kind with sunshine and blue sky and little shimmers of colour in the corner of your eye wherever you looked. Remarkable really, as only seven days previously we'd been making snowmen. Only in England. 

This year the Spring Inspection is difficult for me. It's much lonelier, as my mum isn't here to see it and enjoy it with me; it was her favourite season too. We'd count down the days, stand by the window willing the weather to take a turn for the better and snuggling into blankets and throws while we waited. At the earliest opportunity we would carefully step outside to take a walk around the garden, latterly with mum leaning heavily on my arm and me always with an eye to the nearest bench or bit of wall on which to have a rest if she'd been on her feet too long. 

We'd wander round (always clockwise, for some reason) and hunt for signs of new growth. Tiny buds, leaves, shoots - any signs of life after the dullness of the winter hibernation.

Nothing went unnoticed as we gently cradled buds, avoided stepping on the crocuses and aconites, picked up fallen twigs from the silver birch or made mental notes of Things That Need Doing. 

Yesterday, Mothers' Day, I walked around the garden on my own and life was waiting for me. The snowdrops are nearly finished, the crocuses still spectacular and at their peak, daffodils just beginning. The hyacinths smell gorgeous, the muscari just beginning to bud and the currant bush looking as if it can't contain itself much longer.  

What undid me was the magnolia flower. Just the one flower on the stellata at the moment, although other buds are forming. The reason I stared at the single flower for so long with tears running down my face was that my Mum loved this little magnolia bush. It was a present from my brother and myself many years ago, but we had to move it from it's original spot  because of building work, and all gardeners know that magnolias are particularly grumpy about being moved. 

The star of the show

I was all for ditching it and buying another, to be honest, but Mum wouldn't have it, and she was in charge. So, we dug the biggest hole we could, took as much root as we could (it took two of us to lift it) and we planted it in a place far away from diggers and builders' feet, and we tended it as best we could. For years, the stellata sulked. No flowers for many a spring, then a handful of weedy, sickly looking  droopy flowers more like wilting splats than stars. In recent years it has looked definitely alive and doing ok, if not actually thriving, but I thought that maybe it was as good as it got. 

Every year there were the jokes about the magnolia that I wanted to kill, the one I didn't care about, the neglected one, the plant with hurt feelings - and here it was, one big, fat, happy-looking flower, and no Mum to see it. And, looking at the rest of the bush, this year looks like the year that I am forgiven. I'll post some more pics if I remember. 

I am reading a book at the moment about the importance of noticing things. Noticing the small things, the minute glimpses of joy and mystery and beauty. I realised that I used to write about it too - how the little things matter (sometimes vastly more than the so-called Big Things) and how the little things are vital for your soul. For my soul. I am determined to start noticing again.

It has been hard. I don't blame myself for shutting myself away from the world, withdrawing into myself and my small, insulated place of safety, because things have happened to us that meant it was the only way I could cope. I'm not sure there was another way, to be honest. But here, it's spring, with its newness and hope and it's sparkling, indomitable spirit, and, like that magnolia stellata, I must stop licking my wounds and harbouring my grievances and see if I can muster a flower. 

I have no idea if this is possible. If it turns out that it isn't, then alright, maybe some other time. I'm done with making promises (and this A-Z challenge is testament to that!) and I'm not ready to set goals. I just feel that I want to put it out there that this spring, heartsick as I am that Mum isn't here to see it, maybe I want to push towards the light with a new green shoot. 

Maybe nobody is looking, and that's alright. Maybe I am the only person to have noticed that immaculate stellata flower, but it would have opened its petals even if nobody ever saw it. It blooms because that's what it does. 

God notices. He doesn't miss a thing. 

And just as I gently lifted the magnolia flower between my fingers and lifted it to gaze full in its face, so He gently lifts my chin so that I can look in His face and notice that He is still there. 

Monday 6 March 2023

A - Z Challenge - M: Murmuration

We went to see a murmuration of starlings. You know, the thing where a vast number of starlings collect in the air in one place and swoop and dance about in wonderful formation at dusk before settling to roost in trees? Also known as flocking (but that doesn't begin with M). Well, we went to see one.

A good friend of ours, a lifelong birdwatcher, nature lover, tree expert and all-round knowledgeable soul had good intel that starlings were doing their thing at this particular location at this particular time, and so we layered up well, laced up the walking boots (well, laced up the boots first in my case as I'm finding that it's increasingly difficult to reach my boots when I'm bundled up) and we climbed in the car full of expectation. 

We were there, but the starlings turned out not to be. Actually, that's not true - a few turned up ('Oh look! Here they are!') but were clearly either lost or discouraged by the absence of the Main Flock and went to bed early, and unspectacularly. Just enough to cause a short-lived ripple of excitement. 

Or not.

We stood in a field  in the Derbyshire countryside at dusk, on a February evening, in barely above zero degrees with only half a bag of mint imperials between us for sustenance, and the birds didn't show up. But you know what? It was fun. 

We walked up and down a bit. We stamped our feet and fumbled with mint imperials in thick gloves. We discussed which trees were which and saw a rabbit (or was it a hare? No, it was a biggish rabbit). We made up stories about abandoned farm buildings and secret drug rings and us on a hillside with binoculars.   We found a camera lens cap on the ground and decided it was definitely encouraging evidence that we were in the right place. We shared ideas about what we would do if we decided to do One New Thing each month that we had never done before. We chatted briefly with a fellow murmuration-hopeful who had seen a wondrous display only days previously! It was marvellous! Bad luck that when we turn out they have a day off. 

We trudged back down the path while we could no longer feel our feet and I did my best to climb into the car with knees that didn't want to bend, without muddying the white upholstery. Apparently the front seats are heated, but my husband had bagged the passenger seat. Still, I had the 'perials*. 

Home before we knew it and our friend was apologetic that it had been a wasted trip. But it hadn't been. 

We did something different. Speaking of 'One New Thing', I've never been to look at a murmuration before though I've seen them on Countryfile and often said that it's something I'd like to do. I'd like to see a murmuration one day. Maybe to see one you have to go and not see one quite a few times first. I gather it's bit like that in the birdwatching world**. 

We spent a happy couple of hours doing something. The last few years have been pretty awful and we haven't really done very much, so it was unusual. It was good to look outside for a while - outside ourselves and physically outside, despite the cold and the mud and the barren, bird-free landscape. It may not have been much but it was something, and something is better than nothing, and it's been nothing for quite some time. 

So I call that a win. 

*    When I was a kid, I thought these little round sweets that my mum always had (to aid digestion) were called Mintim Perials. So in our house they are still 'perials. 

**  Though my very limited experience of birdwatching has been different. When I was 17 I went out with a keen birdwatcher who invited me to come with him to look for nightjars in Clumber Park. (This was with the local chapter of the birdwatching society of which he was a member, before you see euphemisms everywhere.) We went, we sat in some bushes for hours on end and yes, a nightjar gamely turned up. It was summer, so not cold. Job done! Did it give me a taste for birdwatching? No.

Tuesday 20 September 2022

A - Z Challenge - L: Love

I've a feeling that this blog post might be a short one, but it's one of the biggest I've ever tried to write. I could have called it 'Loss' or 'Lost' or 'Lonely' or 'Lament', or any number of words beginning with L that signify the sad, broken feeling that permeates life at the moment. Ha. Maybe I should just have called it 'Life'. 

The last few years have been hideous for our family. On top of the strains and stresses of a global pandemic which knocked everyone for six and the disaster that is Brexit that ruined the family business, we have had other serious stuff that's not my story to tell, my job only to try and help others through. All this is ongoing. Then, on 16 April, Easter Saturday, my Mum (90) fell in her bathroom and hit her head on the floor. 

We thought she was getting better to start with - she was remarkably alert despite the trauma and the blood loss, and the doctors and nurses checking her over and dressing her wounds were optimistic that she would be back on her feet in a few days. To cut a long, painful, day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute story very short, she never did get back on her feet. 

My Mum died on 21 May 2022 at 10.25pm. Oh, God, I miss her. 

I was there at the end. We had time to sit around her bed and play her favourite music and hold her hand and tell her how much she was loved and what a wonderful Mum she'd been. I hope she could hear us. 

I hope she knew who we were, because latterly there were times when she didn't know us at all. My heart broke over and over as she slipped further from us into confusion and I did everything I could to comfort and reassure her, but I wish it had been more. It was exhausting and devastating and although I know that I was not capable of anything else, I am tortured by the idea that she was anxious and I was not there, and I am haunted at the memory of every moment of panic when she did not recognise her surroundings. 

But I was there all that day, all evening and at the very end, when her breathing slowed, and then there was a long, long pause. I leaned my forehead on her shoulder and wept. She took one more deep breath, sighed, and she was gone. Just like that.

I thought in my youth that when I finally lost my Mum I would be self sufficient with a family of my own and I wouldn't feel the devastation I contemplated when I was a kid. I thought that having taken care of her for twelve years since my Dad died and having felt the strain of being a full time carer in recent years, that there might even have been an element of relief. I thought that because by the end we knew that she wasn't going to get better, I might have been a bit prepared for the day when she left me. 

On all counts, I was wrong. 

Yes, she was 91 years old, yes, she was frail and struggling and the subdural haemorrhage that was the final straw could not be treated. Yes, I'm in late middle age myself and my husband is the best of all of them and my two daughters are the lights of my life. But, oh, Lord God, I want my Mum. 

I thought I'd tell you about her. Maybe share some stories about walking on the beach together, about sharing Sherbet Fountains, about laughing when her ice cream melted everywhere on holiday last year. About our shared inability to go for a coffee at a garden centre cafe without coming home with rockery plants. About her delight in her grandchildren, her pride in her family. About how badly she missed my Dad after his death in 2005. 

I don't think I can do it. 

She was my Mum. My biggest ally; nobody is ever as completely on your side as your mum, are they? If the whole world was against me, she would still be in my corner. Even in her last months I would go in and flop down on her sofa and tell her the things that were bothering me. She would listen, she would sympathise , she would give me a hug. 

I remember one time; I didn't even need to say anything. Mum was drying dishes at her kitchen sink and I came into the room. She took one look at my face and put her arms around me. As I hugged her back she felt so small, so slight, so fragile. I kissed the top of her head and helped her to her chair before she got tired or lost her balance. I put the kettle on. 

I go in there now and she's not there. Her chair is empty. I've sorted out some of her clothes and given them to charity shops, and I've cleaned out cupboards and put them to new uses but there are some things that I can't tidy away. Her favourite cardigan still hangs in the wardrobe because I can't let go of it. Her glasses are still on her chest of drawers by the mirror. The book she was reading still has her bookmark in it.

And I can't tidy away the love that I still have for my Mum that now has nowhere to go. I've looked after her for the last few years but she looked after me for my whole life. I sometimes think that I was more of a worry to her as an adult than I ever was as a teenager. Every day I think of things I want to tell her. I see things that I know would make her laugh, bits of gossip about people I see at the shops. I looked through a photo album I'd never seen before and I need to ask her who some of these people are. 

Who else knows what to say when I ask, 'Have a grape'? (the answer is 'I don't want a grape, either!', and then we both laugh - it's a long story). 

Nobody holds up the other end of our shared jokes any more. 

Watching all the pomp and ceremony regarding the death of Queen Elizabeth these last couple of weeks has been like scratching off a scab on a wound that is still painful. Mum was an ardent Royal supporter. She would have been so sad that the Queen was dead and also fascinated at the splendour of the funeral and loving the glimpses of the Royal Family. We would have watched it together with a packet of biscuits and lots of cups of coffee. It would have been another shared experience. 

Mum's funeral was not much like the Queen's, as you can imagine. We all had Covid at the time, so hardly anyone came, even though the funeral directors were very skilful in keeping the poorly people away from the healthy ones. It was over in half an hour without any need for gun carriages or orbs or sceptres. On the night they came to take Mum's body away I took off her wedding ring, grown loose as she became more and more frail, and I slid it on the ring finger of my right hand where it's stayed ever since. Her ashes have been scattered in the same place as my Dad's. We planted roses. 'Peace' and 'Remembrance'.

She's gone, and it really hurts. I don't know what death is, really. I know what Jesus told us about it, and I hang onto the things that I believe to be true. I hope that on that night in May when she left here she found my Dad waiting for her. I hope that maybe she was part of the reception committee for the Queen when she arrived a few months later. I hope that she's okay. 

I hope she knows how much I loved her. 

Wednesday 17 August 2022

A - Z Challenge - K: Kettle


How many times have I let my blog gather dust for a lengthy period of time and then announced a comeback that doesn't happen?  Several times I have declared that I'm back, announced that this time I'm here to stay, definitely, watch this space because great things will happen and... and... then, nothing. Fade back into oblivion until the next burst of enthusiasm. Or guilt. Or something.

Well, no more. Never let it be said that I am not a creature with the ability to learn. It might just take time.

So, yes, I am back, right now

Tomorrow? Who knows? 

The A-Z Challenge that I started has long finished, slept for a year and finished again, but I am choosing not to care. Not to focus on the yawning gaps, but just embrace the fact that I'm here now, not making any promises to anyone; not to God, not to my faithful reader, not to myself. 

I shall put the kettle on. As my teenage daughters might say, BRB.*

* Be Right Back. 😉

Monday 19 April 2021

A-Z Challenge - J: Jesus

Well, who knows what letter of the alphabet everyone else is on? I am on J, which is a good place to be, because that's where Jesus is. 

Once again, an old post but this time heavily reconfigured. Some things do not change, do they?

'In the morning, when I rise, give me Jesus.'

This is a quote from a traditional spiritual song that I don't know which was famously (apparently) arranged by a lady called Alma Blackmon. The words are very simple, and beautiful and the refrain: 

'You can have all this world
Just give me Jesus'.

That's about it. 

There have been a handful of times in my life, Lord God, when I've run out of... well, everything. Energy, ideas, patience, peace of mind. This week is pretty much one of those times. It's been a week in which anxiety and worry linked arms and barged their way back into my head where they set up camp and made themselves comfortable. Fear crept in quietly and ominously and now huddles with them round the camp fire and depression has taken a step out from the shadows and is asking to join in the conversation.

Give me Jesus. 

Lord, give me Jesus when I rise, and before that, when I lie in bed and stab at the snooze button and try to stay asleep because it's easier being asleep than awake. Give me Jesus when I come downstairs and try with as much tact and diplomacy and thick-skinned-ness to communicate with my teenage daughters who have their own sizeable problems at the moment. 

Give me Jesus as I exercise to try to loosen my aching joints and fight on against the accumulating excess pounds. Give me Jesus as I make phone calls and check for sad messages that are surely coming soon. Give me Jesus as I break news, as I make arrangements, as I try to think of things to say. Give me Jesus when I'm on the brink of saying things I should not say. 

As I spend time with people I love, give me Jesus so that they can see Him, not me. 

Give me Jesus as I try to find a meal that everyone will eat at a time when everyone is free to eat it. Give me Jesus as I head off to bed before my daughters and try to sleep not knowing when they'll go to bed and if they'll be able to get up in the morning. 

Lord, Give me Jesus. You can have all this world, just give me Jesus. 

Lord, you can certainly have all this world. I don't want it very much at the moment. It's a world full of broken marriages and pain and illness and hospitals and doctors and shaking heads and bad news and low self esteem and tears and waiting and lying awake at night not-knowing and filling the gaps with imagination that just loves to paint everything bleak and grim. 

It's a world full of shadows that are so dark that sometimes it's hard to see you.

It's a world where you are visible in the huge extravagant beauty of the magnolias blooming in my garden (well, the ones that survived last week's sub-zero temperatures) and in the promise of the flowers on the tomato plants and in the baby radishes peeping potential above the soil. It's a world of purply-grey stormy skies and lashing rain then watery sunshine and subtle rainbows and the smell of wet dusty ground. 

It's a world where those that have eyes to see and ears to hear can find you all everywhere - and all that's just lovely and great but right now it's not enough, Father God. I don't want to discern you in subtleties, I want to run actually, not figuratively, into your real, solid, faithful arms and feel the weight and strength of your embrace. To let my legs go as wobbly as they feel and let you pick me up effortlessly and hold me close like a little girl. 

Daddy, I'm tired.

I don't want to be strong. I want to give up. I want to stay asleep. 

I don't want to keep trying to communicate when I don't have words. I don't want to persevere with the goals I've set myself - who am I kidding? I abandoned them long ago, but they haunt me still. I want to sit down and not move. I don't want to make decisions and I don't want to explain bad things to small children and I just don't want to do any of it any more. 

I don't want to run the race, I'm tired and I want to rest. 

You can have all this world. Just give me Jesus. 

Wednesday 14 April 2021

A - Z Challenge - I: Inadequate

Another repost - I'm trying to tell myself that this is not cheating, that it is still a way of reconnecting with my writing, but I fear I'm kidding myself. I can't believe that I used to have so many ideas and so much time. But - maybe that makes this post altogether more relevant to Right Now as well as Then. 


(First published as 'How to be a Small, Inadequate, Mighty Warrior').

Gideon had a word with me the other day.
I'm sure you've met Gideon. His story can be found in the Book of Judges in the Bible. 

I am drawn to Gideon. He felt small and inadequate, and I know that feeling.

Judges 6:12.  God sent an angel to chat with Gideon and the first thing the angel said was, 'The Lord is with you, mighty warrior.'

At this point I imagine Gideon looked behind him, because clearly there must be a mighty warrior nearby that he hadn't noticed. He wasn't feeling very mighty, or warrior-like; he was feeling defeated and weak and insignificant. What's more, he didn't feel particularly that God was on his side, but he rallies and very politely comes over all cynical:
'If the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us? Where are all his wonders...?'
Gideon was quietly doing his thing, minding his own business, and God came and told him to stop doing his thing, and go do a great thing.
'Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian's hand. Am I not sending you?'  
What about that? The clue is in 'Am I not sending you?' If Mighty God was telling Gideon that he was equal to the task of fighting the Midianites, then he probably was. Of course, this is easy for me to say. I'm not the one hiding from these same people and wondering what on earth is going on.

Gideon argues:
"'But Lord,' Gideon asked, 'How can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.'"
You've got the wrong guy.

But God is patient and reassuring.
'Pull yourself together, Gideon. Blimey, how many times do I have to tell you? I am GOD. If I tell you you're going to be Superman, then you're going to be Superman. For Pete's sake, man up.'
Or not quite like that. God tells him that he would be with him.

Time and time again Gideon asked for proof that it was God, proof that God definitely was talking to him, proof that he'd heard God correctly. Did God get impatient? No, God humours him. Did God get a bit annoyed that he kept asking for a sign? Nope. God gave him signs.

God is endlessly patient. But that isn't the whole story. Of course, there's the bit about Gideon's defeat of the Midianites, the ongoing chronicles of the people of God and the glory of the Almighty shining through humble servants, there's that. But the thing that struck me is how God stoops down to choose ordinary people to do the extraordinary. When those ordinary people have hangups ('But I'm weak! How can I do this thing for you?') or insecurities ('I am the least in my family!') He reassures and equips.

God says: I will be with you. I'm going to hold your hand.

Go in the strength you have.

God didn't make Gideon feel strong. He didn't double the size of his muscles, or give him a couple of tanks and a huge army - He simply said, 'Go in the strength you have. Am I not sending you?'

If God is sending us, we'll be alright. He wanted Gideon to trust that he would be equipped when he needed equipping. Not right up front, able to see how things would play out, no surprises; to step out, just as he was, knowing that the Lord was fighting with him.

God wasn't talking to the person behind him who had bigger biceps and a bit more charisma.  I don't think it's any different today.  God says to me and you, 'I am with you.'

Doesn't He say to us, 'Go in the strength you have?' and, 'My power is made perfect in weakness.' (2 Cor 12:9) Doesn't He ask us to step out in faith, no knowing all the answers, with the knowledge that He is beside us and will give us what we need when we need it?

Forget the woman on the other side of church who is more beautiful than I am, more confident. Forget the other folks who are publishing their books and getting great reviews. Forget the guy who writes the blog that has so many more hits than mine. God has something else up His sleeve for them that's none of my business.

There is a plan just for me. God knows what He's doing when He asks someone to do something.

Sounds straightforward, doesn't it?

Funny how the Bible has been around so long and yet nothing changes. I compare myself with others just as Gideon did and I find myself wanting, just as he did. I wonder why I should try anything when that mean little snipy voice tells me that it's been done better by someone else already. I wonder why I should even entertain the possibility that God has a calling for me, little me, pathetic little me... just as Gideon did.

I'm not saying that I am a spiritual giant of the stature of the Old Testament heroes. But what I heard as I read the story of Gideon this morning is that the Biblical Big Guns had cold feet too. Even they doubted themselves and felt small and insignificant sometimes.

I so often feel ill-equipped for the task of living as God would have me live just on a day to day basis. If God has something for me to do, or say, or write, or tell people about, then I'm quite sure I'll worry about that too. Why me? How, me? And yet the answers are right here.
'Am I not sending you?'
If the Lord God Almighty is asking, then I'm dancing. If He's sending, then I'm going. Because He also says, 'I'll be with you.'

There's no safer place than where God is. Even on a battlefield (and my life sometimes feels just like a battlefield). But look what Gideon did. He defeated the Midianites, just as God said he would, even if he was from the weakest tribe, even if he was the least in his family. 

God was right. How 'bout that?

So when I feel defeated by circumstances and inadequate and afraid, I should remember that God's power is perfect in weakness. Well, that's something I can do: if weakness is required, I can provide it!  In buckets. When I am weak, He are strong. If God is by my side, and I am hearing His voice, then I have sufficient strength for the next step. He will provide all I need.

I need faith, Lord. Always more faith. Sometimes believing is hard.

I need to hear the voice that told Gideon, 'Go in the strength you have. Am I not sending you?

Amen, Father.

Tuesday 13 April 2021

A - Z Challenge - H: Home

Well, I'm behind already. I suppose it was inevitable. But still, onwards...

This is an edited version of an old post that I wrote in answer to the question, 'Where's home?' and 'What does home mean to you?' Bit of a lengthy answer; it's more of a potted biography I suppose. But home is many things, and not always geographical. 


I am from Derbyshire, a town with a crooked spire and Roman history, celebrated market and too many Tescos. Peak District hills and dales and moors and crags. I am from the county furthest from the sea in a small, crowded island that can sometimes feel big. 

I am from 1930s bay window, back garden photographs, chunky legs and a scowl in front of the conifers in the garden, tiny then, towering last year, now gone. I am from endless summers, droughts and ladybirds, watering the vegetables with bathwater. From snowmen and snow-in-your-wellies and cocoa in blue and white striped mugs. 

I am from bucket and spade, hunt for seashells, run from seaweed, cool wind off the North Sea beach holidays. Caravans and car journeys and endless photographs. I am from pub-lunches and motorbike rides and leapfrogs and awful school dinners. 

I am from 'Jesus' sandals, sensible shoes, gabardine raincoats, falling down white socks, wonky fringe, cheese and beetroot sandwiches, skipping ropes, grazed knees and space hoppers. From shoe buckles snagging on the sofa cushions, wax crayons and writing stories in tiny notebooks. From beans on toast, pikelets with melted butter and canned fruit and blocks of ice cream in the freezer compartment. My mum's rice pudding; the best in the world. 

I am from Sunday lunch at Grandma's, chicken and gravy and endless grown up conversation and rhubarb-from-the-garden suet pudding (lines your stomach). I am from rocking chairs and setting lotion and cigarette smoke and bags of sweets and leaving my blanket behind and insisting that Daddy goes back to fetch it. I am from please-and-thank-you, kiss-it-better and it-won't-always-be-dark-at-six and if-at-first-you-don't-succeed... I am from reserved and English and stiff-upper-lip and a-smile-costs-nothing.

I am from Enid Blyton and Helen Dore Boylston and Nancy Drew and Jill's Gymkhana. I am from Bunty magazine, and my brother's Beano and then Just Seventeen and Mizz and Cosmopolitan. From shopping with Mum, saving up for things, giving things to Dad to mend rather than buy new. 

I am from Listen with Mother and Magic Roundabout just before the news with Dad and Andy Pandy after lunch with Mum and Mary Mungo and Midge. From longing for a Blue Peter Badge and from (the innocence of) Jim'll Fix It and Why Don't You...? Jacques Cousteau's Undersea World and the dull bit at the end of The Two Ronnies that grown ups found the funniest. From staying up late on New Year's Eve watching The Sound of Music for the very first time. 

I am from eager to please at school, english lessons easy and maths lessons hard. I am from too much homework and ice on the inside of the bedroom window above my desk. 

I am the bullied, the insecure, the prize-winning, the fearful, the prefect, the distrustful. I am from adolescence in the company of boys, not girls (much more straightforward that way). 

I am from hotbrushes, big hair, hairspray and Sodastream. From rolled up jacket sleeves and 'Flashdance' and 'Pretty In Pink' and 'The Breakfast Club'. From Slinkies and Sindy dolls and Pippa and thinking that ET was not remotely cute and being unmoved when he nearly died. 

I am from Atari tennis blip-blip electronic games and wishing for a Donkey Kong. From three TV channels and no video. From the girl with the teddy and blackboard and the National Anthem when the telly was finished. I am from the days when we had our first phone installed and it went bring bring and we sat on the stairs in a draught to talk. 

I am a teenager in the middle of a crowd on a hot, hot day listening to an evangelist talk about Jesus Christ. I am the only one there. I am lost and I am found. I am one of those stumbling past rows of knees to get to the aisle, self-consciousness forgotten, to turn my tearstained face upwards and say yes, please to the One who really saw me. 

I am from church youth group, boyfriends, church camps in the Lake District, exam-passing, teacher-pleasing (mostly) and the first in the family to go to university. I am from Bronte, Hardy, Clare, Keats and Shelley. From Shakespeare, Chaucer, Jonson, Rosetti, Milton and Byron. 

I am from churchy, goody-goody, black and white, right and wrong, finding out about the grey the hard way. I am from broken heart, church work disillusionment and faith on the back burner. From broken friendships, loneliness and confusion. I am from knowing what I want, not knowing what I want, changing my mind, changing direction, worrying my parents. 

I am from leaving the country, seeing the world, running from decisions, backpacking, bewildering long haul flights and sleeping on coaches, brushing teeth out of a window, getting by with language, camping under the stars; geyser fields and sunrises, waterfalls and air so thin it's hard to breathe. Condors and sloths and llamas and butterflies and cockroaches. From the beauty and the grime and the wonder and the riches and the poverty. 

I'm from Derbyshire, Newcastle, Liverpool, London. From old friends, new friends, new town, new university, new dreams. Anatomy, physiology, sociology, psychology. More exams, romance, wedding magazines, diamond rings and flowers. I'm from happy, holding hands, holidays and freedom. I'm from uniforms, paperwork, hospitals, making splints, holding hands, mending bodies, teaching skills, ticking boxes, climbing the ladder, striving, achieving, trying so hard but wondering what else there must be. 

I'm from sentimentality, memories, diaries, journals, fragments of stories. Creative writing, photography, bereavement, childbirth. I am from fractured sleep and crying babies and confusion and despair. I am from post natal depression, lost and lonely and fearful, and then found once again and comforted and held tight.

I am from coming home to church and finding that it was not God who went away but me. I am back to live in the house with the beautiful back garden with the people who mean the world to me. 

I'm from middle age and aching joints and calorie counting and calorie ignoring, comfort-eating and exercise regimes started and discontinued. I am from self-conscious and struggling, from the land of low self-esteem and distorted self-image; but I am awake again to the truth of how much I am loved, and I want to tell the world: if I am loved like this, then you are too. 

I am from gratitude and awe and tearful thanksgiving. I am from hands-in-the-air worship and head-bowed in prayer. From day-by-day, hour-by-hour keeping going, carrying on, doing my best, starting again, not giving up. 

I am from closed-fist to open-palm, from rags to riches, from darkness to light.

I am wife and mother and daughter and sister and friend. 

I am a child of God. 

Thursday 8 April 2021

A-Z Challenge - G: Gospel (choir)

Well, this is a little tenuous, I admit, but it's almost bedtime and I've only just sat down with my computer so I'm afraid this offering is a repost of something previously published as 'Joy, Sister'. So to file it under G is a bit of a cheat, really. 

But it is about a Gospel choir. It's about Gusto. It's also about God. 

Here's a little anecdote. A true story. 

New York city, nineteen ninety something. Backpacking with a friend. The Empire State building, the Twin Towers, the Staten Island Ferry and the Statue of Liberty in one weekend and then, before we caught a train somewhere else, Sunday worship at a cavernous and very well known New York church.

It was held in a huge theatre right in the heart of Manhattan. There were thousands of people swaying to music and and the service hadn’t even begun.  A vast gospel choir in red and purple robes with big white collars straight out of the Blues Brothers had a band with guitars, keyboards, a five piece rhythm section and more brass than you could shake a stick at. Swirling spotlights played on the congregation as the music got louder.

Then, without warning, a small, bald man with an impossibly shiny head trotted out from the wings, bowed to the assembly and began to convulse. Nobody bat an eyelid; indeed the band started to play - it turned out that he was conducting, and with such energy that it looked as if he’d been electrocuted. 

The place erupted. Everyone was on their feet, reaching for the heavens, calling out, and dancing with breathtaking abandon. They were full of the Spirit and He was most certainly bursting out all over. I could only gaze in awe at the uninhibited celebrations all around me  – I was overwhelmed by something I’d never seen before (or since, actually); something so wonderful but a galaxy away from church back home. No, further than that. 

Worship here was a whole-body experience. 

Fingers outstretched, arms waving, hips gyrating, eyes tight shut and expressions of ecstasy or pain – it was hard to tell which. 

The aisles were full and so people danced even in the confines of their rows. 

For me, trapped mid-row, twenty oblivious, ecstatic bodies between me and the aisle at either side, I felt my personal space somewhat invaded.  

Despite being stuck in the middle, I was definitely on the outside looking in. You might say that I was significantly outside my reserved, Anglican comfort zone.

Not knowing the unfamiliar songs I hummed along. I had my hands very firmly in my jeans pockets. I have to admit that I became so carried away with the music that I may or may not have perhaps been tapping my right foot.

They were singing a song about the joy of the Lord. At last! I knew this one! I could remember the words and with what, for me, passes for great gusto, I added my little warble to the beautiful harmonies and counter harmonies that were so effortlessly and energetically offered all around me. I began to enjoy myself.


The very large orange and purple clad lady gyrating to my left nudged me in the ribs with a meaty elbow and leaned over to bellow in my ear:

‘I don’t see that joy, sister!’


I don’t know if she expected me to switch it on like the Oxford Street Christmas Lights, maybe, but what joy there had been – and there had been some, actually, easing nervously out of its hiding place,  limbering up for something a bit special - like a bit of swaying from foot to foot, maybe - well, that bit of fledgeling joy panicked, elbowed his way through the crowd and fled the theatre right then. 

She didn’t see the joy. Well, I can understand that. 

It would take a trained eye. 

It was there, though. Honest. 

A - Z Challenge: P - People

Well, this could have gone several different ways. Given that my blog productivity moves at the pace of a glacier, if I say that it's ta...