Thursday, 23 June 2016

Me and the moon: a conceit

I am the moon.

I look down on the world from on high - but all my light comes from you. I glow only because the you shine on me. When I was younger I thought that I was all the light that I needed, just me, shining brightly, but as I've grown older I realise that I have none of my own at all.  I depend on you.

You are the only light.

Sometimes, occasionally, people see and comment on my unique beauty - but that too comes from you; it's all because of you. Most often I am not bright enough for people to notice me at all. Without you to illuminate me I'd be completely dark; the world wouldn't know that I was there. Now and then when there's nothing between you and me to get in the way, that's when I'm best; reflecting your light. On those occasions I shine. Your light bounces from me - I am occasionally a source of inspiration, but always I fade and give way at sunrise.


Read the rest, should you so wish, over at the Association of Christian Writers' blog, which is called More Than Writers. I'm there on 23rd of each month, so do come and say hello.

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

A black eye and a taste of heaven

This is an old post; I wrote it when Lizzy was eight, and it's only needed a little updating now that she's eleven. Yesterday was her birthday and it all came back to me once again.

Yesterday was my little girl's eleventh birthday and she was more excited than an excited thing. We did all the stuff; we did presents, we did birthday-tea-full-of-treats-with-little-nutritional value, we did balloons, we did singing, we did blowing out candles. We did hugs and we did great big smiles. We did reminiscing, Daddy and me.

I gave birth to Elizabeth after a rapid labour that confounded the midwives. I had a single paracetamol for pain relief at about half past eight because the midwife who examined me thought I had a very long way to go and assumed I was a bit of a wuss to be asking about it so early in the game. When I got hold of the gas and air I left teeth-marks in the mouthpiece and nail marks where I had it clenched in my fist. Daddy arrived at half past nine fresh off a train from London and walked in nonchalantly just in time for the punchline. 

At 10.16pm, Elizabeth Lucy took everyone by surprise and was born on a plinth in an examination room on the hottest day of the year 2005, and all the fans were in use elsewhere. It was warm work.

I held my little girl in my arms and I was filled with wonder. Long fingers, a mass of light brown hair, button nose, little chin just like her Daddy's and a big black eye. She was brand new, moments old,  with a lusty cry before she was even fully born. 

Red and bruised, head slightly elongated, one eye bloodshot and swollen shut, little rosebud lips giving us glimpses of a little pointy tongue, the sharpest of tiny fingernails. Beautiful? Well, yes and no. Or more accurately, no - and yes, breathtakingly beautiful. A whole person made up of half me and half Daddy. Two of everything down the sides and one of everything down the middle. Breathing, crying, suckling, waving, kicking, snuggling. Fragile and yet so strong. Miraculous. 

I can't explain it, that thing that happened that night. The way that I went in to the hospital someone's wife and someone's daughter and came out still those things but now someone's mother too. Everything changed that night. The world tilted slightly and never righted itself; it's strange that nobody ever noticed but me. 

Even after the midwife cut the cord, Elizabeth was attached to me. She always will be. I tell her that she's my baby girl and sometimes she snuggles closer when I say that and other times she stiffens and tells me in no uncertain terms that she's not a baby, she's a grown up girl. She has a little sister, also my baby girl, and Lizzy sometimes feels the weight of older sister responsibility very keenly. Lizzy is my oldest, my firstborn, my worrier. She's my vibrant, energetic, imaginative, complicated, softhearted, fearless dynamo of a daughter.  

Things weigh heavily on my Lizzy, her self-esteem sometimes is tissue-paper fragile and we work and we work to build her up. 

I know it's not the way to bring up a brave, strong woman, but I'd spare her every second of pain and hurt if I could, for the whole of her life. I'd rather the rough stuff happens dot me than her. From complicated and painful orthodontics to disaster in the final of the 100m butterfly to the boy who asked her to a party and then told her he'd been joking when she said yes.

And since I'm no stoic myself, it's nothing short of a miracle that I'd do that, and do it in an instant. But a miracle did happen that night when I had my baby. I became someone different when I became a mummy. I'm still growing into that person; I suspect it might take me the rest of my life. It's not easy.

Not easy at all, but often wonderful. I sat on the side of her bed last night at 10.16pm and I stroked her hair and kissed her forehead and inhaled the fragrance of her as she slept.

When she was a baby I used to carry her with her head on my chest and I would breathe in her baby smell and I remember offering her to another family member to sniff because she smelled so beautiful. They smiled politely but they didn't get it. I wonder if it's just for me - some primal thing, some deeply profound connection just for mother and daughter? I don't know. I do know that from the moment I took my first breath as a mummy, it's my favourite fragrance in the world, matched only by that of her little sister. 

They say that smell is the sense most closely linked to memory - then maybe that's why. Last night I remembered like yesterday that night in the tiny room on the hard, high, narrow examination table, hot and exhausted and dazed, with my baby girl on my chest. 

Inelegant, undignified, undone. 

Nobody tells you these things about having a baby. Nobody tells you the true horror of the sleep deprivation that makes you feel as if life is not worth living. Nobody tells you about the dilemmas of high temperatures and endless crying and inoculations and school selection. No-one teaches you how to untangle baby-fine hair or comb for nits or how to use hair straighteners because that's what all the girls at school do. No-one tells you what to do when your baby girl is bullied, or bullies, or doesn't get on with a teacher. Nobody tells you how to prepare your daughter for senior school, or puberty, or ready her for success and failure.

You play it by ear, and sometimes the notes are all muddled up. 

It's a good job you don't get a glimpse of the soul searching that goes on when your baby girl has no confidence, or loses sleep to anxiety, or cries too easily when things go wrong. Was it me? My inadequacy complex was genetic? Or have I criticised too much, encouraged too little, corrected too forcibly? Crushed when I should have coaxed? Demolished when I should have built up?

Don't get me started. I'm eleven years in to this motherhood thing and the truth is that I don't know what I'm doing any more than I did that night in June eleven years ago. There's no instruction booklet and no map. I just feel my way; every year I have fewer answers. Sometimes we skip along at a lovely pace, everyone smiling, and the scenery is wonderful. I take lots of pictures and get very sentimental with souvenirs. Other times I get completely lost. I hit dead ends and unexpected detours and I have to crawl my way back. I ask a lot of questions and cry a lot of tears, inwardly and outwardly. 

 Nobody tells you how to do it. I think that's pretty normal, isn't it? 

But the most breathtakingly powerful thing that nobody ever tells you is that the whole world changes. 

The whole world changes. So much that I'll never forget a single detail of 10.16pm on that evening eight years ago and when I look down at the long, lean frame of my beautiful sleeping girl, arms flung out in her birthday pyjamas, my head fills with memories of first breaths, first smiles, first steps - and my heart swells.

Nobody tells you how much you'll love them. 

It's a little taste of heaven.

Tuesday, 14 June 2016


This is a thing that happened in my head while during a one-to-one prayer session a while ago. I don't really know what you might call it - a vision? A picture? A prayer-journey? All I know is that it was real in my head; I watched it as if I were watching a film. Some of it was from my perspective, and other parts were from a camera overhead kind of filming the action. Close-ups and panoramas. 

Just my imagination? Well, yes and no. When someone asked Joan of Arc if the interactions with God were just her imagination she said, 'Of course. How else would he talk to me?' I had driven past a reservoir on the way to this prayer meeting so perhaps it came from there, but I am convinced that God used the tools in my head to tell me something that I needed to hear. 

I had just said, 'My word for this year is 'Alive' and I am anything but.'  The lady praying with me suggested we asked Jesus why I don't feel alive.

This is his answer:

I am cold. I don't know why I'm cold, but I am cold. I don't feel properly alive, and I say so. I feel stifled, suffocated. I long to breathe deeply but I can't. 

I ask Jesus why I am so cold. 

I realise I'm at the bottom of a lake. Not drowning, just sitting. The water is cold and murky, and the lake-bed is sandy and stony. There are a few wisps of weed and particles floating but there isn't much to see. Everything is grey and brown, bare and barren. Only a little light penetrates to where I'm sitting, knees drawn up to my chest. I sit. My feet are covered in sand.

I'm not afraid, just inert. I am not awake, not asleep. It's a half-life.

I realise that Jesus is there with me. I discern a light near me and I realise that it's him. He tells me that I can move if I want to. I show him that my feet and ankles are buried and I say that I can't. 
Jesus gently replies that I can, but I am afraid to push off. 

Jesus sits down next to me until I'm ready to try to move. He is patient and does not hurry me. In time, with his encouragement, I make a big effort and I push off from the stony bottom of the lake and swim through the grey murk to the daylight above. 

As my head breaks the surface I take in huge lungfuls of air. I gasp and cough and laugh with the exhilaration of breathing again after so long underwater. I breathe deeply, sculling with my arms and kicking my legs to keep afloat. Looking round I realise that I am in the middle of a large lake high up in some mountains. The lake is surrounded by hills covered in heather and bracken. The sun is not shining; there are heavy clouds, although it's not raining. There is little to see, barely any colours other than grey, brown, dark purply undergrowth. The only sounds are the splashes I make. 

I become aware that I am still cold. The water is cold and the air is cold. A wind blows. I move to float on my back and I laugh again as I breathe the fresh air but my laughter is a little forced. I look at Jesus, treading water next to me, and he smiles at me. He understands my confusion. I am happy to be able to breathe but I am still not at ease. I smile and turn away and look up at the grey sky. 

Is this all there is? 

Jesus quietly tells me that when I'm ready, there's more to see. 

I'm not ready. This is so much better than the place in the darkness under the water.  There's air to breathe and I can lie back and see the sky and so perhaps I should stay here. Better than before is enough, isn't it?  I splash about in the lake and Jesus stays with me, waiting. After a while he begins to swim towards the head of the lake, beckoning me to follow. 

I am reluctant to leave my spot in the middle of the expanse of water, even though I'm cold. I don't want to be rude, so I swim slowly after him, wishing he would stop. 

We get to the top of the lake. There's a gap between the bottom of two mountains rising above us and water is flowing down into our lake over a cascade of boulders from a source higher up. Jesus holds onto one of the rocks and turns to me. 

He wants me to follow him up the waterfall. 

It's only a trickle, not a torrent of water. There are plenty of rocks to hold onto and easy footholds, but I shake my head. I don't want to leave the lake. I know this lake. It might be cold and murky and dull but now that I have come up from the depths and I can breathe, it's so much better than what I had before that my impulse is to stay here. It feels safe. 

Jesus says there's another lake at the top of the waterfall, and it's so much better. 

I look doubtful. He says there's no hurry. 

Jesus takes a few steps up the waterfall and turns to me. Follow me, he says. 

I really do not want to. I am familiar with the lake I'm in and afraid to leave it behind for the unknown. I do trust Jesus but.. but... 

I climb after him. It's not a difficult climb, although I'm trembling. He does not get too far ahead and he is encouraging me step by step. I am slow and anxious but he is patient. 

Jesus gets to the top of the waterfall and he is standing on the last rock, which is broad and level. As I approach, tiny step by step, he crouches down to take my hand. One more step, he says, and I will be able to peer over the top of the waterfall. I take another faltering step, clinging onto the rock with my right hand and Jesus with my left. My eyes are level with the water and as I straighten, I see a beautiful scene in front of me. 

It's another lake, but so, so different from the one behind me. This lake is clear and reflecting the blue of the sky ahead. The sun is shining and the water is full of silver sparkles. Around this lake are still mountains but instead of the featureless brush and bracken there are flowers of all colours and meadows of lush grass. There are birds and butterflies. A warm breeze stirs the leaves of trees and carries a wonderful fragrance that makes me inhale deeply. 

I am astonished. Jesus laughs at my wonder and pulls me to stand on the rock with him. We gaze around for a time and then he asks me if I'd like to swim. He puts his toe in the water and then he is swimming for the middle of the lake on his back, telling me to come on in. I want to catch up with him.

I dive into this new lake without hesitating. The water is pleasant and as clear as crystal; I can see all the way to pretty pebbles on the bottom.  It tastes sweet and pure, not like the brackish water of the lake that I have left. As I surface in a mass of sparkling bubbles I feel the sun warm on my head and back.  Out in the middle of the lake we stop and float, enjoying the sunshine, the beautiful blue sky, the sound of birds singing, the fragrance of blossom. I don't ever want to go back to the other lake. 

And yet I'd have been happy to stay. I didn't want to be left under the water, but breathing again was so much better than before that I'd have settled for staying the first lake. I was content with greyness, coldness, colourlessness. I was reluctant to follow Jesus even though I knew he could be trusted. I resisted and hung back. 

Jesus tells me that this is what trust is, sometimes. It might not be dramatic and daring or even decisive. It might be incremental, cautious, even fearful. I did climb the waterfall, step by step, without knowing what lay at the top. I may have been hesitant and doubtful but eventually I did follow him. it's not always easy, and he doesn't expect me to be enthusiastic all the time. He is patient. He will hold my hand.

I was stuck in sand, blind and lost deep, deep down under the water, dark and cold.  Jesus came to find me, brought me light and helped me to surface, but he had so much more for me than that. I would have missed out on so much if I'd stayed in the lower lake. I would have lived and breathed but that was all. I would not have experienced the beauty and vibrancy of the upper lake.

He doesn't want me just to be alive.
'The thief comes to only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come so that they might have life, and have it to the full.'
John 10:10 NI
I sense that there is yet more to see, but this is where Jesus has brought me. 

He is here with me still, as I laugh and splash and swim and explore to my heart's content. The sun is warm on my face and I am relaxed and happy. 

Light and water DSCF0268.JPG by Ryudei2442 from with permission
Sun and sky my own photograph.

Thursday, 9 June 2016

Grubby Harry

Well, this is a bit of a departure for me for several reasons. 

  1. Of late I've only managed to post once a month, and that's the link to the ACW More than Writers post that I still manage to scratch out on the 23rd. There has been so much going on that my writing has been sadly pushed aside. I'm hoping that I can find a way to change this.
  2. This post is a writing exercise that we did at the Scargill Writers' Retreat last weekend (of which more later). It's supposed to be around 300 words (give or take, heh heh) and it could be about pretty much anything. I'm feeling pretty good about the editing, to be honest, as it started out at 950.
  3. Harry is a product of my imagination, inspired by a sad, neglected little house on a road near me. 

I remember Grubby Harry. As I was growing up Harry was a figure of fun, an eccentric behind dirty twitching curtains at no.6. The neighbours grumbled that Harry’s house let down the rest of the street – his fence was rotten, the lawn overgrown, paintwork dull and peeling. 

Years ago, Harry told stories.  The local kids would call in at no.6 on their way home from school and he would give them chocolate and tell stories – spooky stories, sad stories, exciting stories.  Then, as people’s awareness of the evils of the world grew, they stopped the kids from coming.  He was a lonely single man. Wariness developed into suspicion, and suspicion into assumption. 

Harry retreated from a world that rejected him. He drew his curtains one day and didn’t open them again more than a crack.  This was to foil the snipers on the roof of number 7. 

Harry the Hermit sealed up the letterbox with masking tape after local lads put a firecracker through his door.  When the postman came, as he did, once in a while, you might see the door open as far as the short chain would allow, a hand would snatch the envelopes and slam the door with a rattle of deadlocks.

Mad Harry unplugged the telephone in case they were listening. He crept about in the dark in case the lights revealed his location. He sat close by the television, notebook and pencil in hand, determined not to miss the hidden messages.

He’d been dead for a week or so before the postman raised the alarm.  Paramedics broke in through the front window.  Unkempt and emaciated, Smelly Harry sat at the table with a mass of wires and switches in front of him.  The bomb squad was called and the area evacuated, but it turned out Harry had died while dismantling electrical equipment. He had been checking for surveillance devices.

The drama of his demise would have pleased Harry. Many years ago his stories had topped the bestseller list. He’d written thrillers about espionage and counter-terrorism and someone in Hollywood had bought the film rights.

His was an exciting story and a sad one.

Lying in his hallway, unopened, were half a million pounds worth of royalty cheques.

Photo by Melodi2, via Morguefile
Used with permission.

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