Category Archives: Husband

Focus

This is one of my favourite images. It is a copy of a stained glass window in a beautiful location in the Lake District. It is visually rewarding and special to me personally because I discovered it with my husband when we visited Blackwell some years ago together. I love the Arts and Crafts style, the colours and the subtle shape play. I love the curves and the suggestions of beauty beyond.

What makes it work? The repeated forms of birds frozen in flight? The flattened light textures or spaces for imagination? Perhaps it is a cunning simplicity. What is beyond changes: matching, adjusting, growing, dying. What is within remains. Echoes of ecclesia or delicate domesticity. A window of hope.

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                                     MH Baillie Scott, Stained Glass at Blackwell                                      © Lakeland Arts Trust / Jonathan Lynch 2001

A window which also demands focus.

Unlike me, my husband has spent his life focused on the task in hand. I have been focused on the possible and the scenes beyond. I flit. I miss the beautiful window while staring outside at something blurred. I take interest in so many things that I have needed the guiding hand he has offered me to slow down and do One Thing At A Time. 

It works, you know; Focus. I complement my husband by dreaming big and he loves me by showing me how to work on the detail. He has taught me to focus. To recognise beauty more. To enjoy the right pace and the reward of undisturbed work. Task by task, achieving great things together. 

I focus on many tasks as a wife, mum and home-maker. I focus on many strands as a writer. I have learned which tasks are wise to layer (or multi-task), such as getting the washing on or a slow-cook recipe and which are best done in order, such as the sequence of putting clothes away or creating a meal plan. 

My week now has a much better rhythm to it, in order to give time to many mundane but important routines and some exciting but less urgent matters and a great deal of thinking, researching, reading and writing work on the book. Focus. Each thing has its time and place. It makes a lot more sense of things, calms me and means greater efficiency. 

I have some way to go still on this journey, but I am seeing the blessings of living by Grace. Learning to let go of my own agenda to focus on what matters – and then responding to that. In doing so, I discover a far better agenda and far greater rewards. 

So where is the book up to?

Lots of work is happening and lots of connections are being made. I have a rough working plot and a number of elements of first draft, some of which show promise. I work on the book as often as I can, but it is something like creating a patchwork quilt and will need to be put together once I have all the pieces. I have a good idea of the colours and overall impact. I am preparing a number of elements which will be worked on carefully and may be stitched into the final product.

I am also working on different aspects of the book, depending on the time and resources and energy available to me. I have to focus on each one in turn, rather than flitting around on any given day. So one day I might be working on some dialogue between characters, developing them and discovering who they really are. Another day I am researching ancient eating habits or architecture. Another day I am working closely on Hebrew lemmas (words) and how connections between certain ideas can inform the story. I may be gardening and discover something I can use in the story. Or parenting. Or considering universal emotions, in a specific context. When I am tired I work on my characters. When I am busy I listen to the world around me. When I am full of ideas I compose words. When I am calm I read and research. Focus and focus and focus. 

Gradually the story is coming into view. 

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Reality and Writing

Ah, the blog. I have not forgotten you. I have been pursuing Exciting Other Things. I have missed you though, so I will post an update.

The first Exciting Other Thing is my health. Having made great progress mentally and because the timing is well-suited, I am now working on my physical health. I won’t bore you with details and numbers, but I am excited because we are making a number of small but significant changes to our diet as a family and I am already seeing results.

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For starters this sort of thing is not allowed. Neither is it allowed for pudding.

I’m being kind to myself and not overly dogmatic. The occasional chocolate at the weekend is fine. No snacking between tasks however, unless it is at least very healthy and preferably dull. And no customary late night nibbles, which had a lot to answer for. We’ve surprised ourselves by enjoying making and eating new recipes with strange ingredients like low-fat natural yogurt, roasted vegetables, pine nuts and oats. Not all together of course: Change 4 Life have some lovely ideas. I’m tracking my alcohol intake with a phone app and getting more exercise because my body is asking for it. There is an excitement in getting relegated jeans back into circulation, and exhilaration in getting the circulation going on foot or on the bike. I can work harder for longer and am getting lighter.

I believe that the results I’m seeing so far are because I am valuing myself more and because I am being driven spiritually rather than emotionally to improve my health. Listening to my body in parallel to listening to God. A verse which has meant a lot to me in the past few weeks is 2 Timothy 1:7: For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.

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So now I have the self-discipline not to make a dog’s dinner of dinner.

The second Exciting Other Thing is my husband’s new job. Having been at British Telecom for his entire working life and having moved last August to Cambridge, my very clever man landed himself a new job with the leading provider of application-intelligent networking I/O software and hardware that accelerate, monitor and secure network data… the pioneer in high-performance, low-latency 10/40GbE server networking solutions. Yep, I pasted that in. Despite being one quarter engineer I still haven’t worked out what he is going to be doing. But he will be able to cycle there and be home more at the right times and move on with his career and all these are very good things. Also he has wisely decided on a few weeks between jobs to be with the family, which is superb and exciting and warrants getting our passports updated. Even more cause for celebration.

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The third Exciting Other Thing is my library. Since we moved I have spent parts of each week preparing my writing space. It is the size and shape of a long garage and needed to fulfil various purposes. Deals on Ebay and Gumtree have lined the walls with second hand pine bookcases, a stripped pine desk and a recycled whiteboard for plotting and organising. There are strategically arranged maps and children’s art and memories around and everything has a home. It is a haven and my own little library-office. Although work on it is ongoing it is functioning and practical. This week I got two old but comfortable office chairs for a pound and, having shared my workspace all winter, I have finally evicted my guinea pig roomies. It is much quieter and less sneezy now. Far from being a distraction, creating a place I can work in properly is getting real results.

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Which all leads to the fourth exciting thing. Actual Writing.

I love writing. I love the relief it brings when words play fair. To me, there is nothing so gratifying as wrangling a complex thought into submission. There is a delicious moment of proposing order. Of saying to the chaos ‘be still‘.

If it weren’t for my time of illness punching all productivity out of me I would not have taken my passion seriously at all. Our choices on many levels took much evaluating. Assessing what I was doing – and by what authority – unlocked something special for me. I had always respected words and enjoyed playing with ideas and the power of texts. I was aware that the hunt was rarely successful without much hard work and I pondered what it might mean to commit time to something which did not promise to deliver. I do have a teaching qualification; in the future it may be necessary to fall back on it, but I am not passionate about maths teaching. I am passionate about communicating well and passionate about the subjects I want to communicate and the power of story.

There is a steep learning curve ahead and everything that has led us to this point adds to the richness of the journey. To learn to tell truths in a story, by way of a thousand lies. To wrestle with structure and awful early drafts. To find, within a character and a plot, timeless truths which may heal, challenge and delight.

I am practising allowing my thoughts to explode creatively again, now that I have finally learned how to keep them focused. Oh yes, there is still so much more for me to learn about writing fiction. Reading great literature is proving rewarding, but recognising great art is daunting too. I am not competing with anyone and I am not actually desperate for publication. I just want to pursue a passion which will not leave me alone. The conviction that accompanies the task is as intoxicating as the relief when words appear in the right order.

With order, discipline. Perhaps it would be good to get in the habit of blogging on a regular basis as part of my new discipline. A weekly round up on a fixed day. Or a series on things I am researching. Or on the process of writing, parenting and life in general. Comments on this are welcome. I cannot promise long blog posts weekly, but I am interested to know if others would like to hear more frequently from me.

House-hunting Outside the Box

 

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My dad calls it divergent thinking, but I suspect my need to think outside the box in any and every situation has been a large part of my mental health issues these last twelve months. If I have one thought it spreads like a firework. If I have a box of thoughts, I need plenty of space to watch all the fireworks.

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When I got very ill twelve months ago the fireworks fizzled and fell. I had to accept limitations and let go.

This letting go has not come about lightly: there are a dozen areas I would like to do more in, a hundred people I would like to help, a thousand things that need thinking through.

But I am learning to let go. Let go of ideals I cannot reach. Let go of people who hurt me. Let go of wrong self-image. Let go of anger. Let go of trying to ‘achieve’ to impress. Let go of turning up the heat. The cold never bothered me anyway.

I am now at a stage where I need to harness what is good and right about my divergent thinking. The instant creativity when I’m in a good place and Joe decides we need to make an apple tree from things in the kitchen, for example. Or helping Lily remember a new times table. Or finding a recipe for ingredients we already have in. Being academically thorough because it hurts not to. Little baby steps that indicate I’m heading in a good direction.

And I’m part of a great team. My husband is single-minded and inspires me to focus rather than diverge. As a result we now have a great ‘get the house ready for viewings’ system, including keeping things in sensible places, having empty drawers at the ready for items on surfaces and not panicking when the ‘wrong’ load of washing is doing as I know it will all get straightened out soon and that I’m going to be ok whatever the outcome. Just keep swimming, Lucy.

We are convinced that God’s purposes are driving our endeavours to relocate, so the emotional energy I have can be spent focused on practical and reasonable tasks. Today Joe and I got to toddlers; a wonderful opportunity to see friends and how things have developed in great ways there. Later this afternoon I showed the fifth couple in eight days around our house. It used up all I had left emotionally. Corners have to be cut elsewhere: manageable cleaning and tidying, efficient use of time, time off alone, not counting the calories, not stressing over what I cannot control. Improvements are evident in lots of directions, for which I am utterly grateful, even when pushed to my emotional limits.

One task I love doing is house-hunting, and I go at it with a combination of God-driven purpose, single-mindedness learnt from my husband and outside-the-box problem-solving techniques I can’t help but bring to the table. One of my sustaining strengths is writing and it appears that another is researching.

Cycle of Grace

Armed with access to the internet and a couple of clever spreadsheets, I review the houses that have appeared on our search radius on a frequent basis. They are constantly changing as we are moving to an area of short supply and high demand. A house we viewed at the weekend is currently in a bidding war and already at  £43,000 above the asking price, days after appearing on the market. We did not bid on it, as we cannot buy until we sell. But I am making sure I do my outside-the-box homework. Systematically.

Rightmove is the most useful of the property search websites I use, with their various search tools, floor plans, school distance maps, and invaluable Saved Properties feature. Zoopla is better for learning about sold house prices, with interesting heat maps and information on what sold in various streets if you are prepared to work through in detail when you are serious about a property. As we are searching within a target geographical area we’ve realised it also pays to get registered with local agents who send you information ahead of homes appearing on the market and to check their own websites, which update sooner than Rightmove.

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We like to know how long a property has been marketed, and whether the sellers have changed agent at some stage. While EPC checks on the energy rating are some use if they have a date, they are valid for up to ten years so weren’t necessarily produced for the most recent sale. We downloaded a toolbar from Property Bee (which uses Firefox) with a sidebar listing price changes and number of weeks on the market. Fascinating stuff. As our own house is proving to be a niche market, we know this doesn’t prove everything, but is useful to check out whether a property has not sold for some months, so that we can check why that might be and whether the vendors are willing to consider a lower offer.

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If a house looks promising, I like to familiarise myself with the area. Nothing beats driving or walking around in person, but some useful sites for getting extra information from a distance are Google Maps (especially with Street View and to check distances and routes by car, foot, bike or public transport, which may impact upon the children as they get older), Bing Maps (for Bird’s eye views of the location from North, South, East and West) and the Environment Agency‘s pages on flood risks from rivers and elsewhere. Online regional planning information is useful to determine the scale and dates of development for a property, currency of local greenbelt, the year the street was built and an indication of whether extensions of one sort or another might be granted. Wikipedia is a surprisingly good source of information on village life if there are links to local community websites as well as history of the area.

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I have learnt a lot about school catchments (including relevant high schools) from Cambridgeshire’s education admissions website, and we applied for Joseph’s school place based on data we picked up online as well as a couple of visits. If he should not get any of our three choices, we will be able to find out quickly where there are spaces in both his and Lily’s year groups for September so that they can be together if possible in another local school. Ofsted reports and data tables tell you a certain amount, as do schools’ own websites, but going around a real school and meeting staff there, as well as learning about schools from local people where possible are much more fruitful. We have also taken a keen interest in location and websites of churches in the places we’ve been looking at, as a strong community church will have a big impact on us as a family and we’d like it to be not too far to travel to. Hakuna Matata, as they say.

So, lots of things to keep this divergent mind happy in a useful way on days when I want to crawl into my mindspace all by myself and shut the door. When we are moved I know what my next project will be, as I am preparing a book. However, I cannot write a book and move house and raise a family at the same time. I have learnt to let go and focus on what is best. Freedom within fixed constraints allows me opportunity to thrive and feel useful. I am moving from the first quadrant in the Grace Cycle (Acceptance) to the second (Sustaining Strength). I am allowed to write. I am allowed to research. I have a value and a purpose, and I feel like a room without a roof.

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Quote

Shell

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Sugar: You collect shells?
Joe: Yes. So did my father and my grandfather. You might say we had a passion for shells. That’s why we named the oil company after it.

Brilliant writing. Fantastic delivery by Tony Curtis, mimicking Cary Grant in Some Like It Hot.

I love a great joke.

Words are great.

Words are not always what is needed, however.

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Which is why these shells spoke to me this week. They were a gift from a wonderful friend on a beach in Albania and remind me of our time there. They are beautiful homes for tiny, insignificant creatures. They are engineered to be strong so that the little molluscs don’t need to be. I love how they combine art and maths. Creation and evolution. Grace and freedom.

This week we are making huge family decisions and several centre on identity and belonging. Location. Careers. Finances. How much to sell for. Value. Cost. I am out of words. I am pretty much out of numbers too.

But I am not out of feelings. I still feel the ache when my son gets a high temperature. I still grieve when my husband’s company mess him about for the umpteenth time. I still reel when my daughter’s school require three non-uniform outfits in the space of eight school days. I worry for others in my family going through big changes. I tremble as the inner anxious me faces the enormity of spending money on a house – a bunch of rooms – while others struggle without. I don’t want a grand place. But I do crave somewhere we can each be who we are truly meant to be. To grab hold of the dream and live it. We feel called to a particular spot and convicted in the need to move there, from a place of love and great memories and super friends, to a place where our names are only known to a few and where we need to forge our passions in a brighter furnace. Engineering. Writing. Ministering to students, immigrants, parents, young adults, those with needs. Enabling. Connecting in community and church. Raising our family. Living the adventure of Love we set out on together ten years ago by enabling each other and growing stronger together. It will come at a cost, but not doing this would certainly cost us more.

Thank goodness for Grace, tying it all together so that there is sense and purpose when we might otherwise give up. This season of brokenness has also been a season of refining and focus.

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Scripturient…

scripturient…Possessing a violent desire to write.

There are a number of passions or desires in my heart at present. For example:

  • selling our house at the right time, for the right price;
  • buying the house that fulfils all we need it to and plenty of what we’d like it to;
  • finding a great job for my husband as we relocate and that the timings will mean we aren’t stuck for a mortgage;
  • getting a school place for Joseph for September, preferably in the village we move to;
  • getting a school place for Lily, preferably at the same school;
  • packing, decisions, legal aspects, finances;
  • this huge trust adventure, which makes all of the above seem utterly possible, in part because there is no way we can engineer it well ourselves.

Over and above all of this is my passion for relating more closely to God and the beat of his heart. He has given me a truly wonderful partner in Matthew – someone I look up to, treasure and want to support in all his great work. He has given the two of us two remarkable little ones: beautiful, sassy, creative, funny and intelligent kids who brim with vitality and have taught us all we know about how little we know.

The beat of God’s heart has taken me to serve in places abroad in the past, and back to home pastures too. It has brought me through pain to hope, over and over again. It has surprised me, made me laugh, broken my heart for the needy and hurting and given me strength when all strength seemed spent.

The beat goes on, and in this season the rhythm reminds me of my passion for written communication. For unlocking and expressing beautiful truths and making sense of things others would love to understand. The cycle of grace I wrote about in November has taken me into a place of creativity and a blossoming of ideas which I want to unpack. I will have to learn how to unpack these gifts well, so the process won’t be immediate. But I cannot ignore it. I am so excited.

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Bosnian Scrapbook

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I was in Bosnia in 1995. Many of the images I saw burnt into my teenage memory. Some of them are not on film because I did not feel comfortable taking pictures of people with missing limbs or shells of buildings where folk were still living or 16-year old lads drinking the night away in advance of being called up, their hair prematurely greying in the loud, warm summer evenings.

Stari Most, the old bridge connecting the Croats and Muslims in Mostar had been felled and a rickety footbridge was hanging in its place. Elsewhere British army engineers had erected a functional bailey bridge high over the azure waters of the Neretva. Broken bridges everywhere were symbols of broken ties and hasty solutions.

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One of the camps I was involved in running was for Muslim boys who couldn’t get permission to come to our coastal camps in Croatia. We took them deeper into the hills, in convoys of white vans and buses which looked like lines of UNHCR vehicles, to a place called Drežnica where they could run, swim and play football.

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On the way, we passed a bridge we couldn’t cross. It had been bombed as it linked Sarajevo with Mostar. The supply of arms was limited to trekking around the hairpin pass, taking pack animals with bullets and guns to the capital between minefields and through green hills scratched with grey. The delays were significant on the unmade road with steep sides.

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The camps in Drežnica were wonderful, thirsty and sporty and meant relying on our resources. Piling into a broken school when the rain came. Giving out half-loaves to greedy boys with a slice of warm cheese and a large runny tomato. Learning – very quickly – the words for danger! mines on the bridge – get off the bridge! which still come back to me. The only original bridge I’d seen in the country, and it had mines on it. How utterly cruel. We were kept safe. But the image joined the growing collection in my mind.

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I was reminded of these Bosnian bridges very recently. I had been chatting to a friend and thinking about how I like controlling all kinds of details in my life and that perhaps there were new things on the horizon. Having been ill has given me a new perspective on a few areas, including blessing, trust, direction and purpose.

I was thinking about how I like to go the long way around, like the unmade track to Drežnica, to get somewhere which I could have got with a lot less stress and hassle if I had only trusted that the bridge there was safe and strong and direct. I had revisited that road a few years afterwards and found that the bridge on the road to Sarajevo had been mended and the journey was considerably easier and shorter. There was no danger.

In my life I prefer to assess thoroughly and exhaustively. I plan. I research. I study. I find myself on that unmade road time and time again.

And God has been saying Trust Me with everything. There is nothing you cannot trust me with. Over and over again. The bridge of trust cuts out so much worry and stress. It is direct. It is safe. It is fast. It involves submission.

This year I wrote at the beginning of my diary in capital letters

2013:
THIS IS THE YEAR
GOD IS GOING TO DO SOMETHING
REALLY GREAT IN MATTHEW’S LIFE.

Yes. Along with a nagging feeling that I was going to be ill and not enjoy it or the changes it involved (which came on months later), I had a burning feeling that God was going to do something significant for my husband. Something that meant I would have to learn to stop being a control freak, Something that might even involve becoming a trust freak. To love my husband so much that his dreams and desires would be more important than I had ever allowed them to be. His desire to flex his career wings. His dream of moving onwards and upwards. His passion for us as a family. His interests.

For some time we have talked of relocating. It has not been a clever time. Until, until. I presented my willingness to submit to Matthew’s needs and be up for relocating and he lit up. He could see the logic in looking into this now. Joe is not yet at school and we could make arrangements in good time. Lily has a wonderful teacher this year but as time goes on will benefit from more challenges. I want to be able to access theological libraries on a frequent basis, for a book I am writing. We want to cycle. We are at an age and a financial position to be able to do this, before we get too much older. We would be nearer many people and not too distant from those we love here. So we are progressing along a path of trust and discovering God’s hand at work in details we could not have imagined or hoped for. The view is extraordinary. The journey is less dangerous and slow than we’d expected. The bridge is safe. There is nothing we cannot trust God with. I am finding renewed strength in taking each step one at a time – it is far easier than controlling it all myself and far more exciting.

We love where we live now. We love our friends. We would not choose to move out of any sense of running away. We also feel compelled to take steps towards this new opportunity and unwrap the gifts God has for us and any way in which he wants to use us in a new place. I cannot get that image out of my mind.

White Spaces

So much white space in life right now. I’m so wanting to doodle in the edges.

 

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I don’t want to forget how valuable the white spaces are in books. How important the rest in the bar is when playing an instrument (not least woodwind). How urgent the weekend always seems. Rest by design. Wow, really? I’m allowed to slow down, look around, even stop?

Stopping doesn’t come easily to me, but it is making more sense and generally having a good impact on my recovery.

My husband and I celebrated our tenth wedding anniversary last weekend. Ten of the most empowering and remarkable years of my life (I won’t speak for him, but I get the impression he’s happy too). We went to Copenhagen for the weekend. The single most glorious weekend of my life. Beautiful Copenhagen. Time with the man I love. Without the children. Without anything planned in stone. Without – and this pains me – any Danish language skills. It turns out you don’t need them.

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God blessed us with beautiful days and beautiful pastries. With fairytale castles. With cute coins with hearts on (apparently they did mint 2-kroner in 2003, but we didn’t find any). I kept some coins totalling 10 kroner so I could walk around like Frodo and jingle at the children.

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With half an idea of what to see, we stumbled around the city into amazing exhibitions and towers and a superb boat tour. We tried to work out whether the Little Mermaid had legs and why the water was so clear and how it reflected so marvellously on the Black Diamond building. We had pickled things and smorrebrod and I had a small amount of alcohol and we discovered a super hotel. We looked up at the buildings and realised what it feels like to be Lego-sized. We wondered if Denmark is to England what England is to the USA.

We learnt about how it is possible to do Trains Really Well Abroad although it helps if you know which station you want or if you are flexible enough if you get it wrong. We crossed the Øresund Link, which I had briefly helped work on at Arups on leaving school, and found Sweden delightful too.

It was a much needed and much appreciated break from the routine. White space. Not needing an agenda, but delivering nonetheless.

I am one for wanting to doodle into every moment of my life. But – beauty isn’t to be found by planning, doing, stressing. The richness in life becomes evident only when there is something to contrast it. The working purpose in any one life may be deceptively simple, but it is beautiful when contrasted with purposeful rest. See that hole in the coin? It makes it beautiful. And yet it is also, technically, a Nothing. An Absence. Remarkable.

I love the 2-kroner design. Actually I love pretty much all Danish design. I have discovered a big place in my heart for a country so closely linked to our history. I cannot make the waves of depression retreat. I cannot buy my way out of enemy attacks. It calms my soul that Denmark exists and that there is a place in this world where beauty and common sense live in harmony.