Ha ha ha, this story really does run and run.
Many blessings on Chris King and his new wife in the years to come, from all of us here. Glad your best man was canny enough to contact us so that Lily could write you this in time.
Ha ha ha, this story really does run and run.
Many blessings on Chris King and his new wife in the years to come, from all of us here. Glad your best man was canny enough to contact us so that Lily could write you this in time.
“I know how you’re feeling,” came a voice from somewhere close, “and I do feel really sorry for you.”
And my heart grew and I forgave her words because she is my daughter and this is her best. They were not hollow words spoken with an adult’s urgency to fix or with undertones of self-interest. She has little idea of nuance and tact.
So when she says ‘I know how you’re feeling’ she honestly believes she does. Perhaps she does have a sense of the colour of depression or the pain of its bite. I pray she does not know the full injury of it in her lifetime, or at the very least in her childhood. Oh little one, I sincerely hope you do not know how I am feeling.
What touched me enormously was that she would even try to comfort me with words, though her pity was not what she was really trying to convey. The message I heard loud and clear was “I love you mummy”, which actually was the message I really needed to hear.
Messengers get shot frequently by those bitten by depression. In recent years I have learned to listen to the message behind the message. It’s not about the most well-chosen words, though for me at least they often bring the best relief. It’s not about connecting either, though finding common ground can bring hope and joy; I’m no longer journeying alone on this day. ‘I do feel really sorry for you’ can mean so much more than ‘I recognise your struggle and I hate it too and I hate that you have this fight on your hands and I pity you’. No, the act of being present, of communicating at all – in some age-appropriate manner, this is what brings light to my heart and salve to the bite-marks. My son spends time on my lap. My husband quietly washes up. My daughter tells me she knows how I am feeling.
And I stand back from my heart and marvel that God would bless me so much, whispering his love to me in so many ways each day – using even children so honest because of their lack of tact – and I give him my griefs and my deepest aches, because he is strong enough to carry them all. And though I crave tact and good words, I crave the real message more now and I pray my words too will speak love and that that love will be heard.
This month I am putting lots of other commitments on the back burner in order to blitz-write a first draft of my book. Between Monday and Friday I wrote over 12,500 words, and then the washing machine packed up and my presence has been needed at home. I missed Saturday entirely, but I am grateful for the chance to recharge. Writing is incredibly draining, even if you are well-prepared at home and in the task. It has meant being able to get a few more jobs done and to be more present at the village fireworks (rather a good show – over 5000 attending) last night and the Remembrance Day parade this morning (also a very good turnout).
The children have got into the spirit of Nanowrimo too. Joe has written a short story, which I am publishing here for you:
(c) Joseph Robinson 2015
Wos apon e ting thne was a Boi he was clde Joe he staivd up for a Spaiship (peje 1)
he had 2 frens he went too spais wiv his frens (pedije 2).
Here the story ends and we are left waiting for the next thrilling installment, hoping that maybe we can pre-order it on Amazung. I do detect a degree of autobiographical bias, but it is his first work of this length. I want to know more about the frens. What are their names? Did they help staiv up too? Was there a mutiny? When I find out more, I may get around to blogging that too.
Lily has also been writing a book on Mondays to Saturdays this month and is averaging over 100 words per day. I know this because she has been counting her words. On day 1 she didn’t know that you don’t need to number every single word:
(c) Lily Robinson 2015
I’m not going to give you Lily’s entire story as it is already quite long. And also because it resonates with her own life and it has broken the fourth wall quite early in the story which is frankly quite weird. Despite being set a couple of generations in the future the main characters have already travelled in time to meet Lily and me. (Reading yourself as a character in a story written by someone else is quite a strange experience, I’ll admit). Lily is keen to reach 100 words every day, and yesterday I learned a new trick – sometimes it pays to just write ‘and then another few words’ to lengthen your sentence. She has no writing scruples.
So although I’m not Nanowriting on Sundays, I thought I’d blog a little while my fingers are in full typing mode. They’ve been missing the keyboard today.
After this month, I’ll take a pause and then take the manuscript apart in every way imaginable, working it over and over to get it to the kind of quality I need it to be. I am very excited to be able to do this and to show how passionate I am to get my book out of my head and on to the peje.
It’s the taking part that counts, right?
Not the success? Not achieving a personal aim? Or becoming highly proficient in some skill?
Taking part – that’s the thing. Right?
I heard two seven year olds sparring today. One was adamant that taking part was the main point in sports events. The other’s daddy had told him that taking part wasn’t enough if you didn’t try and win. And he agreed with his daddy and was not going to talk about it any more. The first lad returned to scratching stones out of the dirt in front of him and creating an interesting collection, avoiding all eye contact and clearly humbled by his fitter and more confident classmate. He did not try to win the point.
But he had just taken part in a tournament. He had managed to get through eleven sweaty tennis activities on a hot morning with no shade. And his team had not won. Oh, I know that feeling well. I have never achieved great things in sports. I came last in sports days every year. I had to learn to swim with small children at nearly 6 foot tall. I didn’t get picked to play for my college football team – despite the captain being my room-mate. Even my form group came last each year at sports day. Taking part didn’t wash with me. Taking part was rubbish. Taking part meant being vulnerable and inadequate in public. Not just the Not Winning, but Not Managing. Not managing to catch a ball and being the kid who chased after it twice every time – once in the general direction (it would never normally go that far!) and a second time when it rolled out of reach or some stray foot of mine made contact wrongly. Taking part in sports days was choosing to be humiliated in skills we had not been working on. Skills which favoured the naturally talented, those who liked an audience or were happy to sit in fields stewing with grass pollen and the few who had remembered sun cream.
Winning was even less of an option. I registered the probabilities and was prepared to concede the fight before even beginning. Taking part meant taking the high moral ground, because it certainly wasn’t going to achieve anything for me. Taking part meant allowing others to prove themselves though their legs were shorter, their language cruder or their times tables wobblier. Taking part felt patronising. Like being taken apart. Like some twelfth night twist. In summer. In infants and junior groups. In bright primary colours with odd names, whose allegiances was sudden and sincere and stupid because my team Never Won.
And in the 1980s if you did not win, you went home empty-handed. Or you competed against yourself. One year – trying my utmost – I did worse than in the previous year, but still got a certificate. I wished I could have refused it. Receiving no certificate would have been a better reward. My efforts had not been successful and I did not want patronising, which I decided devalued other achievements.
There are arenas in which you are not born to win, yet you are compelled to make your best endeavours – perhaps even in full view.
Many times in life winning is just not an option. Managing may not even be an option. Taking part carries baggage. Taking part is utterly unfair if winning is not an option. Taking part means creating a pedestal for the few, which the many uphold merely by their presence.
Most participants at most sports events lose. Is this the lesson we spend a dozen summer days lining up for in primary colours?
Most participants at most sports events have chosen to be there and have worked hard, with a goal of personal success and new best scores.
Taking part cannot be enough if you are not trying to win. So I agree with that boy’s daddy. You have to put your best into it. You have to give it everything, accept defeat graciously if that’s your lot and use your victories – if you get any – for the good of the team, the school, the nation or the almanack writers.
But I also agree with the stone-scratcher. Taking part takes real courage when you know you cannot win. Taking part takes tenacity and a willingness not to think too highly of yourself. Taking part can (and should) mean encouraging others. Taking part can open your eyes to new ways of looking after your own fitness. Taking part means seeing yourself as part of a team, and not merely as an individual who needs the kudos of standing on others’ losses for personal gain. Taking part challenges the normal hierarchies and routines of academia. Taking part can be part of a pattern of humiliation, which makes you want to scratch a hole in the dirt and gather stones.
There is a time for gathering stones. To cleanse, withdraw and reflect.
And a time to scatter them. To say how it is and how you feel, even when it makes a mess.
Lily has been involved in two competitions this month. The first involved a national search for a child to represent English Heritage. Someone passionate about history and willing to dress up as their historical hero or heroine. She did remarkably well and got through to the final 35, but the competition was very strong and she didn’t win. What struck me, more than her confidence and knowledge at interview was her resolution to do her best and to be content whatever the outcome. She understood that not everyone could win and that it was unlikely she would. She wanted to win and therefore wanted to take part to have the chance, but her sportsmanship was touching. That is what made me so proud of her. She didn’t refuse to take part (as I would most probably have done these days) – she refused to let the competition dominate her.
The second competition was today’s meet up of year two children from three local primary schools at the local secondary college. Teenaged sports leaders directed twelve groups of brightly coloured children around a circuit of throwing, running, batting and catching games. I was there to be an extra pair of hands and eyes. Our small team were not always the fastest or most accurate, but we were told to enjoy Taking Part. And that there would be only one measure of success – the team who encouraged each other the most. Sportsmanship.
My dormant competitor recognised something. Here was a talent anyone could master. All of the children could take part in Encouraging. And the act of encouraging others was to be encouraged. So I cheered the team on and they cheered each other on and we got through the heat and the running after the tennis balls (twice) and the water bottles and at the end we all sat near some shade and waited for the results. And I wanted to encourage everyone and say ‘Hey, it doesn’t matter whether you won or not; well done for encouraging each other so well guys!’ but that would have been wrong.
And finally the results came in. There were joint second place teams from Lily’s school and another school.
There were joint fourth place teams from the two other schools. And the winning team, by just two points…
…was Lily’s team.
I joined in the victory cheer and suddenly the thrill of victory made sense. It was the winning that counted for most. But of course it was not only the winning that counted. Or even the managing.
And I wish I had sat with stone-scratching-boy and told him what he needed to hear. That he was right. And also to keep his head up. And to keep trying. And to find arenas to excel in. And that he could encourage others too. And I hoped others would encourage him, because he needed it more than a lot of the others did.
On this night of extortion, sugar and acceptably bad make-up, I learnt a lesson about light and direction.
It wasn’t the beautiful weather and blazing colours we were blessed with today, although I did realise that beautiful days can happen any day of the year.
It wasn’t the joy of welcoming friends to visit from Ipswich, although I did learn that family extends beyond blood, especially with shared memories, plans and hopes.
It wasn’t the wonderful inter-church village light party full of excited children, glow-sticks, truth, goodies and baddies, although I learnt that a room full of children with torches is surprisingly magical.
It wasn’t the next village’s inter-church light stations, where free hot drinks and bags of sweets were being given with a smile to passing pedestrians, although I learnt that you can drive around and they still give you the goodies.
It was a simple thing: solar powered studs. Little lights positioned along the cycle paths as I drove back from the next village to our house. LED cats’ eyes. In the dark, the studs marked out the winding path very clearly in two rows. In fact, the cycle path was far clearer than the road. Rows of little lights leading the way home.
I want to say something that doesn’t sound like a trite modern-day parable about light and direction, so I will make this personal. Those lights, which I had driven past every day when taking Lily to school, I had never noticed before. They actually light the way through the darkest sections of the route between the villages. They are strangely beautiful in their silent witness. But the beauty wasn’t evident until it went dark, and every light in the line served a purpose, a tiny beacon. Teamwork. Truth. Direction. It was a real wow moment for me, like observing the stars in the sky for the first time.
We all have a choice to shine a light or to live in darkness. We are not working alone. We have others around us who we work with to raise the children in our community well. We have inspirational role models. We have hope. We all have purpose.
I have been reluctant to talk much about our move in the late summer since it happened, for one simple reason. It has been – and remains – an amazing success. Of course we miss our friends, our church family and my parents enormously. But the satisfaction of having pursued that path – which only became illuminated when I was living in the dark – is beautiful. There were beacons calling us here. There were guiding stud-lights drawing us nearer. The experience of moving is never easy, but for us it has been a relief of knowing we are where we belong. I feared that saying that in public would hurt feelings and confuse some. We never ran away. We ran toward the light. We were supported by faithful friends praying and encouraging us. We have been blessed over and over again in our decision to come here. The children are thriving in new schools. We have a lovely long list of new friends. The churches are vibrant. The village is beautiful. The house is inspiring. My husband is being chased by recruiters. I am planning details of my writing. Already we feel like we have lived here for years.
There will be dark days. But there will be beacons of light and hope in those days, which reveal themselves because the road is dark. The journey of depression has light at the end if you look for it. And for the sake of others on that painful lonely journey, those of us who have travelled the dark roads must shine our lights, tell of hope and truth, work as a team to love others and mark the path of purpose and community.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The children have been taking a keen interest in road signs, since I have been occasionally allowing them to sit in the front of the car. According to Joe, these signs really are quite clear:
no blue paint allowed,
For this and many other reasons I am not allowing him driving privileges just yet. He sees signs, but he cannot interpret them correctly. He knows there are dangers but he usually trusts me to get him from A to B. That is, as long as he can have Radio 1 or One Direction playing. And hot air blowing in his face. And his feet resting on the glove box. And lots of questions about levers, buttons and how many minutes until something happens. And a host of opinions only a parent can listen to. When that parent is in the mood for listening.
Clearly his passenger seat privileges are not automatic. But I learn a lot about him while he is showing a keen interest in engines, driving and making sense of his world.
Lily is another story. Lily is well aware of dangers, real and imagined and cannot believe she will ever be brave enough to take responsibility for a vehicle. She has decided she never wants to use a gear stick. She reads signs and understands the words. If she sees any of these, she is keen to make sure that I have too:
But she is a very interesting passenger for other reasons. Sitting next to me with the road ahead of both of us, she opens up more about aspects of her life, thinking and dreams. I learn a lot about her while she is showing a keen interest in facts, ideas and making sense of her world.
All this driving around with the children, their interests and the dangers they are and aren’t aware of resonates with my thinking on Grace right now.
Through many dangers, toils and snares I have already come;
‘Tis Grace has brought me safe thus far, and Grace will lead me home.
This mad journey through depression, anxiety and everyday parenting is littered with signs of every description. Books, music, advice, jokes, stories, blogs, sermons, events, friendships. Some are clearly in my best interests, guiding me or slowing me down. Others are harder to interpret – perhaps I don’t have the tools right now – and I cannot navigate alone. I have a wonderful set of friends, counsellors and family working with me through these spots, and God’s Grace is clearly carrying me through even the darkest miles. There are clearly dangers – visible and invisible. Toils – hard work, sacrifices and tough decisions to make. Snares – temporary and habitual. Blood, sweat and tears. The world, the flesh and the devil. So many signs. Sensory overload at times – frequently, in fact.
The experience of learning deep trust for our relocation is strangely healing. It is necessary to focus on one thing at a time. The stress levels do rise at times – this week alone there have been hard decisions to make, and there will be more. But the journey is progressing and the companionship of God and his utter faithfulness and love is readily apparent because we are on the journey. Sitting in the passenger seat I can talk about my passions and fears with God and allow his Grace to carry me, help me make sense of my world and navigate me on routes I do not recognise. He’s brought me safe thus far. Against all the odds. I know he will bring me safely home.
There are a number of passions or desires in my heart at present. For example:
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.
Today I discovered that I could not apply for the school places for Joseph out of county quite as readily as we had hoped. We cannot apply through Cambridgeshire if we do not live there, or have two applications open. We can apply to out of county schools through the Suffolk application website, but only if they list them. All three we preferred were not on the (extensive) list of primaries.
And having made two (count them…. two!) phone calls to numbers beginning with ‘your call is important to us’, I emailed Suffolk for advice.
It wasn’t simple: we need to apply online as we are away on the results day and may need to action Lily’s school place or house move details immediately, or make decisions about the second round applications. We are trusting that God is calling us to a specific area. We have already visited some schools and have plans to view more of the area this week. And the deadline is in 8 days.
I got an out-of-office reply stating that Suffolk were away and might take ten working days (count them… ten!) to reply. This could indeed affect our chances.
We’d already stepped out of the boat in faith. We’d already taken risks. There’s no Janus look-both-ways option here. If you try and run back to the boat you won’t stay up.
So I called on my friends, and my friends reminded me to call on Jesus. His Grace continues to cover me and carry me Outrageously. He lifts me, dries me, laughs. And 60 seconds before I’m supposed to be at school (count them… 60!) the phone rings. Withheld number. Might it be Tony, our regular wrong-number guy, calling for Peter, desperate for a visit? Or a company wishing to extol the virtues of government-encouraged schemes and am I in the 55-85 bracket? Or my sister, calling from colder climes?
Usually I ignore Withheld. Today I picked up. Today a lovely lady from Suffolk explained how she’d fixed the problem, approved of our pragmatism and was utterly professional. Their call was important to me. Thank you Marie Withheld from Suffolk. And thank you friends who remind me to face the right way when stepping out of the boat. And thank you Jesus for the outrageous grace – again.