Category Archives: Lily

Bosnian Scrapbook


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.







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.


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.


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.


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


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.


Mummy Long Legs

I love this week of the year more than any other, and have done most of my life. Summer’s warmth and colour kissing each leaf goodbye before they hasten to new adventures. Breezes to dry washing by the gardenful. The first crisped flakes of autumn giggling around on the ground like dry cereal straight out of the box. Tired children and fresh casserole. Ahh.


And odd things like daddy-long-legses. Where do they reside in other months? Did you ever see one in February?

Joe is fascinated by ‘piders, and noticing where they are and what size they are. He is generally very positive and hasn’t got a problem with bugs or creepy crawlies in general. His attitude to life is the boost I so often need, and frequently makes me stop and think. I was explaining to him that chopping onions makes mummy cry and he suggested that chopping onions makes him laugh.  I do hope this will come in handy when he can be trusted with a sharp knife.

Lily is planning for Christmas and rearranging the squashes in the front room. I do hope this too will come in handy. Perhaps when she can be trusted with carrying oversized vegetables around the house. I am now so middle-class that I can’t imagine much point to squashes beyond looking beautiful for weeks on end, but I suspect I will be baking and roasting some in due course.

And finally both children are talking and both children are eating. Let the feasting begin!


I could eat all winter, and probably will. I am not pregnant, but am starting to look like I am. Occupational hazard of depressed stay-at-home-mum I think. That and large packets of minstrels. Do they really expect you to stop halfway through? My current attitude is that I will be very pleased with myself when I shed the extra pounds at such time as I know I can change my eating habits and also actually attempt to. Mummy Wide Legs is more like it.

It is a good thing I have never taken all that much notice, much less cared, about my physical shape. I am not easily embarrassed physically. And I am reasonably brave emotionally I’ve realised. Too brave lately. I had to go into toddlers today, to deliver a large box of toys and books we’d won. I knew it wouldn’t be easy, and lost a lot of sleep last night (although that might have been the minstrels). Joe had a great time. I was chatting with people I care deeply about – there are a lot, and even more new faces, who I ought to care deeply about and haven’t met yet – and realised I’d shuffled into winter while everyone else was in summer mode. While mums were kissing their little ones better and sending them off to play with the Brio, I was frozen with panic. While autumnal chatter filled the air like a good breeze, I could only feel the pain of inhaling sub-zero oxygen, stabbing at my lungs. I collapsed inside like soggy cereal and headed out of the door.

My friends minded my son and kept him happy and fetched my things. My friends listened to me and cheered me up through tea and tears and terrors. My friends refused to judge me or make things harder for me. I managed about half a session this morning and then got through the afternoon by trying to thaw out in front of the computer.

I will get better, and I am so aware of God guiding me. I have discovered that the unit of trust is the step. Each day is made up of several kilosteps, but with a limited number I cannot travel too far, or too fast. Even when tough walks need walking the steps taken in pain are still steps forward. In retrospect I am not as angry with myself now as I was this morning. I actually made it to toddlers. I helped out a little. I listened to people and chatted. I recognised that I am not utterly irreplaceable. Kilosteps or killersteps, I made progress. I just have to put my feet up now and stuff my face a bit more. I know it’s autumn, but please can winter hold off just a little longer? I want to catch more of the detail of the beauty of this time.



11 3/4 things to do before you’re 50

Yes, I am now utterly my parents and drag my children to more than their quotient of National Trust sites per year, but with this scheme, why wouldn’t I? And the children are already utterly us. They were heard screaming this week in Durham and refusing to go to a cafe when they realised we were trying to trick them out of a visit to a museum. Without any dinosaurs even.

Today we visited one of my childhood favourite places: Cragside. If you haven’t been, make plans to. There you will find the first room to be lit by hydro-electricity. In 1880. Also a ridiculously early dishwasher, patented as the Washer-up. Hydraulically-powered lifts. State of the art nineteenth-century technology in a glorious, beautiful pocket of Heaven. There is even a waterfall, an iron bridge and a button to press to learn the most efficient way to pour water over a wheel. My son was rapt. My husband and I were confused. My daughter discovered a timeline and therefore we were all happy. There was even a great place to eat, an adventure playground and a digger. A real, twenty-first century one.

And all through, the NT undercurrent of ensuring all children of primary age have enriching and rewarding experiences of the small, joyful elements of Life. Or else – woebetide -great things will be missed. Things like rolling down a hill, climbing a tree, baking mud and eating bees. Something like that. I’m having a tricky mind day today. Not that these activities will appeal to all, or even be possible to all. So I had another thought today. I give you:

11 3/4 things to do before you’re 50* **

*although you have every permission to do these things beyond 50, and I would encourage you to should the opportunities arise

**all these things have, in one way or another occured to our family this year

1. give treats to people you do not know, just for fun;

2. make water-wheels out of old lego;

3. book a ridiculously early flight (and get on ridiculously early flight just in time);

4. learn some words in a language you may never need again;

5. take time to look around at a view with no buildings for 360 degrees;

6. actually explain in great detail whether or not we are nearly there (and regret ever thinking that would result in the end of the questions);

7. meet up with at least one cousin/sibling/old friend each season;

8. do something a little bit dangerous, just to create great memories;

9. listen to wiser people;

10. express creatively in a way which relieves fear and tension;

11. don’t be afraid to love;

3/4. don’t put things off to the…

Broken reflections


I spent some time in the woods today. This morning we were with my cousin and his amazing sons. My husband and children helped them add some home improvements to a stick shelter. No grown-ups were allowed inside the den, but forest ‘cooking’ was on offer and those of us outside the den discussed the best ways of helping our children learn coding and basic electronics.

This afternoon I was on my own in a glade so beautiful I had to gaze at the grass splashes on the edges of the stream, sit against the pines and take apart a cone or two. Silence and not silence. And in my mind, so much noise.

The woods helped. I went back to the family and showed all my husband’s family the spot I’d found, before Going on a Bear Hunt with them which might have involved searching for elusive Gruffalos and those pesky squirrels who could throw pine cones anywhere the children were going. Healing time alone and healing time with others.

I wish I did not need so much healing time when I want to be present for family, for friends, for God.

I am feeling like a broken mirror today. Needing huge resources for recharging, space, food, thinking time, and yet too scared to handle the pieces of mirror in case they cause more pain. Maybe it won’t fit together the way I want it to. I am not useful enough to those around me. I am fearful of everything and almost out of emotional energy. I am scared of the children and their constant questions. Did I sign up for this many repeated inane questions? I do not want to tell you if we are nearly there, and everything you say shows you are not listening or looking around you and I wish I could help you but you’ll have to just try a bit harder, eat a bit more, be a bit kinder or wait a bit longer. I have a wonderful idea for a book, but am scared of working on it too much in case it crashes and that starts hurting too. I have found myself stuttering frequently today and on the verge of tears so much that the crying inside must be almost audible. It terrifies me.

The pieces are sharp, but they don’t stop reflecting. Reflecting what? The image of God? Of goodness? Of hope and transformation? Of the journey so far? I want to grind them to sand and start again and God says ‘just be’ even though I want to melt into the landscape. I can’t have alcohol on my medication: it transforms my head into a perfect storm. One more reason to get well as fast as possible. I can’t concentrate for long either. It is like burning out matches one at a time in quick succession. Many little burnouts. Perhaps I have pushed myself too much lately. Travel. Packing. Timings. Sociability. Responsibility. Concern. I may need a day or two without the children, but that also means guilt, worry and preparation.

I went down to the woods today, and I didn’t go in disguise. I went as me, because honesty is all I have. I told God I was angry, that I couldn’t fathom how I got to this place of extreme anxiety and crippling depression. That I love my friends and family dearly and hate letting them all down. That I want to be better. That I ache for better things for those around me first, so that my healing is not jumping the queue.

God didn’t mind that I felt like a broken mirror and that I couldn’t hold all the pieces. He just reminded me that he can. And so I asked him to hold them for me and make them into something he can use. Reflecting something of him in all kinds of directions.

Avash avash

SONY DSCTirana by night

Treat this as your postcard from Albania. Especially if you haven’t had one from us. It’s a sunset view from Mount Dajti looking west over Tirana to the sea.

(Returning to the city involves travelling in a full and rather small swinging cable-car for 15 minutes in near darkness.)

I was reminded on this excellent website (a friend of a friend’s), that there are techniques in cognitive behavioural therapy which help in breaking cycles of bad thinking. I find travel does wonders for breaking cycles of anything to be honest. Who needs laws about car seats and seat belts? Why can’t bacteria multiply more slowly if they can’t speak English? Who knew you could park four deep on a roundabout? And does it really matter when you have two families in a one family car? The roads are mostly finished, right?

In fact, the philosophy in Albania – a trip we’d planned months ago – works perfectly if you are not trained to NVQ level 5 in UK Health and Safety Nonsense and generations of British Proper Ways To Do Things. The local expression is avash avash, which means slowly, slowly. It is perfectly ok to ask another driver on the other side of the road for directions if you are lost, even though you’ll both have to stop. It is fine to cross the road when the green man indicates your right of way, even when the traffic is still coming, as they will probably stop for you. Slowly, slowly. Keep plodding; you’ll get there.

We had made plans to visit two sets of friends. Primarily we went to visit friends I made during my Masters at another time in another capital and who we last saw at our wedding nearly ten years ago when Mikea was three and was our page boy.


…then and now…

SONY DSC (reading one of Stephen Davies’ novels)

Since then Gjystina and Fredi have had daughters, and we were delighted to meet the beautiful Prishila and Reona, and were amazed at the family’s grasp of English, hospitality despite difficult personal circumstances and utter trust in God for provision and purpose. The family took us to some wonderful places which were within my coping range. In temperatures hitting 40 degrees they also adapted and allowed for our children by finding cooler spots with play areas, museums and fun activities. We saw beautiful beaches and mountains, castles and vistas. We were challenged by their church plant, moved to help with their building relocation, shocked at the burdens they are carrying and delighted to find God working in our lives as well as theirs as I stepped out of my comfort zone in clear and direct answers to prayer and was able to begin ministering to others in my own small way.

There were miles of furniture shops, hundreds of red and black Albanian flags and pizza outlets on every corner. The swimming pools were glorious (Lily’s favourite part) and the byrek crisp and tasty. Everywhere people wanted to touch the children’s hair, to clasp their faces and to remark in internationally recognisable tones how beautiful they thought Lily and Joe to be. Not wanting to disagree we made internationally recognisable agreeing noises and smiled a lot.




The second family we were visiting were a university friend Rob and his Albanian wife Mira and their lovely baby daughter Emily. Rob was part of a team I once organised to help do some building work on a Hope Centre in northern Croatia, and his love of the Balkans and the people of Albania has led him to integrate so well into local culture and be respected there for his work.


So we really didn’t want to miss out on meeting up with these two remarkable families, especially as they are people who bless those around them, rather than draining them. We wanted to bless them with tea-bags, encouragement, books and opportunity. Despite challenges we found safety in letting go and learning the slowly, slowly mentality. In making decisions late, in not worrying about waiting and in finding the humour. God truly has been good to us this week.

I am not out of the woods. The cycle got a great jolt from this most unusual week, but I am having to work to fight negative patterns and am not ‘fully operational’ so am integrating gently into the world back home. We have others to see and more to do in these next weeks before Lily goes back to school, but I know how I’m going to tackle it.

Slowly, slowly.

Depression Toolkit #23: Friends

This morning I managed my best ‘socialising’ so far this summer outside the family: 2 hours with a couple of really good friends and some of our children. Although I was nervous, being around people I trust and know well in a home setting was just what was needed. People I can chat openly with. People whose children are similar ages to ours, given that we met in an NCT group some years back. The children played well and Joe was able to indulge his latest Lego fad to his heart’s content as well as a large amount of ice lolly and running around in the sun with the other pre-schoolers.


I hope I can build up these social meet-ups and get out to more places so that I don’t deny the children opportunities to try some great activities over the summer. I am terrified of the swimming pool. I won’t go to parks without my husband there too. Any place that demands my engaged parenting for any period over about 30 minutes is too daunting to consider. Anything I can avoid, I will. It is very frustrating for parents who have to work during the school holidays not to be able to be with their children and take them out and about, but I am becoming aware that my frustration at not doing things is not for lack of time or motive, but anxiety – and that it has the potential to impact on Lily and Joe if I do not find good ways to use this time.

So I am especially grateful for friends. Friends who know the children well enough to go to places together, so I don’t feel over-burdened and so I can catch up with where they are. Friends with weddings, enabling us to focus on great celebrations and not worries. Friends who invite us to their country to share their culture and give the children a broader experience of the world. Friends who pray, send cards and flowers or private messages, who remind me of the kind folk in our lives. I wasn’t good at making friends when I was little, but these days I am amazed at the number of people in our lives, and how close so many of them are.

A friend loves at all times,
    and a brother is born for a time of adversity.

Proverbs 17:17

Depression Toolkit #22: Being shepherded

I just read Lily’s Bible notes with her, and read this verse in the Good News version:

He will take care of his flock like a shepherd;
he will gather the lambs together
and carry them in his arms;
he will gently lead their mothers.

Isaiah 40:11



We were in Herefordshire in 2007 when I was three months pregnant with Lily, staying on a farm with my parents. There was a ewe (number 9 I recall) who was particularly protective of her lambs. I understand that feeling now. And I understand her fear. Her need to be kept safe and to keep her precious family safe.

This evening I met for an assessment with a counsellor from the local Christian counselling service. They recognised my need for counselling and have put me on their list: hopefully a space will come up after the summer. Being listened to by someone who understands my background was very helpful. One of the things that came out of the discussion was the need to not only find positives (like this series of tools I’m working on), but also to carefully look at the painful things and mental habits I’ve got into which need addressing. This gentle shepherding promises to be a healing experience I think.

Depression Toolkit #21: Animals

We have two guinea pigs: Beatrix and Stripe. Both boars and both named by the children. They are remarkably manageable pets and a lot easier and more forgiving than the children. They make a number of different high-pitched noises and a few grumbly ones. As they are herbivores they do a wonderful job of keeping the grass short and finishing left over inner or outer parts of vegetables. Stripe is definitely the dominant one, exerting his alphahood by chattering teeth and shuffling on his hind legs and mounting Beatrix once in a while. Beatrix doesn’t like this, but they get along well enough otherwise. I have discovered that I like looking after animals and the daily routines. It makes me feel connected to nature and grounded.

Recently I discovered that they both had mites. I was disappointed for the sake of the guinea pigs, but also for myself as a task like fixing hurting cavies now requires a huge amount of Robinson Access Memory and can result in a frozen brain screen and needing to reboot.

So several mental Ctrl-Alt-Deletes later I realised that I already had anti-mite shampoo and needed to search the internet for advice on bathing them and scouring their hutch and cage. We have an outdoor hutch with a rain cover, a cage in the shed for wet days or ‘holidays’ and a run for the grass. I broke the job down and managed a bit each day. One day I bought the insect spray. Another I searched for bathing guinea pigs. Another I thoroughly cleaned and disinfected the cage. Today I finally cleaned out and treated the hutch, lining it with just newspaper, and sprayed all the tunnels/toys I intend to keep going forward. I also bathed the guinea pigs and clipped their claws for the first time, which was 96% successful and as our book says guinea pigs can’t die from cutting the blood supply I hope Stripe will forgive me.

Having bathed the boys, we noticed they started behaving differently. Stripe was still on top sociologically, but also literally for a huge percentage of the time. Joe thought this was hilarious. Lily reminded me that two boy guinea pigs can’t have babies so it’s a good thing Beatrix only has a girl’s name (where is she getting this from?)…

I separated them with a bit of cage, and when my husband got home he swiftly came to the conclusion that as they had had their first baths today, they probably couldn’t cope with each other’s smell until they got ‘reacquainted’. Every time we allowed them to mix Stripe was straight to the point, so tonight I am grateful that the hutch divides into an upstairs and a downstairs. Each has all they need and a honey stick to sweeten the deal, and they haven’t complained so far.



I think Stripe (black with white stripe) is digesting the property pages while Beatrix (agouti?) chills on the ground floor (triple aspect). Hopefully by tomorrow they will be happy to be friends again.



There is something calming about caring for animals, and with depression it is also overwhelmingly satisfying to manage new things like tackling mites and claw-clipping. I will have to keep a close eye on them and clean the hutch again, but I now know I can do it and that it is ok to pace myself.

I have wondered about other pets at times – fish sound interesting and not too hard. They are also very calming if all is going well. We can’t fit a cat or dog in our present property and do justice to them, but maybe in the future we could look into getting a larger pet. I searched online for which breed of dog would suit us best yesterday and every online quiz I tried suggested something different. I would love a tortoise if we could look after it well. And Lily has rather taken to a parakeet on youtube, but that is not going to happen.

Before we had animals we went to the zoo a lot and also other animal parks. Animals can be even more calming if they belong to someone else! Sitting and watching an animal is educational and takes your mind off your problems.

…ask the animals, and they will teach you…

Job 12:7


Depression Toolkit #20: Blessing others

I am learning to re-introduce this one gently.

I love helping others out, even when it drains me. Maybe it is a deep-grained sense of duty. I like to see things fixed. I want to weep with those who are weeping and laugh with those who are laughing.

So the end of term is providing the opportunity to find a wonderful gift for Lily’s teacher, who has done so well in her first year of teaching. I found just the thing on, and will also print out home-made thank you cards with her picture on for her teacher and classroom assistants. I am limiting myself to Lily’s immediate helpers this term for my sanity.

Then there is the exciting prospect of a new nephew or niece soon, and coming up with something to bless my brother and his wife and family with.

My husband and I are attending a wedding soon. And we are visiting friends in Albania, so lots of potential for finding lovely ways to bless people. And there are birthdays, occasions and times to focus on others.

It’s not just gifts. I love the idea of the five love languages, and learning to bless others in different ways, such as:

  • words of affirmation
  • acts of service
  • receiving gifts
  • quality time
  • physical touch

Apart from the planning element of gifts or written words, which I have to pace (early preparation is key here), most of these can be managed in the moment, and are more true for it. So although I am not keeping up with every event or birthday, I am hoping to be more of a blessing to others and to focus more away from myself.

The Lord gives strength to his people;
    the Lord blesses his people with peace

Psalm 29:11


Depression Toolkit #19: Lists

This one sounded almost too easy when my neighbour suggested it to me a few weeks back. ‘Make a list’ she said. ‘Keep it simple’. I had not been making lists as I didn’t want to disappoint myself at how little I was doing, or make a list that included Make List.

In fact, the first day or two (and it wasn’t even every day), I just wrote the absolute basics:

  • Get kids up and fed
  • Lunch
  • Collect Lily from school

That sort of thing. I could manage all that, even if I didn’t eat all the right things at lunchtime.

So now things must be improving (yay!) because today I’m up to here:


and this is huge progress for me, even though it isn’t as much as I’d like to be achieving. And yes, my handwriting is usually about that bad (especially when it’s only for me to read).

Every time I get most of a list achieved it is a big deal, where in the past it was a failure. I am already aware of quite a number of things which didn’t make the cut for today’s list, but I am plodding through the most important details of the coming weeks a step at a time. There is a lot to look forward to. Also I am very grateful that my energy is returning, having been knocked out by a tiring cold over the weekend – this reminds me that my mind, like my body, will go through a ‘getting better’ process and to try and see it happening and be pleased, even when the steps are tiny.

In time I am hoping to create a Bucket List:


There are some great ideas and a way to make a list digitally here. I think I am not in a place where I can dream dreams just yet. Most of my dreams involve things like running away to the Arctic Circle. But I will get better… and when I do some ideas will be realistic and and some crazy.

The corollary of making future lists is to mentally block past lists. At the moment all past lists until I am strong enough to sort them. So, no regret lists, no angry lists, no pity lists, no what-if lists, nothing. That is for God to deal with and in time I will work on areas I need to.

Record my misery;
    list my tears on your scroll –
    are they not in your record?

…By this I will know that God is for me.

…in God I trust and am not afraid.
    What can man do to me?

you have delivered me from death
    and my feet from stumbling,
that I may walk before God
    in the light of life.

Psalm 56:8-13