Category Archives: Me

Grief stinks

The day after Ascension, who grieved?

It is a very odd part of faith, the ascension. We don’t focus on it a lot in my tradition; the date falls on Thursdays. Jesus, killed on a cross on a Friday during Passover. Raised from the dead on the Sunday, marking a new celebration day in the week. A new first day. Then multiple appearances in various locations, to numerous doubters and followers. He sat and ate with them. Talked and explained. Listened and loved the lost and the confused. Those close to him were convinced that he was indeed alive.

Just like the 40 days in the desert before his ministry years began, there were 40 days in which this post-resurrection Jesus continued to baffle and bookend. Unfettered by any human control, he chose who to present himself to. He did not intend to take Israel as his kingdom by force or to oust the Romans. Instead he repeats his earliest message: the kingdom of God. The proximity! The invitation!

The kingdom of God demands an engagement with Someone and a relinquishing of Self in order to be fully Alive. It turns one’s heart’s desires from self-promotion to praise of God. And in that moment the wonderful realisation of knowing what it truly means to be Loved. Human love is just a shadow of this Love.

These turners, these followers, these men and women baffled and bruised by life choose Love. They are the start of something, but they are not enough on their own. They need a spiritual encounter and a promise of help and strength.

ascension01So God does the unimaginable – again. He separates. From day one he had been separating light and darkness. Now he separates from those who turned to follow him. A significant separation of a physical body with limits, before a spiritual meeting with his followers. The practicalities are not even that important. An ascent – lots of witnesses – and a junction in the story.

I would have grieved. Something had happened and Someone had gone ahead, calling others to follow. I would have grieved the distance and the unknowns. I would have grieved the mess remaining and the masses of unrepentant folk. I would have grieved the stench of life Without. (I would have had hope too – my eyes lifted from the past to the future and from the sticky hell of earth to the hope of heaven. But I would have grieved.)

And grief remains in our world in the mess. I didn’t know any of the celebrities who died in the past year, but I grieve at the end of opportunities, creativity, laughter. I think many of us do. The separation is out of our control and we don’t want it.

weight of grief

Two months ago my granny died.

I don’t want the separation and the emptiness when I return to her home. I don’t want the grief, though it tears through me. She was a war-time evacuee. A left-hander in the wrong era. A girl who thought her mum was her sister – raised by her granny in Notting Hill and ignored by her father. She lived most of her life in Devon and I rarely saw her out of the county. She was stubborn. Hard work. Kind, but firm and she didn’t suffer fools. Forged in her generation with scars and dashed dreams of her own, you needed to meet her on her terms, which was hard. She had a strange sense of humour. One time, for a surprise, she arranged a tour for me of the local sewage works. She had been a model. A cinema owner. A mum. She was brave, and witty, and under-educated.

But now she is dead and next week I return to Devon to sort through her clothes with my mum. A task of turning and of separating and of grieving.

I think it is ok to grieve. Even the painful things. Our hearts expect it.

I think it was ok for the followers to grieve, following Jesus’ Ascension. Things had changed.

When something changes and we feel the weight of separation we long to express that. For some it means retracing and recalling. For others it is far more private. Grief is heavy and the price is high – the BBC are saying today that broken hearts are a real thing.

But, after grief? After the initial rush of emotions? Once the pain has become more calm?

This is where Hope lives. And the Ascension gives me Hope.

granny

I can hope to meet my granny again. She shared my faith and she lives and I will see her and talk with her again. I can place my hope in God, though I hate the separation of death. He lives and he is not controlled by death or by physical limits. I can hope for good things and know that there is more than the mess and the stink of grief and separation. There is a kingdom I am part of and my eyes are fixed on Jesus.

Advertisements

Where was I?

I know where I was on September 18th 1990. I know where I was because my geography teacher – a man whose name I cannot now remember – asked all of us what day it was.

We were thirteen. Our teacher seemed genuinely angry and upset that we did not know what day it was. How could we? We had no means of finding out in 1990 without leaving the classroom. So he kept asking us. He was not a good teacher and I made a mental note that this method would not work.

He despaired, shouted at us a bit and put on a video. A VHS with a fuzzy picture and trippy colours on a hulking cathode-ray machine with clunky buttons. It was loud enough to wobble the tubular trolley. There was lots of sound and anger being performed at us. Some of us were a little scared. Our class watched in confusion as Jimi Hendrix performed guitar riffs with his hands and his teeth, on his knee and behind his head. There was certainly skill being demonstrated, but like a fine wine or a decent book we did not appreciate exactly what. We were thirteen.

Happy that he had berated us enough, our teacher told us that the date that day was exactly twenty years since Jimi Hendrix’ untimely death. We looked at each other. So now we knew. Some of us still had no idea who Jimi Hendrix was, so our teacher took it upon himself to tell us. It was not much of a geography lesson. I think this was the teacher who also tried to teach us how to make cocaine from the plant, should we find ourselves in South America. (It was not the best of schools but I learned a lot about how not to teach there).

I never became a fan of Jimi Hendrix.

I never became a fan of David Bowie either, but this week I have learned why.

I judged him.

I thought of him as a provocative and promiscuous glam rocker, caught in all the trappings of fame and success and one of many provocative artists – so what was new? I was not interested in music which broke the mould because much music does that. I felt the Bowie experience was hollow and unsophisticated. Also irritating and showy. And amoral. And broken.

I judged him, and today I have understood something about myself in that and why I need to stop judging. Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive others. 

I have no right to judge. I did not even realise I was doing it. Here was a guy living out his life in full colour, whatever my own feelings were about those colours. It is not for me to judge him. I can like or dislike his music, his opinions and his actions, but it is not for me to judge them. The difference is important. Do not judge others and you will not be judged.

I still do not identify very much with Bowie and I still don’t warm to his musical styles, but I have made a small step forward. A moon-step, if you like. He, like me, was only human. And sometimes all of us, as humans, recognise that we have limits. And we do ourselves all a great favour if we refuse to let our differences divide us. When we look closely, we find that we have more in common than we may have realised.

 

Why you won’t be in my story

anything

To follow on from my last post, I truly am fascinated by people.

And I am writing a book.

The book has characters. Each character has attributes: their looks, their speech, what happens to them, even their name.

So how do I create and fill out characters without using the appearance, words or experiences of people I know? I do not want to be sued for libel or defamation and I certainly do not want to cause upset. So I’ve been coming up with some rules for my work.

Looks and characteristics

1. I can use generic attributes. There is nothing libellous about giving a character a long beard. Or a speech impediment. Or a red face when they get angry. What would be wrong would be to associate fictional attributes with a real person (dead or alive). Details about fictional characters must not identifiably connect with any single source; no one person could claim I was writing about them.

2. I can humanise my characters. Each fictional character has a set of qualities and flaws of their own, just like each of us. Individual hurts, feelings and private agendas, along with what they value and their annoying habits. This combination of qualities and flaws need not match any person I know; I just need a good mix.

3. I can use or avoid stereotypes. So, I would avoid a stereotype where I wanted to make a point – a dramatic clue for the reader. However, I would use a stereotype to aid the flow of the story. It doesn’t need to be a bland or tired character you may have seen elsewhere. Sometimes I get ideas for a character’s personality based on the features of an animal, a musical instrument or a plant. A character based initially on a banana plant may be tall, expressive, easy to peel (an ‘open book’?), prone to pranks and with a silly sense of humour.

Speech and Dialogue

4. Where I am creating dialogue, I can produce original speech. In any case, spoken language in this book needs to be reasonably terse and punchy.

5. Where I want to use idioms resembling those of the historical period, I can alter them for my purposes. I love phrases like “in the spring, at the time when kings go off to war” (2 Samuel 11:1). My narrator sees things from a different perspective to the writer of this phrase, and will put a different interpretation on the world around her.

6. In this particular project I do not need to concern myself with linguistic details of accents or swearing, but I am interested in riddles, memory aids, parallelisms, repetition and multiple meanings. I am keen on close readings of texts and want my work in progress to unlock beautiful linguistic details for readers. The form, as much as the content, is all part of this artistic and creative experiment.

Experiences

7. I could draw entirely on my own experience and memories, making it an utterly self-absorbed and painfully autobiographical tale, but we all know that is not a clever solution. My characters must be absorbing and irritating in their own right. Perhaps they have no children. Or many children. Or six toes. Or they wake before dawn. I do not identify easily with these things, but I can use observation and imagination to fill in the gaps in my experience. I can listen to those who know and keep learning.

8. My story is based on characters you can read about in the Old Testament, and it is not for me to tell you whether they were real or not. Make your own mind up on that. However, I made the conscious decision at the beginning of the writing process that I could not use a living person’s story. I value people too much to take real experiences of pain or loss and bastardise them into something I could assert was new. Elements of my story could look familiar to some who know me, but they may only be included if the experiences are not unique to individuals and families. Plot detail must be based on the text I am working to or its time period, or be original material inspired and created in the process. Many of my elements come by merging a couple of ideas together or by taking a thought for a walk. They arrive when I least expect them and need noting down before they walk off again without saying goodbye. Some of the best ideas come utterly uninvited but still stand the tests of rewriting.

9. This exercise is not about therapeutically working through a set of my own emotions (I’ve already done that) but about finding ways to express truth – using story. Healing truth. It would be rather silly therefore to create wounds in the process. When the time comes, I want to run the manuscript past people whose own experiences may come close to those I am writing about, because they will resonate the closest and can tell me where I am wrong.

Names and Naming

10. Some of the characters have names straight out of the Old Testament text I am working to (one is altered deliberately, with a shortening).

11. All names have to be appropriate for the time period, so no Jacks or Kates. Some of the names around at the time happen to coincide with names of people I know or are related to (including my mum). Where I want to use a name which happens also to be a name of a contact, I need to be wise to how it could be interpreted.

12. There is a case for inventing names – I’ve researched naming patterns in the Old Testament and the results are fascinating. I could use animal names, place names or word names for new characters and not break my own rules. I could even use the OT patterns of names closely tied with their characters’ stories if I felt that was helpful. I could translate all the names into their English equivalents (for example, Deborah: Bee), but I have decided that would not necessarily make things easier for the reader.

So I hope you will be pleased to hear that you won’t find yourself in my story. You should find truths which apply to many people and these elements are part of what makes a story gripping and dramatic. In fact, I hope you will find elements which do resonate, as I believe that identifying common experiences can help unite and heal.

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.

blackwell

                                     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. 

Let your light shine

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.

cyclepath

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.

twinkle

The Cattle on a Thousand Hills

blencathra

In a week when Saddleback or Blencathra in Cumbria went up for sale and this story appeared about a family of birds taking up residence in a letter box in Suffolk, we have been doing much thinking ourselves about homes and property.

birdbox

It has struck me that our human conventions regarding land and property ownership are somewhat absurd in the bigger scheme. I have long thought that being able to just be in a beautiful place is just as satisfying as – and much less expensive than – owning the place. I hope Saddleback will be sold to people who allow it to be entrusted to generations of walkers. Walkers from many places, booted, flip-flopped or four-pawed, of every description and brand of weatherwear. It will make very little difference to many of us who owns great spaces, as long as we still have the opportunity to be there, to breathe the air and to study the views, to appreciate the big and the small as if we never noticed them before. It is possible that a sealed bid from a malevolent faction could buy Blencathra outright and seal off the land from visitors, but part of the joy and beauty of such places is their accessibility to so many more folk than just those who manage and pay for their upkeep.

Animals do not recognise or need to comply with human property claims. In our garden alone, numerous claims could be made for the space. There are blue tits nesting on the wall, claiming their space this season and feeding their noisy young from what they can harvest around the area.

SONY DSC

There are two cats who spend their nights in a house on the street backing ours but most daytimes guarding their territory, which now extends throughout our back garden and right up to our back door. With all the front of teenagers they chase and tease bees and butterflies, slink behind plants and sit for hours, frowning. Clearly they are full owners of our garden in the eyes of the feline land registry.

SONY DSC

SONY DSC

Then there are the guinea pigs, whose access to safe rectangles of garden on dry days makes them equally entitled to the land and its grass and dandelion leaves, not to mention their hutch, which they have almost exclusive use of. What’s an odd snail or spider to a herbivore?

SONY DSC

SONY DSC

There is a comic robin who bounds up and down between the wall and the grass. He always looks like he’s about to get to the punchline, but he never does. Robins are territorial too. Timing is everything; I always forget the camera.

What about pigeons? Or gulls? Or the odd squirrel? Or the many many insects and spiders?

Taking it to another level, do the plants moshing out of their beds and jostling for life between the stones and gravel have a claim on the land?

SONY DSC

Perhaps, foolishly, we too could say we own it.

But we only have any rights to ownership under human conventions and then only temporarily. I prefer to think of everything we own as being on loan to us. We are guardians. Keepers. Entrusted with responsibility and graced with a journey of seasons and promise.

You see, none of it is really ours. God made it all, owns it all and has the final say, not us. He owns ‘the cattle on a thousand hills’ which is Psalm 50’s poetic way of saying that God tops any rich list and all we have is from Him.

Someone has made an offer on our house. We have put in an offer on another house, trusting that soon God will provide the home we need for raising our family. He has already provided a school place for Joseph against all reasonable odds in a full year group and a popular location, at some distance. Maybe we’ll be sharing our garden with plants, animals and birds. We hope we can share the new place for which we will be guardians with many friends and family for many years to come.

Mindful Eating

Beating depression and anxiety is akin to marching uphill. Marching daily against the laws of emotional entropy and greedy gravity.

It turns out I don’t march so well on a full stomach. I have been comfort eating now for the past few months to the point where I don’t feel right watching TV or starting the next activity without a snack and there is always always a reason to eat. This is not right. I’ve been here before: I graduated several sizes larger than usual because eating and revision just go so well together. I changed my eating habits and lost weight gradually and sufficiently to marry three years later a size or two smaller than usual.

Marriage doesn’t always mean keeping the weight off. Those inches kept creeping back. I have never minded much how I look, but for the sake of my family and my arteries I have been having reservations about all the calories and unhealthy snacks I’ve been consuming lately.

I mentioned these worries to my counsellor recently, who had a great tool for me to use. I want to share it here for my own accountability and to encourage others. I have tried it for the past few days and it is having some success already.

It is an acronym. When I feel like eating, I need to ask myself:

Am I Hungry?

Am I Angry?

Am I Lonely?

Am I Tired?

If I am angry, lonely or tired, there are solutions which do not involve food (and I can ask others to help me in this too). If I am genuinely hungry, I should stop and think what my body actually needs to eat. What does my body really crave? Part of learning mindfulness to beat anxiety is in recognising thinking habits, acknowledging worries, anger and fears and becoming very aware of the moment. When you stop and savour something all your senses can be used. If I tune in to what my body really needs I can start to provide it. Sometimes my children just need an orange, or some milk, or a tomato. They are more in tune with their bodies’ needs than I am. I’m still in creme egg season and using food up because we have it, not because it is what would bring healing and wholeness.

There is still a time for cheese straws and chocolate. But there is also a time for carrots and kale. I am not going to tackle this one head on because I have a real problem with eating too much and too often. I am going to go at it slowly but surely. Having the HALT principle will help me, because I work well with a general rule. These next few weeks I am hoping to learn to savour things better and enjoy what is good and right.

fruitvegheart