Why I do What I do

I love finding out what other people do and the rich and varied life experiences of friends, new and old. People are fascinating, complicated, messy, more beautiful than they realise, irritating, funny, kind, slow and colourful. People react in a thousand ways and wear a thousand masks. We use stories to tell our truths.

Life hands out lemons and apples; 
share them if you like. Make lemonade if that helps. 
But be careful. We don't all want lemonade.
Some of us just want to throw the apples
and some of us just want to juggle the lemons.

We need each other’s stories to learn truths, and so to grow and to bear our own fruit. We learn from each other and when we read stories the truth resonates. Truth liberates us. Empowers and challenges us. Why are we so keen to read Harper Lee’s Go Set A Watchman? We remember the impact To Kill a Mockingbird had on us – a story rich in truth.

People ask me about me too. There is so much to tell. Where do I start?

My story is messy, but no less beautiful for it. Today I am 38, a wife and a mum to two amazing children. I write and I research. I try to engage in community – online, in the children’s schools, in our church and in our village. My physical health is slowly improving, my mental health is much stronger than it was two years ago and I see purpose in my activities. Life is good.

Matthew and Lucy

Let me tell you something about how I got to this point though. There have been some very dark days.

I struggled with people – men in particular – for a number of years. It was not until I was prayed for in 2001 that my fear of men in general was removed and it was shortly after this that I met my husband.

I did well at school academically, but I was trapped in a mindset of duty which eclipsed my identity. Rather than study subjects I found really interesting, I was persuaded to do maths and engineering subjects, ostensibly because ‘there are not enough girls in the field’ and I seemed to do well at maths. Engineering is not my passion. I found sixth form incredibly hard emotionally and was fighting severe depression for much of the time.

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I worked for a year in London in a large international engineering consulting company where I floundered. I began an Engineering degree at a good university: my grades sank like a pebble and my self esteem took another battering.

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When I retook my exams I passed and was able to change to studying Theology, which was an amazing experience. Suddenly I was allowed to spend my time doing the thing I loved. I wanted to prove how committed I was to taking it seriously and the academic rigour of a humanities subject, so I threw in as many unusual languages as I could.

I did well and had offers to do further study at Oxford or Cambridge, but I had not budgeted for the costs involved. After graduating I discovered a seminary in Prague where I could do my Masters and I spent three years studying part time and working in a local prison in Suffolk with young offenders. I met many fascinating international students and many fascinating young criminals.

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I met and married Matthew over this period too, and it became clear that prison work was not going to be a good long term career for me – I needed stretching and he needed to stay in Suffolk working. So I got a teaching qualification – learning on the job (SCITT) for a year in local schools and then teaching in a Catholic Secondary and in an FE college. As RE was not an option, I taught maths. I met some amazing people, learned a lot about myself and about educating, and we started a family.

When I announced to my headmaster that I was pregnant, his words to me were:

"you do realise that your role now is to be a mother"

even though I didn’t think heads could say things like this. He floored me. I had thought I was over my struggle with men and with reduced opportunities and could not understand why was using a truth to hurt me. Of course my role was to be a mother – but surely not at the expense of a career I had invested so much in?

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I asked to return to work part time after Lily arrived and was refused. After trying to work in FE on lower pay I realised that my time was better spent raising my family, so reluctantly I put the career on hold and had Joe. My mental health was already suffering and it took me seven months to bond with him and even to accept that he was my son.

I threw myself into trying to please, trying to serve (never well enough, I figured), trying to keep going and trying to be there for everyone. I ran a large toddler group. I helped young people. I visited folk. I listened. I learned a lot more truths and I hit a crucial junction in 2013 at a church holiday club. I fell apart. I wasn’t big enough on my own to do all I felt I should to the degree it could be done, and I collapsed under the weight of my mental baggage.

A doctor I saw assessed me as severely depressed and with huge anxiety issues. I needed to step back from everything I could and rebuild. However, in order to rebuild, I needed to be taken apart, very carefully.

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The NHS were not able to provide the help I needed, but a local Christian counselling service found me an amazing listener, who heard my story and saw me through the painful process of dealing with past hurts, tears and anguishes. The counselling had a huge impact on me, and at this stage I am reducing my medication and hope to come off it completely fairly soon.

One major impact was in learning to let go of the huge burden I’d built up to please people as my source of self-worth. I now see my value as entirely tied up in God’s grace, and the healing is remarkable. Another was in discovering my passions and allowing them to flourish. Teaching is in my blood, but it is not the whole of me. I need to spend time writing and reading and making sense of the subject I loved. So I moved from teaching as my identity into a new chapter. A writing chapter.

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I am writing a book, based on research I started in Prague and following the stories of some interesting and messy characters. It is academically informed and set historically. I spend time most days on it in one way or another and already have a wealth of research and ideas. Key themes in the book are relationships, raising a family, the art of storytelling and value.

I am writing with the intention of revealing truth, but also because it is something I feel passionate about. All of my own story so far informs what I can write – my fears, my learning, my healing, my disappointments, my family, my health, God’s grace and purpose.

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Now that I have better focus and a rich back-story I can choose to get involved at an appropriate level in local and online activities. I have a book in progress. I have a family who need my attention. Now I have better learned limits. And reasonable responses – sometimes Yes, sometimes No, sometimes Later. God has blessed me and my family and I find peace only when I truly rely on him.

Two factors inform my decisions now. They are not about self-promotion but question whether God is at the centre of what I do and whether my choice is the right way at the right time for me to encourage, challenge, teach and inspire others.

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So this is whay I do what I do. My story continues and I hope the healing truths in it will touch the stories of others.

The Taking Part

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?

used-tennis-balls

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.

That stinks.

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.

Seriously.

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.

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. 

Plot-chasing

Those good people instant gratification monkeys over at Google have found a new way to delay fruitful work the world over by making it possible to find a place on a map and convert it into your own little Pac-Man game.

Here, for your further edification procrastination therefore is a beautiful part of Prague. You might observe the Staroměstské náměstí complete with monument to Jan Hus, stunning six-hundred year old astronomical clock, cafes, galleries and ecclesiastical architecture. I commend it to you. Watch out for Blinky, Pinky, Inky and Clyde however; these pixel-golems have no scruples in ruining your day as you try and negotiate the narrow streets and keep finding yourself back where you started without much of an idea how that happened.

hus

What has this got to do with plot-chasing?

Well, to follow up my previous post and because there is an apparent market for updates in my work (read: accountability by any means necessary) I thought I’d let you in on a bit of what I’ve been doing. What I’ve been doing, that is, when I haven’t been assessing locales worldwide for hilarious Pac-Man routes. Is Pac-Man supposed to make you hungry? I do hope Google keep this fun going after 1st April.

Plotting is going more slowly than I had hoped. I had been working on a self-imposed discipline of a scene a day, given other demands on my time. Early drafts: all terrible but useful for working forward. And no, you may not see them. However, it was becoming apparent that I might actually need to decide what material may actually be suitable in the story. I’m not really a ‘Start at the very beginning’ kinda gal. But I do know a couple of my characters really well now and some of the plot elements and some twisty bits and a number of the names and I think I know where I want to end up, but some of it is still up for discussion and plays around in my head every night like a game on a loop. And all the while Blinky is following me like some lost stag party, Pinky keeps getting in my way at the pace of a guided tour group, Inky wants to sell me something I’m not convinced I really need and Clyde needs his mummy.

I decided to research how to plot, and discovered that Someone Who Knows suggests that I need to map it all out very tightly. And Someone Else Who Also Knows says otherwise and that I need to start with my characters and see where they take me. I’ve been listening to my characters very closely, but I don’t think they know as much as they ought to because they keep doing silly things and I suspect I need to Take Charge a little more and the characters aren’t going to like it. However, the main reason the plot is going slowly is because I have to plot in parallel, and I’ve been putting that off.

My book is telling two things at once (to my knowledge; perhaps more to anyone who ever gets to read it). There is the surface plot, which ought to abide by regular modern rules of plottage. And there is a secondary pattern, informed by ancient rhetoric devices pertinent to the setting. It makes sense in my head and in what I want to achieve. However, squaring these two ‘plots’ off means being prepared to step out of my two-dimensional Pac-World and view the story from a lot of different angles to get the best measure of How To Go About This Best. Like Sudoku in 3D. Or finding your way around Real Prague, by memory.

Alongside these plot questions, I am still working through questions of detail which may impact so closely on the writing style and voice(s) of my narrator that all I have written thus far may need serious editing at the very least. This is fine, but an early answer to this one may save a lot of time later.

And I have much more research to do as I progress. I am dealing with a time in history which is rich and fascinating, in a place very different from what I know best, but I am a stickler for anachronisms. I want to know that I did my utmost to get the details right. Some of my early scenes may only be practice runs as I am learning how to put things together and I take various creative liberties. Notes on what is based on something We Know as opposed to something I Thought Sounded Right need to be updated as I go, at least for my own sanity. Despite a Master’s in this period I feel I know very little and have been working on revising my ancient language skills, visiting museums, looking up various details online and turning thoughts over and over. One character has a condition I know little about and a friend has lent me a lot of books I need to go through.

It sounds as if I have done a lot. If only that were true. I have not written enough, but I want to improve that, ideally by having a map of what must be achieved and a fair idea of what I can and cannot actually manage. I cannot eliminate everything that absorbs my time as a mum, so progress is slow. Blinky and Pinky and the rest need feeding, transporting, attention. In every direction plot points of the story need processing, moving around, gobbling up ……

huszoomin

… I want to travel every road, however travelled it may be. I think some of my characters want to as well. However, I can only do one road at a time. The process is rather iterative and once I have it sussed out I will be able to write a book about How Not To Do It.

That is, if I manage to work out how.

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.

Like new

howard

This is the broken day

Spoken so soft

Like new snow

Aching our goodbyes

Knowing the last laugh

Is with You.

Plotting and Pantsing

Some writers like to do it by the seat of their pants. This is an acceptable and way of producing a book, especially if you are giving yourself a whole November to get a first draft. But it is not my way. I am a plotter. I like to know what is going to happen three nexts away in my story – forwards, backwards and sideways. I get excited by detail and confused by chaos. I create well within limits and I like my limits.

Sholesglidden

I have been surprised in my own life how much I have had to resort to Pantsing though.

I so wanted life to take a neat trajectory.

Instead, God allowed me to use years in ways which were not neat. He chose to allow me blessing at times I did not choose.

He removed people from me. And added new ones in.

He did not allow me to write my own life plot. Crazy; instead I have found more joy in living by the seat of my pants, by grace, one wriggle at a time. Am I grateful for that? The jury is still at odds. On my light days I imagine I would have been good at plotting my own story. I concede I probably would have been aimless and partial to digress on my more truthful days. Digression is a large part of my being and tethering it creatively gives me the tension I need for living well.

The book I am working on draws on my study, observations and life experiences so deeply that I fear I actually will need to live quite a bit larger, but this is where Pantsing comes in really helpfully. I can Plot as much as I like, but the work is organic and disorganised. I flit between researching character, history, theories, conjecturing, imagining and storyline and there is little plan to How I Plot. I find my method for Plotting is actually Pants.

Is there a problem with that? I don’t think so. The process is iterative. What I learn along the way informs how I do what I do next. Drafts are essential.

Also real life is essential and real life brings boxes that need unpacking, bottoms that need wiping and tears that need crying. I don’t believe any of that is wasted. If I am allowed, I may even be able to draw on the richness and mess of real life to write a more valuable book. You cannot plot everything.

Plot

I am working on plot. Just came across this.

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NoPlaMo

I have decided not to join in the fun of National Novel Writing Month this November. It’s not that I don’t want the support and accountability of NaNoWriMos (locally or further afield), but that a huge amount of what I am going to be writing needs to be researched. In depth. In various languages. In school hours.

So this month I have set myself a different target. Instead of word count I intend to have a Novel Planning Month. For the coming 30 days I will prepare and plan the overall structure, various important structure and plot elements and characters. I have a lot of reading to do and I want to have some comprehensive notes at the end of it all. I have to do research in anthropology, geography, ancient Near Eastern history and literary styles among other things. I have to record a long list of things that have been slow-cooking in my head for over a year. I have finally unpacked my books and have been accumulating a number of bookcases, so that my writing space resembles a library. I also expect to get myself in a good daily and weekly routine so that the real task of writing becomes easier when I work on that. I have applied to join a reading group connected with the University which will be directly useful in my research and a local Christian writers’ group.

I am excited about my NoPlaMo.

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