Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Thanks for making it REAL

Those Facebook '2014 round up' things are a great way of summarising the year in pictures. But only after publishing it did I realise that it's actually not all been plain sailing. There have been many happy times - this isn't a 'woe is me' blog.

But to ignore the reality of the more bitter moments is to wallpaper over the reality of life, and pretend we live in a Disney film. And as much as I would like to do that sometimes (hello John Smith), it's not true and it's not helpful.

So much of this season can boil down to a pressure to be happy, lighthearted and suddenly forget the normal ups and downs of the last 364 days. We don't help ourselves or others by doing this.

So here's how my year really looked:

2014 was Sunday roasts with friends. Coffees in the city; yellow flowers, Ben & Jerry's and a solitary to-die-for brownie at the end of a rough day.

Job interviews, life admin, wedding prep with invites, d├ęcoupage and jam jars. Playing keys for the first time in church and doing life with home group. Ecstatic dancing to good news and prayers graciously answered. Goodbyes and all the loss that comes with it. Turbulence and turmoil, new homes and IKEA flatpacks.

Weddings and gatherings and new homes. The cementing of friendships through laughter, prayer, occasional tears and always tea. Discovering that the things you've longed for don't look how you expected them to. The rearing up of old beasts; good friends, chocolate, and a LOT of patience. Brokenness, openness and sheer gritting of teeth.

Walks through Greenwich park in the sunshine and watching Morris Dancers on the heath. The walk from the boys' house to our flat. The loss of dear ones, friendships, and a silver ring somewhere in west London. Waffles, fancy dress and awkward cookies in Hyde Park.

Street food on the Southbank; Monday nights with Tingley; reunions with many wonderful people I'm blessed to call friends. Roadtrips with Lydia and getting acquainted with east London. A thawing out and a going deeper. Bridesmaiding for two really special ladies in my life; new friendships, fireworks, poppies.

Thank you to everyone who made this year REAL in all its joys and imperfections.

Here's to the next...

Monday, 27 October 2014

Ode to the Hopefuls

This is for us
Who are still fighting
Holding on to wavering and (at times) blind, hope

That today and yesterday and the day before do not have to be the pattern for tomorrow
That yesterday's thought does not have to dictate tomorrow's feeling

That love is not just for the lucky or the strong
But for those of us who are still waiting, still hoping
with the scaffolding around us,
still Under Repair

To hope against hope that the future can be different
even when the past trails a twisting pattern
of breaking and restoration

To hope, because hope is the only thing

between ourselves and admitting defeat

To hope in the face of deafening, unrelenting fears
at which dreams crumble to dust
leaving you winded and bent double

And even then to hope, because you know

the One who conquered death and lives to make you new again.

Saturday, 2 August 2014

A long overdue letter to a friend

It’s been so long since I last wrote, I can barely remember what life was like at that point. The world now looks very different: different home, neighbourhood, job, office, flatmate, commute…. a lot of different.

As I write this now looking back on 3 months, it’s like looking out to a nearby mountain peak, with a small chasm between. I feel like I’ve been crossing rockier terrain to get to my new look-out. But it’s nice here. Just different. 

I’ve been reminded of things I thought were behind me; fear raises its head and looks for a new home. But I’ve also made stronger friendships; relationships built on lazy evenings watching television and drinking tea.

I’m convinced that there has been growth; I now use both my brain and my heart at work, which is a privilege (although sometimes doesn’t feel like it on a sleepy Friday morning). I feel as though God has brought me to exactly where I longed to be for the past year; and yet it all looks so different from how I imagined it.

There has, undeniably, been loss in different forms. Freedom. Friendship. And a godmother who so faithfully prayed and cared for me, remembering every single baptism anniversary and birthday, constant in faith and always believing that I could be, that I could manage, that I could achieve.

However, I’ve very slowly been learning, something that’s probably taken me far too long to grasp.

Life – any life – isn’t meant to be all roses and happiness and sunshine. Well, perhaps it is, the other side of death. But right here and now – the crap times aren’t just crap times that we must skip over, hurried through ‘til we get to the next good bit. The crap times are also life. And yes, sometimes it’s easier for me to say than others. 

But I’m slowly realising that I can’t wait until all the chains are broken and all the cancer patients are cured and all the rifts are healed before I embrace this thing called ‘life’.

I’m realising that ‘life’ is not just waiting for the happy bits, rallying against the crap and wondering why this storm is getting in the way of our day of sunshine.  Life is broken cracks as well as the sunny days. 

When I next feel low or anxious or fearful, I can assure you I won’t want to embrace life. But this is it, right now. In all its glory and beauty and sorrow and brokenness. This is what I’ve got.

Friday, 18 April 2014

But why is it Good....?

Out of few inevitable things in life - y'know, death and taxes - a lesser known inevitable is the fact that this one-carriage, thrice-daily train across the Welsh border will always smell of wet dog and Monster Munch. But the sky is blue, the sun shines, it's the beginning of the 4-day Easter weekend.

I'm excited about going home, seeing my family, and I am definitely excited for 4 days of rest and my mother's roast lamb.

I'm trusting that this visit, and the beautiful countryside, will be a healing time. All is not well in my heart. Two weeks of goodbyes, packing, cleaning, moving, living out of bin bags and attempting to make sense of a new job have left me bruised and drained. I have nothing to give. And in the hubbub of my self-centred chaos, I barely hear the whisper of Easter approaching. I feel completely disconnected to what it means for me; yet aware that it's for people feeling just like me today.

In a brilliant book I've been reading by Shauna Niequest, she comments that one of the central messages of the gospel is the cycle of death and rebirth; beautiful sunshine and then rain; losses and new beginnings. She also commented that change is hard, and that if we fight it, it can break us. I read that, some weeks ago, sitting in the sun, thinking 'Well... Yeah, course'. What else is new?

And yet, as I stood dejected in my bare, bin-bag-filled room, I realised that fighting against the change, rallying against it in my heart rather than being open to the new things God might birth, was exactly what I had been doing.

So what does this have to do with Good Friday, with God himself taking on all our sin and pain and loss and destroying it? Well, (as ever), it means there's hope. The hope of rebirth. Things can and will get better. Hurdles can be overcome; joy can be clung to. Death is never the end of the story, and though we might wait 3 days or 30 years for the rebirth, the new hope - it always comes.

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

On Birthdays

Tomorrow heralds yet another change in life, the transition from one age to another. My 24th Birthday.

Now I realise it's probably very uncool to get excited about my birthday by 24. I think by now I'm meant to be at the 'I'm over that', 'Oh, I don't really celebrate my birthday anymore' stage.

But, screw that.
I am turning TWENTY-FOUR tomorrow. And given that I spend most of my life still feeling like a ten-year old, 24 is a pretty big deal.

Now maybe this is just the childish narcissist inside me (it may well be), but I find it sad when people don't celebrate their birthdays, or shrugg it off as 'any other day'.

Your life is no less of a miracle than it was when you were a child. Sometimes, your life is even more of a miracle than it was then. Sure, it's old news perhaps, but it's BRILLIANT news. You've lived another year!

Maybe the idea of celebrating it with a certain person missing just feels impossible, and I respect that.

Or maybe it's just been a really tough year.  But if so, even more reason to mark the day in some way: you made it through, or, at least, you're still standing. As the years go on I imagine that the birthday may become a time of mixed feelings - am I 'where I should be'? Every year, reaching an age where it's more normal to 'settle down', get married and, in several years, start popping out children.

BUT for me, and I hope for you, the Birthday will be a day of celebration, joy and thanksgiving. I am alive; nothing has destroyed me or my hope. I know Jesus (and this is surely enough reason to celebrate on its own). I am happy, and I am free. I don't know what lies ahead (except for the next month of changes), and I'm peaceful about that. I have health and I have people whom I love and who love me back.

Sure, it's only twenty-four; no big milestone for the card-makers. But it's another year of life, and for that I will rejoice.

Saturday, 18 January 2014

Letter to an unknown friend

Dear friend,

Do you ever sit at work and wonder if you're wasting your life away? 

I stare across at my colleague's equally blank face, and I wonder if she's thinking exactly the same thing. We spend 70% of our lives doing something we don't enjoy. We work 9 till 5 until we're 70, and then what? When I stare out the window, am I actually watching my life ebb away?

I spend my morning reading e-mails from people saying they don't want to receive our e-mails. I sever the communication ties. I know I shouldn't complain: someone has to do it, right? All things for the glory of God, right? Graduate employment is high, and yet I've been given a job.

I know I need to be humble about mundane tasks. But there is a 'but', I'm not sure what it is, BUT... I'm not okay with this. Life is fleeting and short - far too short, surely, to spend many minutes staring out the window wondering if I ought to be doing something else.
Because there's a whole world out there - full of people and problems and emotions and social structures and need. What am I doing about it? God gave me a brain and I intend to use it to change the world for the better.

Now I know that I'm one of the fortunate few that I even have the chance to consider that there might be something wrong with this, and that I have opportunity to do something about it. But I intend to take that precious opportunity and do something about it.

When I woke up this morning, I said to myself, "Today is going to be a good day". But then, I did quite a bit of crying today, so I'm not sure how that works.

I don't want to spend my life waiting and wishing and living for the weekend. Because that's only like 30% of our whole lives. And then sometimes you get to the weekend, and you still feel crap, and then what?

I remember I was in science class once and I was chatting to my teacher. I told him, "I want to get finished with school and college, so I can get on and start living my life". And he said, "but you're living your life right now". I hate to think that one day I'll look back at this time and wonder what I was doing waiting around.

But where do I go from here?

Bewildered and Confused