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The last 3 weeks have been so beautiful, and so full of blessing it’s hard to know how to begin to describe it.  We returned from a 10 day trip to Cornwall at the beginning of last week, and as a family I think we’re still awash with gratitude and general chilled-out vibes.  It’s not usual for us to feel the benefit of a break much beyond the time the break lasts, and I think there are several reasons for that being a little different this time.

Firstly, this holiday was in the company of my parents and also some very dear friends who we see far too little of because of geography.  Somehow, what could have been a bit of a disastrous mix (my parents and our friends didn’t know each other, we just hoped the size of the holiday home we’d rented would allieviate any ‘in your face-ness’) just really worked.  My parents are having a hard time because of my mum’s recent cancer diagnosis, and my dad in particular has become very tense and over anxious.  Our friends are in that early stage of parenthood when you are negotiating your way through life on very little sleep and facing a new parenting/management challenge every day.  Yet they all just got on so well, and actively enjoyed each other’s company – and so, of course, did we.  And there was that extra sense of delight in seeing two separate groups of people we love taking pleasure in each other.

Being in Cornwall itself was a massive blessing (we were in the same house, in a wee village called Helstone near Camelford, just last September with another wonderful family we are really close friends with – the fact we returned less than 9 months later and are currently seeing if we can organise another trip in October speaks volumes about the place).  I found real refreshment in being somewhere both unfamiliar – that ‘where are we now?’ feeling – and like an amplified, uber-version of the Britain that we know.  Plants and landscape somehow the same but not quite (greener, more abundant, both more friendly and more dramatic). 

The chance to be ‘at the seaside’ was an unalloyed delight.  This time round our daughter was thrilled beyond measure to be near any of the beaches we went too, and as someone who grew up on or near the coast in various parts of the UK  I loved seeing her share the same joy at playing on the beach, in the sea, in rock pools and so on.  I went wading into the sea with her (neither of us in swimming stuff) more times than I care to remember on this holiday, and yet neither of us really minded getting wet clothes, sand in unmentionable places and hair bouffed by the lively coastal breezes.  And there’s nothing like drying off in hot sun to compensate for wet underwear…

I also had massive fun rediscovering bodyboarding on this holiday over a couple of afternoons, something else my daughter and I have discovered together this last year.  I confess I cannot take pleasure into the getting into and out of a wetsuit, and nor can I truly take pleasure in the photos of me in a wetsuit either:

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… I think my husband and daughter look pretty good though.  One aspect of being in and part of the sea (the Atlantic Ocean no less!  sounds much fancier than my ‘native’ North Sea) is something I’ve read and heard people who surf talk about quite a lot, and there are some really good quotes too:

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(Thanks to my husband’s blog for this photo taken at The Tubestation last year)

In other words, there is a well-documented spiritual connection we seem to find with the ocean.  I’m alternately afraid of and in love with the sea, and personally I think that’s a pretty healthy state of affairs as it can be a dangerous place (and like many of my generation it’s hard to leave the spectre of ‘Jaws’ behind – I long thought it was just me but have discovered it’s a reasonably common thing!).  Yet to launch yourself across a breaking wave as you head a little further out, a little further out, to lie bobbing peacefully on a bodyboard and let the water carry you up and down, to gaze in silent respect as rolling waves crash together from opposing shores of a bay and merge to make a foaming mass of water is to find yourself in a place of wonder and of peace.  The other aspect of playing with a bodyboard that I liked a lot was just that – it was play, and it was completely acceptable to play wholeheartedly.  I am coming to believe, from my position as amongst other things a playworker and playwork trainer, that play can also be a time of spiritual connection.  Sometimes the Godness of the world he’s made is just there to be seen and experienced and rejoiced in.  Playing in the sea was, for me, an experience of the Godness of his world.

Pretty much the highlight of the whole week, if we had to pick one, would be a week ago, when we spent Sunday in Polzeath, first going to church at The Tubestation, which you will learn more about from my husband’s blog so I won’t repeat it here but I do urge you to check it out, then hanging out for a bit there afterwards and being given a fantastic and completely unwarranted gift by our friends of a beautiful piece of art.  We spent much of the rest of the day just playing on the beach at Polzeath, then each of us got to surf or bodyboard as we chose, and all of this was sandwiched with the eating of lovely icecream and yummy chips.  It was a perfect day.  If there was one day that left us seriously trying to figure out how to make a move to Cornwall so we could become part of the community in Polzeath and get involved in The Tubestation, then that was it. 

And now, back home in Edinburgh, back at work, back amidst the worries and mess of normal everyday life, it seems like a dream that we’re still somehow carrying with us.  Life is good today.  Tomorrow my mum begins her treatment for the cancer they found a few weeks ago, and my prayer above all else is that life will somehow continue to be good, even through that, for all of us.

I’ve not felt too much like blogging for the last few weeks.  After having a bug that just bugged and bugged, I got back to work and life at full tilt, and my brain hasn’t had too much capacity to hold on to thoughts for any longer than it takes me to think them.  I began to wonder if I’d had some kind of attention-deficit bug, with lasting effects.  But finally, tonight, at the end of another full and challenging week, I find myself getting to the heart of the matter.  My thoughts have in fact been focussed on a couple of very specific things, which have consumed all my energies – but weirdly I didn’t make the connection with my ‘bloggers block’ until today.  I can only write about one of them just now…

A few weeks ago my mum found out she has a form of cancer.  It’s effectively a kind of skin cancer but is in a place where it could give her some pretty nasty problems if it were to become just a wee bit bigger or spread beyond the surface of the skin.  Surgery will be a last resort as it would in all likelihood leave my mum facing a life reliant on medical support and intervention.  So they’ve been looking at the ‘best of the rest’.

The outcome, we found out this week, is likely to be good, so that’s encouraging.  However, (and I have no previous experience of cancers to draw upon so don’t know if this is typical or atypical of the cancer she has, or other kinds) the process she needs to go through to get to that good outcome is going to be horrendous for her.  She will get a couple of doses of chemo topping and tailing the bulk of her treatment, which is radiotherapy for five days a week, for five weeks.  The oncologist warned her it’s going to be excruciatingly painful, and she’s going to feel really poorly for a good while (she’s already in pain now, so not much to look forward to there). 

How are my parents coping with this?  My mum sounds stoic and resigned, my dad, well he sounds frightened.  And it is frightening, to face pain in the hope of a restoration of health but without guarantees.  To find yourself wondering how much pain you can bear, how you will respond to this unknown dragon.

I see us and we are all lost children in the woods, holding hands as we gaze fearfully into the dark night.  We are wondering which is the right path to safety and what monsters we will have to face down on the way.  We are wide-eyed with worry and just want to be back safe at home where it is warm and secure and there is a locked door between us and the scary world.  I want to close my eyes to make it go away, and yet these night when I do that all I find is the picture of my mum, small and purse-lipped and she tries to find the strength to cope with this. 

I wonder what God sees when he sees my mum, and my dad? I wonder what he will do?

June 2017
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