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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.

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How exciting!  Lucy has given me a blogging award (along with some of my other favourite bloggers too, I feel very privileged).  Here’s what I need to do in exchange:

  1. Post the award on your blog, and link to the person who gave you the award (done that, and please check out Lucy’s lovely blog)
  2. List seven things you love
  3. List seven blogs you love (just seven?)
  4. E-mail or comment on those blogs to let the people know you’ve given them the award

Seven things I love?

  1. My little family – husband and daughter, and the collection of special toys who play such an important part in our four year old’s life that they Had Better Never Get Lost
  2. Following Jesus (although, to be absolutely honest, there are also times when I grind my teeth with frustration at how this works out in my life)
  3. Our church and in particular our small group, not forgetting the friends, near and far, who are extended family and form our daughter’s God Squad (because we couldn’t choose between them when it came to thinking about godparents, they’re all so amazing and special to us)
  4. Painting, drawing, making. I do this in spurts of energy and then long periods elapse where it just gets sidelined…
  5. …but the compensation is I get to work somewhere I can enable children, adults, colleagues to be creative and that is often enough
  6. The sea.  It scares me but I love it.  Beautiful sandy beaches are great but I’ve almost always lived in proximity to the North Sea, and so it’s the wind-swept dunes and grey thundering waves that make my heart beat a little faster
  7. Books.  I love reading, and always have way too many on the go at once, so it takes me ages to get any one book finished unless I’m using it as a ‘comfort read’ when I’m feeling low or as a break from more challenging reads.  I confess I also love books as objects (our oversized living room bookcase is testament to that), and am trying hard not to be envious of one of my colleagues who is also a book-lover and collects first editions.  THAT would not be good for me.  Maybe one day I’ll go and visit her books. I mean her.

Seven blogs I love (Nb. Lucy’s already namechecked a couple of my favourites, so I’ll let them enjoy their awards from her and award seven completely different ones)

  1. I have to mention my husband’s blog (The State That I Am In). It’s a fantastic blog with a strong musical undercurrent. I would love it even if he wasn’t my husband, I promise!
  2. Fourth Space is the blog of one of our small group friends.  It’s so thought-provoking, lots of creative and analytical thinking and processing (for both blog author and blog reader).
  3. Have you checked out Coffee Shop Journal? It’s a really great read, reflections on life, faith and more, book reviews and thoughtful applications of lessons learned, and always written with grace and humility. 
  4. The Ongoing Adventures of ASBO Jesus is in many ways (for me) the perfect blog.  All pictures!!!  I don’t know how he comes up with these fresh, funny and often cutting images so frequently.  Man or machine?! No machine could be this creative and offer such a human and humane perspective on the world.
  5. Without Wax (I even love the name of this blog) is another thought-provoking look at the world through the eyes of Pete, a pastor at Cross Point Church in Tennessee.  He uses video clips and other resources really well, and has got a massive readership judging by the average number of comments each post seems to get.  It is also one of the blogs I read that reminds me that there is a cultural difference between our two countries, which I really enjoy being exposed to.
  6. New Life From Old is the blog of another small group friend.  He doesn’t post too often, but always has something worth checking out.  He’s a scientist and is rigorous in his examination of faith through this lens.  He’s really creative in how he works this out in his life and the world (although I don’t think he’d use that word about himself), and deserves massive respect for his engagement with difficult and controversial issues.
  7. Last but not least I’ve just got to mention Wish Jar,which is the blog of author, illustrator and guerilla artist Keri Smith.  I LOVE her work, and every time I read her blog I get exposed to something I’ve never come across before.

I hope you enjoy checking these guys out if you’ve not had a look before.  (By the way sorry about the weird mix of fonts and sizes, can’t seem to fix it today for some reason.  Hope it’s still readable)

There definitely is an art to joy, since it is not always a natural state for us. (BTW I’m over myself and my doom and gloom last week,  apologies for the self-pitying – pretty certain it was illness related)

So it’s exciting and challenging to be part of The Art of Joy this spring.  A group of us, friends and fellow small-groupers from MBC, dreamed what felt like a big dream and we now find ourselves galloping towards lots of great activities which suddenly need organising and thinking through.  I am newly appreciative of the diversity of our small group, the skills and talents that there are which are all required to make such an undertaking happen.  There don’t seem to be quite enough minutes to deal with everything, but collectively it feels like we’re making progress. 

There’s going to be a lot happening, an art exhibition going up this weekend with an official opening before the end of March, a therapeutic art workshop, knitter natter for anyone who likes or wants to try out knitting or crochet, a fantastic closing event featuring two great bands and a stand up comedian… and that’s only what we’ve got planned so far!  We’re aiming to bring a bit of joy and light using the arts and the fantastic creative gifts of people in Edinburgh and beyond.  Most of all I’m looking forward to meeting new people, getting alongside people in a creative way and exploring how the arts have the power to make connections which are often unexpected, and almost always intriguing.

Check out The Art of Joy’s website to get an overview of what’s happening and find out how you can get involved. 

I’m wondering if we could do some guerilla joy-bringing too.  How would the people of Edinburgh receive it?  How do I receive it?  Do we welcome unexpected joy with open arms?  With suspicion? With pessimism?  Do we welcome joy with gratitude and expectation of further unanticipated wonder to come?  A masterclass in joy-giving and joy-receiving might be no bad thing in our world.

Lux Interior

Lux Interior is dead.  One of my work colleagues told me this on Friday morning as I arrived at work.  He was the lead singer of  psychobilly band The Cramps.  This band was largely responsible for one of my seminal adolescent awakening moments, when I was about 14.  We were on a family holiday in Butlins (I know, not sounding likely for an awakening kind of moment) and my best friend had joined us.  It was at the height of my love of Norwegian pop band A-ha, whom I had recently declared to my dad I would love until the day I died.

One night we went to the evening disco/cabaret .  My friend was tall and gorgeous, and as we wore our classic 80s batwing tops betopped with our newly bought A-Ha labelled hats I felt pretty overshadowed by my cool friend who knew all the moves to the dances at the disco (I’m sure it involved line-dancing).  My little sister, up late and hyper as usual, managed to look both cute and cool.  I looked like a typical average 14 year old in the 80s, with neither coolness, style or cuteness going for me.

Then about half a dozen older teenagers descended on the dance floor and just took my breath away (as well as scaring the pants off me).  They wore Cramps t-shirts, mohawks, big boots, tutus, scary makeup, the works.  Even their dancing was full of attitude.  I was awestruck.  I suddenly felt that being a teenager was about becoming yourself, about remaking the world to fit around you, about having attitude and not caring. 

Over the next couple of years I listened to some Cramps stuff and some other bands that I wouldn’t have gone near before, and to be honest probably wouldn’t want to revisit now, it’s not the most ‘wholesome’ music in the world.  Yet, despite the dubiousness of the bands’ material and worldview, it was nevertheless a moment of release and inspiration for me that changed how I viewed the way me and the world would get on over the next few years. 

I was, of course, about as far from being a psychobilly as it’s possible to get, but this was truly my first recognisable contact with a youth sub-culture and I was smitten by the possibilities.  I had fun dressing up in some slightly more interesting clothes than the matching jumpers me and my sister seemed to have been in for years.  I left dungarees behind (only to rediscover them, oversized, or patchwork, or covered in paint when I was a ‘struggling artist’ with an image to maintain).  I discovered the shock power of wearing what hardly anyone else wore in our little town, and felt I’d really arrived when my mum told me I couldn’t go out dressed like that  – although I thought I looked great, so I felt a bit offended too.

Ironically enough, as far as teenage rebellion goes, probably my biggest subversive action was becoming a Christian aged 16.  I’m guessing Lux Interior would not have been thrilled to know he was one of the links in that chain of events.

I mentioned in my previous (and now very old) post that there has been a lot of sadness surrounding people I’m in contact with at work.  As the last couple of weeks have gone by this hasn’t lessened, and I’ve found myself more and more entwined with some of those people at the centre of it.

A colleague lost her much-awaited baby to pre-eclampsia just a few weeks before she was due to give birth and the grief we all are feeling for her is too huge for words just now.  She speaks English as a second language and to read her faltering and heartbroken words as she wrote in a card to us all was an agonising taste of what she and her boyfriend are tryng to come to terms with just now.  Another friend who uses the centre where I work to improve her English lost her dad two weekends ago.  She came back to our centre for the first time this week and, again, to feel the waves of grief and pain flowing from her was almost unbearable.  I wept with her and hugged her and felt so inadequate in the face of her suffering.  She is also friends with the colleague who lost her baby, and this fresh grief she faced when hearing the news of the baby’s death was heartrending.  However, I suspect that they will find support and fellowship in each other which will be more helpful than what they might find elsewhere.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted…

Then on Wednesday night we had invited our small group round for a take-away from the excellent ‘Bombay Feast’ near our house.  Not everyone was around, but we had a lovely night.  I was feeling tired after having a busy wee while at work, and sad after contemplating the pain of my friends at work.  What a welcome relief it was to have the simple pleasure of choosing good food to share with good friends (new and old).  What a pleasure to share laughter, anecdotes and ideas. 

Our good friend Keith is a minister and one of the aspects of his job that I have always thought must be so hard is standing alongside people in their grief and loss, often with relentless frequency.  God, I realise now, must gift him and others like him to perform that particular ministry, because it is no ordinary human skill to be able to do so without, as I seem to be, becoming overwhelmed with the grief yourself.  Or maybe it’s just something the rest of us insulate ourselves from.  Either way, I have been grateful for the moments of normality and this Wednesday evening in particular.

Rowan Williams has some interesting things to say about suffering (and Dostoevsky) in this interview, printed in the Guardian yesterday.

June 2017
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