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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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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?

Time has once again been on my mind. 

A while back our pastor told us that the speed of God is 3 miles an hour (I am paraphrasing…), because that’s walking speed.  It’s the speed we need to travel at to connect with His world and to notice the people around us, to become aware of and attuned to our environment.

A few sermons back we heard that you can’t hurry a tomato – and I love the message of waiting and expectation that is implied.

Then at the weekend, after a rotten few weeks of being poorly, and finally enjoying being on the mend, I was excited to receive the latest edition of Jamie Magazine, Jamie Oliver’s most recent adventure in publishing.  It was full of lush photography, gorgeous recipes, and some lovely evocative articles.  My favourite was about a winemaker in Beirut, whose passion and relish for wine and for his country infused everything he said.

I loved this:

“This is my Beirut,” says Serge, in his soft, exotically accented English. “And these are my babies, they improve with age.” He waves an immaculate cuff over the six or seven million bottles of vintage Musar, that are quietly, splendidly maturing in cool damp dark cellar cut deep into the flanks of Mount Lebanon.

“My wines need time”,  [Serge] states, “Time to grow, time to mature, time to taste.  Now, ” as he eases the corks from bottle after venerable bottle, “let us take our time.”

A few weeks back I read a little filler article in the Guardian about a journalist’s one-day attempt to ‘go slow’.  It was a bit of a half-hearted effort really, and seemed to mainly consist of her getting stressed about not getting stuff done.  It made me think once again about the obstacles which lie in our way as we pay lip-service to slowing down, to relishing life.  I don’t live a crazy manic life really, but it’s very full and busy enough to always have stuff undone.  Not so unusual really, but in terms of appreciating the world I’m in (in the micro as well as macro sense) and in terms of simply paying attention to those who come my way, most of the time life is too much of a blur to be that intentional about it.  And that just isn’t good enough really.

So I’m brought to wondering if that’s the underlying blessing of being ill so often, and in particular having a really horrible bug that has floored me for the last fortnight and intermittently for the 3 weeks prior to that.  ‘Go slow, take a little time’ became a command to be obeyed, not a suggestion to be shrugged off.

And so now, as I return to ‘normal’  I look back over the last five days in particular, as I felt less ill and more on the mend.  The afternoons spent curled on a garden chair in my pyjamas and dressing gown, cup of tea at my side, unread paper on my knee as I listened to the blackbirds singing, watched the apple blossom begin to flower, saw blue tits begin making their home in the bird box on the side of the garage.  The drowsing in the sunshine, the time taken to mull over interesting articles in the paper or magazines, the long chats with friends and family on the phone.  The sowing of seeds, the gentle easing of seedlings into pots and vegetable plots.  Time to reflect, infused with the hope and promise of spring.

I like going slow.  Taking my time is my favourite thing.  Looking another person in the eye and being entirely focussed on them – “love the one” as we’ve heard in church recently – is a powerful experience and a powerful gift to give to another person. 

So as I return to life with a little less leisure, (but hopefully a lot more health) I am holding on to those thoughts, those aspirations and aim to moment by moment put them into practice.  A little time well spent.

I came across this today in my sick-bed internet wanderings (This is my third mini-post today, can you tell I’m getting bored of being unwell?!).  I had heard of Galgael before, and although I’m still exploring what they are about, I’m really drawn to the work they do, the life they lead in Govan.  This little Youtube clip gives a flavour.

There’s a real model of community, of shared life and the sharing of hope, the restoration of dignity and the practical sharing of skills.  We need visionary people, like Colin MacLeod,the man who started up Galgael, so much in our world, and we also need generous-hearted people like those who joined with him to share and to realise the vision.

On Sunday our pastor preached an awesome sermon.  But isn’t it funny the things that stick in your mind afterwards?…

“You can’t hurry a tomato”

Seldom has a truer word been spoken!  In the context of the sermon our pastor was basically exhorting us to live life richly, to ‘dwell’ where we are wholeheartedly.  And that one little phrase really stuck out, and came back to me again today as I was pottering about the house (got some horrible bug so have been off work for a couple of days, and am sad to note I seem to be getting worse rather than better at the time of writing.  Sigh.) and I spent a few moments admiring our daughter’s flourishing tomato seedlings that she planted just a few weeks ago at Sunday Club. 

I’m mentally planning which seeds need to be sown in our vegetable patch this year, and am already anticpating the long and (im)patient wait for the first bursts of life.  I’m a very very VERY novice gardener and had more failures than successes last year, but I enjoy the fact that so much of gardening seems to involve patience and trust.  Trust in the seeds to germinate and ultimately bear fruit, trust in the soil and the sun and the rain to each play their part.  And the long tormenting journey from seed planting to final harvest.  The torment and the joy is in the waiting of course.

There are profound and deeply resonant lessons to be learnt through planting a seed…

Personally, I’m feeling pretty low.  This is unusual for me, and I’m unsure why exactly it is.  However, last week I was down with a nasty bug for a few days and as well as feeling unwell I also felt, for want of a better word, depressed.  This week I’ve had a mild return of some of the symptoms and with it a pronounced return of just feeling plain rubbish about myself.  Very unpleasant.

I feel discouraged, worried (to no purpose), tired, and everything I say and do is just making me cringe.  Ever wish you could hibernate for a while?!

However, in the spirit of counting my blessings, here’s some of the little and lovely things I’m thankful for today:

  • sunshine (although it’s now waking me up in the mornings before I’m ready to waken.  Got to get some decent curtains in our bedroom)
  • a day off work with my daughter
  • my husband bringing me a paper and a bottle of diet coke for later, before he left for work this morning
  • a fridge full of food
  • a chance to sit in the sun in my kitchen typing this while my daughter watches some CBeebies (that won’t last long though, she’s getting bored and is ready for action)
  • God (don’t always feel his presence but I can look out of my window just now and see buds on our blueberry bush and a dusting of snow on the grass and wonder at this world he made and has placed me in)

I had a horrible dream last night which woke me up in the wee small hours and kept me awake and unsettled, afraid even, for a good couple of hours or more.  It was a relief to eventually find peace and fall back asleep for a while and even more of a relief, in some ways, to find the world full of sunshine this morning as well as sprinkled with snow – two things guaranteed to lift my spirits.

Hopefully I’ll get over myself and be back to normal soon.  Apologies to all – especially those I’m around in person – if I’m not much fun just now.  Joy is currently on hold, but will return soon.

As is usual for his very thought-provoking blog, Fourth Space got me mulling over exactly how and why God loves me (of all people!).  And as is often the case when you start thinking about something (my previous post about autism being a case in point) it seems then to be EVERYWHERE you look.

So last night, feeling poorly, I was lying in bed clutching a hot water bottle to my aching tummy and trying not to move too much in case I was sick (this is called setting the scene…).  I was tired but not sleepy and had started to reread a book that I had found on my bookshelf from earlier last year.  It is called “Operating Instructions” by Anne Lamott, and is basically a journal that she kept during her son’s first year.  It’s a compelling read, but I’d struggled with it the first time round because she was so painfully and brutally honest, some of which was too close to the bone for me to deal with during what had been a bit of a difficult patch.  This time round I’m loving it, and really relishing the honesty.  It feels raw, but healing too.

This was the bit that jumped out at me as I lay feeling lousy and fragile:

I’m trying to be extremely gentle and forgiving with myself today, having decided while I nursed Sam at dawn this morning that I’m probably just as good a mother as the next repressed, obsessive-compulsive paranoiac.

I think we’re all pretty crazy on this bus.  I’m not sure I know anyone who’s got all the dots on his or her dice.

But once an old woman at my church said the secret is that God loves us exactly the way we are and that he loves us too much to let us stay like this, and I’m just trying to trust that.

(“Operating Instructions” by Anne Lamott, Anchor Books 1993)

I’ve heard that view of God’s love before, and it does kind of encapsulate the complicated love that he has for us. 

It has proved helpful to me today.

Well today (like many days in my life, it seems) I’m sick.  I think I’ve caught the bug my daughter was so poorly with last week.  After feeling a bit odd at various points yesterday and managing to dismiss them as the outworkings of a busy weekend and not enough sleep, I spent last night feeling increasingly yuck and then trying and failing to get myself functioning this morning. 

As is the way with these things, I find it’s often when I need the most sleep that I get the least.  So during my sleepless hours last night when I awoke feeling unwell I found myself ruminating on the kind of random tangents that the 2ams are so well known for.

One of the random tangents came from a conversation we’d had with a minister friend of ours who was round with his fantastic family on Saturday afternoon.  We’d been joking about my increasing interest in the idea of communal living and how this works itself out in communities we’ve come across.  After considering the areas we’d find most challenging about communal living (pretty much all of it) our friend said that they had approached it from the other direction and basically let people know they had an open house for anyone, whenever.  I wondered if this was an expectation of their role in the church he leads, but apparently not – so many of his congregation had never been inside the church manse until he took up post.  Marla has also spoken in various places on her (fantastic) blog about having doors open to whoever needs them.

As I lay tossing and turning in bed, head and body aching, mind whirring, I began to wonder how I would find communal living, or living with ‘open doors’ when, like today, I was unwell.

Would it be great to know that if I needed something there would likely be someone around to help me out?  Or would I struggle with feeling my space was restricted, that Iwould need to make conversation when I just wanted to lie or sit quietly?  And in terms of reciprocity would I be willing to go into someone else’s house when they were sick and be there for them? I would, but being the over-empathiser that I am, I tend to imagine others share the same feelings as me and wouldn’t welcome my presence.

I am full of admiration for those who open their homes to the world, and can see that actually the physical act of letting someone in the door is not always the big deal.  It’s the opening and sharing of lives which follows which is the real challenge, the real joy and the real act of servanthood and love.

I haven’t made any resolutions this year.  But this area is something I am challenged by and challenged into doing and not merely thinking about.  I intend to work on it this year.  I suspect it will be a lifelong project

The week I wanted?

  • An optimistic and motivated return to work after the Christmas break
  • A return to the security of routine, with a reluctant farewell to the freedom of holidays
  • A well- paced week, with each day a pleasant balance of rewarding work, refreshing sleep, delightful family time and blessed time with others
  • A week where I can enjoy my change from 5 day a week full-timer status at work, to 4 day a week part-timer status, by just enjoying spending time with my daughter on our shared day off mid-week
  • A week where I look around my home and feel the small pleasures of successful domesticity as I observe the well-ordered home we have achieved as we make the most of our refreshing break by spending a little time each evening tidying and putting away.

The week I got?

  • A week of slightly random work events, bubble-wrapped in the back to work torpor that I had forgotten always surrounds this returning week after Christmas
  • A week of frantically juggling a sick daughter with trying (and mostly failing) to get to work on time
  • A week of wakeful nights as our daughter became sicker as the week progressed, and the eventual pleasure today of seeing her well enough to go to nursery and now to have her finally sleeping well
  • A week of enormous delight in the company of others, from work colleagues, to my family, to our extended ‘small group family’ despite encroaching exhaustion and apparently terminal frustration
  • A week of observing our home fall into further chaos as we lack the time and energy to tidy up – until tonight

Overall, and all things considered, it was a pretty good week!  However, it should be noted that I am saying this tonight, as bedtime draws near, my daughter is (currently, and surprisingly, given the last 5 days) sleeping peacefully and a weekend of leisure and time with great friends beckons.

Have a great weekend too.  Sleep well!

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