Finding Hope …

Wales is now back in full on lockdown as of midnight on Saturday 19th December. This morning I was on the beach praying for all the pubs and restaurants that would lose hundreds of pounds today because they had bought in food to prepare Sunday lunches, which up here is the time when most people go out to eat, and will have to throw it all away. Where is the hope in all this?

I wrote a piece not so long ago called Full Moon and I still hold to that – of God being above our chaos looking down and being with us through it. But this morning as I turned to walk back from the beach it started pelting with rain, cold icy rain, and the sky was just filled with black clouds. There was not even a fringe of false dawn or red tinged clouds. It was black. And it made me wonder “how can we know there is hope when all is dark?” But then I got thinking about the Christmas story, which many of us won’t get to hear in church because of lockdown, about of how when we tell that we tell it full of hope and yet I am sure there were very dark days.

Can you imagine how Mary and Joseph must have felt as they came into Bethlehem and were shunned? How dark must that have felt? They knew God was there, knew God had planned this, but so much was clouding that hope. I think often we “big up” the Christmas story too much and don’t show the other side of things, which then leads us to feel like we are inadequate, that we have to rise to a place that is beyond what we can reach.

I totally believe that God is in all that we are going through, even this sudden lockdown and the loss of earnings from too many places, and mental health and suicides that have come from the anxiety and fear and stress of all this time. This, though for me, is where faith comes in. But too often the burdens we bear make it too hard to look up and find that faith. And that is when we need to be kind to ourselves and to each other, be honest that actually on some days we have no hope, we have no faith. We can only see the storm that is gusting around us.

[I was in the process of pondering how to finish the above paragraph on this post when my daughter messaged to say she’d tested positive for covid-19. She has very minor symptoms and had done the test because someone she worked with had tested positive. So it was all a bit of a shock, especially as she’s been trying to work out how she could get from South Wales to North Wales now we were all in lockdown. So sometimes the storms are crazy and the sky is dark but I am pleased I could find the words for the above paragraph to give myself the encouragement I needed]

A Christmas Carol

Advert for BBC’s adaptation of A Christmas Carol

The BBC have done a fascinating interpretation of Charles Dicken’s A Christmas Carol, where they have given Scrooge a larger backstory than the Ghost of Christmas Past shared in the novel, as to why Scrooge is the way he is. Episode two where Scrooge is taken to Christmases past should be shown to all business people who put profit first. This is not a problem that has gone away

But the thing that stuck me most were the issues this version has chosen to highlight. Scrooge was as he was because he had been unloved and abused as a child, been told the only way to survive is to have money in the bank, not to trust others, and be be his own person. Bottom line – he was afraid and had built his own saftey net around him.

The alcoholic or drug addict doesn’t abuse their body and their families because they think it is a good idea. They do it because they are afraid. Even the person who abuses their partner or children or attacks others does so because they are afraid. And these are the things society notices. But there are also those who have more money than they could spend in a life time, but they are also afraid – of not having enough, of not being safe, etc, etc. If each of us is honest we are all afraid of something and have all built walls, big or small, to keep ourselves safe.

But this is the time of year when the Bible expounds with “do not be afraid” – to Mary, to the Shepherds, to my big hero of the Chrismas story, Joseph. Joseph has such a bit part in this story and never gets any of his own lines, but twice he is told not to be afraid; the first time when he finds out Mary is pregnant and is told not to be afraid of how she got with child, and the second when he has to leave everything he knows and go to Egypt to keep this child that is not his own safe. He is amazing because he marries Mary, but doesn’t sleep with her till after Jesus is born, takes her with him when he goes for the census so that there is no chance of her being stoned whilst he’s away, and then goes to a land to live as a refugee until God tells him it is ok to come home again, and home to a place he really doesn’t know what his relatives will think of him.

God tells him not to be afraid, and we too often read that as “dont be scared” but I think it means “to let go of all those issues you carry with you that will encourage you to build walls of self preservation around you and trust God“. I think Jesus learned a lot from Joseph about how to be open and trusting even in a place of fear. And Joseph through all that went on around him learned to trust God, to not be fearful, to put aside his own strength and not build up walls.

I believe fear kills because it causes us to shut ourselves away from not just others but from out true selves. Fear causes us not to trust others, causes us to use other things for our safety; like career, profit over people, having ‘enough’ money, etc, being accepted by others, alcohol, drugs, being the life of the party, food, overly caring for others at the detriment of ourselves, not being able to say yes, or not being able to say no, relationships, and … here ponder and name your own.

I don’t think God asks us not to be scared but asks us not to be afraid and to stay open and trusting to all the facets that make up the Godhead, and trusting others too. So as we enter this season of vaccines and Brexit and being unsure let us be open, trusting and not afraid, not build walls, and lean on the One who can hold us through.

mary-joseph-with-baby-jesus-39533-wallpaper.jpg (1291×1600) (wordpress.com)

Gains

Snowdonia April 2018

This “Gains” post is to follow on from the “Loss” post, which is unusual for me to remember to do the follow ups 🙂

What have I gained this year whilst I have cast off so much? Some strange things I must say. Probably like many I’ve learned more about myself and what I am like than I have done in any other year. I have discovered that I try to keep myself busy rather than do what I know I should do. For instance – I know that I am a writer, which has been proven in the fact that I’m having a children’s book published next year. [That is definitely a wait till it is in print before I share more] but I don’t make time for it. In fact I do my best to make sure I don’t have time to write – or rather I allot time to do some actual writing but don’t put aside time for those things that are needed to build up to writing – thinking time and reading time.

I will excuse myself for not having written War and Peace or similar because, as many writers are saying, it has been very hard to concentrate. But instead of giving myself space I took on things to fill my head. And some to stop me feeling guilty about not doing anything. As I’ve mentioned in another post, there is a website for women over 50 called “RestLess” filled with loads of things to do, as though doing nothing is a sin. I’ve a lovely young friend who is struggling with resting too because, again she’s been brought up to think you should be busy.

So I would love to say that one of my big gains has been lots of time but it has not because I’ve filled it up with other things. But I have learned a bit about who I am, and that is that I’m afraid to give myself the time to just sit on the couch and ponder. So I’m trying to release myself from many things so that I can find time to sit and think and write.

Mind you another of my gains is the couch. Ok this sounds silly. When we moved into this house I was so grateful to have my study, which was going to be the place where I wrote. I do love my study and it is nice to have somewhere that I can keep the stuff that is just mine. But when I fell off the horse and hurt my ribs the only place I could sit comfortably was on the couch. So I spent those first 2 weeks led on the couch with tables postioned around me with books and laptop, pens and coffee cup, close at hand. But then I realised I like the living room. It had been a room that until the begining of October I had kept closed during the day and would only let people in when it was evening. I would struggle when we had friends staying and they would take their morning coffee into the living room. But now I go into the living room when I first get up, put on the fairy lights and do some yoga, then leave the door ajar, go out and walk the dog and come back to carry on doing in the living room. I am loving looking out the window and seeing people walking by, loving the light, the space. It’s changed.

So one of my big gains is letting go of the need for my special space and making my space special in the family space. Who knows how long I’ll stay down here but for now this is my space too.

Dealing with a different Christmas

My son putting the final touches to our tree 2018

I know we are all going on about how it wil be a very different Christmas this year. Even if we gather the same people around us there will still be that hit of either defiance about breaking guidelines or fear that just maybe that person has brought the virus home. No matter how hard one tries the conversation will slide round to the Covid issue.

Both my children have decided to not come to visit us this year for various reasons and that is fine. This will be only the second Christmas I’ve never seen either of them and probaby the fourth my son has not come up. Life is constantly changing just because that is what life does. Who was it said “change is the only consistant thing in life”?

Last time it was just going to be me&him for Christmas we sorted out an frenetic trip down south to visit all our family and friends over a four day period. It was crazy and stressful and I did vow never to do it again. Well this year we can’t because of all the restrictions and not knowing what we’re allow or not allow to do. And even though my Mum will be at home for Christmas for the first time in 16 years, I still don’t want to down. All wayyyyy too complicated to organise.

Also this year due to not doing Airbnb and the guests that come with that, not being an elf at Gwrych castle, not doing the town council Christmas play or a skit in church for Christmas eve, not trying to fit in a prayer day before Christmas, and all those other things that I did, I have had time to think through how I really see Christmas and what I really do want from it. I have been working through Beth Kempton’s Calm Christmas book. She does also do an online writing course around this but that just didn’t work out for me. One of the things she suggest looking at is – what are your views of Christmas? Traditional, Reglious, Magical, Connected, Abundance.

A big thing for me with this was that I struggle to do the same thing every year; to build up a tradition. I can do the same things for 2-3 years but then life changes. Also I was struggling to remember Christmases as a child. Realising that “traditions” were not my thing was a great release. In fact as I went through it all I found that I love present giving but it has to be just that right thing for the right person, that I only like the religious bit when I was involved which really then was more about connecting than anything. Yes I do love the magic of God coming to earth as a baby and of the angels doing their stuff, and the lowest of the low, the shepherds, being the first to see him, and then those who weren’t even of the right belief system being the next one recorded as seeing the baby God. But as in going to church etc? Naw!

So with guidance from the book and checking in with my own heart (which probably comes from having done the Untamed book and the QEC counselling) I am having the Christmas I want. I haven’t put a tree up because that was something I did with my kids so with them not being here it isn’t a thing. I’ve got lovely fairy lights in my window because I want those passing by to see. I’ve still gone for a turkey and a joint of ham because I love those meats so much. I’ve sent presents I feel are right to my kids and have got 2-3 presents for my hubby. I’ve managed to book some trips to local cafes with friends so we can wish each other happy Christmas.

This year I am having the most almost perfect Christmas The only thing that would make it totally perfect is if both my kids were here but also I’m not going to force them. And my challenge will be next year if they do decide to come and I am back renting via Airbnb to make sure things are just as chilled for me and not to get sucked back into the crazyness of how life used to be.

And these are my fairy lights Christmas 2020

Joy

It’s that time of year when everyone is talking about “joy”. “Joy to the World”, the “joy of Christmas” and in Advent devotional that I am sticking with for now, Christine says she focuses on joy for this season. I don’t work well in in abstract so I thougth “what does joy look like?” and did a bit of a study. “The joy of the Lord is my strength” it says in the Bible. Practice Co said “joy is like a seed”. But none of that helped so I sat down with my journal and pen and asked myself what joy would look like to me.

Joy is a woman. A tall strong warrior woman with long flowing hair left loose so the wind can blow through it. She stands at the edge of the water allowing the waves to brush over her bare feet. She wears a long white shift but the breeze does not reveal her shape. Joy is not sexual. She faces into the wind, which can turn from gentle and refreshing to a storm in moments, and change back just as fast. She lets the wind play with her hair and waves roll over her feet and ankles. She knows those waves cannot touch her body. Even when the storm comes with its freezing rain, and even hail, she keeps that gentle smile, keeps her composre, keeps her stance. She does not deny that there is a storm, does not deny the cold, the hurt, the unfeelingness. But she remains rooted and strong, standing tall, erect, still only letting the waves roll over her feet and ankles.

Joy is not impervious to the storm or unrealistic that storms, ills, floods and fire come. Yes she stands strong. Joy is anchored. Joy is strength.

For me this picture of joy helped for ground it for me. It also helped me to look at “the joy of the Lord as my strength” in a very different light. It also reminded me of the Full Moon post I wrote about God being above the chaos of our world. But in this one Joy is within the chaos too but standing strong and unaffected by it. Interestingly I, just before writing this, I watch a recommended YouTube video about Laughter yoga, which fits in nicely with the whole idea of joy, laughter, being good for your health but something you can hold on to even if life isn’t going your way. He talks about laughing with your body till your mind gets it. With the QEC therapy that talks about getting it with your heart and body so your mind can catch up. Too often we live in a world where we put our mind first and try to make it happen. But with this idea of laugher yoga, OEC, and walking with the Joy of the Lord, it is much more about it happening in your heart and your body and not so much your mind.

Thoughts for another post another day?

I Am Who I Am

I have been reading this book, Untamed by Glennon Doyle, in the afternoons after walking the dog. The subject matter is brilliant – about hearing with your heart what you want to do and not pleasing people. Actually just this morning it made me decide to write this instead of doing an online Welsh class. My heart said “get this written” but it was interesting explaining to my husband why I was doing one thing and not the other how I started to not trust my heart. But despite it being an amazing book I think Glennon could have made her points in half the time and still had an excellent book. It does go on reiterating the same point a wee bit

But the bit that will stay with me is the end chapter which reads like a poem. Glennon has taken that passage from the Bible when Moses asks God “Who shall I tell the people you are?” and God answers “I am who I am” [Exodus 3:13-14], and from that writes a list of quesions as to whether she’s happy, sad, straight, gay, Christian, heretic, good, bad, believer, doubter, etc, etc. And she answers with “I am, I am, I am”.

It made me wonder if God never meant “I am” to be sacred but was just saying “I am who I am”, as in I am a conundrum of all difference, full of love and yet I do get anger, totally involved and yet sometimes distant, in each situation I will be who I will be. If “I am” is not a holy phrase but just God saying they’ll turn up as they will in a given situation surely that also releases me to follow my heart for each situation?

I am who I am. Today I am a writer who has so much stuff in my head that is tumbling out that I need time to get it out. Other days I don’t want to write a word. I am funny and crazy but also deeply serious. I like people but only in small amounts and get my energy from being alone. I like to plan but can’t stand it when those plans get to tight. I have roles like mother, wife, friend, but none of those should define me.

I believe, after reading this last chapter in Untamed that God spoke those words and Moses, or whoever wrote down Exodus, recorded those words to release us and not to keep us afraid. It was to show both the conundrum of God and the conundrum of ourselves. We should be free then to release God to be all God will be at any given moment and release God from having to confrom to a formula. But also we should be able to release ourselves from shouds and oughts and whatevers, or even “but last time I did x then y”. I am who I am gives me the freedom to be who I am whenever and wherever I am.

I am who I am gives me freedom to listen to my heart at that moment, and also means that I can trust God to listen to their heart at that moment in time. No formlua. No explaination. Freedom!

False Dawn

Dawn over Lochranza, Isle of Arran – taken by me Aug 2013

I’m reading a brilliant fantasy fiction novel by Raymond E Feist, the first in the Firemane Saga, and twice in it the characters have mentioned a “false dawn”. That is the time when light starts to appear over the horizon but daytime is still a long way off. Here in North Wales it starts getting light about 7am if the sky is clear. This is the time of our false dawn. Then around 7.45 the sky is then shot with reds and purples (again only if the sky is clear), but the sun does not rise until after 8am. Our false dawn lasts for about an hour or more depending on the time of year.

I think the world is entering a false dawn from Covid-19. We are hearing about vaccines being made ready and of brave people coming forward to take the vaccine. But, as was said on two news satire programmes, very few people seems overly excited about it. I believe this is because we are in that false dawn time of breakthrough. A new day is coming. We are coming out of the darkness of this unknown virus. But the new day is still a long way off, and it is ok to not want to get involved in what is going on yet. As with this morning’s sunrise it was full of colour and promise but by lunchtime the rain had started and by early afternoon it was pouring with rain and the wind was billowing, and the dog and I just did a very short walk.

I think it is wise to be cautious with the news of vaccines and even of Brexit deals. We are in the time of false dawns, where things are just starting to be seen, just starting to come into focus. It is ok to tread carefully, to want to still stay safe and at home, to be fearful of planning something. The sun will rise because it always does, but no one will know what the day will look like until the signs of the sunrise are fully known and the day comes into complete fruition.

So I would say don’t beat yourself up if you are one of those who are feeling cautious and don’t feel like celebrating, whether that’s the vaccine, Brexit, or any number of other things that have come to light during 2020. Wait and watch and be ready for the new day – whatever it looks like.

Loss

Northumbrian beach Sept 2020 taken by me

Tis the start of Advent. Well it is in the Celtic Calendar and I have started my Lean Towards the Light this Advent & Christmas Book Celtic Advent book. Even though this has not yet come up as one of the thoughts in it I felt that over this Advent season was a good time to be looking at the past year. So I’m looking at – Loss – today and I’m going to follow this up in a few days with – Gain – as I journal into what I have gained over this period.

We’ve all experienced lots of loss and change this year. Those “prophetic words” of Rest, Renew, Resore, etc seem a long time ago, and I think many of us rested for a bit and then tried to get on and do. We did not do as the Cormorants do and rest until we are ready to fly again.

I was thinking through what I’d lost this year – my income from Airbnb and from the writing workshops I used to run; with my husband working from home I’ve lost my lunchtimes to just hangout; I’ve lost the volunteer work I used to do up at the Castle (now home to I’m a Celeb); at the begining of lockdown I lost being able to ride, got back in the saddle for August and Sept and then feel off and bruised my ribs; and the plays and productions I used to put on in church, with lockdown starting just as I was bringing together a Psalm Sunday play; I’ve lost out on earning money doing things with local schools, and had 2 paid events that had to be cancelled in June this year; I’ve lost the freedom that comes from the times my husband goes away with friends and when I can get away on writing retreats or visits to friends.

What do these things say to me I thought? What have I lost most of all?

It is the praise. It is someone saying I’ve done well – whether this is from my riding instructor and friends I ride with; from Airbnb guests who give me a good review; from those who attend writing groups who have had a good time and tell me; from the pupils and the staff when I run a fun workshop that we all enjoy; from staff but also visitors at the Castle who would tell me what a good job I’d done. Yes my husband is great at saying thank you for his lunch and supper, but he never notices if I’ve cleaned, and only notices that I’ve made the bed since I hurt my ribs as I need his help. Ok so Airbnb guests didn’t notice that I’d cleaned but they would give a 5 star rating for how clean it was.

I don’t miss the Airbnb, what I miss is the compliments, the telling me I’ve done a good job. I don’t miss the money from the writing workshops whether adults or schools but I do miss the fun I had with the people but also the thank yous. I miss being told I’m good at something, miss achieving, miss that buzz of running a group, of meeting new guests, that nervousness of getting on a horse. I miss the adrenaline buzz.

In journallingthrough this the other day the phrase popped out was “I want something to be bothered about“. But it made me wonder how much we all resist resting and resetting because we have to take stock, rethink, wonder what we have been doing and return to a place of finding what are passion is and what we can “be bothered about.

So we do need to stop, to think about what we do and why we do it, so that when we do restart we can do so with a passion. So I know I need to be something that will involved that nervous adrenaline buzz. For others it will be something different, but are you willing to stop and ask yourself what is the bottom line of why you do what you?

The Coming of Christmas

I know this is probably a bit early to use the “C” word but it is what’s been buzzing in my head. And yesterday was the start of Celtic Advent – in the Celtic Christian calendar there are 40 days of Advent just as there are 40 days of Lent – so here we go.

View across Dublin, sunrise March 2016 taken by me

he days are getting shorter, darker, wetter and colder as they lollop towards the end of the year. It is a time when we should be slowing down and reflecting on the year. If we tapped into our pre-industrialisation roots this was the time when our ancestors in the North would stay home and wait, wait to see if the sun would rise again, if the days would get longer or whether things would just get darker and darker. Sounds a bit familiar that – wondering if it is just going to get darker and darker? Solstice means “sun stands still” and it is almost as if the sun is thinking about whether it will start to climb again. In fact. But 4 days later it appears that the sun decides to stay around for longer, which is why Celtic Christians pick 25th December as the day to celebrate Jesus’ birth so show that when there is a fear of darkness fully encroaching over the world the Son of God came to turn back the darkness. It was also a way of showing Jesus to be the fulfilment of a pagan festival.

Our bodies still remember this but we fight against the natural reaction of our bodies with our warm centrally heated, light houses, and the commercial extravaganza that this season has become. Even in Church we make it into a busy time and a buying time.

In “normal” times I would be at my wits end at this time of year planning Christmas plays where I never seemed to get the cast until the day before, planning a nativity skit with 2 or 3 close friends who “got it”, as well as planning trips off to see friends and family down south and who was coming up to visiting us. Much more into my 21st Century busy boots rather than my ancient roots.

I am a planner who doesn’t like plans which means that I start my Christmas planning around October. I make lists that I then leave all over the house[ on the kitchen table, on the notice board, in my study, in my pockets; lists for this Christmas play and the skit and for other things I would have been roped into in church; lists for presents I think I should be buying; lists for the food I wanted to get for the “big day”; a timetabled list of our trip south.

I buy my Advent books, which this year is Christine Sine’s Lean Towards the Light this Advent & Christmas which I bought ages ago, and has been sat on the arm of my sofa so I don’t forgot to use it, looking battered and tired, and I’ve signed up for a couple of Advent writing course. Then because I don’t like plans I’d lie in bed and worry about the play, the shopping, etc but not get things done.

Of course this year we don’t know if we are going to be able to see any friends or family because of Covid rules. The weather is too unpredictable and days so short meeting outside will be difficult. Church can’t have lots of people in it so there’s no Christmas plays. I can’t go rushing round shops or Christmas markets buying things for people who probably don’t want them anyway! [Note gift giver is very low in my love languages!] Should I get lots of food? Will anyone be coming to visit us? I know my kids are hoping to but …

My body is feeling sluggish and unmotivated, which could be to do with covid rules and guideline, or could be because I can’t get out much because my ribs aren’t mending as fast as I would like. I’m sure they are mending as fast as they think best. But I do wonder if this year I am accepting my ancient roots more because of the restrictions, because I have had to slow down, had to spend more time inside just resting and thinking. At this time of year our ancestors would be resting from the busyness of harvesting and the preserving of the harvest; salting, pickling, bottling, making into wines, etc.

Maybe winter is a time to feel a bit low, to hibernate, and to ponder whether this year the sun will forget to shine and things just will get darker and darker. Perhaps this year God is staying that we all need to accept that feeling of lowness, examine its origins, to not try to rush around making it go away and trying to make things like they were last year. Maybe we need to hunker down and pray that the sun will rise again, that the light will return and that in the coming year as the days increase so will our energy, our productivity, our joy. And that the darkness will flee.

Words – and Say What You Mean

Free pixabay image

In 1968 the Bee Gees sang “It’s only words and words are all I have” which made it all sound so simple. But words mean different things to different people. The first holiday my soon-to-be husband I went on showed that. We were in the Peak District and he suggested going for a walk. We had walked before around our home town but those had been to the tea-shop to cake and a long natter. Once in the Peak District his “walk” meant something totally different. What he meant was “all day hike” but myself and my kids were expecting a gentle stroll really.

Here in the UK Wales has just come out of lockdown and England has entered it. One of the big controversies is over “non-essentail good” and how people interpret that. Also what do you see as “essential“?

Garden Centres are still open but bookshops are closed. Supermarkets are open but they have closed off their clothes sections. My florist can’t open her shop but can work from hom. I must say I would have included “car screen wash” until Saturday when I needed some. One man’s non-essential is another man’s essential.

Now take it a stage further – I’ve just read “Why I’m no longer talking to white people about race” by Reni Eddo-Lodge in which she talks about “insitutionalised racism“. I am now reading “God of violence yesterday, God of love today” by Helen Paynter in which she calls institutionalised racism “institutionalised violence“, which is much harder hitting, I believe. Both women are talking about the same thing but using different words. The above examples are of using the same words to mean different things.

So often what we say we don’t mean or we think we know what we mean but don’t have to vocabulary to express it. But also we don’t slow things down enough to either explain what we mean or to ask what is meant by. I would have had a much better time that first walk we did together in the Peak District if I had said “when you say ‘walk’ what do you mean by it?” I believe there would have been less upset if the Government had said what they meant when they said “non-essential” but also I think the media when they recieved the story would have been doing a public service if they had asked “why have you picked these things are non-essential?” and “what do you mean by non-essential?” But no one does. The media made a mountain out of a mole hill and the government stayed quiet. I got upset with my soon-to-be-husband and he got upset with me being upset with him! As we all do when people are upset with us!

I wonder too if Helen Paynter can get away with calling racism violence because she is a white middle class woman talking about God but Reni Eddo-Lodge would not have been able to because she is a black woman talking about her experiences? Sometimes it is as much the speaker as it is the words used that we filter what is said though. So maybe next time we think we’ve heard something maybe we need to be bold enough to ask what the speaker meant by that and also to question the cultural lens we are looking through.