Friday, 7 October 2016

Five minute Friday: Test

The day when people are given a prompt and write for five minutes.
Today's prompt is TEST.

And so the test has come.
The moment of truth.
As I pause
and breathe
and open my mouth
in a new place
with new people who have barely known me two summers.

I've lived with this for most of my adult life
but you know it never gets any easier.

Hannah West describes living with depression when she feels well:

'The attacker that threatened my life still lives in my house.'

He has attacked me again.
And yet again
I feel I should have been able to stop him.

But the truth is that there is an inevitability to this horrible illness
which in my mind is a bit like Voldemort,
he who must not be named.

I am sick.

Yes I pray.
Yes I believe.
Yes I have asked God for healing.
Yes I live mindfully.
Yes I meditate.
Yes I try to have proper rest.
Yes I have work-life balance
Yes I exercise.
Yes I tick all the boxes that people think I should

Yes depression has struck again.

And the test?
To remember that this is an illness like any other.
And when the dust has settled I will get better again.
Maybe not today
Maybe not tomorrow
But soon.

Saturday, 13 August 2016

On asking for prayer.

We've spent 4 hours in the car today.
We'll be repeating the same journey next Saturday as it's that time of year again.
The time when teens and twenties give up weeks of their Summer,
just to make a difference in the life of a child.

This isn't some fancy camp.
No amazing excursions, trips out or extended time off.
This is a tough gig.
A camp for children from really hard circumstances who come for fun,
a glimpse of love and life as they've never experienced it before.

As we dropped off our middle son,
our eldest son ran to meet us for one of those hugs that you think will never end.
A hug that says a thousand words that you don't have.
A hug that you hold until some of the strain starts to disperse.

As he whispered in my ear,
he told just a few things he'd experienced this last week.

And as a Mother I'm torn between the pride I feel at my sons,
and the other young people who are on the staff,
who give of themselves over and over;
Work tirelessly.

And wanting to take them home,
wrap them up,
and shield them from the tougher side of life
that they have seen this week,
and will surely see over the next seven days.

But they are no longer children.
They are young men.
And as I left them this afternoon
I am filled with awe at what they have committed to,
along with their friends,
and the rest of the staff.

As I drove through the roadworks on the A21
I felt a stirring to pray for them myself,
but also rally some support
for what they are expecting will be
an even more difficult week
than the last.

I believe in the power of prayer.
I'm praying that
'My God will supply all their needs;
(physically, emotionally, spiritually)
according to His riches in Christ Jesus,'

Will you join me?
If you're willing to pray for them,
please comment on the Facebook post so they can see.
Maybe tell them what you are praying for them this week.
Let's give them a treasure-trove to dip into when they are flagging.
Thank you my friends.

Wednesday, 13 July 2016

On being on The One Show

Harlow was on The One Show last night.
I know!
We have a tic in the area.
It infects dogs.
They lose strength in their legs,
can't eat or drink,
and if untreated it's lethal.

Apparently it's a tiny little thing.
It's probably come here on another dog that's been on holiday abroad.
It's causing chaos.
Inability to function.
And in one case, death.

Just a little thing.....
Amid all the beauty of the area.

Little things have a way of causing chaos.
One word.
One look.
One mistake.

It's not the big things I usually have an issue with.
Adrenaline tends to kick in, at least for a while.

But the little things?
They kill me.
Every time.

And before I know it I feel weak,
Unable to function.

Jesus said,
"Come to me...
All you who are tired from carrying heavy loads...
I will give you rest."

Come to me.
I will give you rest.

Not more criticism.
Or harsh words.
Or conflict.
Or hardship.
Or reason to shout rude words very loudly.

Just Him.
And you.
And rest.

I wonder if today you need to hear Him calling your name?
If you, like me, need reminding....?

He is there.
With healing in His wings.

I pray God's presence and peace in your life right now.
He's got this.
And you.
Trust Him.

Sunday, 12 June 2016

On not being a volunteer

We had a celebration at our church this morning.
In the event formerly known as 'Volunteers Day'
we invited everyone who contributes
to the life and ministry of Harlow Salvation Army,
to come to a service and lunch.

It was great.
We had seven people who had never been to worship before.

But it was a tricky one.
The issue of people not wanting to be known as 'Volunteers'
led to the re-naming of The Salvation Army.

I wanted everyone to know they were appreciated.
The bandsman who helped plant the corps 59 years ago,
The person who's been helping at lunch club for 4 weeks.
The lady from the charity shop.
The grandchildren who were remembering a terrible anniversary.

The commissioned,
the warranted,
the called,
the enrolled,
the unravelled,
the attenders,
the worshippers.

Those who serve because of faith.
Those who act because they want to make a difference.
All coming together in the beautiful mess that is church.

A church that wouldn't exist in the same way if they weren't there.
A church that is church, whatever day it happens, because God is present.
A church full of imperfect people who love each other and who love Jesus.

So what about you?
Are you a member?
Are you a volunteer?
Does it matter?

I hope it doesn't.

I hope you know how valued you are as part of God's family.

Be blessed.
Be a blessing.

'Every time you cross my mind, I break out in exclamations of thanks to God.
Each exclamation is a trigger to prayer'

Philippians 1:3

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

The #MillionsMissing. Read it and weep.

#MissingMillions is a social media campaign
to raise awareness of the estimated millions of people who are missing from society
because there is so little funding into ME/CFS research.

Current NICE guidelines recommend graded exercise therapy.
At worst this has caused disability.
At best it has set patients back months, sometimes years.

Our personal experience of this was when our son Ryan was diagnosed with
Chronic Fatigue Syndrome in 2009.
He was 13 at the time.

Thankfully we found a Dr and physio who understood the illness.
18 months later he was fully recovered,
after doing the very opposite of current NICE guidelines.

He's now 22 and just completed a degree in Sports Coaching & Science.
The irony isn't lost on us.

ME is not a popular illness.

Don't misunderstand me,
no illness is popular.

But ME was christened 'yuppy flu' in the 80's.
I've heard it called the 'Pull yourself together disease'.

Can you imagine how that feels to someone who is in so much pain
they can't lift their head off the pillow,
put one leg in front of the other,
or open the curtains because the effect of the light is too much for their eyes?

When 'normal' noise can feel like a sounding gong or clanging cymbal.

When your brain is so foggy you can't string a sentence together.

Remember how lepers used to have to go underground?

They shut themselves away from society who were afraid of infection.

#MissingMillions is for the millions who have had to,
in effect,
go underground.

They have had to hide away from society because the medical profession has let them down.


The illness has been misunderstood,
and mis-treated,


There are horror stories of children with ME being taken into care
because parents have refused to do what the 'professionals' have recommended.
They knew the long-term effects were huge.
So patients 'go underground' in fear.

Finding a Dr who understands,
or even believes in the illness is like gold dust.
We were one of the lucky ones.

When Ryan was ill he was approaching year 10;
the year he was to start studying for his GCSE's.
At the time we were told CFS was one of the main reasons
for absenteeism in Secondary School.

A more cynical person might think the only reason we were given help
was because the government is so concerned about school attendance figures.
We were given a Dr.
A physio.
And a home tutor for Ryan.

My friend Catherine fell ill after she had left school.
She received nothing.
She still hasn't.

13 years later she is still housebound.
But thanks to her amazing Mum,
who gave me priceless advice when caring for Ryan,
they understand the illness and she is finally making progress.

But I have sat with her Mum, who is also her carer as she shared her more fearful moments.
Her sense of isolation.
Her despair at not knowing what to do next,
and the illness appeared to be winning.
Her amazing, inspiring courage when she stood to fight another day.
Her quiet, unshakeable faith that God had got them,
even though He wasn't answering their prayers as He'd hoped.

My sister was diagnosed a few years ago.
She has three young children.
She had to fight to find a Dr who understood.
But she has found one and receives some helpful treatment.

Today ME patients have sent their shoes to Downing St,
You don't need shoes if you can't leave the house.

Catherine's shoes.

It's a cause close to my heart because I remember so clearly how isolating it is to be a carer for someone with an illness that people don't understand.

The disbelieving looks.

The 'advice'.

I remember how lonely it is to choose not to tell your story because it's just too hard.

How exhausting it is to have to plan a day when everything had to be graded for its intensity;
 and cognitively.

We lived with this illness for 18 months.
Imagine living with it for 10, 15, 20+ years.

Like running a marathon with no idea where the finish line is.

Please pray for the #millionsmissing

They need you.

If you're feeling brave maybe lobby your MP.

If you want to donate, I recommend Invest in ME who are funding research.

Let's stand up for the #missingmillions.

Many of them can't stand up for themselves.....

Friday, 13 May 2016

Five Minute Friday: Grow

I watch with bated breath every spring.
But this one?
This one was different.

It had been uprooted from where it had grown for 13 years.
A new home.
New life.
Different county.
Different soil.
Different world.
Would it even survive the upheaval?

Today it is flowering,
10 months on.

More than that it's flourishing in it's new environment.
Greater buds and blooms than ever before.
Signs of growth.
Of new roots being established.

It was a precious cargo
containing memories of lives
and loves.

A thing of beauty.
Hardier than it appeared at first glance.
Bringing joy

Thank you God for new beginnings.
For a place to settle.
For a world in which we love and are loved.
May I trust your heart when I don't understand your plan.
Now and for ever.

Chris's parents bought us this chamellia
Its simple beauty brings me hope.
It blooms every year about this time.

Tuesday, 16 February 2016

On cutting Glenn Hoddle some slack

I don't like Glenn Hoddle.
Every time I see him on TV,
which in our house is quite often,
I say something derogatory.

'Why is he even on there?
He was sacked as England manager.'
Is my usual response to his punditry.

Definition alert:
Punditry is a technical term meaning a person,
usually a man, who can talk incessantly about football.

That's most men, as far as I can tell.

On Saturday I was thinking about injustice.
I'd taken a photo of the tills in Tesco, ready for my Lent photo challenge.
But when I got home I took this photo.

Warning: Photo also contains Michael Owen.
I quite like him.
Though he has an annoying voice.
Not as annoying as Jamie Carragher.
What happened to commentators having nice voices?

Here's the photo:

Now I have my reasons for not liking Glenn Hoddle.
He was sacked as England manager in 1999 for making a silly remark about disabled people.
At the time we were leaders of a church that had a disabled lady as one of the members.
I was angry for her too.

But last Saturday,
as I contemplated injustice in another field,
I realised I was still judging him for something he said 16 years ago.

16 years...

And he'd been in a highly pressured job.
What if he had made a mistake?
What if his words had come out wrong?
What if it was time to cut him a bit of slack?

Don't get me wrong,
I'm not excusing what he said.
His words deeply hurt a lot of people.

But I'm not sure I'd like every word I've uttered over the past 16 years
recorded and replayed for all to hear.
Would you?

We all make mistakes.
I make loads.
All the time.

And forgiveness is free.
I know because I've received it more than I deserve.

I can be quick to judge.
And I have the memory of an elephant.
But I think maybe it's time for me to stop judging people,
not just Glen Hoddle if I'm honest,
for mistakes.
For words said in haste.
For actions that should be long-forgotten by now.

And maybe it's time to choose freedom for myself;
by accepting apologies I never received,
from people who have never offered them.

Maybe it's time to extend to others the kind of forgiveness I have received.

To love as I have been loved.

To view people through the eyes of Christ.

Thursday, 4 February 2016

On Time to Talk Day.

Today is #TimetoTalk Day.
The day designated to get people talking about 'mental illness.'

As I type I realise that people often focus on the word 'mental',
and don't get as far as the world 'illness'.
And that's half the problem.

I have an illness.
A mental health illness.

I don't have mental health 'issues'.

I'm not 'mental.'

I have an illness.

An illness that doesn't necessarily make me sad,
though sometimes it does.

The symptoms I get make me feel empty,
unable to hold a conversation.
and I get marshmallow-brain, or brain fog.

Sometimes I struggle to put one foot in front of the other.
Sometimes I'm irritable and snappy.
Sometimes I can't sleep for night after night,
and sometimes I can do it with my eyes shut....
Sometimes I'm tearful.

Sometimes I can hold it all together to work,
do what's required,
and you'd never know anything was wrong.
Then afterwards I'm wrung out like a dish-rag.
Fit for nothing.
At it's worst, it feels like the Dementors have sucked out my very soul.

I have an illness.
I've had it for over 21 years.
It was first diagnosed after I gave birth to my eldest son.

But he, and my other sons,
my husband,
my family,
my life,
my lifestyle,
my work,
my outlook,
my personality,
my character,
my work-ethic,
my levels of faith,

are not to blame.

No-one is to blame.
Illness of any kind tends not to discriminate.

There are things that don't help of course.
I know my limits and work within them as far as possible.

I work with people.
People of all kinds,
all situations,
all kinds of needs;
And sometimes it feels as if everyone wants a piece of me.

But I'm learning to be mindful.
To see the signs.
Avoid the triggers if I can.
And withdraw and rest when necessary.

Prayer sometimes helps.
But often it doesn't.
Believe me I've been prayed for,
People have prayed earnestly.
I have cried,
screamed at God.
God has come near, but not healed.

Depression is part of my life.
It's not who I am.
It's an illness I have.
I live with it.
As do my family.

It's not always easy for them.
But they are wonderful, independent, capable men and boys,
who show endless affection to me.
They also cook and do the washing as required!
We talk.
A lot.

On the whole life is good.
I have days when I feel a failure, inadequate, weak and hopeless.
They don't usually last for too long,
but occasionally they do.
The medication keeps me fairly level,
as does walking, yoga and meditation.

I tend to go with the flow these days.
Constant battling is exhausting,
and doesn't work anyway.
I try to be kind to myself when I'm struggling.
Much as I would be to anyone else.

So there you have it.
Life in my world.

I have an illness, not a weakness.
Let's talk about it.

Tuesday, 2 February 2016

On Candlemas

Today is Candlemas.
The day that remembers Mary & Joseph presenting Jesus in the Temple.
They met Simeon & Anna;
Both prophets.
Both faithful.
Both very, very old.

God had given them a promise, it would seem.
And it was many, many years before they saw Jesus,
the promised One.
Many, many winters.
Maybe they had thought 'Is this the one?'
Only to have their hopes dashed
Over and over again.

And you know I can relate.
Maybe you can too?
I live with an illness that varies in intensity,
but never completely subsides.

And with every prayer that is prayed for me
and over me
and with me,
my hope rises.

Now Lord?
Is it now?
Has healing come?
And it would seem the answer is invariably,

The last seven days have been difficult.
I sensed 'an episode' on it's way.
This time I didn't fight it so hard.
I took some time.
Cancelled some stuff.
Watched some films.
Slept a bit.
Then slept some more,
And worked when necessary.

Today has been a heavy day pastorally.
And when I walked the dog a few hours ago, I started to notice a few things.
Buds on a branch...
Catkins on a tree...
Rose-tinted sky...

And when I got home, this....


It's a snowdrop.
Or a Candlemas bell as it's also known.
And it's growing in the middle of our recently-turfed lawn.
Just one.
Not particularly beautiful.
From nowhere, it would seem.

I certainly haven't noticed it before today.
The day that is Candlemas.
The day when Jesus was recognised as the One who would bring light to the darkness of earth.
The Light of the World.
Not just for the Chosen, but for everyone.

This flower is a symbol of hope apparently.

In the darkness.
Amid the hardness that is life.
Amongst sickness that goes on and on despite prayers for healing.

There's always hope.

Wishing you a happy and hope-filled Candlemas.

Saturday, 2 January 2016

On choosing one word

It's that time of year again.
I'm not a resolution type person,
there are too many goodies to finish off yet.
But I do like the One Word 365 movement.
And the idea of having a word for the year appeals to me.

Past words have been BREATHE
(always a good idea...)
as opposed to happy.
But as I approached the end of 2015
I realised I couldn't remember what my word had been.

As I looked back I realised my word could easily have been
or gall-bladder for the first half of 2015.
Closely followed by
or settle in the second half.

Then yesterday I remembered...
My chosen word was FREE.
because even though I'd forgotten my word
I had lived it over and over.

In choices and decisions.
In prayers and petitions.
In an Abraham and Isaac moment
where I put my all on the altar in order to be free,
and at the last moment God showed me a ram in the thicket.

So maybe it's not so much about choosing a word
as a word choosing me.

This year's word is EMBRACE.
When God gives you a new set of people to lead and minister to;
And at your Welcome Meeting He says
"These are your people, care for them,"
it makes sense.
And I find a hug speaks when words fail.
But also the idea of embracing all that life offers me
with arms wide open to receive.

This morning God also gave me the word SAVOUR;
which fits with EMBRACE
but also implies a lingering...
a not-rushing...
a pause.

So that's me.
And my word.
What about you?

If you're not sure,
why not ask God directly?

If nothing comes to mind, give it time.
Jot down a few words that you like the idea of.
See if a theme develops in songs on the radio,
TV programmes,
books, magazines, conversations...

Wishing you a year of blessings and hope.
If you need me I shall be snuggling and eating,
practising embracing and savouring.

Happy 2016!