Caring at Christmas

The closer we get the more emotional I am feeling this year about Christmas. it’s too much build up I think! The gap between the reality of our world and how we’d all like it to be is just getting bigger it seems. We can all help do something though however tiny if we want to. Often it’s the little things that grind you down….

My husband is a paid carer and like alot of people in the helping professions, is working this Christmas. He was fed up last night, not because he’s going to miss some of the party, but because his client had been served a half defrosted meal for lunch by other paid carers, and noone had remembered to stock up on dog food.

Because he’s working this year,  Christmas is being reordered.  Instead of normally going to church and then on to my parents, we are going to spend the morning at home for a change, and the kids are having a sleepover at my parents with extended family on christmas day, and I’m coming home in the evening to celebrate with husband when he gets back from work.

This has been preying on my mind, as we all get set in our ways and I’m also in a new context and was nervous about how to present this to people in the congregation. While I’m not yet a vicar or a curate, I responded to an article in the Church Times about vicars slacking on Christmas day. My response was published. The article was by an eminent theologian, Angela Tilby, and discussed familoraty- another eminent theologian Ian Paul has since commented on the article and it’s published responses here http://www.psephizo.com/life-ministry/should-clergy-have-christmas-day-off

I know there was a large mailbag as it touched alot of nerves, not just those of women in ministry but all of us who give up regular chunks of our weekends to serve in church settings at the cost of nuclear or extended family time.

It’s been a roller-coaster year 2016, and I’m relieved to have just scraped a pass on Ian Paul’s module at St Barnabus. It all seemed unimaginably strange when I started in September. The thing I’m learning about theology is it’s full of different opinions, positions, perspectives and all have nuanced rationales behind them. I am finding my feet but it’s quite odd being asked my own response to people’s perspectives who have given it considerable thought.

In previous commissioning and strategic planning roles my own opinion hasn’t been that key, as a team in the NHS or social care we relied instead on the consensus of stakeholders involved, political drivers, finance available, research evidence and it’s been my role to combine these perspectives into a set of options that someone else would then make a final decision on, having weighed up the risks and issues.

I keep thinking that at some point it will become clear whose the correct, common sense answer is. However this doesn’t really seem to be how it works! God speaks to us all in a myriad of ways in a world of multiple languages, contexts, cultures and conditions. We can all hear God’s voice and bring our own perspective, this is called hermeneutics. It doesn’t mean though that any one of us is not “on message” if we are sincerely expressing a theological view. There are restrictions of course, but within the parameters of the discussion there is more blue sea than horizon.

I took the kids to see the Disney film Moana and found it really inspiring. Like Moana, the ability of God to direct my travel plans is becoming more and more central to my life and it’s now impossible to stay in the comfort of “what we’ve all always done”.

Theology is basically talking about God, and I can happily do that all day long, I am hoping by the end of the training I’ll have more of an understanding of the debates and issues that are in the sea with me and the history and previous journeys people have made to navigate it all.Hopefully this will help me understand more about the Bible, but I’m rapidly coming to the conclusion there are no shortcuts, only my ancestors and culture behind me!

 

Happy Sibling Day!

I read today that this is national sibling day in the US! I don’t know if it’s official yet, but someone who like me, lost a sib in her early life, has come up with the idea, and I think it’s a good one. I like to think, that because I lost my sister when I was little, I really understood the value of having sibs growing up, although they may disagree! Especially my brother who I used to tickle mercilessly at times.

While my friends, husband and children all know me really well, it’s my brother and sister who know me “no holds barred”;  my foul moods, my tantrums, my bossiness, my doubts, my fears and my paranoia. They get to see me unfiltered, when mum and dad aren’t around, so we can swap stories about the crazy things we’ve been up to without frightening anyone. We’ve covered for each other, and had each other’s backs when things were difficult too.  I hope this will always be the case! As kids you are stuck together, and inevitable comparisons get made, but as adults we really enjoy catching up, and sharing what’s going on.

While siblings in real life are one thing, I think the main perk of being part of a church community is the additional ones you gain. Sometimes that’s a real pain, I mean you don’t get to choose who they are right!! However, I don’t think life would be as easy for me in the real world without my church family around, to encourage, support, and steer me in the right direction. Sometimes one person will receive a word from God, and someone else will interpret it, and it will be for me and my family. Other times I’ll have a picture I can share, for someone else. Often friends from church will help out with practical tasks, and invite us round as friends, when others can’t.

I don’t think it’s coincidence that Jesus appointed 12 disciples. Not 1 vice-chair, 4 directors and 7 general managers as we would have in the public sector, but 12 who shared the leadership of his ministry and all it’s demands equally. In those days, I suspect the average number of children people had wasn’t 2.4, but probably more like the TV show “Brothers and Sisters” with at least 5 anyway.

As you know, I’ve been considering ordination for ministry in the Church of England, and this journey is hopefully coming a conclusion, one way or the another in June this year. I think I’ve been seriously considering it for over 2 years and mulling it over for up to 10 years to be honest. So I think I’ve bored everyone to tears in the process who knows me well, and my brother and sister are no exception. So this blog is an apology for how long it’s taken me to get this,  to all those people who have listened, encouraged and supported. Many have said “I’ve never met a vicar before”, some have said “it’s not the most daft idea in the world”, others ” I can see you doing that”, and without naming any names “at least your not a paedo!”

I really hope I get to be ordained. If I don’t get through then I will deal with it then, and won’t be the same person anyway. It’s been a long, winding road , so no doubt there will be more twists and turns to come. I know if I am accepted I will be giving up plenty of quality time with my friends and family that i have grown up with, and that’s a real sadness for me. Weekends won’t be the same again, and Christmas and Easter, no longer nice lazy bank holiday breaks! I won’t be earning alot of money, and I’ll be on call much more than I am now. I won’t be able to hide behind a desk-job, I’ll be a visible leader.

The reason I’m going forward though is simple, that I love sharing my faith, and seeing others grow through christian fellowship. Also I think if someone turns to Christ its a more permanent and joyful ( and less bureaucratic!) way of helping them get the life they want, than supporting their health and social care needs as I’ve been doing over the last 17 years. I’m not sure the two are mutually exclusive though.I know I will be infinitely better off in many ways;

Mark 10 v29-31: “Truly I tell you,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel30 will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—along with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. 31 But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”

When the tears run out

This week I’ve been mostly thinking about Happy Valley the hit UK show set in Yorkshire. I couldn’t believe the last episode was here so soon as I’ve come to look forward to the show so much. The lead character is so human, so complex I’m smitten! It’s hard to comprehend how she’s survived all the drama and how she keeps caring and smiling. 

I think we tend though to put ourselves as women in the impossible situation of either being fragile, beautiful and caring or tough, independent and streetwise. Catherine’s character seems so fully formed and all encompassing its dazzling on a mainstream tv show.

The women I’ve met like Catherine who can embrace all sides of life have sadly had their own suffering to deal with. When the tears run out they carry on and learn to live again despite the heartache.  Mary Berry also reminded me of this in her Easter show, when she mentioned they always raise a glass to her son on Easter Day who died as a teenager. There is something amazing about how as an older woman she lights up Bake off with a grace and charm which is incomparable. 

In Luke 2 v34 When Mary and Joseph took Jesus as a baby to the temple for an initiation ceremony, they were met by an old man called Simeon who immediately recognised Jesus as his saviour- when he had finished praising God he said to Jesus parents what he saw for him;

“Then Simeon blessed them, and he said to Mary, the baby’s mother, “This child is destined to cause many in Israel to fall, but he will be a joy to many others. He has been sent as a sign from God, but many will oppose him. As a result, the deepest thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your very soul.””

‭‭Luke‬ ‭2:34-35‬ ‭NLT‬‬M

This Easter let’s pray for all those parents like Mary and Joseph who’s souls have been pierced by a sword of sorrow in losing a child and thank God that there is light and life and joy  as well as suffering in this world.

Out with the old, in with the new

It seems to be the mark of a family home that you own more things than you ever thought possible. I seem to spend most of my time looking for lost teddys, whilst climbing over piles of dolls. Trying to find a birthday card for tomorrow, whilst sorting through ones that for some reason I’ve bought but are no longer quite right. I think it’s because as the children grow up, the stuff they need changes and it’s hard to let go of the past. I’d like to think that I’m still the age I was when I became a mum, and that somehow I’ll go back to that time in my life again, even though when they were babies it was phenomenally difficult.

This year I’m on a mission to de-clutter, I don’t know where to start, so I have begun by ditching about 20 spoons for calpol and some gooey sweets left over from Halloween. I’ve lost weight, so might even get rid of some clothes I’ve not worn for at least 5 years. We recently finished our huge pot of sudacrem, so that’s gone too after living with us for about 7 years! Next on my list is the 11 pots of bubbles scattered round the house, and the draw full of pens for colouring which would easily support a small junior school.

If anyone needs four plastic covers for a Blackberry Curve, please do get in touch.

When I’m thinking about my faith, I think it helps to move other things out of the way. It’s like a mental declutter. Reading, colouring, sudoko, crosswords, getting some exercise, or having a change from the normal routine, all seem to help with this.

This January, my new routine seems to be reading the bible more often. If you are a Christian considering ordination, it’s kind of important. I’m following a bible course through our house group and learning alot.  I’d recommend it if you’ve got a bit stale or or bored, cyncial or otherwise drifted away from the bible..  http://www.thebiblecourse.org/

The more I learn about it, the more I realise I don’t know much about the world’s best selling book. It wasn’t written for us, as it was written so long ago, in a different culture, and uses metaphors and analogies that were much more relevant in those times, but there are plenty of things in the bible which are really powerful and relevant today. When I was on a study session, I once had a picture once of a shadow theatre, which is trying to mimic real life, but isn’t a carbon copy or manual, it’s more creative and mysterious. I think the bible can be like that at times … if we saw God how he really is, it would probably blow our minds.

In a fit of biblical enthusiasm I’ve also signed up to do a study course on Youversion, where I can read the whole bible in one year…. https://www.youversion.com .. so far so good, as it makes a change from playing Candycrush!

 

It’s all in the mind

I pretty much take my mind for granted. I’ve been lucky in sailing through most of my exams at school and rely on my brain to pay the bills, as I am in a job where analysis and composing complex information is a requirement. Recently I felt like I’d let things go a bit and my mind wasn’t performing as it should. I kind of needed to give it a rest. If this had been a bad back or some other illness, I think I’d have been much kinder on myself, and accepted this earlier. As it was I struggled on for way longer than was really helpful for me or others concerned. This is pretty common, we all like to think we are invincible and young for way longer than we actually are, otherwise why would anyone smoke! If you are rundown mentally though, the implications for  your work, social life can be more long-term and people often suffer prejudice and discrimination.

Since then people have been really helpful in sharing ideas and approaches, and I’ve had different kinds of support from my GP signing me off work to counselling and advice from colleagues and friends. The one I’m enjoying the most is mindfulness, I downloaded an app, called Head Space and completed a 10 day trial, and have noticed immediately that I am much nicer to live with and can take different developments more in my stride. It teaches you not to react immediately to thoughts and feelings, rather to notice these and explore them, without acting on them. It’s a technique not dissimilar to meditation, guided Bible reflections, or other ways of praying that people of faith use around the world. It is definitively worth a try though as it helps you take a step back. When my mind is full of children’s schedules, work, difficult conversations I’ve had, and any other ideas swilling around, I can end up feeling overloaded, and miss the sunshine and the colour of the sky, when this isn’t actually necessary.

I have two close relatives who are olympic champions in taming their minds after being diagnosed with bi-polar and schizophrenia in the early 90’s and both have managed to complete degrees, get married and live independent and challenging lives. Both are a real inspiration to me in managing life long conditions that have big ramifications for their lives, but not letting it define them. Like a paralympic they aspire to achieve as much as they can with their amazing minds, but also recognise their limitations and own the reality of that on her day to day life. I think if everyone did that the world would probably be a much nicer, and safer place!

Bed rest

Are you any good at admitting when you are wrong? I’ve had to apologise to people at work recently as I lost my temper. I have also had a stormy relationship with work colleagues in several different jobs, and it really doesn’t help me or the other people in the team but it’s alot easier than holding my hands up and saying sorry. Over the years my temper (mainly hidden as passive aggressive, and talking behind peoples backs..) has held me back. Recently I have had to stop and face up to this, and acknowledge that if I want things to change, the only person who can do that… is me. Often I think we want emotional growth to be pleasant and cuddly, but really it’s not always like that.

This Easter I felt rotten and went to bed on Good Friday, I lay in bed with a migraine, feeling really low, and I listened to a radio programme about a village where the plague had started, and a vicar had kept the locals from leaving to stop the plague from spreading. http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b05ny7nz. It was narrated by a doctor who had been working with Ebola victims. One woman in Eyam had to bury her husband, and three children single handedly. How I wondered does anyone get through that and survive? How did the village survive?

The message I got was to look into the pain, so I tried to look into the flashing lights I was experiencing as part of my migraine. As I did this, my anxieties fell back, my headache receded and I began to feel better. Facing up to the grief I’ve been carrying through my life, about my sister, has been a heavy thing to carry, but letting go of it, has also been difficult. The message I got was a bit like the bear hunt story.. you can’t go round it, you’ve got to go through it. Since that day I feel like things are slotting back into place gradually after a long period of really feeling quite anxious and low. Apparantly this is a normal part of the grief process.

I have to say being right even “righteous” which is probably the worst kind of right, is alot easier than admitting you have messed up. When you’ve been through a difficult time and had to dig deep, you like to think that’s it, you’ve done your bit, you have been saved/healed, sorted out, and there is no more personal growth to go through. I think that’s why alot of people get turned off church, as so many christians get stuck. Becoming a christian is not like a computer game, where you have to complete certain tasks to get to the next level, it’s more like Dr Who, whizzing around from one galaxy to the next, not knowing what to expect! Our preacher on Sunday was explaining that we sometimes try to compress the galaxy of God’s love into a more manageable component that we can carry around with us in our pockets!

Anyway that’s why I’ve decided for a while to change church. I believe it’s where God wants me to be, closer to home in Clifton, and I’m worshipping at Clifton Parish Church instead of St Paul’s. It’s felt really uncomfortable, like leaving university or something, as I’ve been part of a community, a group, a pattern of over 10 years, and I’ve probably left a massive hole in the rotas, but it feels like I’m being shaken up by God, and brought back to why I became a Christian. I’m not sure if I am going to stay there forever but it definitely feels like I am being told to rest a while……reminds me of Psalm 23 by David… (Bye the way I don’t know the bible that well, just look stuff up on Bible Gateway!!) ..

23 The Lord is my shepherd.

    I lack nothing.
He lets me rest in grassy meadows;
    he leads me to restful waters;
        he keeps me [a] alive.
He guides me in proper paths
    for the sake of his good name.

Even when I walk through the darkest valley,
    I fear no danger because you are with me.
Your rod and your staff—
    they protect me.

You set a table for me
    right in front of my enemies.
You bathe my head in oil;
    my cup is so full it spills over!
Yes, goodness and faithful love
    will pursue me all the days of my life,
    and I will live[b] in the Lord’s house
    as long as I live.

Easter

In our house Easter is a welcome break from school and work, and family time. This year we are going to see alot of family as there is a reunion happening for my Granny Buster’s 100th birthday on Easter Monday.Granny is in the pretty advanced stages of dementia, so it’s unlikely she will come, or if she does will recognise any of us. It seems fitting though that as we are celebrating her 100 year life, and probably the end of her life in the next few years,  the church is celebrating the resurrection of Jesus and the birth of a new religion, social movement and new understanding of how God works.

The idea of life after death I think is tricky to accept, but as a Christian I’ve had some glimpses of this, which make me believe it does exist. I pray that Granny will be at peace when she dies, and is released from her current ill-health.  I think when the disciples met with Jesus on the road to Emmaus on Easter Sunday, they would have really believed in life after death for the first time. The only difference is they didn’t realise it was him to start with, so he must have appeared either different looking or in a way that didn’t instantly mark him out to them. It was through his actions, his words and his manner with them that they knew who it was. If you have lost someone, it’s their touch, their presence and their words that you miss.

As a child I really couldn’t understand why Jesus had to die, why the world would hate something so positive. In his brief 3 years teaching, people were cured from ill-health, demons driven out, hope restored. It has to be a political issue I think, that the establishment were threatened by his message of peace and hope, and that it was almost too good to be true.

Another event taking place this Easter..  My cousin Hamish’s daughter Mia has Batten Disease, which is a terminal illness, and rather than just trying to get by, they are campaigning to raise awareness. This year on March 31 they are asking people to bounce for batten and repost their photos on twitter with #bounce4batten (for more information go to www.bounce4batten.com) I like the campaign, as it’s a celebration of life, rather than focusing on death, and I think this is part of the message of Easter. While it’s hard to understand why God allows bad things to happen, why children have to die, it’s also possible to focus on the hope of a life lived, and the essence of that person living on in heaven.

Ascension

We’ve been watching this programme that’s out at the moment, its about a social experiment, where a group of people are under the impression they are on a space ship going out into the universe, seeking a new planet and new place to live. The people selected to be part of this experiment left in the 60’s, so haven’t seen the social changes that have happened since then, and the social structure is strictly managed. It’s quite a good concept, and quite disturbing to think that the people who’s lives have been radically altered by this experience are essentially living a lie.

At work we’ve been thinking about systems, and how as humans its often easier to subscribe to a culture or system than to act as an individual. Like the people in the phony space shuttle, it doesn’t actually matter if the the culture is based on truth or not, as long as everyone pulls together and works as a team to maintain the working environment. Too much radical change and rebellion is unsettling for any society, and we’ve been considering what small changes we can effect that will improve our effectiveness as individuals and cumulatively move to a new way of working as a team that has more positive effects. To start with this feels really unsettling, but I am really interested to see if we can move from how it’s always been to how it should be.

This morning another Becky was preaching at St Paul’s and she described the idea of someone being called, named by God and requested to fulfill a specific challenge. She described how we are all called to serve God in many ways and how this is a blessing that makes us equal as Christians together, even though some status and hierarchy often exists within church communities. The thing that makes us stand out though I think, is that God not only has a plan for each of us, sometimes it’s a radically different one to the culture, status and practice of the society that you live in. We are not like in the film Ascension, pre-programmed to live specific lives to enable the whole culture to survive, it’s more random and more wonderful in God’s world. People that used to be tax collectors like Levi, that Becky was preaching about, can go on to serve to achieve God’s plans. People who used to be homeless can be statesmen, and mums who are breastfeeding or weaning their babies can also be inspirational leaders. Waterfalls and rainforests, moors, beaches and deserts are all beautiful in different ways. The real galaxies of stars are changing day by day and the infinite nature of the universe is totally awe inspiring.

While the way we live on this planet is not great, and we are probably doing huge damage as the human race, we  can also be fascinating and wonderful people.  The stories of a grandma, raising thousands for a homeless man in the UK has been inspirational recently, and the small acts of random kindness that so many people do every day is not predictable or expected. The difference that parents see in children with special needs can be awe inspiring, and the contribution of people with mental illness to creative writing, art and theatre is immense.

We shouldn’t therefore be scared as Christians to break the mould, or if we feel uncomfortable within the social order, this shouldn’t be a surprise, as God’s ways are wonderful and also quite unfathomable, and that’s what makes it so exciting to walk in faith.

Acts 17 v24-25 “The God who made the universe and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth. He doesn’t live in shrines made by humans, 25 and he isn’t served by humans as if he needed anything. He gives everyone life, breath, and everything they have.”

You take the high road, a new Jerusalem?

Well tonight could be the last night we are all in the UK together. The complacency that everyone’s been complaining about is well and truly over, the debate is on, more people will turn up to vote than most national elections I should imagine! Definitely a lot more than voted in the referendum on Proportional representation that the Lib Dems campaigned hard to get! I wish it was a simple clear choice between two options, but I’m afraid like most people I am pretty baffled by the opposing arguments. I am certainly aware of a lot of prominent Scots who’ve run Whitehall in the last few years. When I studied in Aberdeen though, the folk from Shetland and Inverness would have probably had a shorter flight to Norway than London, and I can see it’s difficult to understand the politics of Westminster and the South East, when you live so far away from all of this.

All I can say is I’m glad I don’t have to decide!

Who gets to run the country is of some significance to me now I am working for the NHS, as the politics is more national than local. I’m really enjoying my new job, and get to focus on the needs of vulnerable adults, children and those with long-term disabilities, which is why I went into social care in the first place.

I’m not sure where God would stand in the debate, as in Yorkshire we like to think we have the natural advantage of living in God’s own back-yard, but I do know his “united kingdom” would be pretty amazing, and that there would be no debate about who is in power. The vulnerable and those with disabilities would be top of the agenda, and those who suffer with ill-health would be blessed.

Revlations 21 v 1-5

21 Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,”[a] for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’[b] or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!”