Friday, 30 January 2015

Musical Interlude // 'I Can Feel You', Bethel, Tides



It's been a while since I posted a song and this has to be one of my faves at the mo. 
My advice: whack it up and sit and contemplate the words... love it, love God :)

Sunday, 25 January 2015

On being 40...

Photo via Wylio: Bùi Linh Ngân
Actually it should be 'On being Over 40' because yes, I am now officially 41 (not because I have an official birthday, although that would be nice, I just happen to have celebrated my birthday recently). I can no longer pretend that I am just out of my 30s or 'just 40', I have now completed an entire year of being 'in my forties'...

You know, I've never been someone who worries about age and getting older, in fact I used to joke about being someone who would grow old 'disgracefully', I have said in the last few years, I love my age, and I am not someone who looks back with regret, I actually love how I am growing with age, learning more, getting closer to God, growing in wisdom (I hope!). 

But. 

But, the thing is I now actually feel like I'm getting older, a few years ago it didn't phase me because I didn't really notice it. And yet now? Well now, it's almost like my body has flicked a switch and it's resigned to the fact that it is getting older. Each morning there is another ache or pain, a wrinkle that appears - even when I'm not frowning - I get invites to friends parties who are now turning '50', and what's more, I actually find myself enjoying Radio 2 (sometimes...)

So indulge me for a moment whilst I have a bit of moan about it all. Here's 10 things I really dislike about being 40.


1) Wrinkles
Ugh.
Ok so they gradually appear over the years but it's like suddenly I have woken up and looked in the mirror and realised these ones won't disappear when I've been awake for a while (no matter how much I try and rub them away). And there's only going to be more...

2) I have bags under my eyes which just don't disappear!
Ok so I'm always tired but I'd rather people didn't say to me quite so often 'oooh, you look tired, are you getting enough rest?' in that slightly patronising tone that well meaning people have...

3) Being "Middle Aged"
What is it about that term that makes me want to vomit? Middle aged? half way through my life? If there's anything that will strike fear into your heart about age it's being called 'middle aged'. In fact my Mother in Law first called me that a few years ago at which point I was in denial, well now I am 41 I can't deny it any longer. I feel the need to accept it, like some kind of addiction. My name is Jules and I am middle aged.


4) Aches and pains
Oh My Gosh... what is it about getting older that makes you hurt so much? what is that about? I feel like my body is literally giving up the ghost. Few are the mornings where I don't wake up stiff or in some sort of pain. I had a problem with my hand recently and the doc told me I am now at the bottom end of the spectrum for arthritis. What? arthritis, oh my gosh I am 40 not 70... (well 41, see I'm still in denial...)

5) Sleep
I once wrote about having a love affair with my bed. I think this was misinterpreted by a dear friend to mean something else. But I do love my bed. I love to sleep. I go to bed hours before my teenage daughter, when once I was the one being up half the night reading or watching trash on the telly (and it seems like it was just yesterday!). What's more I sleep on any car journey more than about 10 miles. I even fall asleep on the train on the way to college, which, let's face it, is just plain embarrassing.


6) Awkward conversations
Really, why do women (and it is largely women) as they get older, talk about the awful, embarrassing things that start going wrong with your body as you age? PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE, I do not want to be part of any conversation that includes the terms 'bladder control', 'perimenopause' or 'ovaries' (and there are some vastly worse ones too that I can't even type without shuddering). ugh. If or when I have to deal with these I shall not be striking fear into the hearts of younger women by discussing them. 
And what's more,  it's sad that people even think I am old enough to be included in these conversations.... *sigh*

7) No more babies
Not that I want another one, and to be fair there is no reason why we couldn't actually have one, but the reality is I think we've gone beyond that point. The youngest is 9 and in reality another baby would simply exacerbate  no's 1, 2, 4 & 5!! And this makes me a little bit sad.

8) Thinking Doctors and Policemen are young
OH WOW, I am my mother. 
*screams*
Seriously though, I spent a night in a&e recently with one of my kids and we saw 2 senior doctors, both of whom looked like they should be out clubbing not checking my daughter's bloods.  Why on earth I have suddenly started noticing this? Doctors and police have always been this age, why am I suddenly noticing it now? What is happening in my brain?!

9) Walks are a joy
More than getting some exercise or having any particular purpose, I find that I just love walking. There are not many things that I can think of that I find more enjoyable or relaxing than going for a nice walk, even in the rain and wind. So, now I am my Father too...

10) Tick boxes
And possibly the worst thing, don't now why, just is: In most general surveys or application forms you get those boxes where you have to tick your age. Some of them change at 40 it's true - you know the 35-39 age bracket? Well there's no denying it now, none of them stop at 41 sadly. I am now in the category that goes up to 55. 
Yikes. 
Saga brochures will be next...


Friday, 16 January 2015

Feeling useless...

For the sake of anonymity, this post is being published some time after I wrote it.



I woke up this morning feeling crap. Got to be honest I have got a cold but this is more. I was grumpy, rude, annoyed with my kids, and tearful, very tearful. I was feeling let down, unsupported and alone. I planned to do nothing but lay on the sofa even though I have got a mountain of things to do, I just couldn't face them. I'm also a bit angry with God and because I was feeling tearful I was on the verge of even forgoing my prayer time as I couldn't face what I knew would just be a time of crying and so I just pushed God out of my mind.

Well, I say that, I tried to. Turns out it's not actually that easy, and well, if God wants to speak then he will...

So, let's back track a little:

Yesterday I spent a short amount of time with someone with severe depression. I was concerned for them, but probably in the end rather unhelpful. And if there is one thing I have learned from supporting people with depression, there really is nothing you can do except be there. But yesterday I felt desperate almost, and I went into 'solve it' mode. Possibly one of the worst things you can do. And as a result I have potentially alienated the person I sought to help (although I hope not).

I came away feeling completely useless. And sad. Well more than sad but I can't describe it, it's like the hope is being drained out of me, but with anger too, and frustration and disappointment and tears, so many tears. This is what it is like for so many supporting people with depression, just the utter sense of being unable to help,  and this was just my little glimpse of it.

I don't use the word 'hate' very often but I HATE DEPRESSION. It is such a cruel illness, robbing people, real people, people with lives, with gifts and talents, with families, partners. It robs people of their lives, for some for a season, for others it's recurring, like a cycle, things can be ok for a while and then the downwards spiral starts again. As an outsider you can see it happening, it's so clear, you can try and put things in place to halt it's ugly twisted path but often it's relentless. It drains the life out of people. And it seems to strike wherever it will like some kind of random evil version of cupid, sending out arrows and firing without aim. Of course for some there are triggers, but what makes one person able to cope with something and others not?

I am a Christian but I also believe in science. I know that depression and mental illnesses are to do with chemical imbalances in the brain - it is an illness and it needs proper treatment. But I also completely believe that the devil has a hand in it too. It's exactly what the bible says: 'the thief comes only to steal, kill and destroy' (John 10:10), that's exactly the kind of thing he would do, drain the life out of people, leave them a shell, rob them of all joy. And that's what I hate. I have seen people, such lovely wonderful people, with full lives and such amazing blessings, be completely drained of all joy and life.


So, this morning I woke up feeling like crap. Now I don't in any way want to compare what I was feeling with those who suffer depression, mine is a temporary moment, so don't hear me saying I know what it's like, I don't. But as I sat wallowing in self pity this morning (and really that is what it was) I just felt a moment of helpless uselessness. As I edged towards the sofa, calling me, inviting me, to a day of slovenliness I felt a gentle nudge from God. I was reminded of the pastoral theology classes we've been having at college, in which we learned some very basic counselling skills and looked at the how, the why, the what can happen etc. and I remember a conversation I had with a fellow student about how the tutors hadn't talked much about the spiritual side of things. Some of the things that we experienced in those classes were painful and yet we were unprepared for what we would face in advance, both mentally and spiritually. We talked also about not taking on the feelings or the situation of the other person, and people gave examples of having had thoughts that were not their own but that echoed the person they were counselling, some time after they had gone. 

And so, this morning it was a simple thing that drew me from my pit, I just read the words, 'Christ IS risen'. And in that moment hope returned. I realised that perhaps I had taken on some of the feelings from the day before, some of the situation, that perhaps the thoughts in my head were, in some sense, not my own. Oh how quickly I had forgotten what I was taught, how unprepared I was, I had not prayed, did not pray. 

And that of course is the one thing we can do. Something we can always do.




If you are struggling to support someone with depression, this is a helpful video...


Saturday, 10 January 2015

A Commitment...

So moving on from yesterday's post, a few pages later in the same notebook was this, a song I wrote just days before committing my life to Jesus. 

I have to admit, I started writing this post, again apologising for the lack of literary (or musical) genius but you know, I felt a reprimand for that because actually I remember as I wrote it, it was like God was writing it. I just put my pen on the paper and wrote and this just flowed onto the page. So I'm not apologising for it, because if it is of God, then it's amazing!

And as I read it now I am reminded of the place I was in. Sometimes you know what you need to do but actually making that decision is pretty big. Once I had done it, life changed forever in such amazing (and sometimes bonkers!) ways. I have never looked back...

Here I stand in the darkness
I'm wandering all alone
I look around me, trying to find 
which way is home.
The one road I want to follow
I can't see for trees
I'm nearly there, it's in the distance, 
somehow taunting me.

I want to see you, feel you, know you...

Which way am I going, 
Or am I standing still?
The more I learn, the more I know
I want to climb that hill.
I feel you here, you're all around me
if I could just be clear,
Why I'm waiting, holding back
When I should pull you near.

I want to see you, feel you, know you...

I've been waiting all my life
to make it through, to see the light,
Here I stand before you know,
Take my hand and show me how.

I want to see you, feel you, know you...

Your words surround me, in my bed,
when I want to sleep.
I want to feel your arms around me
Your presence I will keep
in my head and in my heart,
Until I take that step
I'm nearly there, I know it's coming
I can't quite let go yet

I want to see you, feel you, know you...
I want to see you, feel you, know you...

Now I can, see you, feel you, know you...

Friday, 9 January 2015

The power of an unknown prayer...

Before we knew Jesus, and I mean really knew, we'd been in church for years without truly knowing him, well, before all that my husband and I went through a really tricky patch in our relationship. I've written about it before I'm sure, but at the time out youngest 2 kids were very young, I was running my own business, my husband worked full time, we basically had no time for each other, and on the rare occasion when we did we were simply exhausted. I craved having time to be by myself, and he craved time with me. It was a recipe for disaster to be honest! But we knew it was bad and we managed a few days away 'sans infants' to talk about it all, a 'relationship summit'. It was a pretty rough time and we came away from that weekend knowing that nothing could really change in the near future, but that we both wanted to hang in there for each other.

Over that weekend we wrote a song together (not an unusual thing as he's a total muso) and this evening I was going through some old notebooks and I found some notes for that song. Got to admit it's hardly the world's best song but what amazed me is that it was like a prayer that God answered.

These are some of the lyrics...

Early one dawn, the light starts to stream in
Across the bed covers, it cuts through the din
Radio blaring, it's 6.09
Everyone's wanting a piece of my time

School books are missing, socks inside out
As the days starts unfolding, I'll go without

I'm still here, under the shade
I'm still here finding my way
I'm still here just carrying on...

I'm here as well

Over 10 long years it's been this way
The rewards there to see for all every day
My beautiful life and all that I have
children husband, dogs and a cat
Amongst it all somewhere I'm free
as I feel my own soul drifting away from me...

I'm still here coming out of the dark
coming out of the dark
I'm still here, is it wrong to want more?

I'm dead on my feet as another day's done
have to keep fighting the urge to run
Outside the world's sleeping, all is at peace
Where is my sanctuary, when will it cease?


I also wrote on another page:

As we pull up to the junction, the irony's not lost on me, the crossroads of my life and the decisions there to see. 
This journey we are taking, like a lead weight in my heart, to face the demons stalking us is the hardest part...


I read this all and it transports me back to a place of pain. But I read it now with new eyes and I look at it and think, wow, this was a prayer! We didn't even know it but all these pages of notes, of heartbreak, of anger, of songs, they were a prayer. A prayer of pain, of searching, of a desperate desire for something more. And the spirituality of it is just so obvious as I look at it now! The line that struck me most of all is 'as I feel my own soul drifting from me...'  and the line about the demons stalking us - we didn't even believe in that stuff then but as I look back they truly were stalking us... I can't quite put into words how I feel right now, it's like the realisation that God knew we were truly crying out from our hearts for something different and without us even realising we were praying, he heard and he answered...

And answer he did because just a few months later in that same year we had an amazing encounter where we finally came to realise what Jesus is really all about! And at the exact point when we both committed our lives to him, God literally healed our relationship over night. Something we were desperate for and yet just couldn't do ourselves, and God just did it for us. 

My husband wrote as an add on to a chorus as you can see above, 'I'm here as well'. I don't even remember why he wrote it now, maybe it was about him but as I look at it now, I feel like it was God saying I was there too, I was with you in that pain, I stood by you and I heard your tears. 

I just look back and I actually can't believe it. I just feel like a wave of God's love is washing over me, in the realisation that even when we walked away from him, he was right there, and not just that he was there but that he loves us so much he just took away all that pain. Not because we deserved it (we didn't) but just because he loves us.

#Overwhelmed









Sunday, 4 January 2015

Reading the paper as a Spiritual Exercise, Part 2 : The Red tops


So, moving on from my last post which introduced this whole thing of reading the paper as a spiritual exercise, I've now moved from the soul destroying Daily Mail and have been reading The Sun and The Daily Mirror, which actually was largely a more positive experience and certainly both had a less bitchy slant! OK well not entirely, but particularly reading The Mirror, I actually felt ok after reading it. In fact although there were things, which I shall come on to, it generally had a more positive spin, and I certainly didn't read it feeling that the whole world is evil and against me, which is certainly how the DM felt.

It actually amazes me that The Sun, Daily Mail and The Daily Mirror are the top 3 selling papers of 2014, and all 3 have been in the top 3 in the last few years. What I found with both The Sun and The Mirror was that there was very little 'what I call' real news. 90% of what was featured was about people. Hardly any politics, court cases or news of wars, even the current problem with Ebola featured a very tiny column, until the day we heard of British nurse Pauline Cafferkey who had contracted the disease whilst helping in Sierra Leone. Then, once there was a personal British story, it took up several pages in The Mirror.

So I found myself thinking about this and about what 'real news' is. To me, I want to know what is going on in the world, I'm not really interested in stories and photos of celebs on holidays, or how the latest actor has grabbed a new role, or a sportsman's wedding (3 pages of pics). Real news to me, helps me to keep in touch with the way our world is working (or not as that case may be), how our world is being shaped by those in power, how people on the other side of the world are living with a crisis. I feel part of a world created by God, and as a result I want to be interested in all of it.

That said, one of my passions is mission, reaching people with the Gospel, seeing people's lives transformed and a really big part of this is getting to know people, forming relationships, so when it is real people that I know, then I am interested, very much so. 

So why do these stories of other people's lives who we don't know, sell papers? Why are they the key stories?

Pretty much everything that I read in these kind of pieces was about people whose lives are good, or have been made better. Whereas the DM featured stories of celebs in downfall, tearing them down and commenting on their failures, the red tops stories built people up. They told how amazing their lives were, not just celebs but unknown people too, often with heart warming stories: how a man survived falling from 3 stories; how a teenager recovered from an awful accident; how a little boy thought to be unable to walk, finally took his first steps. But then the celeb angle seemed to show a life that was possibly unattainable - how with money and fame you too could be happy, you too could be admired and appreciated.

Society seems to have such a focus on people, especially the young, wanting to be famous (for fame's sake) or wanting to be noticed, recognised (and let's not even start not he while #selfie thing). I wonder if we are raising a generation of people who just need to be loved. As simple as that. Are we encouraging people to seek attention when what they need is to be loved for who they are? Whilst these stories generally made me feel less depressed that the DM, I wonder if they are are just as harmful in the long run, feeding people a subtle message of 'you can be better, you need to be better, you are unlovable as you are'? 

-----------------------

Of course there were plenty of more obvious things I could comment on, like the endless sport pages (not really my thing unless it's cricket which it isn't at this time of year), the racing pages, masses of January sale ads, and the obvious political biases, especially in The Sun. I don't want to comment on these things directly but I was thinking again about what I said in the last post about labelling people, and actually how we able ourselves too. Those who read the paper regularly do refer to themselves as 'A Sun reader' or 'taking the Telegraph' for example. Do we allow this to define ourselves? If you read one paper regularly for years on end, that cannot fail to shape your political stance, your feelings on the country you live in and many other things besides. The only thing I read regularly, daily in fact, is The Bible and I know how much that shapes me, so is reading a daily paper like reading a bible in one sense? It might not be spiritual reading but it is central to shaping people lives and opinions which is something I hadn't really considered before and something I certainly will be thinking on some more. Just as I found with the DM, if we want to reach people previously unreached with the Gospel, then we need to understand people... (much as it pains me I might actually buy these papers from time to time just to remind myself of that very thing. Apart from The Sun, that I won't buy again and see below for why!)


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Now, whilst there is masses more I could say, there was one reason I really struggled with buying The Sun, even for this project - Page 3. I loathe page 3. As a woman I find it completely degrading to women. This is, after all a newspaper, not a lads mag. Whilst I have just discussed 'what is news?' a picture of a woman with her boobs out is definitely not news. It has absolutely no place in a newspaper (I have strong feelings about porn in general but that is for another post). Whilst writing this I had the papers on my kitchen table and both my kids saw page 3 and pointed it out, looking rather embarrassed and asking, 'why is that there?' Jolly good question...  People use the argument if you don't like it, don't buy it, but it's not just the people who buy it is it? it's their kids, their colleagues, or those who see the paper lying around and pick it up, or even flicking through it at a shop - it's only on the first flick of a page after all. I encourage you to support the No more Page 3 Campaign...



Monday, 29 December 2014

Reading the paper as a spiritual exercise...

So at #VicarSchool we've been set some tasks as part of our Christian Spirituality module which we have just started. We were given a list of things to do under various headings and we had to chose one from each heading. They look at different aspects of spirituality and how these impact our lives, as well as encouraging us to think outside our comfort zones. One of the sections is 'cultural'. From the things on the list my understanding of this section is that partly it looks at things that people who are not active in a faith might find as spiritual practices, or which could be taken to be a substitute for them. So for example they are things that people can be passionate about, like supporting a cause or volunteering.

One of the choices is to read a daily newspaper if you don't already, and if you do, then read one of an opposite political stripe. Well largely I get my daily news in 140 character posts via Twitter, that's all I have time for, but occasionally I read the Sunday paper so I thought this might be a good one for me to do. I don't like newspaper labels, well I don't like things that label people persee, but one paper that drives me round the bend (as it does many) is the Daily Mail. So I have chosen to start with this. At this stage my plan is to read a few different papers that I would never touch and see how they affect me and how (and if) one can think about them spiritually or theologically.

So this is week 1 and I know you will be delighted that I am going to share my thoughts on the various newspapers I am going to read with you all... expect ranting and crossness but I hope also a little bit of theological reflection...

So the Daily Fail is where I start. My parents read the DM, my Grandparents used to read the Daily Mail. As a child on Sundays we would go to their house and everyone would share bits of the paper and me and my brother would argue over the 'cartoons' section - which sadly no longer exists but used to be a separate little paper full of cartoons and puzzles for kids. These days I pick it up occasionally at Mum and Dad's and I barely get beyond the front page before I feel irate about something printed in it, or in fact, everything printed in it. The reason I dislike it so much is that it is always written in a way that someone is getting the blame for something. It incites people to hate. It encourages people to tear others down. But people do read it every day. People get their daily news via it, it informs thousands of people each day, it enables people to form opinions on matters of politics, news, entertainment and more (whatever those opinions may be...). In fact their own stats suggest that an average of 1,700,000 people read the paper each day.

So I started this, feeling quite excited actually, what would I learn? would it help me theologically or give me an understanding of a different demographic? 
and then I looked at the paper. 

First headline, queue of people pictured with 'THE QUEUE THAT SHAMES BRITAIN' emblazoned across it. A 'story' about people queueing at 7am just to see their GP. You see I read this and it just makes me feel cross, I haven't even read the story and I feel angry. It make me wonder, does everyone feel like this when they read the DM? The story starts 'shivering in the cold before dawn yesterday, more than 30 patients queue in the desperate hope of seeing a doctor. The scene, a bleak picture of a health service in crisis, is one repeated in many parts of the country...'  although no one in the picture is wearing hats or gloves, in fact some aren't even wearing coats and none of them look 'desperate'. 

The second day the front page was emblazoned with 'END OF THE CASH MACHINE RIP-OFF' and 'Why weary looking Kate didn't take George to church', with a picture of her looking, to be honest pretty normal for someone with a toddler and a baby on the way. 
So negative... 
In fact another paper featured the same story of Prince George not going to church but with wonderful headlines full of how marvellous Kate and the royals are.

The further I head into the paper, I find more of the same: negative, doom and gloom, how people in power are letting you the reader down...

Here's some other headlines...

The Danger Drones
Travelling by train - you'll be lucky
Boxing Day Weather Bomb
legacy of 24-hour drinking, a nation awash with booze
Whitehall's Crazy Eco Zealots
World's Stupidest Selfie

and so on, and so on.....

So... what on earth can I draw from this doom and gloom? Well it occurs to me that many people do read this daily and I can't help but wonder how it affects people who read it regularly. We talk about having a 'positive mental attitude' or how smiling and laughing can make you feel better, so surely if we fill ourselves full of the negative that must have the opposite effect? 

I was reminded of  2 Cor 10: 3-5 which tells us :

 Indeed, we live as human beings, but we do not wage war according to human standards; for the weapons of our warfare are not merely human, but they have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every proud obstacle raised up against the knowledge of God, and we take every thought captive to obey Christ.

Perhaps 'weapons of warfare' is a bit strong here, but surely, so many negatives can cause more harm that some physical injuries and indeed have the power to destroy people. As a Christian I do try and keep my thinking linked to my faith, of course that isn't always possible, but what if you don't have that attitude, or a similar one to guide you? Studies have shown that negative feelings, bitterness and unforgiveness can actually affect our physical health. So surely filling ourselves full of negative stuff can only encourage us to be more negative? 

I tweeted about writing this post and Matt Clements (a fellow Tweeter) pointed out:
'as the paper trying to be clever pointing the finger, surely the Mail is the pharisees' paper of choice?!'

hmmm, good point, so I nicked it for my post :)  In fact I rather like that analogy, 'the paper of judgement', the one pointing the finger and missing the point entirely, very pharisaical. Where would they be in Jesus' time? reporting from the sidelines on the latest from the 'crazy prophet' or printing pictures of him looking 'harrowed' or join in with the jeering at his trial, gleefully celebrating his comeuppance? (and printing a very tiny retraction on page 74 after his resurrection maybe?)

I did wonder if in actually reading the Daily Mail I would find it less awful than I thought *queue sniggers*. Well, sadly not, it really made me feel worse than I thought it would, and I only read it for two days! So, whilst I'm not sure I gained anything personally from reading this paper, it made me think about those that do. So often these days it feels like people are full of anger. When something goes wrong, we seek someone to blame, we want recompense, and society encourages us to do so too. How many phonecalls have you had telling you that you are entitled to PPI compensation? (whether you ever actually had it in the first place or not); how many times have you seen someone getting cross as a Customer Service till? or complaining on Facebook about their BFF, Sister or Gas repair man? rather than actually dealing with the situations calmly and with grace?

Of course this isn't all the fault of the Daily Mail, much as I dislike it, I can't put all that on them! But it is something that seems to be becoming the norm isn't it and aside from the paper making me cross, it actually just makes me sad. Sad that people are encouraged to be angry and cross and full of blame, when a national paper, could actually have a real impact on people's lives, on the way they feel, on the way they view life. I wonder, had the DM been around 2000 years ago, whether their incessant negativity would have impacted further how people felt about Jesus?

So enough of the doom and gloom, I'm on to the red tops next, thought I'd get a balance...