2 Cor 12v9

Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Life is Like a Box of Crickets


It’s been a whole year. I don’t know if this is the right way to feel, and whether it will be replaced soon by some other horrible stage, but right now I feel a massive sense of relief and achievement. As a friend who lost his wife a few years ago said to me recently, “I didn’t think I would make it through that first year. If I was any older or frailer, I think I would’ve died.” It is incredible to realise you can actually do it and that the world hasn’t stopped. It feels like a huge victory to be able to say “I made it all the way back around the calendar!” and those moments you thought were going to break you actually haven’t done so far. I know that year two brings its own set of fresh challenges and a different kind of staleness and aches, but at least one chapter is complete, and at every point of future pain I can keep reminding myself that if I’ve managed so far, then I can keep going.

I have for the most part, faced grief like a chicken pox party. I have met with it head on as much as I could cope with, and sometimes have even chased it down when it’s been hiding from me, because I know it’s there and I know the longer the stages take to come, the worse they will be. I have taken days and sometimes weekends off just so I could go and wrestle with grief and wade through memories. Last month I even took the whole month off from the thing I love to do – my church – so I could deal with some stuff that was causing anxiety because I knew it was lurking and stealing my peace.  To quote the best book on grief I have found: “The quickest way for anyone to reach the sun and the light of day is not to run west, chasing after the setting sun, but to head east, plunging into the darkness until one comes to the sunrise.”  (“A Grace Disguised: How the Soul Grows Through Loss” by Jerry Sittser).



And now, because I’m fed up of writing about deep and morbid stuff, I’m going to illustrate how, even when we want to turn and run away in a panic, it’s much better to deal with a problem head on, because walking away and closing the door on it would've made it much much worse.



Last week my sister and her family were away. They only live across the road from us which makes it easier to sort out the task I have while they’re gone: feeding the chameleon. The chameleon is kind of my fault in the first place. When they came home from living in Rwanda my sister and brother-in-law talked about getting one, because they’d looked after chameleons over there, but it was too expensive to buy the creature and the all the set up for it. However, they helped us out so much that year that we wanted to really splurge on them at Christmas, so we got it for them as a surprise. I didn’t realise that my sister, her husband, her child in utero and Noel (that’s what they called their Christmas chameleon of course) would all be coming to live at my house five months later when Richard got moved to the hospice. They lived with me for six months and saw me get back on my feet, then they moved over the road.

That means that when they go on holiday it makes sense for me to nip over and feed Noel as I’m so close and won’t be freaked out by the live insects we have to give him as they used to be in my house anyway. So I went over, the day after they left, to feed him.

Unfortunately the boxes of locusts by his cage were either empty or just had a couple of dead carcasses in them, and it was late at night so I couldn’t go to the pet shop. The next day I was out all day and couldn’t go: the day after that was a bank holiday and the pet shop was shut. So I was pretty desperate by Tuesday when I finally got to the pet shop and all the locust shelves were empty. They weren’t going to get any more in till Thursday and so I ended up buying crickets instead. Normally we don’t go for the crickets – they’re smaller and jumpier and have the possibility of ganging up on the reptile if you put too many in the enclosure at once, but I didn’t want poor Noel to wait any longer. So I got them and we took them round and fed them carefully to him one by one out of the box so we didn’t let them roam loose around the cage. And when I say we, I mean they. So far I have always managed with prodding or flicking insects in Noel's direction or opening the lid so he can get them himself, but never, so far, holding them properly in my hand. 

So far, so good.

The next day we went round in a rush after a busy morning before we were travelling down to Preston to pick up the oldest child from a sleepover. We filled Noel’s water, sprayed the plants, and started feeding him the crickets. The kids were doing really well at picking them out of the box with their hindlegs and holding them in front of Noel’s face so he could shoot his long tongue out and slurp them out of their fingers and make them laugh. I held the box inside the closure in case any of the insects sprung out, but just as my 7yo was struggling to get a grip on a cricket who was crawling under the cardboard canopy away from his fingers, I turned the box round and away from the cage to try and make it easier for him.

And I watched in slow motion as the
whole
box
of
crickets
fell
out
of
my
hand.

In a box of large locusts, there are normally about twelve insects. However, in a box of crickets there are about forty. We had fed Noel only five. About ten crickets were sat stunned at the bottom of the box, which I grabbed and slammed the lid on. The other twenty five went totally nuts. I am sure I heard them scream “Freedooooom!” as they leapt about in front of the cage, crashing into one another in bewilderment at the amount of space they now had. I froze and starting shrieking “WHAT DO I DO?” The youngest two stared at me in horror as I started using a tone of voice I didn’t even know I owned, and the 11yo, who never wastes words, sprang into action, and starting slamming his bare hands onto the spasming hoard.

“YES!” I shouted “GOOD JOB! WELL DONE! GET THEM! OH, THE HOOVER! THE HOOVER! WHERE’S THE HOOVER?”

I ran to the dining room and grabbed the hoover, ran back with it, then started shrieking again; “WHERE’S THE PLUG? WHY CAN I NOT SEE A PLUG? THERE HAS TO BE A PLUG? STOP STARING AT ME! LOOK AT THE WALLS! FIND A PLUG, CHILDREN! NO, NOT YOU, YOU’RE DOING A GREAT JOB! YOU KEEP KILLING THEM! YOU TWO! WHERE’S THE PLUG?!”

I found a plug at the furthest possible point of the room then ran back to grab the nozzle from the back of the hoover so I could start sucking the little blighters up, and the whole nozzle came off in my hand. “WHAT THE HECK IS WRONG WITH THIS HOOVER? WHY IS THE NOZZLE NOT CONNECTED? HOW ARE YOU SUPPOSED TO USE IT? WHY IS IT DIFFERENT TO MY HOOVER? THERE’S A CRICKET ON YOUR BACK!” This last one was to the 11yo who was facing a counter attack and I darted forward, suddenly losing all my reservations, to grab the cricket off his t-shirt and get it back into the box. You know, because in the midst of the chaos I didn’t want to waste the 10p it would’ve cost for another cricket by killing the first one I’d actually handled myself.

I gave up on the nozzle and just ran the body of the hoover over the floor in front of the cage (after running back to the corner to actually switch it on at the plug). There was a moment’s calm as all the dead and twitching crickets had been sucked up into the vacuum and everybody checked their clothes and heads for more movement.

Then the 7yo lowered himself to the floor and looked under the couch. “They’re all under there,” he whispered. We looked under and there were still a dozen crickets, trembling with excitement and staring at us as, daring us to try to fit under the couch into their tiny space.

I took a deep breath, fixed the nozzle back onto the hoover and worked out how to use it, and started strategically placing children around the room. “You two get hold of the couch and pull it this way. You stand over there and watch for any coming that way. And all of you, make sure that none of them jump onto me!”

So they heaved the sofa and I dived into the space, sucking up the live crickets one by one and ignoring the strange sounds the hoover was making and calling over the top of the noise to them. “Okay, a little bit more, that’s it – there’s another one climbing up the side of the cage! GETTIT, GETTIT, GETTIT, GETTIT, GREAT! Okay, move it more, got one! Quick, there’s two more! Now move it the other way. Why won’t it move? WHAT ARE YOU DOING SITTING ON THE SOFA? WHAT DO YOU THINK WE’RE TRYING TO DO HERE? GETTUP GETTUP GETTUP!”

Eventually we had chased the sofa round the room and caught every cricket. We were still for a long time as waited for any movement. Only the shellshocked survivors in the box made little flicks against the plastic in protest at the massacre they had just witnessed. We were pretty sure we had got the rest.

There was still one task to do. I didn’t want to risk any of the crickets crawling back out of the vacuum, or to give my sister a shock when she got back, so I went to get a bin bag to empty the hoover contents into. I popped the cylinder off, put it all the way inside the binliner and sealed the top shut, popped open the bottom through the plastic, and shook hard, but nothing happened. Then I realised why the hoover had been making such a horrible noise. The flat had been left in immaculate condition by my sister (thankgoodness – it would’ve been much harder to find those crickets in a mess!) who must’ve vacuumed every room before she left, but the contents of the cylinder were now way past the ‘max’ line, and every bit of dust, hair and wriggling cricket was now all compacted together in one big circular chunk.

I made more loud illegible noises and sent a child to get a butterknife. I then dug deep with my fingers into every opening of the cylinder and pulled out as much as I could, leaning elbow deep into the bin bag to try and keep it all contained, and asking the 11yo to watch closely that nothing jumped, crawled or scrambled up my arms. I split up the 5yo and 7yo who had got bored and started wrestling behind me, and after fifteen minutes of scraping and prodding and waggling, I finally managed to excavate every particle from inside that hoover. I think the final living insects had eventually succumbed to dust inhalation because there were none left to put up a fight. We tied the bin bag tightly shut, put the hoover and the living room back together as if nothing had happened, washed our hands, threw the bag in the outside bin, got in the car, and slapped our necks and backs for imaginary insects all the way to Preston.

I think we were halfway there before one of the children quietly said “Mum, I’ve never heard you sound like that before. It was like a bomb was about to explode and you didn’t know what to do. It was quite scary.”


“Yes dear. I didn’t know I could sound like that either. But when you sit down on a couch that we’re trying to move out of the way so we can catch crickets that we’ve let loose inside someone else’s house, and I have to make myself heard over the hoover that sounds like it’s just about to break, it will make me make strange noises. Just remember that next time.”

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Death

I haven’t been able to write. This particular post has been six months in the making and I kept adding bits here and there but it’s been really hard to find individual words or a flow of words to describe the processes I’ve been going through. I think it’s been more than that – I haven’t even wanted to. It’s disturbing enough walking through this mess of emotions without sitting down and trying to embrace them enough to name them and sculpt them into a format that gives credence to them. And I didn’t want them to be shared either. For some people sharing emotional hurt is helpful; for others it magnifies it and spreads it even further because then you feel like you need to deal not just with your own pain but also with the pain you’ve caused the other person by sharing it with them. Jane Austen said something similar in Sense and Sensibility, but much more eloquently, and it resonated with me so much.

Then I read “A Grief Observed” by C.S.Lewis – a book so raw that he didn’t allow it to be published under his own name – and I realised that his broken ramblings were actually helpful to me in my broken rambling state.

So here’s your choice now – to wade through these soupy depths and get an insight into how my grief has been in the last year, or to leave this post where it is and maybe skip to the next one when it comes, because I’m now trying to pack six months of the most complex emotions I’ve ever had into one blog post. But it does get better at the end, I promise you.



No amount of watching an illness doing its worst can completely prepare you for the moment when the life leaves the body of the person who your whole life has been revolving around. Something happens in that moment which is so massive and devastating that it takes weeks and months, maybe even a lifetime, to work through. Hope is such a powerful entity that it sustains you beyond anything you thought you could bear, and then in that final moment, it feels like hope has suddenly had enough, so it turns its face away from you, and leaves the room, leaving you devastated and gasping for air in its absence.

That shock lasted for weeks. The whole thing didn’t make sense to me. I had to tell myself over and over that it had actually happened. I dreamt over and over that he was still here, waiting in the hospice, wondering why I hadn’t been to see him for so long. I even dreamt that we’d ended up homeless because I’d gone and made all these financial arrangements too soon – like I’d pre-empted his death and now we were in trouble with the bank because he hadn’t actually died.

Shock is an incredible thing because it protects us from experiencing too much pain all at once. It feels to me like my shock has worn off in layers, peeling back each month to reveal fresh pain and making me wonder each time whether it would be the last layer or whether the wound would go deeper.

We’d done long periods separately before: sometimes I’d travelled somewhere with the kids and he came later because he was speaking at an event, or when he did his placement in Cornwall, or was away on a training weekend, or when we lived completely separately for five months while Daniel was in hospital because we swapped over twice a week and were never at home when the other one was. In general, he was an insanely busy person who worked long hours, and so I made everything happen at home and he was there for some of it and not for other bits.

So there was still a rhythm of life that worked without him. It didn’t feel totally unnatural, and that alarmed me more than anything. It turned out I could do all the things I could do before: get up, get dressed, do the school run, tidy up, go to see friends, plan a holiday, pack for a holiday, go on holiday, speak at an event, get through a family birthday, go to parents evening, laugh till my stomach hurt, go to places we used to go to together, listen to music we discovered together, raise children, lead church…. It all still worked. I tested every boundary and discovered that it’s true what they say – life goes on.

But nothing ever felt right. Now that I know, because I’ve tried, that I can still do everything I could do before, there is relief and disappointment mixed together. It can be done, yet it doesn’t bring the same sense of satisfaction as it did before. There is a hollowness to it all. Sometimes it’s just a slight echo but other times it is a deafening boom and I wonder if everyone else in the room can hear it too.

I have felt fragmented. Bits of me, like sharp shards which cut me by their absence rather than their existence, are missing, and rather than them healing, it has felt more like I have discovered new ones as each week passed. I wonder if they keep falling off or whether it’s just taking me so long to discover each one because I’m distracted by the pain of the previous ones I’ve already experienced. C. S. Lewis describes it like this:
“How often -- will it be for always? -- how often will the vast emptiness astonish me like a complete novelty and make me say, "I never realized my loss till this moment"? The same leg is cut off time after time.”
When I turn down a street in the town we live in and realise I’ve never seen it before, then realise that although we came here together and wanted to discover this town together and although we experienced so much of it together, I am now continuing to discover and he is not: it just doesn’t work in my head. How can the other part of me, who made all these huge life decisions together, not be here? I can’t remember now who made what decision at each point in our lives, because we didn’t do stuff unless we both wanted to, and so at some point we both decided, even if one got on board later than the other. And who was it that first found something funny? Because sometimes the laughter came at the other one’s reaction to the thing, rather than the actual thing, but the end result was: we both found that hilarious. So will I still find things funny without his reaction to them too?

I have felt afraid. I’ve been worried that the past will be lost, because there’s only me to remember it. When memories appear at different times, I want to scrabble for them and write them down immediately now, in case they get forgotten. I speak them out loud to whoever I’m with, just so I don’t have to carry the weight of them on my own, and by sharing them I’m helping to preserve them by imprinting them on someone else’s brain and not just mine. Sometimes I’m afraid to keep moving forward because I know how quickly memories fade and there never seems time to actually gather them and put them in a safe place before the new time comes along and fills the brain space with new thoughts and events instead. In a conversation with my sister-in-law, we concluded that it feels like we have two options: to press pause on life while we grieve, or to press pause on grief while we live. There never seems to be time enough for either.

I have felt depressed. This is not new, it is an old feeling that waits for opportunities when I am weak, and likes to take up residence in all the broken parts of me. It won’t be staying, I’ve never let it stay before, but while I’ve been in this place I knew it wasn’t time to fight back yet. It’s told me all sorts of lies. That there’s no point. That soon we will all be gone, so why bother to do anything? That I am incapable of doing the things I want to do. That life would be so much easier if I threw off every responsibility and just left everyone else to their own problems. To just curl up and let life pass me by. Every one of these lies has felt completely valid in that moment. The trouble with depression is that it turns your perception upside down and makes you feel like actually it’s the rest of life - when you only function in the here and now and choose to enjoy where you’re at - that’s actually the lie. That you and everyone else have been going around in a foolish deception, unable to see past the nose on your face, pretending to be happy and ignoring reality. Then gradually you start to see beyond all that, and you look back onto the whole of your life previously, and all the potential of your life in the future, and the patterns of the whole world around you, and you feel like the deception is broken and you’re looking out into the futility of it all and some kind of tragic, useless enlightenment has come upon you. You look at the same thing you’ve always looked at, but instead of substance, you see holes; instead of purpose, you see obstacles; and instead of the moment, you see ghosts of the past and fears for the future, like you’re looking straight past the thing to all the space above, below and around it.

I have felt anxious. This is new. Despite five years of hospital activity and juggling the needs of the whole family, and extremely uncertain times, anxiety didn’t bother me. Now I can be sat doing nothing or waking up with what I think is a clear head, and my whole body starts racing and turning in on itself to attack. On some days I have not been able to see individual actions separately – they are one big overwhelming surge of problems that threaten to drown not just me but everyone else around me. Lists of things I want to do race through my mind over and over again and I forget that all these things are voluntary – I don’t have to do them, but I feel like things will get worse if I don’t. More lies. Anxiety stops me from finishing one thought process before I start another. It stops me from discerning the urgent from the unnecessary. Everything feels like it should’ve been done sooner, better, and with no excuses. Nothing is good enough, and everything rests on my shoulders. If I mess up, I’ll take everyone else down with me. (Ha! Of all the things, this one is the best one to see exposed as it’s written down. Totally ridiculous, yet it feels so true when it’s swirling round my head.) I think so much of this comes from being with someone who was a born problem solver. Although we all knew it might be a stressful, dramatic, messy process, he never came up against anything he couldn’t work his way around and find a way to tackle it to the ground. I just had to stay alongside, hold on for dear life and clear up the mess left in his wake. Now it feels like I’m stood on the front line of the battle, without my commander, trying to work out how the heck to make it all work, and realising just how sheltered I was for all that time as he took all the hits for me.

I have felt selfish. One of the beautiful things about moments of family crisis is that you stop thinking about how you’re feeling and what you want to do, and you just drop everything and do what needs to be done in that moment, and you soak up the moments together in the process of doing so. You are free from self-analysis: you just need to get by that bedside, or process the medical information together, or change around everything in the house just so it’s possible to get them home again. That’s all. Everything else can wait. And then one day they’re not there anymore, and it all becomes about you. How are you feeling? What do you want to do? What’s right for you right now? And I’ve had no answer for those questions. Parenting pre-schoolers and being a carer of sick people means reacting to needs, and when they are suddenly all taken care of, you have to start looking at yourself. It’s horrible and unnatural and not the way we are supposed to live on a permanent basis. Thinking about your own feelings all the time is the fastest way to misery, especially for an over-analyser like myself. But I know right now I have to do it. If I don’t, I won’t heal, and I’ll just have to go through this process in five years’ time instead of now. (NB - please don’t think I’m being rude if I answer the “How are you doing?” question with simply “Fine,” because although occasionally I do welcome the opportunity to debrief my thoughts with someone who knows me well, most of the time I’m sick of the subject of my feelings and would love to talk about something else).

I have felt unstable. Some days I want to embrace life more fully than I ever have before, because I’ve seen so much sickness and death and it makes me want to run and engage and seize opportunities. Other days I want to do nothing, go nowhere, and disassociate entirely from my own life. Sometimes I feel a greater compassion for my fellow humans because of my deeper understanding of suffering; sometimes I feel way more intolerant than I ever have before because some problems seem so ridiculous to me. I always want to laugh because I find it a better release than crying, but I worry about how people may misinterpret that. I avoid certain situations because I know they will lead to awkward conversations but welcome other challenges that many people would find terrifying. I now have emotional triggers that I can’t explain: someone will say something a certain way and it will flare up anger or distress in me but I don’t know why and I will have to distance myself for a while from them until I can work it out. I don’t want to be like that. I’ve always been such a pragmatic person who has worked out her decisions based on what’s best for everyone in each situation, rather than on a gut reaction of fear or irritation.

And on top of all that psychology and the reactions that go beyond logic, there is just the plain old feeling of missing him. I wish it was just about the missing him, because that’s the bit that makes me smile and helps me cry freely, with warm measureable tears. I just miss him. We laughed so much, about everything. We could find humour in every single situation. And later of course, we cried about the same things. He walked the same road as I did through the loss of our son, and it is so ginormously different grieving something together than it is grieving it alone.

All the stuff we did together, from conception to birth for each of our children. I can tell you the date and the place we found out about each pregnancy and how I told him. All the scans and the appointments. The holidays and the flights and the long car journeys. The houses we looked round together and the way we made them into our homes. The moments we made momentous decisions – about moving house, or going to college, or giving up a job, or taking a child back to hospital when he didn’t want to go. The tears of diagnosis and the frustrations of tantrums. The sharing of bad news with one another and the strategizing of how to deal with the most recent phonecall. The excitement of a new person at church and receiving happy family news.

And the arguments. I can’t believe I actually miss the arguments. I hated confrontation and got so weary at emotional overreactions. And yet – how do you resolve the stuff going round in your head unless you have someone to throw it about with? How do let the ugly out unless you have someone who won’t be shocked by it because they already know all the bad stuff about you? How do you get over your haughtiness or incorrect assumptions about other people unless you let them pass your lips and you can hear yourself saying them and have to take ownership of them instead of allowing them to stay festering in your brain? How do you spill out your emotions and frustrations then pick through the pieces of them to work out the truth from the lies and the helpful from the destructive, all on your own? I know it must be possible, because there are thousands of people who do it on their own every day, but I haven’t yet learnt how to do it. And I don’t want to either.

I’ve missed helping him. I’ve missed having someone else to clear up with. I’ve missed looking after him and wanting to do things that made him happy. I’ve missed all the stuff he bought me that I didn’t want and made him send back. I’ve missed getting cross at him telling me not to spend extra money when things were tight, then getting cross again when money had come back in and he’d gone and spent it on buying us something we didn’t need. I’ve missed sharing every bit of news with him. I’ve missed him being the driving force and me being the brakes. I’ve missed him doing all the work of inviting people over and cooking an amazing meal for them, then tuning out of conversation as the evening went on and letting me carry the conversation on to deeper things while he started to get distracted with his phone. I’ve missed – we’ve all missed – ten phone conversations a day that all begin with huge complex ideas that demand an immediate response, and end with “I’ve got another call coming through – gotta go!” And the list goes on and on and on.



The whole thing is wearying, and depressing, and crushing.

Why?

Because death IS the most powerful force of this earth. What else is there that we can ever experience that is as permanent? Anything else we have had or have known can be taken away – love, confidence, hope, sanity, prosperity, health – it can all come to an end at any moment and it can all come back to us at any moment. Death is like a severed limb – it can never ever be reversed or changed. Once it’s happened, it is the end of that thing – the dream, the marriage, the hope, the person. It’s so massive that we cannot even comprehend it in one moment – it takes days then weeks then months for our minds and hearts to actually accept that it has actually happened and will never be undone. It’s like a perpetuating wound that is struck with unmeasurable force in the first instance, and then just keeps striking over and over again without warning or a recognisable source. It just keeps coming and coming.

It affects every part of who we are. Our view of the world is made up of our experiences. Our experiences come from what has been provided by the people around us – explanations, images, journeys, stories, jokes, ideas, significant moments, physical interactions, problems, challenges, encouragements, touch…. So when a person has been involved in almost all of those experiences, either directly or through the retelling and sharing of them, and has helped you formed your view and feelings of each of those things, and that person is suddenly not there anymore, what then?

It wrecks you.

It shakes you to the core.

It makes you feel like you’re going insane, because the world you built for yourselves no longer exists, but you’re still living in something that looks exactly like it.

It’s all wrong.



And that’s the point. It is all wrong. We were never designed for death. It’s not something we were supposed to experience.

We were made to live. We were supposed to live incredible, perfect, fruitful, fully contented lives, walking in step with the one who created us.

When the plan got messed up and sin came into the world, everything around us, including our own physical bodies, became temporal and breakable, except for one thing….

Eternity is still set in our hearts. 

That’s not a cheesy, kids movie type line. It’s biblical, and it’s the most powerful urge that we know, and everything we invest our lives in – family, relationships, creativity, productivity, fame, recognition – is all geared up to try and reach that complusion that we have for significance and permanence.

That’s why death is the worst thing we face. It’s why grief is the most crushing, debilitating, tortuous, perverted force we have to deal with. It’s why it takes the life of not just the person who has physically died but, temporarily, the life of those people close to them too. It doesn't fit.

We cannot explain our reaction to death in physical terms, any more than we can explain love. It doesn’t make sense scientifically or humanistically. It points to something beyond our understanding and unearths deep longings and feelings that can’t be reasoned or explained. It strips us of peace no matter how logical the conclusion is: that at some point, we will all die.

That in itself, having been laid waste to it twice in such a short space of time, is enough to make me more certain than ever before that God is real, that what the bible says is true, and that this life is not, cannot be, definitely isn’t, all that there is.


But wait.

That’s not all.

My depression would have full validity if that was the whole story – suffering through this life in order to limp our way through to the next one.

There’s more.

Because it was defeated.

Death has been defeated.

But God released him from the horrors of death and raised him back to life, for death could not keep him in its grip. (Acts 2:24)

We are sure of this because Christ was raised from the dead, and he will never die again. Death no longer has any power over him. (Romans 6:9)


but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. (2 Timothy 1:10)

Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil—and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. (Hebrews 2:14)


A few months after losing Richard, when grief had begun to get its tightest grip, I went to a training day at a church that had been significant to both of us for a long time in inspiring and teaching us. I couldn’t get over being there without him, and the loss of our hopes and ideas together. In particular that week I was dogged by that image of him right at the end, and the shock of him disappearing in one moment. Death was so big and powerful in my head, and had cheated us of so much.

Then we began to sing this song, and a real deep knowing hit me right where it needed to. That moment where I felt like hope had walked out of the room the day he died was an illusion. Richard hadn't been abandoned, and neither had I. Jesus had already gone through that on the cross. He’d faced that so we didn’t have to. Richard had gone straight on to victory in that moment. I kinda knew that, but in this moment, with this song, I really and truly knew it. And while I keep living in this life, though I have to experience and wrestle with all the stuff I wrote above in the short term, that stuff – the impact of death – doesn’t have the last word over my life.

And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. (Romans 8:38)

Remember I said I that I love to laugh?

Then, when our dying bodies have been transformed into bodies that will never die, this Scripture will be fulfilled: “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?”

For sin is the sting that results in death, and the law gives sin its power. But thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 15:54-57)


Sunday, 1 February 2015

Reading List 2014

I don't know if anyone cares what I've read this year but I made my list last year on here and I feel a sense of satisfaction in recording it again. Please don't feel obliged to read through this post. Or if you want to, get inspired to make your own reading list if you're that way inclined like me. One of my kids has decided to take this up this year too :)

My reading lists comprise of me piling up all the books that I own but haven't read yet, or that I feel inspired to reread when I see it on my shelf or in a second-hand book shop, or that I buy on impulse in a bookshop, or that get lent to me by someone else - you get the idea - onto my bedside cabinet. I pick them up at random depending on my mood at the time and end up with a "to read" and "read it" pile that sit there all year so I can track my progress. Then there's just room in front of the pile for my phone charger and a cup of tea.




* = fiction
(r) = read before 


*The Associate by John Grisham:  Oh John. His first few books totally gripped me (A Time to Kill, The Firm, The Pelican Brief) and he became one of my favourite authors. But then I either got too familiar with his writing or he lost his touch, because he hasn't gripped me since. I keep reading his stuff though in case it happens again, but this one totally didn't do it. Maybe I need to go back to the earlier ones and find out which one of us changed.


*Five Go Adventuring Again (r)
*Five Run Away Together (r)
*Five Go to Smuggler's Top (r) by Enid Blyton:  I think I covered this last time, but there is so much value in going back to the familiar and the comfortable in times of stress. I didn't even use my kids as an excuse to read these books - I just love them, the rhythm and simplicity of the story and the two-dimensional characters. 


*Vanishing Act by Jodi Picoult:  Not a stand-out one of hers, but as it's by one of the best writers around, it's still great.


*The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (r) by Anne Bronte:  Read on a lovely holiday at a farm in the Eden Valley. Fantastic. Suspense, genuine character development, clues that need to be joined together to connect the past with the present, and a strong message about how the choices we make change our world. Much more Jane Eyre than Wuthering Heights.


Beyond Toddlerdom by Dr Christopher Green:  His book on Toddler Taming was fantastic - reading it was like switching on a lightbulb that really helped me understand my small children's behaviour at the time. He has a really funny way of identifying with the everyday realities of parenting. This one didn't do much for me, but I wonder whether I read it too late as I'd already figured out a lot of the stuff written in here. Still, it's nice to have reassurance from an expert!


A Short History of England by Simon Jenkins:  This one will always be associated with hospital waiting rooms. Brilliantly written. A really compelling fly-by across the story of this country, mainly focused on the monarchy as much of our history seems to be shaped by it. I'm sure the style of history books have vastly changed in the last decade because they are so much more readable. Or maybe it's me that's changing...


*The Boleyn Inheritance by Philippa Gregory:  Absolutely brilliant. Gregory is amazing at exploring history from different viewpoints and she manages to do it with three characters here at once; Anne of Cleves, Katharine Howard and Jane Parker - all intriguing by themselves, but to see them intertwined is brilliant. I love her empathy and intuition that makes her dig deep into how each of them may have been feeling.


*The Harry Potter series (r) by J. K. Rowling:  Smushing them into one description and only including a few of them in the photograph makes me sound slightly less psychotic about them. But I have to be honest here - I read them all back to back in about three and a half weeks. These were during the worst weeks, when everything changed and hope was being lost. I spent every hour I could at the hospital with Richard, and then looking after the kids, and any time outside of that I used in total escapism, wrapped up in a world where disaster and death still happened, but hope and goodness and love and friendship smashed it. I LOVE J. K. Rowling's work. I don't think she realises that she writes the gospel, but she does. The trails she leaves all over her work that you miss the first time round are even more captivating when you go back and look again. There was always a plan, despite the failures and the losses and the darkness that seem overwhelming at times. Everything was always going to work out, and evil was always going to be defeated, even if the price was high and the pain was real. Stuff like this keeps me looking up to the big picture when life seems to have lost its way.


*The Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins: I threw myself from one teen fiction series into the next. Again, a confusing, seemingly futile ride through painful experiences designed to break the human spirit, but which is turned around through people are who are passionate about not letting go of hope. I am a sucker for good-against-evil stories. They remind me to keep going and that my situation could always be worse, even if they take place in non-existent worlds. Really well written and not easy to predict where the twists are going to take you.


Choose Joy by Kay Warren:  I have a personal connection to this one as Choose Joy is one of our twelve values at Home Church, so a book that later came out with the same name was intriguing to us. She puts together, using her own story and biblical material, the reasons we are able to choose how we react to what is happening around us, rather than letting circumstances dictate our feelings. 


*The Murder at the Vicarage (r) by Agatha Christie:  Purely used to try and occupy my mind while life was unravelling. Systematic, cliched and dated, but it did the job.


*Rebecca (r) by Daphne Du Maurier:  I love this book, and the play based on it that I used in A level Drama, and the old Hitchcock movie. Gentle but deep, with mysterious undertones that draw you into her world that just doesn't sit right (so the twists surprise you as if they were actually happening to you). This was the final book I got to read at the hospice and it just fit with my feelings: a time where nothing made sense and everything seemed darker.


Then I entered a really odd few weeks where I lost the ability to read. When Richard died, I couldn't focus any longer on the words in front of me. It was scary that the thing I usually relied on to whisk me out of my situation failed me at that time. I would try to read words on a page over and over but they just didn't work in my head. My mind was mush. But what did work was puzzles: word searches and logic puzzles and crosswords. So I watched mind numbing TV series and filled in pages and pages of puzzle books, wondering what on earth I was doing and hoping I was going to come out of that phase at some point. And eventually....


My Memories of Six Reigns by H.H. Princess Marie Louise: This cute little volume was discovered in a second hand bookshop in Carnforth. It's written by one of Queen Victoria's granddaughters, and its exactly like sitting down for a cup of tea with a lady in her 80s who just wants to chat about all the things she remembers from her life. It has a lovely simple meandering rhythm with little anecdotes and gems from history. I'd tried so many of the books from my pile and was so pleased when this was the one to break the reading silence. 


*The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks:  So I tried this one next, thinking it was short and simple to read and sentimental, so therefore good to draw out the tears on those days when you just can't get them out, but...meh. It should've worked, but somehow it didn't. It lacked authenticity for me. I haven't read any of his others though so I probably need to give him a second chance.


No Flowers... Just Lots of Joy 
Living Simply by Fiona Castle:  I had the privilege of meeting Fiona Castle twice this year, so I ordered a couple of her books beforehand to remind myself of her story. So easy to read and full of humour, despite the subject matter being the cancer journey and death of her husband. I identify with her and her attitude so much, and she was a breath of fresh air after all the morbid, self-contradictory books on loss that I had tried to read in the hope they would help (notice there aren't any others on this list - I couldn't get through the second chapter of most of them). She is brilliant and has set a fantastic example of how loving and losing someone brings you closer to God.


*Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks:  I'm sure I'm not the only one to pick this one up this year. The details of World War One fascinate me - particularly the futility of how it all came about, and the massive social changes it facilitated. This novel takes you right to the trenches. It isn't a comfortable read, but it's a good one for facing the realities of what happened.


A Broken World by Sebastian Faulks & Hope Wolf:  I know I read loads more about World War One this year, but I'm struggling to remember where I got it from. A lot of it was online in the form of articles, others were the kids' history books (I love the way Usbourne explains things!) and some of it came from all the documentaries and dramas that were on TV during the year. This book is a compilation of letters and accounts from people who experienced the war and its effects first hand.


Raising Girls by Steve Biddulph:  His book on Raising Boys had been another one that was invaluable to me, and this one is so recent that it speaks into our current society really well. These kind of parenting books are fantastic to keep coming back to as your child goes through different phases, because they remind you of what actually matters and what doesn't, and to adapt to each stage as it comes at you. I know I'll come back to it again.


Wild Things by Stephen James & David Thomas:  And this one is a case in point - it's been about four years since I last read this Christian book on parenting boys, and I was amazed at reading the descriptions of the new stages my boys are at now. I could recognise each one of them and there were plenty of "Aha!" moments. In the toughest career on earth, when it's easy to doubt yourself every day, it's brilliant to have experts like this on hand who may as well be looking you in the eye and saying "Just keep going. Your child is normal. Stay on track. Things will work out." Richard really enjoyed reading this book too as it is very straight down the line for the male perspective.


*The Storyteller by Jodi Picoult:  This one knocked me off my feet. Just great. It's another account from war, this time World War Two, and particularly the Holocaust. The fiction is based on several real life accounts merged together, and like all Picoult books, throws up clues and mysteries that keep you hooked. 


From Age to Age: A Living Witness by Leslie Ray Marston:  I really wanted to read this book about the history of the Free Methodist Church. It was published in the 1960s, before the denomination came to the UK when my family were involved. It was pretty hard going though so it's taken me most of the year to read it and as it goes into so much detail it was actually hard to follow the basics of the story. I'd be interested to see if there's any other FM histories out there.


*Atonement by Ian McEwan:  One of the rare examples where I'm glad I watched the movie before reading the book. It's a good read but I as I'm usually an impatient reader, it meant I could just relax into the prose of this one without wondering where it was going. And it's another book that includes historical and war accounts. 


Faith in the Fog by Jeff Lucas:  We met Jeff this summer at a conference and it was actually my twelve year old who wanted to buy this book, so he obviously made a good impression. It's a real and down to earth exploration of keeping faith through depression and disappointment, but with so much humour that it's easy to read and identify with.


*The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton:  I love love love Kate Morton. History, suspense, intrigue, clues to fit together and unexpected twists: they are all my favourite book ingredients and she weaves them together brilliantly. I've really enjoyed every one of her books so far.


Wasteland? (r) by Mike Pilavachi:  I read this maybe nine years ago and it is such a small simple book that I couldn't have anticipated the impact it would have on me. It takes the biblical references to the desert and gets you asking questions about why so many people end up in there. The conclusion: God does extraordinary things in the desert. While we're looking for the highs of the mountain tops or the fruit of the valley, God is at work in every situation, even when we feel spiritually dry and like nothing is happening. I've used principles from this book many times when preaching and we are now going through a three month series at church all about going through the desert.


The Women of the Cousins' War by Philippa Gregory:  My favourite history writer uses a different format than her usual novels here and teams up with other historians to explain the actual records that exist about the main characters in her Cousins' War series. As well as delving into the probable motivations of each person, it also delves into the way in which history is recorded and recounted, so it's fascinating in more ways than one. 


*Christmas at Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons:  I haven't read the original Cold Comfort book so this was my first encounter with the characters. It's a compilation of short stories, so they were only in it a little bit meaning I didn't have much time to get my head round them but it's made me intrigued to read more about them. The others stories were good to dip into over the Christmas season without getting myself too wrapped up in a plot.

And the books of the bible I studied this year were Exodus, Hebrews, Hosea, Genesis, Galatians, Habakkuk & Mark. 

I think that's all of them - they are what were still on my bedside cabinet or my iBooks library. If I remember there were more then I'll add them too. You know, because this is a really important life-changing list for you all...