Dear Friends…

I am excited about seeing you, my dear childhood friends, tomorrow at Martin & Steph’s silver wedding celebration. Twenty five years!  How is it possible that time has gone so quickly?  I was honoured to be a bridesmaid, to wear a beautiful dress and know that I mattered.  Version 2

If I could turn the clock back I would keep us all in Northfields and never have moved away, and I would certainly never have let any of you move away either.  We would have carried on in community, our lives intertwined on a daily basis, seeing each other’s children grow up together, as we ourselves grew up together.  But God had a different plan.  He knows best.  When I think of the friends I have met since leaving Northfields, I would not change anything; I know that I am truly blessed.  I matter to them (they have proved that especially over the past difficult two years and I am humbled).  I have a depth of love in my heart for you my sweet friends that is priceless, money can’t buy it.  God’s plan was indeed better.

Yet, paradoxically, sometimes I feel so alone.  Even a nice coffee with a friend doesn’t always ease it.  My home sometimes feels like my prison – I can escape for a quick dog walk “around the yard” (our local Heigham Park) twice a day and then it’s straight back inside.  I read voraciously; it is my escape.  We moved up here two years ago for my husband’s job, leaving colleagues and friends we loved, yet it did not work out as we’d hoped.  To quote one of my favourite lines from The Sound of Music, “When God shuts a door He always opens a window.”  God did not leave us, but rescued us, providing us with a cleaning job for Paul so that we could pay the bills.  Last summer he sold his beloved camper van mainly to pay the tuition fees for a part-time theology diploma.  He is thriving, and enjoying preaching – and I am enjoying him being happy again.

The thing we’d always done as a family, going to church, became too difficult.  Our beloved boy, struggling with autism and mental health issues, found it too much to cope with and found it difficult to leave the house.  Last week at his EHCP review, the placement at the specialist school we had such high hopes for a year ago was officially declared to have failed.  Well, we tried.  God has another plan then.

But back to church.  My husband and daughter would go off every Sunday, leaving us at home.  The kind folks at church had done everything they could to meet Sam’s needs, including giving us use of a private room.  But it was still too hard for him.  And he needed me with him, more so even than he did when he was a toddler.  Parenting had taken us on a different route than the one we had expected.  For years, our daughter was our special-needs child; she was the one having to go to the Child Development Centre; she was the one they were concerned about.  Whereas our bright little boy was reading fluently by the time he was three, and although we knew he was different from other children his age, we had not considered until some years later that he could be autistic.  Aspergers Syndrome was just not something we knew about, although now we are amazed at our ignorance and how we didn’t join the dots.

Last October I joined a choir.  Something to get me out of the house; something to help me remember that I was something other than a mum of children with additional needs.  My heart sank every time somebody asked me, “And what do you do?” – I hadn’t realised how much of my identity had been tied up in my job.  My confidence had taken a bash with what we’d been through.  How many little things had I previously taken for granted – such as having money for a hair cut (never mind highlights!), or having new clothes or shoes or make-up? Now there was just no spare money left at the end of the month for luxuries – if we could manage a weekly shop at Aldi and heat the house I was grateful! But the girls at the choir were so utterly wonderful – so accepting, so kind.  The church from my childhood that I had loved so much was constantly brought to my remembrance.

 

There were so many things that were similar: the large stone pillars, the side chapel, the chairs, the pattern of the wooden floor tiles.  And the music.  And the kindness of the vicar.  Suddenly, I started to feel as if I belonged.  When I was asked if I’d like to sing a solo at the Carols by Candlelight service, I was truly amazed.  I had joined the church choir at age twelve, and at the time had wanted to do this more than anything, yet it was never me who was picked.  Thirty odd years later God poured out His love on me and affirmed me. My heart was so filled with joy at His goodness that I thought I might burst!

 

I was reminded that whilst the day-to-day loneliness I’d felt might remain for the time being, this life will quickly fade.  Eternity is coming – an eternity where I will be with my friends forever, together with the family who’ve gone before, and there will be no end to the party where we’ll be praising and thanking God forevermore for everything He’s done for us.  And I am thankful.  Thankful for my “old” friends who love me.  Thankful for my new friends too.  (Thank you all for your lovely birthday messages!)  And thankful that moving to Norwich has not been in vain, because this is the great truth I have learned:-

EVEN IF IT MEANS A LIFE OF LONELINESS, JESUS IS WORTH FOLLOWING. 

HE IS TOTALLY WORTH IT!  

We don’t have to struggle alone.  May His strong arms hold you up, as they have me.

 

Remembering

Remembrance Sunday always held great significance for me, growing up as I did in a church where young people were encouraged to join Brownies, Guides and the Boys’ Brigade.  On this day, church parades took on a particular solemnity – everybody always wanted to be in the colour party, and it was especially desirable at the service where a single bugler played The Last Post. To wear the little leather holster (not quite the right word but I don’t know how else to describe it); to finger the varnished wood and cold brass of the pole made you aware that life was not all about you, that you were a tiny part of something bigger.  At that age I did not need much encouragement to read and so I readily devoured poetry at every opportunity, becoming familiar with names such as Siegfried Sassoon, Rupert Brooke and Wilfred Owen in my early teens. My grandad had died when I was eight months old, and I would go with dad to the cemetery where we laid a wreath of poppies on his grave and whispered silent prayers in the stillness.  My fortitudinous Grandad had endured the first World War despite being shot; in his regiment of 1,000 soldiers he was one of only 180 survivors.  Still, how can you remember somebody you don’t remember?  I’ll tell you; by remembering the stories passed down through the generations, the impact that person had on somebody close to you.  May I have such an impact on others.  Grandad, I remember.

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For my family, the second World War left deeper scars and, although both of my parents were evacuees, it was never talked about.  Although it left a legacy which I remember only too well – we were never allowed as children to leave as much as a morsel of food on our plates.  It seems poignant that today it is exactly six months since mum slipped away from us on her journey to heaven.  It has been a hard and painful time, adjusting to the death of such a key and vital person in our lives.  This has been a season of loss – trying to adapt to life as family dynamics shift like tiny grains of sand in an egg-timer.  Despite not consciously trying, every day I think of her.  Mum, I remember.

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Yet loss can serve as a powerful reminder of what we have had, and been blessed with, and what we have still.  It’s taken almost two years for me to stop missing the job I loved, and the colleagues who made me feel valued and esteemed.  I appreciate it now more than ever, and often a memory will pop up suddenly from somewhere in the recesses of my subconscious, such as the song they made up for me and sang in the staff room, and I will smile.  I think back on the times shared with my beautiful friends – coffee and bearing our souls, and I feel so glad to have the kind of friendships that others only dream of.  They continue to be a source of joy and comfort to me.  They’ve not forgotten me and have been there for me, blessing me with texts, cards and visits.  I remember, and I am thankful.

Earlier this year, our camper van had to be sold – it would have been a big deal but the sadness was engulfed by mum’s cancer.  Instead we barely noticed. We were left with memories, photos and a journal of six years worth of trips.  Remembering the good times, the funny stories, people we’ve met and places we’ve stayed.  At the time camping was tough, I constantly complained that it was too exhausting/hot/cold etc. etc; I used to long for a bath and a proper bed – now I look back with joy on details such as waking up to see small excited eyes watching me from a platform above my head. Priceless.

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One day my mother-in-law unexpectedly presented us with invaluable treasures – some old Bibles she had inherited which had been in her family for years.  We were delighted and amazed.  One of them was an “Active Service” Testament from 1916, inscribed in the front.  It had belonged to a Private H. E. Young, of the 5th Leicester Battalion, and was dated 27th October 1916.  However, we didn’t know who he was, or his link with my husband’s family.  A quick search online revealed that there was only one H.E. Young who fought in WWI – he was indeed of the 5th Leicester, and was killed in action at Flanders on 20th May 1917.  I can only imagine what grief news of his death would have produced.  Harold Ernest Young – we salute you.  We are grateful for your sacrifice and the price you paid for our freedom.  We remember.

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Nice day for a… white wedding

There is nothing quite like a wedding for sparking emotions and a highly charged atmosphere.  For some, undoubtedly, there will be huge joy and excitement; for others, joy will be mixed with sadness and maybe a painful reminder of how life has not turned out as they’d hoped.  After my best childhood friend’s wedding, I felt so bereft that I cried for a week.  I was thrilled for her, but I knew our friendship would never be the same – it had entered a new season where my place as her chief confidante had been supplanted.  It exposed my selfishness, and I didn’t like it.  I felt needy and alone.

Nowadays, for me weddings serve as a reminder of how good God is – that He has allowed me to experience the fulness of marriage, and the many joys of being a wife and mother.  Sometimes we need reminding, don’t we, of how blessed we are.  I love to watch families being formed and feel honoured to be a part of a couple’s special day.

This summer had been a challenging one, with our gorgeous son not able to leave the house for most of the school holidays.  We had a scattering of medical appointments, and  one visit to see old friends where we drove nearly three hours, our son sat in the car for pretty much another three hours (only getting out to go to the toilet), and then we drove home.  Previously holidays have included dropping round to see friends, picnics, day trips, lots of coffee, company, camping, festivals, friendship, and fun.  This year felt lonely in comparison.  At low moments I found it difficult to look at Facebook, trying to be grateful for my lot while others enjoyed foreign holidays and family staying.  So it was an absolute treat to be able to go to Rebecca’s wedding last weekend in Romania.

I have known her for twenty two years, and have watched her grow up into one of the people I most admire – resourceful, resilient, brave, creative, loving, full of fun and simply an incredible person to be around.  To escape from Norfolk with my daughter was exciting in itself, but to watch Rebecca being a bride was something I wouldn’t have missed for the world.

The plane was delayed, yet we were met at the airport by our hosts who were uncomplaining about the late hour, immediately putting us at ease.  Conversation flowed, and staying with Wendy and Sava was like a warm shower after a dry, dusty drive.  We felt honoured guests in their home.  It is utterly refreshing to feel that you are not just welcomed, but celebrated.

I’ve been to many weddings (the most unusual held in a South London allotment) but never one abroad.  It was so interesting to get a glimpse of how things are done in another culture.  There is a separation between church and state in Romania, so all couples initially tie the knot in a registry office in front of a huge national flag and an official draped in a sash to match.  While they sing enthusiastically, close friends and family hold bouquets of flowers making an arch over the bride and groom in celebration.

Then after a break, we drove outside the city to a specially dedicated wedding venue.   The service was held in the open air, in glorious 31 degree sunshine, with the bride and groom seated inside a little canopy covered in flowers.  How proud Brian looked as he walked his stunning daughter down the aisle.We didn’t understand Romanian, but we needn’t have worried – people were happy to offer to translate.  We were so blessed by their friendliness.  After following the happy couple down the aisle, we were ushered into a large ballroom with a satin embellished ceiling which was quite spectacular. Beauty was everywhere – from the dazzling radiance of the bride, to the lace, flowers and glass adorning the tables to the warmth of smiles from those who we couldn’t converse with but with whom we shared the happiness of the occasion, and a mutual love of this precious couple just starting their married life.

Thus proceeded an evening of delights.  It is not unusual for Romanian weddings to go on until six or seven in the morning.  The food was all delicious, and we enjoyed sampling the new flavours of traditional cuisine.  In between the many courses, we were able to play games in the large adjoining garden which had been laid out to resemble an English village fete, complete with coconut shy and splat-the-rat.  An essential component of any wedding, the music provided more entertainment, with pop from different decades interspersed with Romanian folk music where people held hands in a circle, and I had a flashback to country dancing lessons at school.  It was so sweet to watch different generations interact with each other.

Flying back, I felt so thankful to be coming home to a husband who adores me.  It felt strange to be at a wedding without him, and I couldn’t wait to fling myself in his arms and give him an especially tight hug.  When the flight attendant offered drinks, I asked for a tea.  He apologised for only having black tea, and when I said that was fine, proceeded to offer me milk with it.  Momentarily confused, I then remembered that Romanians only drink fruit tea.  The elderly Orthodox lady next to me tried to order something with three twenty pence coins, and was promptly rebuffed.  She clearly had no other English money.   I asked the attendant if I could pay for whatever it was she wanted with my change, and he nodded, kneeling down to explain this to the lady.  The smile she gave me lit up her whole face, and I was left feeling overwhelmed by the beauty of the Romanian people.  This amazing weekend, with my beautiful friend being surrounded by those that love her, has helped to me to be ever grateful for my own family.  Well done Rebecca – and thank you!  Ciao.

 

Hard Shoulder Days

 

We’d had a lovely time, Maggie and me.  We’d chatted and laughed, drunk tea and shared while our babies played contentedly, enjoying the pre-toddler peace that would evaporate in a few months when they were walking and fought over the same toys.

When it was time to leave, I strapped my baby in his car seat and off we headed to pick up his four year old sister from her play date.  It would be dark soon and there were things I needed to do before tea.

Just after joining the motorway, the car gave a tiny shudder, as if the cold February air had made it tired.  And then the engine died.  No lights.  No sound.  No illuminated dashboard.  Nothing.

We drifted to the hard shoulder where I fumbled around for my phone and the number for the rescue service.  I was surprised, to say the least, when I was told that we had to vacate the vehicle – there was a new law,  apparently, and we were now not allowed to wait in the car.  “But I have a baby!”  I protested, “and I didn’t bring our coats!”

So reassured by promises that someone would be with us within the hour, there I was, scrambling up a steep grass verge, clutching my precious child as tightly as I could while I navigated nettles and thistles, trying to find the best spot to sit.  The ground was damp from the light drizzle that permeated the air.  I sunk to the ground, feeling in my pocket the mobile phone which I’d forgotten to charge earlier, and which promised to mimic the car and die any second.

The darkness came.  I unzipped my cardigan, thankful that I’d worn one with a hood that day, and zipped it back up with my precious bundle pressed tightly to my chest; the best idea I had of keeping him warm.

And we waited.  In the dark, and the cold, and the drizzle.  Zoom!  Zoom!  Zoom!  went the other cars as they whizzed by, sending up tiny sprays of water.  Nobody noticed us.  There was not enough phone battery left for me to call a friend.  All we could do was wait.

And so we waited.  The other cars carried on with their journeys, their headlights beaming brightly, full of purpose and promise.  While we were just stuck.  Waiting.  Alone.  Invisible.

“Help!  Help!  We’re here!  Rescue us!”  I pleaded with them silently, while I nuzzled my baby’s head with my cheek for comfort.  Just him and me, fighting this silent battle of endurance, one that he would have no memory of in the future.

Tears of frustration spilled out – how stupid I was!  Not to bring a buggy, or blankets, or coats!  What kind of a mother?!  How could I have put my child in such danger?  Yet he was safe, with me, next to my beating heart.

The hour ended.  No help had come.  I rang them again, and just as I had given my policy number for the second time the phone died.  That was it now.  We were cut off, the last bit of hope gone.  All I could do now was carry on waiting, hoping, praying for rescue.

Still the cars whizzed by.  How could they not notice our dilemma?  How could they not notice us?  For another long hour we hung on, while I fought against guilt and despair and condemnation, stirring my inner Pollyanna to find things to be thankful for; singing to my child to reassure him that being stuck out in the cold was normal and not forever.

And I remembered  when I was ten.  My dad had recently been diagnosed with a brain tumour and he was in the National Neurological Hospital, having had extremely dangerous brain surgery.  I was walking down the road with my mother, and coming towards us we could see a lady we knew from church – my mum’s friend.  Before we could greet her, the lady crossed over suddenly, and as she passed us on the opposite pavement she opened her bag and pretended to rummage inside. For a moment, we stood still.  I was unsure how to react, or what to do.  It was quite apparent, even to me as a young girl, inexperienced in the ways of life, that she  had crossed deliberately so as to avoid my mother.  Yet I remember mum grabbing hold of my hand, lips pursed, chin resolutely forward.  She had this.  She was going on with the fight.  She walked on determinedly, picking up the pace – her body language teaching me that she would not give in, not give up, even if every friend deserted her.  And 30 years later  I realised that this had been a hard shoulder day. Mum had taught me that you don’t quit, when you are alone and in the dark.  She had modelled for me what to do when life hits you with its worst, and you are invisible in your pain while everybody else whizzes forward with their lives as yours is collapsing around you.  You take another step, then another, and then another.  You keep on keeping on.

And the gift she gave me then, was the gift of courage.  She showed me hers in action.  She showed me that you carry on fighting, even if you are ignored, and rejected, and alone.  She taught me that you don’t let self-pity rule your life; that you just get on with it.  Until help comes.  And it will.

Writing this and remembering her bravery, I realise that I have only survived the struggles and pain of the past year because of her.  She taught me resilience, and how to forgive.  Not just on that day, of course, but over time.  And that this road we have been travelling with our gorgeous boy, where life seemed to stop with his depression, and anxiety, and autism, is just another collection of hard shoulder days.  Some people who had formerly been our friends had crossed over and walked on by.  We’d been alone in the dark, waiting for rescue.

And it always comes.  Always.  Because God has promised never to leave us or forsake us.  He will remember us.

So if you’re stuck on the hard shoulder of life today, take heart.  It won’t be forever.  Find your inner Pollyanna, and be thankful – there is a lot to be said for counting your blessings.  If this is your first Mothering Sunday without your mum (Maggie – hugs) or your last one with your mum here on earth, be thankful.  You are who you are today because of her.  Don’t look at the whizzing cars that pass you by all bright and fast and shiny.  Look within, and see what treasures are inside you.  Your mum will live on, and through you her legacy will be passed on to others.  Thank you, Mum.  Happy Mother’s Day.  I love you to the moon and back.

Hardshoulderblog

 

Grab a cup of coffee, pull up a chair…

… and let me tell you a story.  All the chapters aren’t yet complete, but who has the luxury of enough spare time to read a book all in one go, anyway?  Because there are times when you want to read (hopefully now), and there are times when it is not a printed page which calls you, but a blank page.  The silky smooth paper summons, and as you press down the ball point of your favourite pen and watch its ink mark the snowy whiteness, you find yourself travelling back in time until the tale forms in your head, and the opening sentence begins.

This is the story of the little boy who wouldn’t go to school.

He wasn’t a naughty little boy.  And he loved to learn.  In fact, he had taught himself to read before he was even three years old (yes, really), and even though his mother had warned his nursery teacher of this fact before he even started at Early Years, she has dismissed it as merely memorising the pages of his favourite books, and assured the mother that he couldn’t possibly have any phonics knowledge.  “Well, you will find out soon,” thought the mother, knowing that this first battle with the education system was one which she would surely win.  And sure enough, before the week was out, the nursery teacher discovered that in fact the little boy could fluently read absolutely any book on her abundantly stocked shelves.

By age 5, the little boy was reading himself books such as “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe”.  As he was working with the top of the cohort in the year above, some of the children in his own year group began to resent him.  He didn’t like football, and he went to ballet classes, and he was odd, and he just didn’t fit in.  “You’re a girl!”  they would taunt him in the playground.  “You’re gay!”  The little boy didn’t understand what they were saying, but he knew he wasn’t good enough to fit in.  And so the little boy started to hide his shoes in the morning, or his book bag, or the worried mother’s keys.  Anything to delay the inevitable walk to school.

He stopped writing.  He stopped talking and just shrugged his shoulders when asked questions in class.  The caring teacher was concerned that the confident little boy she’d taught for two years had stopped trying, and she suggested to the worried mother that he should be referred to an educational psychologist. So the worried mother asked the first scary GP to refer him, and the first scary GP said, “Absolutely not!  If the school think there is a problem, THEY can refer him.”  Then the worried mother asked the mean Headteacher to refer him, and the mean Headteacher said, “Absolutely not!  THEY can refer him. There is no evidence of a bright child,”  even though they had documented his advanced reading age in Early Years.  The worried mother didn’t know what to do.  “I’m not going,” the little boy announced, “and you can’t make me!”  But they did.  Eventually he became so unhappy that one day he tried to run away, and his parents decided enough was enough.

They found the little boy a new school and he cheered up, free from the bullies and the mean Headteacher.  Yet with each passing year, he became more acutely aware that senior school loomed.  He would soon be back with those same children – but this time there would be even more of them!  All summer the little boy cried himself to sleep every single night, dreading September and wanting to die.  The worried mother would hold him until his sobs subsided, trying not to let the little boy notice the silent tears which trickled down her own cheeks and into the little boy’s hair.  She reassured him that everything would be alright – as much for herself as for him.  The sweet sister helped, and gave her little brother lots of love and lots of time, strengthening a beautiful bond between them both.

The leaves turned, and the dreaded September arrived.  The little boy managed the first day – but then it all became too much.  “I’m not going!” he announced, “and you can’t make me!”  The sweet sister was distraught.  The hardworking daddy had just gone to a different city to work, and on school mornings the worried mother left the house before the children, so the sweet sister had to get the little boy to school on her own.  Before long, the worried mother was drawn into meetings with Heads of Year and Attendance Officers who threatened to take her to court.  The little boy went to see the second kind GP who told him to take his time; he listened and promised to help.  (He did.)

Help, when it came, was not what any of them had expected.  The little boy was issued feathers, dark green feathers, and told to exhale slowly when he felt anxious.

The worried mother left the job she loved and took the little boy and his sweet sister up to the different city to join the hardworking daddy.  Another new school ensued.  The little boy managed the first day – but then it all became too much.  “I’m not going!” he announced, “and you can’t make me!”  New mean boys had called him a goblin, and he had been left hiding behind a wall crying for all of his lunchtime.  The little boy went to the third inutile GP for help asking to be referred, who reluctantly agreed only because of the second kind GP’s letter.  The worried mother was again threatened with court, but she held fast and insisted on yet another new school.

The new school was a huge success for the sweet sister.  She made friends quickly, and was universally loved by children and teachers alike.  But the little boy managed the first day – and then it all became too much.  “I’m not going” he announced, “and you can’t make me!”

The worried mother tried to encourage him.  “Just get him here, and we’ll do the rest,” the new school told her.  Yet they were soon ringing her to ask her to collect the little boy, as they couldn’t manage him.  The little boy had started to run off, and after a particularly stressful morning where he had been chased around the car park and the adjacent road by not one but three members of the Senior Leadership Team, the worried mother was relieved when the SENCO agreed that the little boy needed help.

Yet help was refused by the green feather issuers in the different city, and the worried mother was told it was because of the third inutile GP’s letter.

The little boy was by this time very poorly.  He wanted to kill himself, he couldn’t cope with the stress of school, or people, or even his own beloved family.  He had shut himself away in his room with only Lego and Nintendo for company.  The worried mother, desperate, took the little boy to A&E, where after a five hour wait they were reprimanded for wasting the doctor’s time.  The little boy and the worried mother felt sad that nobody would help them. Yet despite telling them off, the handsome young doctor managed to get them an appointment with the green feather issuers.

The worried mother was sent on a parenting course.  The hardworking daddy worked even harder and prayed it would all be ok.  The little boy was an enigma to him, and he struggled to understand why he couldn’t just do as he was told.  The sweet sister just got sweeter and sweeter, trying to cheer them all up.

The green feather issuers didn’t give the little boy green feathers.  They gave him something much more wonderful.  They gave him the Incredible Dr Hoo and Amazing Jo instead.

Amazing Jo came every two weeks to see the little boy.  He wouldn’t talk to her.  He wouldn’t even look at her.  So she listened to the worried mother instead while the little boy fiddled with his Lego.  She kept coming.  Eventually the little boy let her in his room.  He still wouldn’t talk.  But he would nod and shake his head when she asked him questions about how he felt.

After a while, Amazing Jo arranged for the little boy to see the Incredible Dr Hoo, except the little boy got so anxious he ran away, and so it was the hardworking daddy who was told by the Incredible Dr Hoo, “He has ASD (Autistic Spectrum Disorder)”.  The hardworking daddy started to understand why his little boy couldn’t manage, and that he wasn’t being naughty.  Bits of the puzzle started falling into place.

After this, the worried mother and the little boy met the benevolent Ed Psych.  They had been warned that he would be unsympathetic, that he would not want to listen, and would not want to help.  Yet the warnings were erroneous.  He saw the potential in the little boy, and he cared.  The worried mother was full of hope.

The little boy stayed in his room for eight months.  He hardly went out in all that time.   But he started to get better.  He started to talk again.  Amazing Jo had cheered him up.  Amazing Jo had cheered up the sweet sister too, and the hardworking daddy, and the worried mother (who had also hardly been able to leave the house as the little boy wasn’t always safe to leave alone).  She became an absolute lifeline to them all.

One day, the worried mother heard some good news – the little boy had been given an EHCP thanks to the benevolent Ed Psych, which meant that the threats of court were mere vapour.  The little boy wouldn’t be forced back into mainstream education.  Instead, he would go to another new school; this time a special school just for children with ASD.

The first day of school dawned – an fun afternoon instead of formal lessons.  Yet when it was time to leave, he announced, “I’m not going; please don’t make me!” And so they didn’t.  They held him tight while he sobbed and shook for over an hour.  They knew he was gradually getting better.

Amazing Jo said not to worry.  A new visit to school was arranged for the Tuesday morning.  It took the worried mother 45 minutes to get the little boy out of bed, and another 25 minutes to get him out of the car once they were there.  Yet he managed to stay for an hour.  He even let the worried mother buy him some uniform and a pair of shoes (he hadn’t worn shoes for a whole year, only Crocs!)  The next day, the little boy was still nervous, but he managed to stay at school for two hours.  And the day after that. By the Friday, he was so looking forward to going to school, he had got himself up and dressed by 6am.

The sweet sister hugged him hard – she was so delighted for him.  She loved to hear that he had friends now.  The hardworking daddy and the worried mother were thrilled beyond words.  They knew it was truly a miracle.  They knew that the little boy had taken the first steps out of the prison of mental illness and into his future.  The hardworking daddy decided that he wasn’t going to work so hard, and that he would try and and have more quality time with the little boy.  So he became the solaced daddy instead.

The worried mother reflected on the lonely months in the house with the little boy.  She had so missed her friends and her work colleagues from home, and had battled loneliness along with him.  Yet she had seen the heart of this little boy, and learnt that he was truly a priceless treasure.  She loved his sense of humour, his use of wit and irony.  She loved his fierce bravery, his persistent refusal to give up and his compassionate desire to help others.  She learnt that he loved words and writing just like she did, and it thrilled her that he could use his words, full of passion, for good.  She knew that God had given her the most wonderful little person to love.  He had become not just her little boy, but a true friend.  She was blessed.

The blessed mother wondered how she could ever thank all the people that had rescued them and helped them escape from their prison.  There were many  who had made  a difference, and how could she possibly explain to them the depths she had travelled to?  How could she excuse her lack of contact with friends from the outside world? She hoped they would understand that it had just been too hard to share how dark those months had been, and that they would still love her anyway.  She knew that without Amazing Jo and the Incredible Dr Hoo, they would have been sunk, and maybe the little boy might have even travelled up to heaven.  She would never be able to thank them enough.

standrews

 

 

 

 

Meltdowns and Telephones

So a lot has changed this week.  I have a job!  I still can’t believe it.  As most of you will know, I have been a Teaching Assistant for nine years now and it is a fabulous role for me.  I love children.  I love helping.  And I love learning, books and education.  So it has been the perfect job, and I have been WAY happier doing that than I ever was as a Theatrical Agent, (the job I originally trained for) without the pressure and long hours and daily travelling across London.  I have found that children are generally accepting, less judgemental and appreciate my silly sense of humour.

When I first left home, I flat-shared with my best friend (we had been planning this since we were fourteen) and the guy in the next door flat had a crush on me. I had to check the coast was clear before I could go out, and avoided answering the door as much as possible, making my flatmate do it.  After answering the door to him three times in one day to borrow sugar or whatever it was he wanted, she then answered the door to the old lady below who had come up to complain about me.  With a sigh, my flatmate remarked that I was  like Marmite: people either absolutely loved me to bits or couldn’t stand me.  I have always felt loved in school, so after SATS I felt sad that my job had ended (although the timing was perfect in that it allowed me to be with my mum while she was in hospital).

Out of the blue, I received a phone call from a Headteacher who had heard about me from the Head of the last school I’d worked in.  When I’d started at a Norfolk school last January, one of my responsibilities was to run groups during assembly time for children who found it more difficult to form friendships.  They played number bingo, and pairs, which they enjoyed but I felt was a little dull.  In no time we were having exciting “cup matches” – table football with scrunched up pieces of paper, progressing quickly on to competitions with Nerf guns and plastic bottles.  Suddenly everybody wanted to be in their friendship groups – even children from other classes!  I was taken aback to find out that the Head knew all about this (despite the frequent complaints we got from other teachers as we were making too much noise!).

So my first inset day is on September 1st.  This means that in 2016 I will have moved house and started a new job the very next day, TWICE.  Gulp!  I am not sure if I should be proud of this achievement or not!

Also this week, my beautiful boy has been diagnosed with Aspergers.  It is a huge relief to both of us that the difficulties he’s been suffering finally have a name, but also a little daunting to think about the future.  He has pretty much missed the whole of Year 7 due to his panic attacks and inability to cope with the social side of school life.  We have no idea whether he will be able to successfully reintegrate back into mainstream; time will tell.  I do remember his Early Years teacher telling me certain things which now make perfect sense, although they didn’t at the time due to my lack of understanding of this type of Autism.  There is an excellent link here if you are interested in learning more: http://www.firstdiscoverers.co.uk/asperger-syndrome-children/

We have been out twice recently when he has had a meltdown in a public place; he can’t control his emotions and becomes overwhelmed.  This has resulted in varying reactions from people shaking their heads at our inability to quieten our child to sympathetic smiles from kind people who I could hug.  What a wonderful virtue kindness is, and what a difference it can make.  If you’re reading this, you have shown me kindness at some point, and I thank you and hug you too!  Friends, family and love – I am blessed with all three.  Life is good.

IMG_9231

Trees, Trains and Trailing Roses

In the last two and a half weeks, I have been to stay in London three times.  Without my children. As far as I can remember, in the fifteen years since my daughter was born, I can only remember going alone once overnight: for a family funeral.  This time, I was going to support my mum after her diagnosis of the little “c”.  (As I once heard somebody say, cancer is the little “c”, not the big “C”, for the big “C” stands for Christ, and He is bigger than any problem.)

Just as my sister was about to ring for a minicab, so that we could go and hear from the consultant whether the little “c” had spread, the phone rang and they told us that mum’s appointment had been cancelled, oh, and by the way, the cancer hadn’t spread.  In a daze, instead of a hospital room, we found ourselves at a favourite pub in Twickenham having a celebration lunch.

It was miraculous.  One minute there had been talk of palliative care and hospices; the next, of surgery and general anaesthetics – something that they had previously feared mum’s weak heart could not cope with.  Nevertheless, she had passed all the tests and proved them wrong.  After lunch, I ran errands – wandering around Ealing Broadway for what must have been the first time in at least ten years.  Lots had changed.  The same, but different.  Same Town Square, different shops.  The club where we did lots of our growing up was still there, only it was called “Karma” now, not “Broadway Boulevard”.  The gorgeous art shop on the corner of Bond Street was the same, full of inspiring and original pieces whose prices even now made me suck air through my teeth.

IMG_8787It was walking through the parks, however, that drew me back to my past and my happy childhood.  These tall, majestic trees had heard mini-me laugh, seen me run, chase friends, play tennis and, later, kiss boys.  One or two anyway.  Those same trees stood proud, prompting me to remember.  Same branches, different leaves.  The same, but different.  They seemed smaller now. And I was grown up, yet I felt smaller inside.  Gone were the assumptions of youth – replaced instead by the realities of an adult life.  I looked at the playground  (which bizarrely had jumped across the path to the other side of the bandstand) and listened to the children’s voices; they echoed those of my childhood friends.  Friends I loved still.  Memories from years ago resurfaced: of school trips trudging across these parks in the cold, learning the names of the types of trees in Brownies, performing on a festival stage to a large crowd, picnics, robins and the thrill of being allowed to “hang out” with your mates listening to a cassette of tunes taped from Capital Radio.

Memories.  Some are painful, remembering those no longer a part of our lives, and the loss of childhood confidence.  Yet the happy ones are jewels, helping us to remember that we sparkle still – a smile is still a smile.  Assessing life’s journey, and its purpose, and thinking about how God weaves all our experiences together to make us stronger.

IMG_8991As I got on a packed train 48 hours later, I was sad to leave my mum and sister – I’d enjoyed replaying the past and loved the family banter, yet now it was time to be an adult again.  Clutching my ticket, I was surprised to see somebody sitting in “my” seat.  Upon comparing tickets, we remarked how silly it was of the train company to issue us both with the same number.  He suggested I sit in the empty space next to him instead.  This charming young man then started chatting, and before long we were having an incredible conversation, real and honest, about life, grace and relationships, in the full hearing of the passengers around us. Which was a total surprise to both of us.

How refreshing it was to meet this beautiful soul, only eighteen years old, and how privileged I felt that he shared his heart with me on the train that day.  His enthusiasm for life was infectious, and in no time I felt enthused about my own future, and the reality of what Jesus had done for me on the cross.  My new friend had no idea of what a special boy he was, and as he shared his plans to work among the poor of Nicaragua this summer I felt deeply moved that God had let us have the same seat booked to encourage me.  I am the same – the same person I was as a child, literary, dramatic, music-loving.  Yet I am different because I understand now why I’m alive, and I know Who walks alongside me in my struggles.

I had some precious time with mum while she was in hospital.  It was wonderful to be with her, to reminisce and laugh together.  She is truly amazing; as strength, courage, warmth and dignity in suffering was modelled to mum by her own mother, so has she modelled it to me throughout my life.  As we were leaving for her surgery, I tried to hold back the roses which were hanging over the path.  I offered to prune them in her absence, but she was horrified by the suggestion of cutting them down while they were in full bloom.  So every day I would step over the little fence at the end of the garden as I found the roses trailing over the path too annoying to bother fighting with.

IMG_8985When mum stepped out of the taxi after being discharged from hospital, she exclaimed, “My roses!” She stopped and cupped a flower tenderly in her hand, slowly and carefully inhaling its scent, tears in her eyes – so thankful to be alive and so happy to be finally home.  I was ashamed.  How had I missed such beauty?  In my mad rushing around I had failed to see the roses as a blessing, instead they had been to me a thorny nuisance.  I’d missed it.  Which is true of many of the “thorns” in my life – they also contain a lesson and, yes, even a blessing too, if only I’d look and see what is right there in front of me.  “This has been one of the best weeks of my life!”  Mum continued as I stared at her incredulously, lost for words as to how she could possibly think that.  “I never realised before how many people cared so deeply about me,” she explained.  Trailing roses.  With a lump in my throat, I realised how much I still have to learn.  Such gratitude and grace, in the midst of so much trauma.  Such beauty in people, and such power in love.

 

 

The Slog of the Slugs

IMG_8712SATS ended today, and so did my job.  I’m sad to leave as I love being a TA.  It is my dream job!  Especially when I have been lucky enough to work with a fantastic teacher who lets me shine.  I really love it.  Although I’m aware that that doesn’t sound very ambitious, it’s like being able to do the best bit of a teacher’s job (teaching) and yet have time to actually connect with the children without the immense pressure a teacher’s job entails.

“But don’t you want to be a teacher?”  I’m occasionally asked.  Well, maybe.  But under the present government, er, no.  From what I’ve seen, too much hard slog.

This morning, at 6am, I was walking around outside, bleary-eyed and drinking in the fresh, cool air.  I’d signed up for the 6am prayer slot in our church’s “24 Hours of Prayer”.  Life seemed everywhere – the blossom, the birds, the flowers. As I paced and prayed, I noticed quite a large number of slugs and snails slowly making their way across the car park.  They were all heading in the same direction: away from the green grass and towards a brick wall.  As I looked over to the wall, I noticed a number of dead slugs which got me wondering.

Why did they leave the grass?  What was there for them to eat in the middle of a car park?  How long did they live?  How big were their brains?  Clearly not that big, or why would they be heading to certain destruction?  The snails could get a bit of shelter from the heat of the sun with their shells, but not the slugs.  They just kept moving, very slowly, until they died.  They slogged on, across this huge expanse of hard ground, without realising that all that was at the end of the car park was death.

This week we got the devastating news that my mum’s breast cancer is the worst type – aggressive, oestrogen resistant and hard (though not impossible) to treat. The previous day I had seen my friend’s post on facebook in support of a hospice, encouraging everybody to talk about and accept the inevitability of their own death.

We are all faced with our own mortality at times.  Yet we are not slugs, pointlessly slogging on across the car park of life.  We are given the choice in that we choose what we believe.  Our lives are not pointless. We choose whether or not to accept the gift of eternal life that God offers – we choose whether we will have faith in His Son Jesus Christ.  And He guides us – if we are in a barren car park it is because He wants us there for a reason.  Perhaps there are slugs that need saving.  I couldn’t resist picking up a small snail and placing it gently back on the grass (though I wasn’t brave enough to rescue any of their shell-less relatives).  “Live!”  I told it, “Live while you have the chance!”

So it is with us.  We must make the most of life while we can, for it is fleeting.  Yet if you have the assurance of a Saviour and believes He prepares a place for you, there is no sting in death.  I know my beloved mum will eventually go to a far better place where she will be reunited with her husband and mother: the ones she’s loved and who have gone before.  For her there will be no more pain, no more sickness, no more sorrow.  Only joy unspeakable, never-ending.  What a promise we have.

When I started this job, in early January, it was bitterly cold.  Everything was unfamiliar and hard.  As I walked to school, it seemed to constantly rain and the cars splashed my legs with the water which ran in rivulets at the side of the road.  There was no escape.  Head down, under my umbrella, I noticed a particularly nice pair of boots walking next to a little dog.  The next day, I saw them again, and said “Hello!”, yet my voice was drowned by the noise of the engines and the water.  The next day the rain was only drizzle, and I repeated my greeting only to see the umbrella move slightly downwards towards the stylish boots.  The challenge was on.

“Hello!”  I chirped brightly, every morning.  The dog lady, I called her.  She was bundled up with a scarf around her face, only her eyes showing.  She didn’t seem to notice me, or maybe she was extremely shy, which only made me more determined.  I would look out for her, crossing over if I saw her on the other side of the road.  I wanted to brighten her day and be friendly.  The dog lady ignored me for several weeks.  I carried on anyway.  Her eyes were always on the ground, or on her dog.  Nothing; no response, no acknowledgement of my cheery attempt to greet her.

Then one day, she surprised me with a tiny hello back.  It was quiet, reserved, and if it had been raining that day, I would have missed it.  Yet I knew it was significant and I was jubilant.  The dog lady had  said hello!  After that, she responded every time.  “Hello!”  I would chirp, and she would softly answer.  But her eyes stayed firmly downwards.  We carried on like this for a couple of months at least.

This week was my last week at work.  We were in a routine, the dog lady and I, which I was about to break.  Amazingly, incredibly, as I said hello for what was probably the last time, she looked up and made eye-contact, and she smiled.  THE DOG LADY SMILED! 

Who is your dog lady?  Who can you smile at?  Who needs your cheer and your offer of friendship?  Smile more.  Because life can be a hard slog for those who don’t know where they’re going, or where they’re headed, or are just trying to navigate cold, hard ground.  Let’s bring joy and kindness to whoever we can, while we still have time.

A prime lens kind of girl

IMG_8617So those of you who know me will be familiar with my love of cameras.  Oh, the feel of the body when you focus, the joy of hearing the shutter click, the thrill of capturing that image perfectly as you had imagined it in your mind’s eye.  Ever since I was a small girl and had begged my dad to “Let me have a go!”, I was instantly hooked.  Life looked incredible through a lens.

At 12 I bought my first camera, a “110 film”, a long piece of black plastic which, once I had shot my first roll, shocked me into oblivion when I found out how much it cost to process.  I knew even then that most of the shots were rubbish and I longed to improve.  I started to take “photo stories” which I naively thought I could get published in Jackie magazine – I planned storyboards and staged dramatic accidents which had my poor sister lying in the gutter with her bike strategically placed on top of her, while I ran around shooting from different angles!  At 13 I took on a paper round, initially so that I could afford to take as many photos as I wanted – but then the pop music bug bit me big time and my meagre wages were swallowed by vinyl instead of film.

When my wonderful parents asked what I would like for my eighteenth birthday, I said a camera.  And a watch (Snoopy was no longer cool by this time and I found the bright yellow strap the recipient of unwanted male comments).  Dad took me shopping to choose the watch – a “sensible” Seiko with a round gold face.  I felt like a proper grown up in this!  He’d wanted me to have something that would last.  (A year later when he was diagnosed with terminal cancer that watch was to bring me great comfort in the months ahead, giving me a link with him after his death.)  Anyway, I digress – back to the longed-for camera.  I had imagined myself with a big SLR slung trendily over my shoulder, snapping London street scenes and stars (the musical rather than the celestial).  So I was a little unprepared for the tiny, flat box my mother proudly handed me, her eyes shining.  My heart sunk;  no way was there a camera in there!  Wrong again.  “It’s a disc camera!” she explained excitedly, “the very latest technology!”.  I appreciated the love (if not the camera).

Moving on swiftly.  It wasn’t long before my boyfriend-at-the-time guided me through the maze of SLR choices by encouraging me to buy an identical model to his.  I bought one second hand – unfortunately it was faulty and I couldn’t take it back.  Stumped again.  I accepted that at this stage of my life serious photography was outside of my budget and sadly settled for a point-and-shoot.  But the dream never died….

Fast forward twelve years.  My boyfriend was now my husband.  It can take him quite a long time to get round to things, but when he does, he does them well.  After the ring, the wedding, the honeymoon (where we were still using the old camera body he’d had for his ‘A’ levels), and the birth of two children, he eventually bought me a “proper” camera all of my own.  Oh, the joy!  The excitement!  Little did I know that this hobby I’d loved since childhood would provide opportunities to engage in a new way with educational establishments, dancing shows, churches… I could go on.  Despite being aware of my lack of formal training, I was soon taking photos for headteachers – calenders, art weeks, end-of-year productions.  This led naturally on for me to discover how to capture moving images and make videos – I was captivated by the pleasure it had the potential to bring.  The thrill of watching children’s faces when they saw themselves on their residential school trip – priceless!  My technically brilliant husband was a constant source of encouragement, providing support and advice, always insisting that my photos were much better than his (though not true as we each have our own areas of strength).

So now I take photos for my church (onechurch.uk), for their website and social media platforms.  I will relinquish this post most likely when somebody more talented or with better kit comes along.  I am aware that my photos lack professionalism, and that my six-year-old-which-in-digital-terms-is-now-rather-ancient entry-level camera struggles to cope at times.  But I still feel such delight when I do manage to capture the shot I’d hoped for.

Which brings me back to the heading of this blog.  We own three lenses – (if you don’t count the mug cleverly disguised as a lens – sorry Mr Robinson!  Couldn’t resist mentioning this one!! ).  A macro lens which is too technical for my basic camera body to cope with, an everyday zoom lens 18mm-135mm which I use for church and a 50mm prime lens.  You basically use your feet to zoom.  This is the one that gets me going.

I love focusing on just one object.  This is where the prime lens really comes into its own.  The background fades, and becomes a beautiful part of the bigger picture.  Your eye is drawn to what you focus on.

IMG_5445Taking a portrait?  Focus on the eyes.  They are crisper, brighter, cleaner, full of light and life.  Who notices that little spot on the person’s chin now.

IMG_7945Taking landscape?  Focus on the tree.  The way it hangs or stands proud, its angle and its beauty. Who notices the grey clouds now.

IMG_9072 Taking a close-up?  Even the detail on a piece of pipe can stand out as a thing of beauty against a sea of red brick.  What you focus on matters.

So it is with life.  Focus on what you have, and you won’t notice so much what you lack.  Focus on kindness and you will notice how much of it is actually in your life.  Focus on encouraging others, and the words of criticism which might have popped out of your mouth will evaporate.  Having the right focus can transform a picture.  It can transform you. Focus.

 

Colour

So I created this blog three months ago, after we’d just moved and I was determined to fill friends and family in on our exciting Norfolk adventures.  Except, they weren’t exciting.  And they got harder and harder.  Each time I could feel my confidence slowly eroding – surely people wouldn’t want to hear about that? I wanted to inspire, to entertain, yet how could I do that when things felt so horrible, so difficult, so lonely and painful?  I didn’t want sympathy.  How could I be “real” without making it seems as if I was complaining?  Or being disloyal to be few people in Norfolk who had shown genuine friendliness?  What I wanted was to sneak back to Hertfordshire, walk through my front door in Baldock and see everything there just as it should be – our living room littered with Lego and school bags.  I wanted my old life back.  Especially my job.  But how could I admit that without hurting my husband who was so desperate for me to be happy here?

And so my blog stayed empty.  The lack of posts reflected the inner emptiness I felt.  On my first day in Norfolk (the day in which I started my new, temporary job) I placed a piece of paper into the recycling bin only to be told, “White paper only, no colour.”  No colour!!  That seemed to describe exactly what was wrong with my new life.  The bright colours of our little house were replaced with magnolia and blandness.  The sky was endless grey, and it never seemed to stop raining.  I started endless letters to friends.  And ripped them all up because I just couldn’t be honest without letting them know how miserable I was.

Then I got sick.  It started with a vomiting bug.  Which triggered a terrible migraine.  Which was followed by a bad attack of HS (the chronic rare skin disease I suffer from, Hydradenitis Suppurativa).  After four consecutive courses of different antibiotics, there were no more to try and surgery loomed.  I begged the doctor to give me one more course of penicillin.  She did – and thankfully they worked.  But oh, the struggle of trying to get your children settled in school, in a new area, and trying to get used to a new job, whilst longing for your understanding colleagues, while you are still living out of boxes, and you are not sleeping because of the pain.  Shopping was the worst.  Used to Tesco, I was delighted that there was a local Tesco a five minute drive away.  But that became frustrating because the range was so limited, and I was used to buying anything I needed (What? They don’t sell jalapenos? REALLY?!!).  So I would drive half an hour across the city to go to a “proper” Tesco, only to wander round in tears because I couldn’t find anything and it made me feel so homesick.

“God, why am I here?”  I would rant.  “Why have you sent us to this place?”  He was the problem.  At this point, I invite my atheist friends and family to read the following line: WE ARE FINE NOW!  YES, REALLY!! WE WILL SEE YOU SOON HOPEFULLY!!! BIG HUGS!!!!!  Please feel free to log off as now I am going to have to talk about God.  I have tried and failed writing to please every audience, the problem being that my faith is such a part of me, the major part of me, that it is impossible to be real and express who and how I really am without talking about God.  So I do invite you, dear reader, to check out now if it’s not your cup of tea.  I understand.

The ache in my heart was huge.  How could God let me get sick when we had given up everything to come and live up here?  Why hadn’t our house sold?  Surely, if He wanted us up here, He was going to sort it?  Hurry up, Lord; why is it taking You so long?  The house didn’t sell.  We were warned that we needed to hurry up and vacate our temporary accommodation.  We found tenants and a house for us to rent; then on the day of signing contracts, it was found that the tenants had lied on their application form and the whole thing collapsed.  In the middle of the worst week I couldn’t bear to even go on facebook to see my friends continuing their lives without me (and even daring to be happy!).  Then I received three gifts.  God is like that, when things are tough and He knows you might doubt Him, He makes it really clear.  The first was a gift of socks.  Soft, gorgeous pairs of socks without tight elastic immediately rendering them the only ones I would wear.  They spelled l-o-v-e.  Thank you Lord for my thoughtful friend.  The second gift was slippers.  Wrapped oh-so-tightly in layers of cling film and tape to squash them down, sent from Romania by another thoughtful friend.  My feet went from socks of love to slippers of love.  And each time I would swap one from the other (I loved the feel of the sheepskin slippers on my bare feet so off would come the socks!), I noticed the silver nail polish from the staff Christmas do.  I had been so happy that night.  I felt truly loved.  And full of hope – before it was ebbed out of me by sickness and lack of colour.  I decided that I would not take the nail polish off, and that God needed to do something before it completely disappeared.  “Lord, You have to change things before that nail polish goes!”  I railed.  “Change me or change our situation!”

I would not recommend bossing God around, however He is big enough to understand that sometimes we can’t cope.  The third gift arrived from yet another thoughtful friend (how much more I value friendship now then I ever have in the whole of my life).  This time, it was a CD:  Sing on the Battlefield by Kathryn Scott.  Oh, the timing.  I melted.  There I sat, in my love-slippers or my love-socks listening to a message of love, from the Lover of my soul.  For a week I listened to nothing else.  I sang it in the shower, tears washed away by tiny jets of water.  I sang it in the rain with my headphones in walking to work (raindrops washing silent tears this time).  It became my anthem, the theme tune to this hard period of my life.  It is so easy to say to God, “Send me!  You are my Lord!  I’ll go where ever you want!  I’ll do whatever You say!”  And then He sends and there is loss, and there is sadness, and then you get angry and say “Why here, Lord?  Don’t You love me any more?”  Yet you know deep down that it is not about you, there is a bigger picture that He sees, and He will weave the cottons together to make a beautiful tapestry in the end, but right now it is just a big mess of loose ends.

Somehow those three months disappeared.  Spring started to show.  Colour came back in the form of daffodils and crocuses.  My daughter showed signs of joy in being at her new church and new school, blossoming along with the flowers, her life coloured with new friendships.  We were blessed with a bursary to Spring Harvest, where I was to hear life-changing words.

“When God asks and you say yes to Him, it is the start of a beautiful adventure where you will be changed.”  exclaimed the preacher, “However, what people don’t realise is that if you say no, you will also be changed.  He never forces you, but say no and your heart will become a little bit colder towards Him, and you will begin a slow, slippery descent into lukewarmness.”

I was changed.  Right then, in an instant.  The joy came back, flooded back, purple and scarlet and yellow, royal blue and duck-egg green.  Colour.  He was what mattered!  I wanted Him.  If that meant giving up my house, so what?  If that meant moving away from my friends, so what?  Those that were true friends would love me still.  Yet here I had an opportunity to serve – in whatever capacity, whatever that meant, to smile and pray and help and build.  I had hope.  That Norwich would be a city changed by the power of God, empty lives would be filled with love and dreams and purpose, and I would be a tiny part of that.  Because the reality is, the essence of the gospel is, that Jesus died that we might live.  That the world might know that there is a Saviour who promises eternal life, who offers comfort like none other, and His name is Christ.  And He brings colour into our empty, bland, magnolia lives.  He brings love.  And people need to know.  And that’s why I’m alive.

Oh, and the nail polish?  There is the tiniest trace left.  He did it.  Time to paint them again.  Not silver, but bright.  Colour has arrived.

Toes