Sunday, 31 May 2020

Sat/Sun 30-31 May

Saturday morning was a slow one. Tim and I had admitted to one another the night before how tired we felt, and had decided to postpone our plans for an early run until Sunday. It felt delicious, in that way that feels unique to weekend mornings, to prepare coffee and bagels and to sit on the balcony in the morning light. (For me, no weekend morning is truly complete without a full quota of physical newsprint, but hey, I'll take the bagels and coffee without complaint.)

I could see from our daughter's face, as she walked out to join us, that she was thoughtful and glum. I didn't pay too much attention, honestly, given the predisposition of most teenagers to look glum when they first haul themselves out of bed in the morning. And then she started talking.

"How are you going to explain all this to Manu?"

Out it all tumbled, from a face lined with sleep and framed by bed-tousled red hair. Her anxiety about the news she's seen coming out of the United States. The sense of connection she feels to issues of race, being older sibling to her Xhosa-born sister. The felt proximity of events that are taking place many thousands of miles away, that are nevertheless rising from a shared historical reality.

She feels our common humanity and is not yet inured by hard-and-fast delineations to believe that she is disqualified from speaking out.

"What are you going to DO?!" She fixed her teary eyes on us, daring us to back down, to say nothing.

And what are we going to do? How do we respond to this horror-filled tale of injustice and suffering? We are returned yet again to the gut-wrenching question of how we are to live - as Christ followers, as ones whose very lives are to be messages of the way of hope - in the mess and mire of a broken world. Do we look the other way? Do we say it's not our mess? Do we medicate ourselves with shopping and entertainment for fear that our gaze will make the matter more unbearably real? 

We talked with our angry, incredulous daughter about the ways we have sought to live over the years. The ways we have tried to give honour, and share burdens, and repent for the sins of our fathers. But even as the words came out of my mouth, they sounded thin in the air between us. It's not enough, is it? What could ever be enough in the face of so much multi-layered and deep-rooted pain?

The only response I can think of that seems honest and honouring is that of lament. To join in with the long tradition of sorrowful yearning - whether with words or without them - for rescue and redemption. The thesaurus offers other words for lament. Words like bemoan, wail, deplore, howl, and weep. It sounds to me like a wake. Could it be that we are invited to simply sit alongside those who are suffering and to let our groans join theirs, our deep visceral longing for something new finding expression in a wordless keening?

We hate it don't we? The unutterable discomfort of sitting with the suffering other. We'll do an awful lot to avoid it; distract, dissociate, dissemble. I have to own that, I find my whole body wants to run out of the room where someone is experiencing such soul-pain. But it seems that the only way through grief - the only way - is to feel its weight, to hold its burden, to face the apparent immutability of the rock face before us and somehow to keep on going. Not to keep on going in some sort of misguided desire to submerge pain in action, but to keep going in faith that together we will find a way through. Eventually.

Today is Pentecost Sunday. While we so often associate the gift of the Holy Spirit with celebration (I find myself thinking of tambourines and spontaneous dancing, an image entirely at odds with how I feel right now), I wonder if today we are invited to the wordless groans that are just as true of the Spirit of God?

"The creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed ... in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.

"We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.

"In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God." (Romans 8:19-27)

As we talked and prayed with our confused teen, filled as she is with righteous anger, it's likely that lament simply doesn't seem sufficient. And it's true that wherever we become aware of an invitation to action that is truly motivated by love and humility, then we should respond wholeheartedly. Lament is not an excuse for inaction. But while we look for that invitation, that nudge, that opportunity, what else is there?

Lord, have mercy. Holy Spirit, come.

Friday, 29 May 2020

Friday 29 May

This will be just a fun Friday catch-up:

I got my hair cut! What a great feeling, in spite of the weirdness of waiting outside the salon before being admitted, and wearing a mask while he washed and cut. It feels so good to get all the length off the back of my neck. I've already heard from several friends who are still not able to visit the hairdresser - some whose husbands or friends have cut their hair (very brave!), one who tried attaching hair extensions, one who took to her head with a pair of hair clippers, and others who are quietly going mad with frustration as their hair gets longer and longer, and they feel less and less like themselves. All I can say is, I feel you and I'm sorry!

I went in the pool! This is only momentous because for 2 weeks now, the rest of the family have been enjoying the above-ground pool we put up for the summer. They do give me a lot of flack for not joining them in the pool, but truly, I need it to be 38-40°C before I can totally get under the water (such a wimp). I thought standing in the water was a good first step for now!

Flowers were delivered to the house! I was so surprised, since this is the first time I have received a flower delivery since we moved to Spain. It was from one of the lovely people who took part in the online retreat we did yesterday. I don't know about you, but it tends to be pretty rare that people spontaneously offer feedback after teaching or events (not a bad thing - it keeps one's focus on the real reason for doing it) and this felt really special. Plus: flowers! One of my favourite things.

I bought Manu clothes and she liked what I chose! Seriously, over these months she has grown out of so many clothes that she had just two t-shirts and two pairs of shorts that still fit her. I saw a local store was open - with only one other person inside - and found some lovely sporty options for a great deal. An all around win! And she's just the cutest 12 year old you could ever hope to see.

Another milestone was Sabbath meal shared in person with our people (yay!). And in between all this, online meetings, writing for various projects, and nudges forward in plans for the future. An ordinary-beautiful-ordinary day!

Thursday, 28 May 2020

Thursday 28 May

Today saw me experimenting with an online retreat offering. There has been a lot of talk about the way that the pandemic, and resulting lockdown, has opened up the opportunity for people to enjoy a less hurried, more spacious time of connecting with God and with their own hearts. That got me thinking - because so often we can have good intentions about laying aside our responsibilities and distractions, but it's actually very hard to do without a little bit of structure. Somehow it seemed important to offer a kind of 'container' to some retreat time at home. I knew that would help me, and I thought it might help others too.

So I found myself writing this article, suggesting some ways that people might enter into a time of withdrawal, refreshing and recalibration. And then I got on the Zoom bandwagon and offered a morning and afternoon connection time, for those who might find it helpful to bookend their individual time with some group process and connection.

I have my reservations about the limitations of online connection when it comes to facilitating these interpersonal moments of reflection. There is a very special quality - that is hard to articulate - when a few people gather with the purpose of being honest about their lives and inviting God into that reality. I have come to love the unmistakable moment when the conversation sinks to a deeper level of awareness and authenticity. And this happens, not just because of the words that are spoken, but thanks to the atmosphere, body language, and a shared experience of the presence of God. While I am grateful for the capacity to connect online with those in other locations, I would never want to substitute all of our flesh and blood connections with the two-dimensional experience of Zoom!

So, you can tell that these retreat bookends were experimental. And, on balance, I felt it was very much worthwhile. As I said, not as a substitute for a group retreat in person, but certainly as a support to individual times of reflection at home. It helps to have a clear way to mark the beginning and end of retreat time, as well as having some idea of ways to enter into the process. I think closing by having a space to share some of the things that seemed important during the day really helps to cement those things in your own heart. And of course, never underestimate the power of a good question!

In between the 'bookends' I was not on retreat myself, but helping Keziah complete her application form for the course in medical herbalism. That has now been sent off, which feels like a very good step forward. In other news, Tim was revamping an elderly table with a couple of coats of chalk paint. I think it's worked well and now, needless to say, I can see many other pieces of furniture that would benefit from a little transformation. There's never any shortage of things for Tim to do, that's for sure (would hate for him to be bored!).

I'm extremely excited to be going for a haircut tomorrow! Not quite sure how my hairdresser will navigate a wash, cut and blow dry around my face mask, but you live and learn, right?!

Wednesday, 27 May 2020

Wednesday 27 May

Today I found myself thinking about locks. Not the key-in-a-lock variety, but canal locks that enable boats to navigate a waterway crossing unlevel ground.

Are you familiar with these? Essentially, the boat moves from the main canal and enters a narrow channel, or chamber. The lock gates are closed, shutting the boat into its confined space. Underwater sluice gates are opened so that the water in the chamber is emptied out, and naturally as the water level goes down so does the boat (it can of course happen in reverse, filling the chamber and lifting the boat). 

Now anyone on the boat would become even more aware of their confinement within the high, dark walls above them. Once the water in the chamber has reached the same level as the water in the part of the canal into which the boat is moving, then the lock gates ahead can be opened and the boat and her passengers can continue on their way. (You can watch a 2 minute timelapse video here.)

I wonder the extent to which you have experienced this unusual time of lockdown as a canal lock? I can identify with the feeling of moving from the main flow of the waterway into this strange sort of concrete box. There's been the same sense of confinement, of restricted movement; the same sense of normal life being emptied out. In my imagination, I can see that the rising dark walls that create the hidden place for the boat; lockdown has some distinct similarities.

I wonder how the purpose of the lock might help us to reframe this unusual season? Without its time in lockdown, the boat cannot continue to navigate the waterway. It would be completely stuck because the level at which it needs to be for its future journey is deeper than the level at which it began. What if we need to reach new depths in our inner lives if we are to be rightly positioned for that towards which we are moving, as individuals, as families and even as nations?

If the gate of the lock were to open prematurely, it would be disastrous. Most likely the boat would get battered beyond repair. The change in the level of the water would be so sudden as to be destructive. The place of confinement allows a regulated shift in the flow of the water, so that the boat is safe. I don't know about you, but I often find the place of waiting goes on much longer than I would choose! I wonder how much damage I would incur if things moved according to my speedy timeframe, rather than to God's?

In what ways has your experience of lockdown been reminiscent of a canal lock? How do you feel about this time of darkness and deepening, of restricted movement and reduced vision? In what ways might the idea of being prepared for 'life on a new level' help you to perceive this season in a new light?

Tuesday, 26 May 2020

Tuesday 26 May

Today had me thinking about endings and new beginnings. And the often lengthy pause between knowing that something will end and discovering the new thing that will begin.

In the month before we all realised that the pandemic was a pandemic, I was chatting with my spiritual director. I shared with her some of the early signs of things shifting in the lives of our family members. A daughter returning from some months overseas and looking for what she wants to do with her life. A husband moving out of some leadership responsibilities and looking for the turn that will take him into the next season of ministry. Wonderings about whether to stay in our current location for the duration of our youngest daughter's remaining school years. We wondered if we were coming to a fork in the road.

My spiritual director listened as I laid all this out and then remarked, 'It sounds like you might want to create some room in your life for the process of discernment.'

Thinking back to that now almost makes me laugh-snort my cup of coffee. At the time, I began to think about what I might say 'no' to in order to be present to this slow process of unfolding plans. Within weeks, things that I had thought were firm 'yeses' began to fall away. Training programs were postponed, ministry centres were closed, social commitments were cancelled. Well, that'll take care of it, I thought. Nothing like a pandemic to create an invitation for listening and discernment!

Today we received an email relating to one of the possible directions we thought our lives might be taking. It's a firm no. And while it's strange to think of that storyline being interrupted before it really got going, we had prayed for clarity. A no is as clear an answer as a yes, I guess.

So, we have our no. We are still figuring out what the yes might entail.

Today our eldest daughter has been completing the application form for a 4 year program in medical herbalism. It would mean her moving to the UK during term-time and would give her the opportunity to stretch her wings. The course material seems like it would be a really good fit for her areas of interest. These are the moments that herald the end of childhood and the beginning of adulthood. To find how to offer your unique contribution to the world in that place where 'your gladness and the world's deep hunger meet,' as Frederick Buechner said, it's quite the process. It can feel messy and uncertain in that middle place of listening, and paying attention, and searching, and choosing.

And whether you're 18 or 48, I don't think that messy middle place gets any easier. Between the prospect of one thing ending and the clarity of a new thing beginning is a whole lot of wondering and waiting. But we've been there before, so perhaps we have a little more tolerance for the place of not knowing. It's okay - it's a place to lean into for a while, you don't have to live there forever.

How about you? Has the unsought for journey of lockdown raised some questions for you about what might be next? How are you leaning into the process of discernment initiated by those questions?

Monday, 25 May 2020

Monday 25 May

Day 71 and I am wondering how long to keep blogging each day as lockdown opens up. It's like those times when I have done a 'running streak' - a season of running every day. You get into such a groove that it's hard to stop. You've told yourself so many times to get off your butt and do the daily discipline, that stopping feels like an aberration.

Anyway, today was a good day, a hard day, and a good day again. Ever have one of those?!

It started off with me feeling like I was taking Monday by the horns and riding it into submission (somehow I have the image of me riding a big black bull, sort of a combination of Spanish and rodeo imagery, which captures my Monday morning feeling perfectly). I was up early, I read and journalled, went off for a 5km run and followed it up with an hour long workout. I was done in time to have breakfast with the family and I felt invincible!

Note to the wise: when you get these feelings, take a moment to breathe it in. Savour it as you would a baby's skin. It's beautiful but it ain't gonna last.

I had decided that at lunchtime we would have a family chat about rights, responsibilities and privileges. In my mind, this would be a relaxed, friendly talk with lots of laughter and we would all come to a place of easy agreement about how these legs of our three-legged stool support our family environment in a peaceful and stable manner.

Well, let's just say it didn't go down like that.

It sounded so good in my head, my intentions were certainly loving. And yet it still went pear-shaped. Ever wonder why conversations and relationships can be so unpredictable? Yeah, me too. Seriously, though, these are so often the moments when I learn the most. I see the response in me that is still my only particular well-worn groove - the voice that says I am not enough, that tells me I am on my own and self-protection is found only in withdrawal - yet somehow (with the help of a little bit of time and perhaps a large G&T) I tune in to the invitation to do things differently. When these sticky moments arise, to what extent can I choose intimacy instead of a stance of disapproval or emotional distance?

You know, we get to be the adults in this dance of parenting. Which means we have to keep on growing up in the deepest parts of who we are! At least, I know I do.

I had an online meeting to host before I was quite recovered from all this. Once it was done, Tim and I drove to the beach for the first time since the state of alarm was declared in Spain. It was blissful to feel the sand between my toes, to hear the drag of the tide against the beach, and to sit at the very edge of a group of bar tables and enjoy a beachside glass of wine. What a treat after all these weeks!

Sunday, 24 May 2020

Sat/Sun 23-24 May

This weekend marks the end of 10 weeks in lockdown, and the end of Tim's series of 50 video stories (and yes, that milestone did merit a very decent bottle of Rioja). These are moments that feel like a turning, a crossing of a line into a new space. And yet, I have hiked too many trails with false summits to fully invest myself in this possibility.

I am continuing to learn what it is to stay with the truth of today, and to allow tomorrow to be what it will be.

It is so easy, isn't it, to get caught up in what everyone else is doing, whom everyone else is seeing? And as my eye slips sideways towards others, I lose quickly my ability to be in the truth of my own life, I lose my sense of focus and of being anchored in my own reality.

Take exercise as an example. I have the habit of choosing an online program to do at home (I'm a big fan of Beachbody programs). These programs have a prescribed length - they might be intended to be completed over a period of 3 weeks, or 3 months, by doing a certain number of workouts each week. Clearly then, the program has a beginning, a middle, and an end. In the beginning, you are getting used to the moves, the trainer, the challenges of the program with its particular focus. In the middle, while you've made progress and you're feeling stronger, you haven't yet achieved the full benefit of the program. And by the end, you are able to see that your body has changed, you have muscle definition where you didn't before, you have built stamina or perhaps lost weight.

The point is, that you simply don't experience the same benefits by choosing a workout from whichever program you fancy, depending on the day. You hear that one friend is experimenting with yoga, so you do that for a week. Then you catch a bit of Wimbledon, so you get a tennis coach for a couple of weeks. Later that summer, you watch the Tour-de-France and pick up cycling for a bit.

Don't get me wrong, all movement is good! But in terms of making progress in a particular direction, you need to pick a program and follow it through. The trick is to hold your focus while you are in the process of becoming.

It feels to me that there is something to be learned here. As everyone's lives switch gears, their calendars fill up and their posts on social media offer a window into the people and places they are seeing, can I keep my focus on my own process of becoming?

Whatever God has been about in me during the last 10 weeks, he didn't just stop because we reached this point and now I can get out and about. So first, can I articulate what have been the invitations to me over recent weeks? I have heard people talking about realigning priorities, about pruning unnecessary growth from their lives, about identifying the values they want to live by. My sense for my own life is of the need to hold my focus on that invitation and to continue to respond. That continues to be the homeschool program by which, in this season, God has invited me to be trained.

I've found it's much easier to keep clear about our personal priorities when we are obliged to stay at home! It is much more challenging as we begin to fill up our lives again and, most especially, as we face the temptation to compare ourselves with other people's lives and activities. To what extent will I train my gaze so I that I can stick with what God is inviting me to learn or to develop?

Needless to say, I don't want to stay here forever. Just long enough!

Friday, 22 May 2020

Friday 22 May

Day 68 of lockdown. Today we were able to begin the de-escalation of Zoom meetings!

In the morning, I was due to meet with someone for a regular time of spiritual direction. While I meet with people all over the world, this particular woman lives in Malaga and so is one of the few I usually meet with in person. Over the past couple of months we have, needless to say, been connecting via video chat.

As I've said in other places, video chat for spiritual direction is 100% workable - in spite of the obvious limitations in terms of reading body language, I have been surprised how 'at ease' those sessions can feel and I come to appreciate the sense of proximity and heart connection that can take place online. Having said that, I would always choose to be with each and every person in the same room, if I could!

So, today was the first day when this monthly connection could take place face to face. And that feels like a milestone and something to celebrate! Who else is finding that it feels both 'normal' and momentous to be able to actually see people in real life?!

In addition, after all these weeks of keeping our Sabbath traditions by meeting online, we were able to physically gather with our Friday evening community. This anchor point to the week carries great significance for all of us, and has become a place of connection, celebration, vulnerability (and, let's face it, familial chaos!). While I feel like we all did well to embrace the challenge of continued connection within the limitations of lockdown, it was so good to be together in our bodies!

Of course, there are still limitations to the ways we can interact. We chose to stay outside, to have households sitting together but at a distance from the others, and so on. But you know, it was still sweet to see real flesh and blood friends ... the hugs will have to come later ;-)

It's the end of another week, and together we are all continuing to move steadily forward into a future that can feel uncertain at times. I'm finding that these relational rhythms hold and steady us, and for that I'm grateful.

Thursday, 21 May 2020

Thursday 21 May

Day 67 and it's Ascension Day.

How good for us to be reminded that the resurrected Jesus - in his real human body, that was recognisable and yet somehow 'different' - moved the small yet grand distance from this time/space dimension to the other, heavenly dimension. He is now seated in community with Father and Spirit, and there he is interceding for us.

This is good news! 'Cause boy, do we need to know that a way has been made for us, in all that it means to be human, to find our place in that other dimension where wholeness and freedom reign in an environment of love. And that there's someone ahead of us, showing us how to be while simultaneously realising that there's no way we can do it on our own. I'm betting he's pretty motivated to keep praying while we figure out all this earth-bound stuff!

Anyway, in the spirit of being limited - you know, human - I am 'fessing up that I'm not posting this on the 'right' day. The day was full, all I wanted to do at the end of it was watch an episode of something easy-going with my daughter. So I did.

I did, however, create this little video earlier in the day, for a couple of groups I am running on social media. So, in case you didn't see it I'll go ahead and post it here too.

Is Ascension Day a date that you mark in some way? What does it mean to you?

Wednesday, 20 May 2020

Wednesday 20 May

Day 66 and life is beginning to feel a bit more ... no, scratch that. Life is not feeling more normal but it is feeling a bit less abnormal. Perhaps that's the way to say it.

Tim was able to go for a 3 hour hike, which is how he always imagined spending a sabbatical. The dogs, the views and the mobile tea-making equipment! It is definitely good for that man to get out in nature alone.

He still had energy to spare when he got back to the house, so he fixed up this little corner of the garden that had been looking a bit scrappy.

First, he had to take a quick trip to the recently reopened garden centre. A trip that wasn't quite so quick, after all. I guess this is the new normal: getting used to long queues of masked people standing at respectful distances from one another. While we're all desperate for social interaction, when it comes to shopping it takes a certain kind of commitment not to simply stay home, am I right?!

And my contribution to the garden was to hang up these glass jar lanterns, in the area under the 'borrowed' vine that is looking quite sweet, I think. At least this didn't require any lengthy Corona-queues to create.

Manu and I are the most scheduled members of the household. She has end-of-year tests this week and for the next 2 weeks. She is in a phase of seeking to establish her autonomy (yes, I realise this may continue for the next half dozen years) which currently means the right to keep her room in a state of chaos. Let's just say, we are re-negotiating the boundaries. To give her her dues, she has been outstanding during this period of at-home schooling and is very good at self-management when it comes to deadlines, assignments and revision.

I discovered I was ahead of a deadline today, which was delightful. It freed up some time for me to explore my new wonderland, which is the Hope*Writers community. I am trusting this will be a good venue to find the support I need to complete some writing projects and educate myself on all things authorish. I also worked a bit on my website today, with the support of Keziah who has created some graphics for my resource page. You can check it out here if you have a minute.

Today offered me moments of tedious transcription (listening to my own voice on repeat!) and featured a rather uninspired lunch (also by yours truly) but otherwise was a good lockdown day. How about yours?

Tuesday, 19 May 2020

Tuesday 19 May

Day 65 and I catch myself wondering if I will actually be 65 years old before we are all somewhat recovered from this thing.

Good news, though ... I saw friends today! I mean, real-flesh-and-blood, no-Zoom-glitches, everyone-can-talk-at-once friends. It was fun. And it was weird. But not as weird as I thought it might be. Imagine, we're all going to be so changed by this that hugging or kissing cheeks when you greet a friend is going to feel very passé. We're all going to have tan marks around our nose, lip and chin area from mask-wearing in the sun. And public bathrooms will seriously go out of fashion. Am I right?!

Other firsts today:

--Tim put the pool up for the season and he and the girls' swam.
--Keziah and her cousin did a joint live video on Instagram. Unfortunately, I missed all but the laughter!
--I was part of an alternative 'talk show' talking about spiritual rhythms during lockdown.
--I recorded the audio for a guided imaginative meditation and I'm loving exploring new and creative ways of creating content for my website.
--I signed up for a writer's training and support program as I laboriously work towards creating something publishable.

All in all, a creative day and well worth turning 65!
How are you celebrating the wins, people?!

Monday, 18 May 2020

Monday 18 May

Day 64 and the first day of Phase 1 as we move through lockdown.

It's been a weird day. How many times have we said that, recently? Today was weird because I began my day by following the micro-practice suggested by David Whyte at the poetry workshop last night. His theme was vulnerability, writing from a place of openness, of truly sharing the reality of yourself.

He suggested to begin by revisiting an old grief, a place of loss that has been processed and yet which may yet have a deeper depth into which we are invited to go. Or perhaps to fall.

Sure, I thought. How hard can it be? So I began my morning pages by writing about something that felt close to home but not too threatening. I wrote about my relationship with my body, how I feel about the prospect of getting older, and what that means in my closest relationships. Honestly, I should have known not to touch that with a barge pole. In just 3 pages, my own hand took me back to old griefs I had thought were dead and buried. And the disintegrating effect has had me tearing up all day.

You should know that I know it's okay. Okay? Let's just hope there's some half decent poetry buried under it all, somewhere. (Listen to me ... produce or die.)

So the tears flowed easily today. Which may have been the case with or without the nudgings of David Whyte, since I confess to finding this whole 'returning to normal' business quite unsettling.

As different groups process the ways in which they feel comfortable being together, it's so easy to see how misunderstandings could destabilise relationships. Some are happy to hang out in small groups in a more-or-less regular fashion, taking care to leave space for everyone's floating 'distancing bubbles.' Some have already had neighbour kids over for birthday celebrations, not particularly concerned about them keeping their distance. Others are more concerned about shared spaces, whether for their own health or the slowing of general contagion, I couldn't say.

As we transition through the stages of lockdown, there will be all kinds of people feeling all kinds of ways about rules, and how - or whether - to keep them. No matter what we personally think is 'right' the truth is that we are all friends with people at both ends of the compliance continuum. And this is going to create some discomfort.

How do we love one another well in this context? How do we bring our shared vulnerabilities to the table (or not quite to the table, since that might be a bit close) without judgement? To what extent is it possible to own our anxieties, not just about the virus but about our relationships in this new configuration of what is deemed safe?

Once again, I have to hang onto the deep truth that every uncomfortable feeling - in my body, my chest, my gut - is an invitation to attend to the ways God wants to be with me there. To be with us. How can I make space, in this unsettling figuring out of old griefs and present interactions, to open myself to his offering of peace, of stability, of secure holding?

There's only one way to find out.

Sunday, 17 May 2020

Sat/Sun 16-17 May

Days 62 and 63 of lockdown passed in the knowledge that by Monday some of our restrictions will be lifted. That is, we can gather in groups of up to 10 people ... we can sit at the outdoor terraces of local coffee shops ... we can spontaneously visit shops where previously we needed an appointment.

I have mixed feelings about all this, but I've written about that before so will just leave it there for now. I think we are all coming to realise, to a greater degree, that we can only do today.

So ... the weekend activities have come to be a little predictable here.

We hiked.
We read books.
We chatted around the fire pit. We joined church online. We had a braai.

This weekend we also did Manu's hair.
(Thanks for all the messages of concern for her, by the way. We are waiting on the results of blood tests. In the meantime, while she can be pretty perky - as you can see - she is also complaining quite regularly of fatigue, dizziness and headaches.)

And various creative projects continued.
In search of new ways to do 'date nights' Tim and I have signed up for a 90 minute poetry time with David Whyte this evening. I just realised we don't have any wine to accompany our date. Drastic.
How are you finding new ways to connect these days?

Friday, 15 May 2020

Friday 15 May

I have been so tired this week. And I hesitate to write that because, really, it's not as though I am driving an hour to school and back twice a day. Or packing to go on a trip. Or running dozens of kilometres a week. But honestly, I am so tired that today I lay down after lunch - even though I had work scheduled - and slept a solid 2 hours.

I mean, who does that?

The funny thing is, I have spent the last few months reading around the topic of the body and its place in what it means to be human. So I am absolutely convinced that our physical and non-physical beings are more fully integrated that we realise. That is to say, my emotional wellbeing impacts on my spiritual vitality, and the health of my relationships affects my capacity to learn, and my nutrition has a knock-on effect on my psychological health.

The bottom line, if you ask me, is that the affects of salvation through Jesus can and do impact on every dimension of what it means to be human. Including how I live in my body.

So really, I shouldn't be surprised that after 61 days in lockdown - with all the concurrent concerns around global shifts, financial security and children's education - my body is feeling the effects. It's funny, though, how deeply ingrained is our divided way of thinking about ourselves. We continue to see our body as separate from the non-physical parts of who we are, imagining it as some sort of Tupperware container for everything that happens in our lives. Stick it in the dishwasher and away we go for another round of service.

On the contrary, original biblical language paints a picture of human life that is God-breathed and with every dimension inextricably enmeshed with the others. As I enter this weekend, aware of my body's need for rest, I am provoked to ask what would be restful for the thinking, feeling, relating, discerning parts of me too? What are those activities that revive my capacity on multiple levels?

How are you? Is your body feeling the impact of this period of anxiety and realignment? How can you pay attention to the needs of your whole being, and find nourishment for the days ahead?

Thursday, 14 May 2020

Thursday 14 May

60 days of home confinement! Isn't it funny the things we feel should be celebrated?!

Perhaps these events can be called celebrations ...

I attended a 3 hour retreat that was being offered by Global Connections. It was actually for people working overseas who had had to return to the UK because of the pandemic, so I didn't exactly fit the bill. But I wanted to get an idea of how people might offer retreat like experiences via online platforms. There were between 70 and 90 people on this call, so it wasn't possible to have any interaction between participants and it was all led by one guy who offered thoughts or content and then allowed pauses for personal reflection. That's certainly one way to help people carve out reflective time for themselves, and is helpful in that it offers a bit of direction (in this case, following more of a debrief outline). Anyway, worth dropping by in my quest for learning how to do this well.

Keziah hosted a live video on Instagram, sharing her favourite vegan recipe of the moment and cooking it with her friends' encouragement from around the world. It made me think of the way we would pretend to be TV cooking show hosts when we were kids - now you can actually be a cooking show host! We were the fortunate ones who got to eat the food, and it was delicious.

[Photo by Jacek Dylag on Unsplash]

Since we've been allowed to take exercise a bit more freely, I have been occasionally routing my walks or runs past friends' houses so that I can leave goodie bags on their gates. Today Tim and I walked together and left some fun books and some sweets at one family's house. I feel like Santa in Spring ... this may be a practice I want to take with me from lockdown, haha!

How about you? Are there things you have begun doing during these strange days that you might want to continue when things find their equilibrium again?

Wednesday, 13 May 2020

Wednesday 13 May

Day 59 and this was a day for venturing out into the big wide world.

We live on a hill at the edge of our town. From our elevated position, we look out over the town and across the valley. The city of Malaga is in the distance but the eye is drawn more to the mountains on the horizon than to the city itself.

For this reason, the reality of the pandemic can feel remote from us. Yes, we have been in our house for nearly 60 days. Yes, we venture out to buy groceries and we exchange commiserations with our neighbours. And yes, of course we are aware of the losses and hardships brought on by the virus that is overwhelming old age homes and hospitals, and because of which people are losing their jobs. We are aware of all this - I believe it affects us all at some inarticulate level, as we join in the sense of common longing for things to be turned around. And yet, from our home - our actual lived experience, rather than our online news consumption - it can all feel rather distant.

Today, Manu had an appointment at the doctor's. This was to check that her dizzy spells are nothing worse than low blood pressure, common at her age. We left the house just before 10am, the time at which the morning allocation of outdoor exercise time is coming to an end. In the town, there were still plenty of people out running and cycling. Surely they wouldn't get back to their homes within the government-dictated hours? We arrived at the clinic. Some people were wearing masks and gloves, some were just wearing masks, some were just wearing gloves. A delivery guy, who must have been to multiple locations that morning already, wasn't wearing either.

I noticed Manu's nervous energy. She was listing off the things that people were doing or not doing that seemed to contradict, or contravene, the rules of which she's aware. I realised that the universe has become unpredictable and dangerous in her mind, and the sense that people are following rules helps to make it feel safe again. Seeing people not following the rules was making her edgy.

Don't we all want our world to be safe? This has always been true, not just during a pandemic. Depending on our personality, we devise different ways to make ourselves feel safe, or to take the edge off the feeling of insecurity. Maybe now more than ever is an opportunity to notice that feeling in ourselves, as the illusion of control lifts a little. Am I truly the chief agent in this life of mine? And if not, what does that mean? How do I engage in the world once I become aware of the larger landscape, those cosmic realities that seem to defy the containers into which I have tried to shove them?

The vista from our home can be comforting in a good way, and anaesthetising in a way that's not so helpful. On the one hand, it is good to take in the bigger picture - to trust that above all the chaos and uncertainty there is a God who is unceasingly moving towards us in generous and redemptive goodness. On the other hand, it can be a means of disengaging from the reality of the world, forgetting to pray, losing sight of the place of longing in our intercessions for the world.

So I am wondering if the feeling that arises when we think others are not keeping the rules - that vague sense of anxiety that tempts us to judge, or criticise, or seek control - can instead become a wordless prayer, a longing: Oh Lord, we find ourselves in this place that feels so unsafe, we long for security. Teach us that our security is found, not in rules and contingency plans, but in you. May this sense of anxiety I feel now be part of the longing of the whole world for the source of our security - Jesus himself - to be made known among us. Amen.

Tuesday, 12 May 2020

Tuesday 12 May

Day 58. I'll say that again, in case you didn't catch it: Day 58. Blimey.

Over the last few weeks, I have taken part in a small online learning community focused on the topic of 'Emotional Logic.' You can find out more about it here, but basically it's a tool to help you to see emotions less as a chaotic swirl and more as a series of stepping stones that are leading you somewhere. One of the things I found very helpful about this way of looking at emotions was to see feelings of loss as a way of identifying our values, or what is important to us.

Today - as I met with a team to discuss creating an online alternative to the course we were hoping to run - I thought again about loss emotions as signposts for our values. It is really fascinating to experience this combined global grief over loss of in-person connection. Suddenly, it seems like such a gift for us all to share this opportunity to recognise just how important it is for us to be together ... how much we love to share meals around the table ... how important it is for us to create common memories through shared experiences ... how much we value working together in person and the synergy that brings when we each offer our gifts in this shared learning space.

While I know right now it feels like we all need to scramble in order to be prepared for an uncertain future, I wonder if we could just take a moment to notice this. We are made for relationship. We love connection. We care about the unique contribution different colleagues, or family members, or community people bring to the table. We see and appreciate that gift in them. And we want to be with them so that we can enjoy that together. That is a really good and beautiful thing, it's a good and strong value. It's the kind of value upon which a really generative life can be built.

I love that, don't you?

And maybe it's a really good and beautiful thing that we all have to seek out new and creative ways to hold onto that value, ways to allow that value to inform our lives when we are unable to be together. 

  • Like the community who are finding ways to make soup in a brewery, to offer to those in need. 
  • Like the dozens of leaders of mission teams in Europe, all trying to connect on Facebook live today, via Zoom, because they want to learn and grow together (in spite of technical challenges!).
  • Like the friend who delivered a gift bag for Manu, with ice lollies for her swollen mouth and a book for her to read.
And all the hundreds of examples of sharing, creating, and caring that are happening all over the world as people look for ways to be connected. It's pretty remarkable, really, to see this value for relationship rise to the surface.

It rained today. I made a fire. In the middle of May - crazy.
Tim made a sourdough version of the 'pan de pueblo' normally available in the shops. It was much more delicious than the shop-bought version.
[Photo credit: Keziah]

Manu isn't her normal self but she attended school and came with me for a short walk, after the rain stopped. Thanks to those who are praying for her.
We're having a hard time convincing the girls not to get worked up when they see the neighbours having people over. It feels like an injustice to them when we are trying to keep the rules.
I saw a friend - a real live friend, in the flesh - today (from a distance as she dropped her gift for Manu). It felt surreal: so momentous, I wanted to fling my arms around her; and such an anti-climax to only exchange a few words and then say goodbye again. Weird but still wonderful.

Monday, 11 May 2020

Monday 11 May

Day 57 of lockdown. And apparently we'd be wise to be very mindful of all the rules this week, as our province tries to pull itself into line with the necessary numbers to qualify for a lightening of restrictions. We shall behave well.

Speaking of behaving well ...

there is dissension in the ranks. Tim was very happy to see the osteopath today for some adjustments and the osteopath was glad to be open, but not best pleased with the obligation to treat his patients while gloved and gowned, and to have to wipe down the treatment room thoroughly between clients. Also, you'd best not risk needing the loo while at your appointment, and don't expect to be allowed to wait in the waiting room if you arrive early; neither are permitted. On the other hand, the ice cream shop, just beneath the osteopath's rooms, is open for business so you could go there instead.

It's a brave and confusing world out there.

 Speaking of brave ...

Manu was very brave today. She got out of bed and felt dizzy as she got into the bathroom. I think she must have fainted momentarily because she fell against the corner of a wall in the bathroom. Her bottom teeth went through the inside of her lower lip and she's very sore and puffy around the mouth, so she's been sucking on ice chips all day. We have an appointment to get her checked out at the doctor's because she's complained a number of times recently of feeling dizzy.

Speaking of dizzy ...

I had a dizzying number of hours on Zoom calls today. All good, positive connections and I didn't pick up too much extra work, for which I am grateful.

Speaking of grateful ...

the vine that has obligingly grown its way over the fence of the neighbouring property is now sufficiently lush to be tied over a makeshift arbor. It makes a lovely shady corner in which to hang a hammock - perfect for a brief nap.

Speaking of napping ... time for bed!

Sunday, 10 May 2020

Sat/Sun 9-10 May

Days 55 & 56 of lockdown.

This weekend, I came across 2 years' worth of blog posts from a decade ago. These were printed 'annuals' that I'd created for the sake of the girls, so that they could flick through the photos and accompanying stories, much like an old-fashioned photo album.

A couple of things struck me as I read through them. First, that our lives were very, very active! We did heaps of work-related travel to different parts of Africa. And when we were home, weekends were filled with races, and hikes, and meals with friends, and outings to the theatre, or the botanical gardens, or camping trips. Seriously, it is not surprising that God has had to (metaphorically) sit on me these last 7 years in order to really get my attention. Perhaps that topic will pop up sometime soon in another blog post.

The other thing that struck me was the writing itself, the flavour of it. These days, I wouldn't write things the way I did back then. Some of it was a little cringe-worthy, if I'm honest. Of course, our writing changes and develops over the years, just as we do. But it got me thinking and I became aware that very often, back in those days, when I wrote for my blog I had a particular friend in mind. With the benefit of time and distance, I can now hear in my words - their arrangement, their tone - a desire to impress this friend. I wanted her to read cleverness and wit in my writing, yes, and I wanted her to see my life - a life that was so different to hers and one she would never choose - as successful. Just as successful as the life she had chosen and, if possible, even more fun.

It's shocking that the things we think are so hidden, so subtle, about our behaviour are in fact - with the benefit of hindsight - pretty blatant.

I wish I could say that I have outgrown this need to curate the impression I make on others, to be seen as successful in their eyes. But alas, this is the classic tell of an Enneagram 3. At the least, I hope I am more aware of that tendency and can catch myself in the act, as it were.

Of course, social media can be the nemesis of this sort of bent. It is not the ideal venue for authentic connection, but rather lends itself to trying out all sorts of 'voices' that are not, necessarily, true to who we really are. Our eldest is getting more intentional about her activity on social media and this weekend caught herself as she posted something a friend had suggested, that wasn't a true reflection of who she is, or her values. Even as we had a mother-daughter conversation about communicating from a place of truth and authenticity, I was reminded of those blog posts I would now prefer to delete from the printed anthology.

I wonder if we would post the same things on social media if we knew we'd be revisiting those words in 10 years' time?! Makes you think, doesn't it?


And for the weekend round-up:
There were outings ...
We made the most of our Saturday morning allowance for outdoor exercise, once again grateful that we can walk onto the hillside from our house.
Happy hounds ...
... and happy humans. Tim used his Sunday allowance in pretty much the same way, while I headed out on a 15km running route. This was about the distance we were running together before the lockdown but Tim's old back injury means he needs a longer time to build up running fitness again.

And there were fires ...
On Saturday, we lit the braai and enjoyed the sunshine. On Sunday, it was cool and even rained a little so we opted for whiskey by the fire pit instead.

In between outings and fires, there was baking, Zoom calls, homework, laundry, online church, gardening, reading ...

... and sunsets.

Friday, 8 May 2020

Friday 8 May

Day 54 of lockdown.

On this day 75 years ago, the Allies of World War II formally accepted Nazi Germany's unconditional surrender. Today, people in the UK were celebrating in appropriately distanced family groups along the streets of towns and villages throughout the country. The Queen's 4 minute speech was a great example, I thought, of how one person - monarch or ordinary citizen - can offer their unique influence to the world in ways that build others up.

I kind of missed being in the UK to be part of the celebrations - evidently embraced as an opportunity for national unity and celebration during the current crisis. I wished afterwards that we'd had our own 'tea & scones,' although perhaps not out on the street!

Instead, let's have some alternative 'on this day' entries:

  • On this day, the Spanish government announced at least one more week of lockdown restrictions for Malaga province. We had wondered if our weekly Sabbath get-together was the last to be held over Zoom, since there had been rumours that gatherings of up to 10 people would be permitted from Monday. But that's not to be.
  • On this day, Tim decided that 40 Ebenezer Stories is not quite enough and, for the sake of having a daily goal as well as for the sake of more stories to be told, he'll keep going to 50.
  • On this day, Manu and I walked the dogs and I appreciated again how insightful, funny and interesting she is to talk to. 12 going on 25 ;-)  
  • On this day, we recorded a video update for our partner churches which took half a dozen takes and lots of laughter to get right.
  • On this day, my sister and I compared our ability to do pistol squats, which has to be one of the more interesting uses I have found for a video call.

  • On this day, we made pizza and watched a family movie and enjoyed cuddles with our own two doggies.
I doubt that in 75 years time, anyone will remember this particular day. There is nothing momentous in it, really, just ordinary work and family routines that are the container for our lives. And yet, days such as these are no less significant for all that. A life is built on the foundation of ordinary, more or less productive days of compassionate relationships, decent conversations and good food shared with the people you love. Surely it is just this kind of 'ordinary' that nations will go to war to protect?

Thursday, 7 May 2020

Thursday 7 May

It's Day 53. 

I think I've done pretty well over the last 7+ weeks. But I am reaching my limit, I can feel it. 

"He is tired ... He wants to be done. It has been a long time coming, this feeling. 
Though it only recently reached fever pitch." 
Fatima Bhutto in The Shadow of the Crescent Moon

Perhaps it doesn't matter whether (or when) I reach my limit. Our lockdown has been extended another 2 weeks, whether I have reached my limit or not. God knows, there are many many people out there who have more reason than I do to have reached their limit, and they have as little say as I do in whether we continue in confinement.

The trainer in my online workout program comes to mind. I want to get a hold of her to tell her that sometimes telling yourself to pass your limits isn't enough. Sometimes your buck-up attitude isn't greater than your capacity. Sometimes you really are done, just as you thought you were.

[Photo by Meghan Holmes on Unsplash]

But then, I have a feeling she would come back with a quick retort, another one of her positive thinking one-liners: You don't quit when you're tired - you stop when you're done.

And do you know what? Like it or not, I think she's right. Damn it.

Wednesday, 6 May 2020

Wednesday 6 May

Day 52, if I'm not mistaken. And the olive pollen has been HECTIC.

[Photo by Frank Albrecht on Unsplash]

Yesterday I renewed my prescription for numerous anti-histamine related items and - since I had gone to the trouble to don face mask, gloves and all things Covid cautionary, and had his undivided attention - I asked the doctor about immunotherapy.

Turns out this would involve monthly injections for 3-5 years. I mean, I like the guy but I'm not sure I fancy seeing him that often. I took my regular prescription and said I needed time to consider my options.

Today's morning walk - as delightful and refreshing as it was to be outside - served as a potent reminder to get to the pharmacy to fill the script. Having done so, I began on the adjusted regimen. Now I find myself wondering whether that funny taste in my mouth is related to the medication, or is an early sign of C19 viral symptoms? I doubt it, but the scary buzz in the air gets into your head.

I'm sorry to report another downer today (I will try to turn the tone upward shortly, bear with me). Our Internet has been struggling and today Manu was finding it hard to get school work done. It's pretty unpredictable - my Zoom connections were fine - but frustrating nevertheless. So let's see what can be done about it ... we had been laughing about what would happen to everyone if, after being confined to their homes, the Internet gave out. It could be we're the ones to find out.

In spite of all this, Keziah and her friend worked together (remotely) on their joint book project, a team-mate and I made an initial pass at how we might shift our training plans to an online alternative, and I also managed to do some work on my website (feel free to take a look at it and give me your feedback, if you're twiddling your thumbs out there).

The girls were amenable, the food was good, and I got a workout in. All in all, not too shabby for Day 52.

Tuesday, 5 May 2020

Tuesday 5 May

Today I drove the car for the first time in 51 days. You'd think I'd be happy about it but, honestly, I have mixed feelings about being out and about. Even though my rational mind tells me that's crazy. On the positive side, I can confirm that it takes longer than 51 days to forget how to drive.

It's already some time ago that the decision was taken to postpone the week-long residential that was to kick off the training for spiritual directors I am part of. We moved the entire program (that in-person week is the beginning of a 2 year training that includes both distance and residential portions) to a start date at the end of November. I've been taking a lead in all the communication, as well as the discussion of implications and had thought I was past feeling the loss of it. Actually, not true. I hadn't yet experienced it as a loss, it was just buried under busyness.

[Photo by CoWomen on Unsplash]

Until this week. At the weekend, the staff team would have been assembling from the UK, Ireland, Spain and the United States. Today, participants would have been flying in from around the world. We would be staying together at a retreat centre about 45 minutes further along the coast, plunging into a week of learning, growing and bonding. And it's hitting me how sad I feel that we have not been able to go ahead as planned.

The planning, and meeting, and praying, and admin that it's taken to get us to this point won't be wasted, of course. But still ... I was ready for this big milestone - the first training of its kind in our organisation - and although we have set alternative dates, the future feels uncertain.

How are you processing losses such as these (I bet you've had them)? I have all kinds of creative ideas for Zoom meetings with my team, some sort of moment to acknowledge that we would have been together this week. I just really, really wish it could be a meeting in real life, you know?

Monday, 4 May 2020

Monday 4 May

May the fourth be with you. If you're a parent, you need it ... I know I do.

Dear Offspring of mine,
I know that we are 50 days in
To a sort of prison-with-your-parents sentence
But I'm not sure that's any excuse for, you know, today.
You've done so well, so far,
I must admit, I thought we were past the worst.
But then, you know, today.

There's no excuse, really, for this teenaged angst.
For those primadonna meltdowns
About who stole your pants.
Shouting at the dog, at one another, 
Then at next-door's DIY-er.
Food on the floor? Rude notes on your door?
There's no excuse, really, for that.

And there's no excuse, really, for those smart-arsed replies.
For those endless rolled eyes,
For those looks of surprise, when you're reminded
Of that thing you said you'd do
Back on Day 42.
Littered bedroom floor? Loudly slammed doors? 
There's no excuse, really, for that.

Dear Offspring, this is tough, I know.
It's not what you expected of 2-0-2-0.
We all thought we'd just go with the flow,
And then, wham! We're locked down, with nowhere to go.
But could we look on the bright side?
How's that for a plan?
After all, there's no excuse, really, for this.

Is there?