Sunday, 28 June 2020

Sunday 28 June

I was chatting with someone the other day, when she described herself as not being skinny. ‘I’ll never be skinny,’ she said. And then she added, ‘I know that’s what you’re all about, being skinny.’ It took me by surprise, not because she said it with any critical undertones, she didn’t. But because of that word: skinny.

[Photo by Ivan Dodig on Unsplash]

It’s actually true that this is part of my story. At one point in my life, I was ALL about being skinny. I would run my hands over my body, searching for any telltale padding that would be evidence I was failing. I distinctly remember taking a photo of myself in a swimsuit, and then marking with a black marker on the printed image the curves of my thighs that needed to be eradicated. I stoked my self-loathing with determination to eat less and exercise more, seeking to bury under this furnace the true pain of my soul.

You see, the integration of my being had been dismantled early on in life. While I don’t know enough to say categorically that this happens to all of us, it does seem pretty much true across the board. Whether it’s being told that big boys don’t cry, or being touched inappropriately, or being forced to do things our bodies intuitively told us to be scared of, we come to think of our bodies as separate from and mere containers for the rest of who we are. Speaking for myself, from a young age I had learned to think of my body as something that would betray me, that made me vulnerable. It was a battle I tried to win both by making myself very small, and by fuelling the type of anger that creates a force field of self protection.

This is a road that leads inexorably to disintegration. Out of touch with pain, it becomes impossible to feel joy. Unable to feel at one with oneself, it hard to foster intimacy with anyone else.

My journey of formation - this lifelong process of becoming in which each of us is engaged - has been one of moving towards integration; of learning what it means that every dimension of my humanity is intricately connected with every other part. My spiritual state, I have come to realise, is not separate from my physical self. My body is not simply a container for my emotions, my intellect and my personality.

This was not something I learned in church, growing up. Our family was always active in our local evangelical fellowship, which meant going to church for prayer meetings and youth group during the week, and often going twice on a Sunday. We learned some great truths about what God is like and how we are to live as his people. And we also learned some wonky things that were not so helpful, either by what was said, or by what was left unsaid. In all the years I was surviving the school day on an apple and a carton of no-fat yogurt, all the years I was making myself sick when I felt I had eaten too much, all the years I was trying to figure out the confusing tension between being attractive to and vulnerable at the hands of men, never once did I hear a sermon that mentioned the body. Not once.

There’s no judgement here, I don’t think this is unusual. Our ways of thinking have been so impacted by Platonic thinking, and the philosophical thought that followed. In a nutshell, Plato (whose objective was to describe a systematic understanding of the soul) argued that the highest part of the human being was reason, followed by two further dimensions of spirit and base appetite. It was reason, Plato believed, that gave us a likeness to the divine. Neoplatonism took Plato’s thinking even further and argued that since non-physical God was all good and the source of light, then matter was darkness and the source  of all evil. According to this way of thinking, a person’s goal should be to deny the material part of herself since it must be what separates humanity from God.

It’s a long and convoluted story, but essentially Christian thought grew in the petri dish of a culture that separated the physical part of the human from the non-physical part, calling the physical part bad and the non-physical part good. We are still in the process of working out this massive heresy. The healing will take some time.

[Photo by Stacey Gabrielle Koenitz on Unsplash]

In my own process of learning and growing, I have become convinced that every dimension of our beings is inextricably interwoven with every other part. This means that what I believe - my tacit as well as my intellectual beliefs - is worked out in how I think about myself, about God, and about the world around me. It also means that the way I live in my body is far from being incidental to or divorced from my faith. In fact, if I am being saved from a way of being in the world that leads away from life and goodness, and into one that leads towards comprehensive flourishing, then that should have implications for how I live in my body - how I eat, how I move, how I am in the world as a physical, flesh and blood person.

I have to confess that I still have moments when I long for skinniness more than I long for health. I still have judgemental thoughts against my body and am tempted to see it as an object to be whipped into shape, rather than as a true expression of who I am. Nevertheless, I am on a journey of learning how to pause, to listen, and to wonder … to listen to what my body is telling me about how I am really doing, and to wonder how I can live more deeply into the invitation to work out my salvation in my flesh and bone.

How about you? What message does your body speak about what is most true of you? In what way does the way you live in your body give expression to the non-physical parts of you? How are your professions of faith and your embodied humanity at odds or in sync with one another?

Thursday, 25 June 2020

Thursday 25 June

It's more than 100 days since we went into a State of Alarm here in Spain. And for the last 3 months, there has been a stillness over the valley that's spread like a carpet below our home. When I’ve been waking in the morning and looking out from my balcony in the clear air, I have been aware of birdsong and peace. When I have walked the dogs in the woodland near our home, it has been still and quiet. The days may have been busy, with various online connections and work-related assignments, but the stillness has felt like a big inhale and exhale, a deep breath at the start and end of each day.

Over the last couple of weeks, Spain has been returning to its usual rhythmic hum. This week, international borders have opened and, although I haven’t been too aware of it yet, soon the valley will fill with the sound of planes landing and taking off at the airport. The roads, for a while so quiet with just the occasional vehicle passing, are back to the normal buzz as people race in and out of Malaga and along the coastal highway.

Now, when I walk the dogs as I did this morning, we hear the whoosh, whoosh, whoosh of vehicles passing, one after the other along the road that marks the bottom boundary of the hill we skirt around. The sound disturbs my thoughts and makes it difficult for the dogs to hear me when I call.

Distractions reassert themselves, are you finding that too? It’s all good, this return to work and the ability to move around more freely. Yet it is undeniably true that I miss the quiet, the opportunity to breathe.

Yesterday, I listened to an interview with John Eldredge (by the way, if you haven’t yet tried his ‘One Minute Pause’ app do check it out, it’s great). In the interview he said that we live in a sort of madness. Our western culture, he said, imposes on us a way of life that is crippling in its pace, its level of distraction, and its demands. Our bodies and minds, let alone our emotions and our spirits, were not designed to do well when pushed and pulled in these kinds of ways.

What does this mean for us? Was our 3 months in home confinement time enough to reset? Did it give us sufficient opportunity to consider the way we want to live, and to make choices about how we might put that into practice? Have we been able to adopt any new rhythms or practices that we can confidently take with us into this great ‘return’ to whatever normal is for us now?

It takes time to build a life, to be intentional about how to construct our days. It takes time to bump out of the rut of old patterns and to establish new ways of being in the world. Perhaps, like me, you realise that the new things you have been trying - maybe a little more time reflecting, or a daily walk - still feel a little fragile in the face of the daily grind. It could be that these new habits need a bit more time and effort before they become solid, and that right now you find yourself easily knocked back into the rut of distracted living.

How would it be for us to resist the relentless draw to be busy, the pressure to fill our free time with the stuffing of entertainment, connectivity and consumerism? Is there any residual goodness from home confinement that you want to keep hold of? Perhaps it is not so important to reply to an email as soon as it pings for our attention? Could we leave our phones on charge elsewhere in the house and thus create a margin of peace around waking and bedtime, to allow us to be with ourselves before we have to be with the world? What practice of reflection, or meditation, or creativity might we incorporate into our daily lives as an act of rebellion against the media invasions that foster a sort of madness in our minds?

The environment may be still no longer, but I want to fight for my own inner stillness. How about you?


Monday, 22 June 2020

Monday 22 June

I find myself facing a bit of a dilemma.

[Photo by Josiah Gardner on Unsplash]

Do I write about the weekend of outdoor fun we had? Only there are some people who are sensitive to us having a little too much fun (true story) and we ourselves are cautious about giving the wrong impression of our hard-working lives to those who pay our salaries. And then I'd have to argue for fun and adventure being a reasonable part of any believer's life, not just missionaries, since our lives are, after all, intended as a message that declares Good News.

Humm, that one's a little problematic.

Maybe, then, I should write about Father's Day? That ought to be a safe bet and gives me yet another opportunity to brag on my very braggable husband. A bit awkward though, since I might find myself in memoir mode, writing about fathers of previous generations. As any writer of memoir will tell you, expect trouble if you start telling your side of a family's complex and many-layered tale. Especially if they're all still alive ... and can read.

Gosh, not such a good idea, that one.

Right, well then, I could write about my day. And the meeting I was part of in which three fifths of the participants spoke for 90% of the time. And yes, they did all happen to have penises while the other two fifths did not. But oh, people start to get really quite uncomfortable when one raises such anecdotal observations about these topics that are so open to personal interpretation. I'm sure they meant no harm, and perhaps I was hormonal today?

Communication really can be ever so tricky, can't it? So, perhaps I shall just leave it there.

Saturday, 20 June 2020

Saturday 20 June

In the prayer poem known as Psalm 31, we read this:

Be strong, and let your heart take courage
All you who wait for the Lord. 

During this pandemic, I think we have all felt what it is to wait for something. The kind of waiting that offers no indication of how long it will last. The kind of waiting against which it is useless to fight, the kind we are powerless to control. Perhaps we have felt what it is to wait in a place of enforced inactivity, when we feel the pressing from every side and yet can do nothing to manoeuvre ourselves further along. 

Some of us have experienced waiting in a place of fear, anxiety or dread. Others of us have waited with impatience, railing against the circumstances. Some of us have felt resignation, the step-sister of surrender that leaves us weary or defeated rather than filled with hopeful resolve. Still others have refused to acknowledge the discomfort of waiting, preferring instead to drown out the feelings that irritate and trigger our places of brokenness, with entertainment, an unending series of online connections, and Amazon purchases.

However you have responded to the waiting, I feel you. Waiting with no definite end-date has to be one of the most destabilising experiences we know. We wait for a health diagnosis, hoping mutely for a positive outcome. We wait to get a new job, cycling countless times through hopeful determination and disappointment. We wait for our estranged daughter to pick up the phone. We wait for a financial breakthrough. We wait to get unstuck in a relationship or in circumstances that are not of our choosing. We wait to meet our soul mate, or for the person we admire to return our affections.

[Photo by Ümit Bulut on Unsplash]

Waiting is so often unchosen. Think of Abram and Sara waiting for a child. Or Joseph waiting to see if his dreams would be fulfilled. Consider the Israelites waiting for their release from Egypt. And think of Anna and Simeon waiting expectantly at the Temple for a sign of the Messiah.

We wait. Indeed, as believers our individual stories unfold in the context of a Great Waiting: for the purposes of God to reach their fulfilment, for his sons and daughters to be revealed, and for everything to be caught up in Christ's reconciliation of all things to the Father. We wait with all the same emotions we experience in smaller ways over lesser waitings - sometimes with anxiety, with impatience, with resignation, often with weariness and every so often with clarity of vision and hopeful resolve.

And as we wait, we are changed. All waiting has the potential to achieve a wonderful, redemptive change in us. We are deepened through waiting. We come to see that we are not the captains of our own ships, rather that God is ever moving towards us with a heart of committed compassion and goodness. Waiting brings to the surface all the doubts and questions lurking in our minds and hearts. And waiting refuses, on the whole, to offer answers to these questions. Rather waiting, if we are willing to move more deeply into it, can become a place in which we come up against the bedrock of our deepest knowing and, in the end, find ourselves held fast. Eventually, we become like a weaned child with its mother (Psalm 131), finally ceasing our restless striving and coming to a place of rest.

What is the nature of your own, very personal waiting? In what ways is God at work in you, during the bewildering place of waiting? What is becoming more real to you, as you wait? Who or what offers you life and light in the darkest moments of unremitting waiting? 

All you who wait for the Lord, let your heart take courage. 
When in your waiting you feel ashamed and alone, take courage.
When others fail to understand you, take courage.
When your slowness through this passage of suffering seems to surprise people,
When you feel you have to justify yourself, take courage.
When people avoid you, avoid the places of deep loss and grieving in you, take courage.
When you wonder if you will stay here forever, take courage.
When you wonder if you've done something wrong, in order to find yourself here, 
yet you've replayed every decision and can see only that you did the best you knew how, take courage.
When you feel like a fool for having believed that life would be different from this, take courage.
When you're tempted to simply resign yourself to this disappointing or dreadful reality, take courage.
When all sense of hopeful vision has deserted you, take courage.
When the waiting sees to go on forever, take courage.
Be strong, and let your heart take courage, all you who wait for the Lord.

Thursday, 18 June 2020

Thursday 18 June

A few days ago, I mentioned some of the transition processes going on in our house currently. Today, I am thinking about significant transitions that are taking place around us, in the networks of relationship that are closest to where we live.

[Photo by Timo Stern on Unsplash]

Within the space of a month, three sets of people that have been part of 'the expat scene' here will be returning to the States. (Yes, somewhat surprisingly, of the non-Spanish people that we've met since moving here a large proportion are American.) Two families and a single woman will be leaving the country, each having lived here for several years. There are at least three other households that come to mind where the conversation is about the possibility of moving on (they do say that transition begins the moment you start thinking about it). And even if we haven't interacted a lot socially, I'm sure the shift of dynamic will be felt as friendships flex and make room for a different matrix of connections.

I reflect on this simply by way of noticing the very transitory nature of non-native communities like ours. For the past 22 years, we have worked with an organisation that is characterised much more by mobility than by stability. Of course, there are benefits to mobility. The aim of the game is to invest in the people of a particular place, to complete whatever ministry purpose you have for being there, and then to move. For some people, mobility is even more of an emphasis, as their role is to travel to run seminars or workshops, regularly serving in places where they are not living.

This can be a very flexible, responsive way of working. It creates the opportunity to respond to immediate needs in different parts of the world. While this breeds people who are very adaptable to different cultures and contexts, it means that our longest standing relationships are with other mobile people whom we've met on teams and projects around the world. It doesn't make for a sense of being known in the place where we actually live, and it's a completely different calling than the vocation of stability, of rootedness, of belonging and community-building.

I feel I must make a disclaimer here. We lived for almost 10 years in South Africa and we travelled a lot while we there. Nevertheless, we felt very rooted and the relationships we made during those years are still some of our most treasured and current. We have lived for 7 years in Spain, travelled far less, and we still feel like a piece of tumbleweed being blown across the landscape. All that to say, it is not necessarily the length of time in a place that breeds a sense of stability.

How do we navigate a call to mobility in such a way that we cultivate places of stability in our lives?

I'll offer 5 thoughts to get us started:

  1. Make friends with people who are rooted in the place where you live, who have history there. Their sense of stability will infect you with a feeling of relational longevity and connection to the geography. While this has been difficult for us to achieve in this season, I still hold to this value and hope.
  2. Create intentional rhythms with a stable group, whether that is a regular weekend pizza night, or Sabbath meals to close off the working week. Consider other seasonal celebrations and develop a groove with a few friends. These patterns of connection nurture stability in us.
  3. Be intentional about moments of arrival and departure, so that welcomes and farewells become meaningful moments and not just another airport run. It's easy for us to become so desensitised to all the comings and goings - ours and others - that we don't give ourselves time to adjust. We can establish some simple 're-attach' or 'release' routines to help ground us in this place.
  4. Plant things. I know that sounds kind of simplistic but, truly, watching a garden grow year on year gives a sense of stability like nothing else. We planted a cherry tree that is now beginning to thicken out and look mature, and it causes us to feel invested in this place and its ongoing flourishing.
  5. Identify those favourite places that bring you a sense of wellbeing and to which you return time after time. Whether a beauty spot you discovered on a hike, or a coffee shop that has a vibe you love, these can become sacred spaces for us. They connect us to this place and give us a sense of stability and belonging.

What's your story? Do feel more drawn to being mobile or to being stable? Where do your experiences of one or the other feel ill-fitting? For what is your heart longing, as you consider your next season?

Wednesday, 17 June 2020

Wednesday 17 June

It's taken a while, but after almost a lifetime of supporting our daughter through her experience of compulsory education, it has finally sunk in that it's over. And more amazing, she is choosing to return to education but this time on her own terms.

By way of explanation, I have to go back to the beginning. When Keziah was less than a year old, my husband and I launched a new ministry, together with another friend. It meant a fair amount of travel throughout the African continent, and often Keziah came with us. Mozambique, Namibia, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Uganda, Ethiopia … these were all places she visited with us before she was old enough to go to school.

In Uganda in 2009

When we were not travelling, we initially used our house for office space. Keziah would sit at the desk alongside us, content to be wherever we were. And then we took an office away from home, and our small team began to grow. Tim and I had to figure out how to put our value for co-parenting into action, and began a tag-teaming partnership that would become pretty slick over the years. When people asked us how Keziah - and later Manu - coped with parents who both worked and travelled for ministry, we would point out that our kids actually had way more parental contact than the kid whose dad commutes to the city, works long hours and travels for business. Our flexible situation has meant that there’s always one of us available for school events, homework help, evening meals, sick days and holidays. I’m grateful for that.

Anyway, when Keziah was about 3 we thought it would be a good idea to have two mornings each week when we could both work, undistracted, at the office. We found a small, family-feeling creche where we thought she’d be happy. She wasn’t. After a couple of weeks, the staff let us know that it would be better if we waited a while, she didn’t seem ready to be separated from us. And although we waited, I’m not sure she was ever ready. As it turns out, this bright, creative child simply never found her groove when it came to attending school.

Keziah and her friend, with their head-teacher

I have many memories of leaving her crying at school. Teachers told me it was better to leave quickly, that she would recover more easily if our goodbyes weren’t long and drawn out, but rather snappy, even perfunctory. I would get to the car and either cry myself, or put music on so loudly it would drown out my feeling of letting her down. What can you do, as a parent, when your kid hates school? I never wanted to home-school, although we did end up trying it for a year out of desperation. Let’s just say, it wasn’t really the nirvana we all wanted it to be.

It’s true that Keziah had her fair share of challenges when it came to schooling. There was the time she went into Spanish school for a year, to learn the language. Which was her choice and really great for about 6 weeks, until she started feeling pressured to be more capable in Spanish than she actually felt. Then there was the time she refused to date a guy who had, up until that point, been a good friend to her. Suddenly, a few kids labelled her because, at the age of fourteen, she wasn’t ready for a romantic relationship. Some kids can shrug their shoulders and find a way to cope, and some just can’t. Somewhere along the line, while I vacillated between coaching, cajoling and being mad, either with her or with the system, I think Keziah decided she hated school. She saw it as an unjust system imposed on her against her will, and from then on it was pretty hard to stay the course.

Over the last couple of years, it seems school-related stress became worse, if that were possible. Tears, rants, running away, and worse: we had it all. I did my best to reach out for some support locally, but we were pretty much navigating it on our own. We had a few friends living in different parts of the world, not all of whom even knew one another, who became our lifeline for prayer. We could at least let a few people know when we had really awful days, and it meant a lot to hear some sane words of support spoken when feelings of despair were running high.

Even though at times I have doubted whether we would get Keziah through her final exams, at times I have still found myself suggesting paths forward that are at odds with this performance anxiety. I don’t know, call it parental denial I guess. Otherwise known as my need for her to achieve success in some conventional way (Enneagram 3 all the way). She’s always been so good at music, so I thought perhaps she could pursue that. Can you imagine the extent to which that would have set her up for stress?

As it turns out, with support and room for manoeuvre a kid can find her way. Keziah has come to a level of self-awareness that is rare in most adults. Sure, there have been many times in the recent season of decision-making when she hasn’t known what she wants for her life - who knows that at 18? - but she has known what she doesn’t want. As it turns out, she's pretty well-practiced at that side of things. She knew she didn’t want to be put in a box, and she has been looking for ways to pursue the things she loves without sacrificing her sense of who she is.

We’re at a good point in the story now: during lockdown Keziah has secured a place to study medical herbalism in Devon. She can live with family which, since she has lived outside the UK for all but 2 of her years, feels important and grounding. It all seems to sync with her interests in Veganism and sustainable health, the crunchy alternative side to who she is. Who knows how it will work out and whether she’ll love the course as much as she hopes, but this mother’s heart is breathing a little easier these days. 

You know, we can feel so responsible, as though we have to make the good stuff happen in the lives of our kids. Truly though, with room to discover their own sense of becoming, they can find the ability within themselves to say 'yes' and 'no' in the best kind of way. That, after all, is one mark of a good life - knowing to say 'yes' and 'no' to the right things. Somehow Keziah learned to speak loudly enough that even this hard-of-hearing mother could hear.

Tuesday, 16 June 2020

Monday 15 June

(Posted a day late: read on to find out why.)

Today I received an email forwarded by a friend. It was one of many communications seeking to distinguish between the wood and the trees in this furore around race, and especially systemic racial discrimination in the United States. 

[Photo by Chad Madden on Unsplash]

Being written by an academic person of colour, this particular communication was considered to have more credibility than, for example, the plethora of social media posts out there. And it makes some important points about the extremism of certain elements of the Black Lives Matter movement. I was invited to circulate the email to those in my network, to help educate around the questionable morality of those behind the protests currently being staged in cities around the world.

I’m not going circulate that email. Not because it does not raise good questions, not because it is not well-argued, certainly not because I would unreservedly support all factions of BLM. But because I don’t want to be part of what can so easily sound like an attempt to avoid the responsibility to act justly. I'm just not interested in hearing that you might have found a loop hole. Why would you be looking for a loop hole? An excuse that releases you from the need to change your ways, to reexamine your world and the way you inhabit it?

Yes, there are some unhelpful and extreme activists out there, and there are also so many layers of what is called 'news' as to make the truth muddy at best. But here’s the thing: for too long the people of God have remained silent over issues of injustice and, in the space created by that silence, other voices have become loud and rowdy. I am not interested in arguing about whether those voices are now too loud or too rowdy, or whether the language they are using is too volatile.

I don't want to hear that we need to wait to properly separate out the 'good' or 'worthy' voices from the 'not-so-good' or 'unworthy' ones. It is true that there are those among the voices speaking up for black lives to matter who also speak for other causes. Some of those causes are not ones that I would support or want to see gain traction. Nevertheless, there is a roar rising around the world that has reached fever pitch precisely because the people of God - the very people who should at all times and in any way possible speak up for the weak, the poor, and the marginalised - we have waited too long, weighing our words to the point of saying nothing at all.

Case in point: I would have posted this last night, only waiting for Tim to read it before I went ahead. He expressed concern that this phrase might be mistaken, or that phrase could cause offence. While I welcome his input - I asked for it, after all - it very clearly demonstrates one of our current challenges. We can get so tied up in knots about saying the right thing that we end up keeping silent when we should speak.

It’s not bad to measure our words, but it’s more than our words that shall now be weighed. We shall be weighed in the balance that measures righteousness against unrighteousness, and I am afraid we shall be found wanting. If righteousness is being in 'right relationship' then to what extent can we be said to be in right relationship with our neighbour? And if we are not in 'right relationship' with our neighbour, then can we truly be said to be in 'right relationship' with God?

I don't know what the big answers are. That is, I don't know how we will figure out the large scale changes that need to be made when it comes to unjustly weighted systems. But let not our desire for the elusive solution stop us from pausing to feel our way around the problem, and to feel our way alongside those who live with that problem day in and day out. My job right now - and yours, if you are willing - is to figure out what I want my life to look like. Will I find ways to move towards to my neighbour, will I speak up or choose to remain blind to unjust systems, will I live generously or in ways that make me feel safer and more comfortable? 

Perhaps these are not problems to be solved at all, but rather dilemmas to navigate. May we navigate them with compassion, sensitivity and wisdom, resisting the urge to hide behind excuses, however reasonable they sound.

If you are interested, this is a very helpful and thought-provoking video as we all continue to find our way through.

Sunday, 14 June 2020

Sat/Sun 13-14 June

It's beginning to feel like summer! Just one more week of school for Manu - and I am so proud of the way she has navigated the move to online school and schooling from home. It is not easy as an adult to be on the computer all day, every day, let alone as a child. Classes online seem to be just as noisy as classes in person, but with less teacher control and less of a community dynamic.

There are many things she has missed. Like walking between classes, seeing her school mates, playing football, and doing creative things in class. She has complained many times that school has become a boring round of worksheets, with every day the same as the last. She has kept her grades up, and continued to engage well. I admire her ability to be self-motivated, although I can see her enthusiasm and love of learning has taken a severe knock. 

Having said that, I am impressed with the school and teachers, who really have done the best they could given the circumstances. Just this week, I received a call from the school counsellor, who is phoning every family to check how the kids are doing. That's good care, right there.

This weekend was a well-deserved break for her and the kids of another family, who are friends of ours. We went together to a reservoir about a 45 minute drive from home. There was a cool wind and personally I was chilly most of the time we were there, but the kids weren't bothered and spent lots of time in the water. The perfect antidote to a week of online schooling! It was fun to picnic and chat, and to celebrate the graduation of one of our friends from her master's program.

When we got home, Tim and I decided to finish the upholstery project we'd started the day before. Tim had picked up this old wood-framed chair from a family that are returning to the States. It was in a bit of a sad state, so we ordered new padding and set to work with some fabric I had been saving from our last visit to South Africa. I am really pleased with the result. 

Tim has sort of 'adopted' the chair that we have on our balcony as his spot for morning quiet times, or sundowners. In any case, it's a bit too deep to be comfortable for me (yes, that means my legs are too short!). This little chair is perfect for my height and now we have Mr and Mrs chairs! It was a fun project since, amidst the craziness of the world right now, I am still very aware that doing practical and creative activities is very grounding for me.

In other weekend round-up news, Tim and I enjoyed a great 12km trail run and lovely sundowners at the beach. As the world continues to twist and turn, in a tumult of sorrow and rage, indignation and opinion, I am grateful for the places and people that anchor me. Along with the fun and the sun, there were hard things this weekend - difficult words spoken, opinions touted, deep concerns felt for people we love and other we don't know personally. 

As Martin Luther famously said, Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree. Enjoying the beauty of nature with friends, creating order and beauty in the environment around us, investing in the health of our bodies and our relationships - it's easy to think that these things are light and fluffy, irreverent even, when such grave and historic events are unfolding in the world around us. Could it be that it is especially at times such as these that our acts of love, and creativity, and celebration mean the most?

I will put my hand up and open my mouth on behalf of the marginalised, and I am ready for flinty conversations and difficult choices. And at the very same time, I continue to side with generative goodness and living a life of love and purpose. When you stop to think about it, these are two threads of the same message of restoration and redemption.

Friday, 12 June 2020

Friday 12 June

Today is what we have come to call, in our family, Sisters' Day.

When Keziah was 4 years old, we were on a visit from South Africa, where we were living, to England. It was summertime and the rest of Tim's family had planned to attend New Wine, a Christian conference where everyone camped or caravanned, went to seminars and worship gatherings, and generally hung out. It was alternately that summery weather ideal for camping, or pouring with rain.

Anyway, this particular year Keziah was attending the daily round of kids' activities. At one of them, they were talking to the kids about the ways God might speak to us. You know, sort of normalising the experience with kid humour by saying things like, God could talk to them when they are sitting on the loo.

With this in mind, a couple of days later I asked Keziah if she had been listening out for something God might have whispered. What had he said, if so? 'Oh sure,' she retorted. 'He said I am going to have a sister!' Well quite honestly, at that time I was pretty happy with just the one kiddo, so I sort of pushed it to the side as childish imaginations. But fast-forward a couple of years and we found ourselves slap bang in the middle of an adoption process. On 12 June 2008 we brought our daughter home at 8 weeks old and, in Keziah's mind, she was the answer to her prayer to have a sister and the fulfilment of God's word to her.

For this reason 12 June has been designated Sisters' Day in our family. For me, this is one of my favourite days to celebrate: the day our two girls became sisters. Every couple of years, Tim pulls together a collection of photos depicting random moments of family life. The video of photos he made this year seems to have an alarming number of family selfies, but hey, sometimes that's the only way to get the girls to stand still for a photo.

This is a day birthed in prayer and longing, not just for our family, but for the ordinary, extraordinary lives of each one of us to be infused with the belonging and reconciliation made possible through Jesus.
This is a day that reminds me that we are all included in relationship, brought near - and into - the loving connection of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
This is a day made possible - a family reality made possible - not because we are able, but because the Spirit of God is the Spirit of Adoption.
This is a day of loss, human adoption must always recognise loss. And also a day when we live into the truth that all our losses will be redeemed, caught up in love, and healed.
This is a vulnerable day, a day of recognising that we are not enough to cover all wounds, to shore up places of identity formation. We can't make it all that we want it to be. But God.
This is a day when we live into deep truth - that the inside of these holy realities is always larger than the outside. And so, it is a day marked by incredible grace and heart-stopping gratitude.
On Manu's birth certificate it says: "It is as if she were born into this family." This is a day when we celebrate belonging, inclusion and connection. These are gifts we all get invited to share, and it's life-changing for every one of us.

Wednesday, 10 June 2020

Wednesday 10 June

Today two things happened that reminded me of something very important. A thing so foundational and so lacking in 'sex appeal' that it often goes unnoticed.

My daughter posted on her Instagram three things she has learned from lockdown. One of them read:

"Routine, routine, routine: having good daily rhythms is so powerful. 
It has transformed the way I go through my day. I prioritise all the right things."

This has been so true for her. She's been the one person in the house who has been completely between things during lockdown. She had nothing - apart from family routines - that was expected of her over these weeks of staying home. And she has had to create her own expectations of herself, which she categorised as movement, healthy eating, work, and play.

[Photo by Dani Rendina on Unsplash]

In the evening, I went to the Malaga port to collect a friend and team member arriving on the ferry from Morocco. Three days before Spain closed her borders, she had entered Morocco with a couple of visitors, who wanted to make a quick visit as part of their vacation. It ended up being a whole drama, with the visitors finally making it back to their home country some days later and my friend obliged to ride out the lockdown from there.

As we caught up briefly before I left her at her apartment for 14 days of quarantine, she mentioned that her self-imposed routine had kept her sane. Just like Keziah, she had created for herself rhythms of movement, healthy eating, work (study), and play. By adhering to these rhythms, she created for herself a container for those strange days of being confined in someone else's home, in a foreign country, for an undetermined amount of time.

[Photo by Nils Stahl on Unsplash]

I can identify. My day starts with reading, journalling and prayer, followed by a workout or a run. (I see life with God as absolutely connected to the way I live in my body. You can read more about why on my website.) The way I start my morning is fundamentally connected to how I go about the rest of my day. 

How about you? Do you identify with this need for a good routine? To what extent have you experienced that differently during lockdown? What does your daily and weekly routine look like? What are the most important elements of your rhythm of life that sustain you?

Tuesday, 9 June 2020

Tuesday 9 June

Day 86 and perhaps we are late to the party. The Spring-cleaning party, I mean.

We live in an upside down four-storey house that has a drive and car port, but no garage. There is also no access from the car port - at the top of the house, where the street level entrance is - to the levels below. This means we have to carry through the house everything that needs to be stored, or taken to the backyard and garden.

It's a pain. Just how much of a pain becomes obvious when receiving a delivery of 6 tonnes of gravel that has to get shifted to the very bottom of the terraced garden. Although on that occasion Tim rigged up a pulley system off the side of the driveway, there were still an awful lot of stairs to navigate!

For years, I have dreamed of installing a spiral staircase from the side of the driveway on the upper level - exactly where that pulley rig was - down to the third level where the storage area is. But, well, we don't own the house and the cost of installing such a thing doesn't make sense for us (albeit making a whole lot of sense in terms of a fire exit, but that's another story).

That's all by way of back-story.

[Photo by Alexander Shustov on Unsplash]

Today, Tim decided to empty out the storage area on the third level. Along with camping gear and winter duvets, there was stuff in there that we had unpacked from our container when it arrived from South Africa 7 years ago. And we haven't used since! Honestly, the idea of hauling it all the way through the house - let alone the thought of the chaotic process it would involve - was sufficiently off-putting that we just closed the storage area and ignored what was there.

Today mysteriously presented itself as The Day when a serendipitous intersection of time and energy made the grand clear-out possible.

I won't bore you with the details. Let me just tell you the things I was glad to rediscover:

  • A selection of French literature that I thought I had lost between countries.
  • Two fabulous coffee sacks that I hope to turn into something funky.
  • A Djembe drum, bought by Tim in Madagascar that will be good as new with a fresh skin.
Needless to say, the two pairs of (too small) roller skates, an ancient sleeping bag and a broken violin have all now begun their final journey. And as the accumulated trash has been turfed out, the whole place feels lighter, more orderly. The clutter of the past has made way for life in the present.

[Photo by Pim Chu on Unsplash]

These days, it seems like there is a whole bunch of accumulated trash that needs clearing out from among us all. Old ways of thinking and behaving, systems that keep in place stuff that should have been hauled out and destroyed a long time ago. Wouldn't it be wonderful if this season offers to us a serendipitous intersection of longing, and righteous anger, and agreement? Sufficient to the task of emptying everything out, taking a good hard look at what we've been hanging onto, and ridding ourselves of all that no longer serves us.

It's a messy job, one that we have put off for far too long. It will take grit and collaboration to see it through. And I am convinced that, on the other side, we will discover a sort of orderliness that creates space for all of us, no matter our skin colour, and for the good life we all desire.

Monday, 8 June 2020

Monday 8 June

Day 85 and the start of Phase 3 here in Spain.

It's been a fine and sunny day here today. But still, after the front door slammed several times with the through-draught, I found myself still thinking about the wind ... about the things that get blown around and the things that stay put; about the times we bemoan the wind and the times we long for it to blow.

[Photo by Bobby Burch on Unsplash]

I have written elsewhere about a posture of passivity and the metaphor of a sailboat, sails set and ready to go the moment the wind gusts from the right direction. The same picture keeps coming to mind as I - and maybe many of us - hold the tension between the things we can do and the things we can only get ready to do, should the Spirit energise our preparations with his action. I seem to find myself working on several fronts these days that require a letting go, on the one hand, and a determined anticipation, on the other.

Take our parenting of our adopted daughter, for one. At 12 years old, she is pretty clear that she doesn't want to talk deeply about her origins or about race. I respect that, she gets to set the pace on this one and right now she's not ready. But you've got to know that I am taking a posture of alert readiness: when she opens that particular door, I want to be ready to walk through it with her. I don't feel passive; on the contrary, I feel watchful, prayerful and expectant. At the same time, I know that this is no rowboat for me to paddle. Sails up and ready, I wait for the wind to turn in that direction.

Then there's the launching of our older daughter into a life in the UK for the next four years of training. She needs to learn to drive, she needs to make friends, she needs to adapt to British culture, she needs to find a church community, she needs to find a job. I want so badly to sail that ship into a safe harbour, but that's not my job. My job is to help her prepare her sails, to be ready for the opportunities and invitations that will come to her at the right time. I can't sail that particular ship - I ain't the captain and I ain't the wind.

Then there's plans for the future. After 85 days of lockdown, there are training courses that I had hoped would already be well underway, or at least planned with a degree of certainty by now. There are other projects my husband and I want to work on together, and we have to recognise that this is not a time for forcing and pushing. It is a time for setting our sails, so we draw up various possibilities, we work on our ideas and make lots of room for dreaming. We prepare ourselves by reading, and learning, and connecting with people. And we wait for the wind to blow, without stressing that it will be late or that it may never come at all.

This posture of alert readiness lifts the burden for the outcome - and for finding the 'right' way to achieve the outcome - from our shoulders. Our responsibility is simply to be ready, to do the next small yet vital thing that prepares the vessel to set sail. The final responsibility for whether the boat actually makes it to the other shore rests with the wind.

I wonder if this resonates with you today? Perhaps you have plans that are now uncertain? Maybe you have hopes for your life that you unable to make happen on your own? How would it be for you to consider ways to 'set your sails' and, once engaged in that, rest in the posture of surrender to the wind?

Sunday, 7 June 2020

Sat/Sun 6-7 June

Days 83 & 84 and the last days of Phase 2 of lockdown, at least for this round (sorry, does that sound cynical?).

I felt desperate for space this weekend, to get beyond the four walls of my own home and to breathe deeply in spacious places. We ended up going to three different places over the course of the weekend and, true to form, nature absorbed from us our tension and frustration and in their place offered us peace and energy.

First we went to the lake at El Chorro, an extended lake formation resulting from the construction of a dam in the 1920s. It's a popular leisure area and, while the camping area remains closed, the places reserved for day-trippers were open and pretty busy. We found a relatively quiet zone, still adjusting to the apparent keenness of the general population to return to business as usual. The fish seem to have benefitted from the lockdown and have gotten big since we were last there. We picnicked and Tim had a quick swim. The rest of us were not so keen to brave the resident fish (I promise you, they were enormous and I was having flashbacks to being nibbled by fish in a dam in South Africa!).

This morning, Tim and I headed out early with the dogs. We walked from our house onto the hillside, taking a very direct and steep route onto the ridge, before circling around - via a tea spot overlooking the Torremolinos coast - and heading down a stepped and very eroded descent back to the house. We continue to be surprised at how many people seem to have discovered the hills since lockdown, which is a great thing although not quite what we're looking for when out walking.

This evening, we took the girls to the beach for sundowners, to celebrate Keziah getting one of the very few places for the Betonica course in Medical Herbalism. It was blowing a gale - which we loved because it's quite unusual for our part of the Mediterranean coast. 

Being out in the wind reminded me of a poem I wrote. In it I ask myself the question, what remains steadfast within me when the world around me is in turmoil? It seems an appropriate question for this buffeted season in the world. You can listen to the poem here

How would you answer this question? What holds firm in you when everything is moving?

Friday, 5 June 2020

Friday 5 June

Day 82 and it looks like on Monday we move into Phase 3 of emerging from lockdown. Right now I couldn't tell you exactly what this means, but that's most likely because it's Friday night and my brain isn't fully functional.

These days I feel as though news comes in waves. A series of bad news hits like waves. Just as you lift your head above the water to draw a ragged breath, another wave knocks you off your feet. First Brexit and Boris, then a global pandemic. All this, followed by race riots and the constantly astonishing behaviour of the one-who-shall-not-be-named. Finally (and yes, I know this is comparatively small but it may be the proverbial last straw - the camel's back being already significantly weakened) we just heard that our entire neighbourhood will be hit by 8 months of major road works.

The loss of a sense of European identify, along with new driving licenses and the prospect of similarly tedious reams of red tape; months in home confinement and deep concern for the ongoing implications for work, family and ministry; wordless sorrow over entrenched injustice that faces us with complex questions, in the particular way that is true for any inter-racial family; despair as an entire culture seems to go into an inexorable process of implosion.

And road works.

[Photo by Fons Heijnsbroek on Unsplash]

I know, I know. It doesn't make any sense. The noise, the dust, the inability to drive quickly and easily to and from our home. All that is so insignificant in the grand scheme of things. Yet am I the only one who feels these small inconveniences can be the final drop that overflows the bucket of things you can manage to hold?

Who else is crying out for good news? A break from the waves that keep hitting, a chance to draw breath?

Well, here's one good and beautiful piece of news ...

This week, our eldest daughter had an interview for a 4 year training program in Medical Herbalism. It would mean spending term-time with family in Devon, and seems a perfect way to combine her interests in alternative and sustainable health and wellbeing. After 6 months in New Zealand and then returning home just in time for lockdown, this has felt like a season in limbo for Keziah - so today, when she heard that she has a place on the course, it felt like a very special gift. This is wonderful news - making me think of gardens and gentle ways of being in the world - and means she can just roll with whatever the next few months of summer bring.

[Photo by Katherine Hanlon on Unsplash]

And rolling with it seems to be just about the best any of us can hope to do, road works or not.

Thursday, 4 June 2020

Thursday 4 June

Day 81

I continue to find myself disturbed and stirred by the events - recent and long past - surrounding the death of George Floyd in the United States. As I should. These are moments designed to wake us up to what is real about our societies and about our own hearts. We should not be content to sleepwalk through our lives.

[Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash]

You might remember that last weekend I described some of the conversations taking place in our home, as we tuned in to the news and followed social media threads. Today, as our personal and shared process continues, I spoke with some of our CMS family . As people in mission, who have chosen to live in cultures that are different from our own and have sought to identify with the people of those cultures, seeking to reflect the love of Christ in the ways we live, it is confrontational to face the question of racial privilege and prejudice. And yet, if this is our story, it is crucial that we acknowledge the ways we have benefitted from systemic racial discrimination. If indeed we have never had to wonder whether we will be safe from bullying, or from harmful assumptions based on our appearance, if we have never had to wonder if the colour of our skin with preclude us from a particular job, or role, or opportunity, then we have benefitted from a system that is broken. 

And the fact that we didn't design the system in no way exempts us from being part of fixing it.

At the same time as mulling over all this, I have been writing a piece for a prayer publication on the topic of 'seeking God.' What does it mean to seek God at such a time as this, I wonder? Five things come to mind as I consider how I might seek God in this season:

1. Seeking God means to LISTEN - listening implies talking less; being willing to listen to the cries and complaints of others. It means I adopt a posture of listening to God,  and his word.

2. Seeking God means to LONG FOR - to be in touch with the longing within us for God’s redemption to be worked out in our world and our communities, and our own hearts; to allow ourselves to feel it deeply.

3. Seeking God means to LAMENT - to add our groaning, our supplication, our sorrowing to those of the world around us and yes, even that of creation (as we read about in Romans chapter 8).

4. Seeking God means to WATCH - to pay attention, to look to see what God might be about in the current situation, to ‘keep our eyes peeled’ and our spirits alert; to remain watchful.

5. Seeking God means to WAIT - to wait on God, the chief mover and shaker, to submit to his timing. Not out of a lack of desire to act, but out of trust in his agency and commitment to redemptive change.

[Photo by Matt Sclarandis on Unsplash]

Douglas McKelvey, the author of the beautiful collection of liturgies published as Every Moment Holy, has offered a new piece for this season. He has titled it A Liturgy for a Time of Widespread Suffering and you can find it here.

A Liturgy for a Time of Widespread Suffering

Christ Our King, 
Our world is overtaken by unexpected 
calamity, and by a host of attending fears, 
worries, and insecurities. 

We witness suffering, confusion, and 
hardship multiplied around us, and we find
ourselves swept up in these same anxieties and 
troubles, dismayed by so many uncertainties. 

Now we turn to you, O God, 
in this season of our common distress.

Be merciful, O Christ, to those who suffer, 
to those who worry, to those who grieve, to
those who are threatened or harmed in any 
way by this upheaval. Let your holy compassions 
be active throughout the world even now—
tending the afflicted, comforting the 
brokenhearted, and bringing hope to 
many who are hopeless. 

Use even these hardships to woo our hearts 
nearer to you, O God.

Indeed, O Father, may these days 
of disquiet become a catalyst 
for conviction and repentance,
for the tendering of our affections, 
for the stirring of our sympathies,
for the refining of our love.

We are your people, who are called by you,
We need not be troubled or alarmed.

Indeed, O Lord, let us love now more fearlessly,
remembering that you created us, 
and appointed us 
to live in these very places, 
in the midst of these unsettled times. 

It is no surprise to you that we are here now,
sharing in this turmoil along with the rest of 
our society, for you have called your children 
to live as salt and light among the nations, 
praying and laboring for the flourishing of the 
communities where we dwell, acting as agents of 
your forgiveness, salvation, healing, reconciliation, 
and hope, in the very midst of an often-troubled world.

And in these holy vocations 
you have not left us helpless, O Lord, 
because you have not left us at all. 
Your Spirit remains among us.

Inhabit now your church, O Spirit of the Risen Christ.
Unite and equip your people for the work before them.

Father, empower your children to live as your children. 
In times of distress let us respond, not as those 
who would instinctively entrench for our own 
self-preservation, but rather as those who—in imitation 
of their Lord—would move in humble obedience toward 
the needs and hurts of their neighborhoods and communities.

You were not ashamed to share in our sufferings, Jesus. 
Let us now be willing to share in yours, serving 
as your visible witnesses in this broken world.

Hear now these words, you children of God, 
and be greatly encouraged:
The Lord’s throne in heaven is yet occupied, 
his rule is eternal, and his good purposes 
on earth will be forever accomplished.
So we need never be swayed by the brief and 
passing panics of this age.

You are the King of the Ages, O Christ, 
and history is held in your Father’s hands. 

We, your people, know the good and glorious 
end of this story. Our heavenly hope is secure. 
In this time of widespread suffering then, 
let us rest afresh in the surpassing peace of that 
vision, that your whole church on earth might be 
liberated to love more generously and sacrificially.

Now labor in and through us, O Lord, extending and 
multiplying the many expressions of your mercy.


Finally, this is a poem I wrote as part of a very personal process in the midst of the questions and lament around this topic. There is no doubt that words are limited and inadequate in the face of such complexity and pain. This is just my flawed attempt to articulate something as part of raising my hand to say, 'Yes, I see you, Yes, I hear you, you belong.'