11 Apr 2020

Life support

Our church has this principle that underpins everything we do:
• Prayer is our heartbeat

There are a few more (see website here) but I've been kind of fixated on this one for a while. Prayer is the basis for everything that goes on. The analogy is simple - without a heart beat, we're dead. And without prayer - a constant, dynamic connection to God - any idea or project or activity the church can dream up, is likewise dead.

Prayer is our heartbeat. 

I've thought about this a lot recently. Mainly because my husband's heart stopped a few weeks ago.

It was a very weird day.

A woman we'd met only once before spent a big chunk of her day with her hands inside his chest, fixing a diseased valve and removing a section of ballooned aorta before it went pop. For 6 and a half hours his heart was motionless, his lungs deflated and pushed to the side, while a bypass machine took over all vital functions. Blood was removed from his body, filtered, cooled and oxygenated before being returned by a mechanical pump - allowing the surgeon to works in a bloodless surgical field.

I now officially LOVE this woman - and the team of people who looked after him during his 9 day stay at the Heath. The thank you cards and trays of Dunkin Donuts were a deeply inadequate expression of thanks but I honestly don't know how to gift wrap such a thing and anyway - everyone loves donuts.

On 7th January my husband had NO heartbeat. But - it wasn't over. Another mechanism had kicked in and was refusing to let him go. The period in ICU was temporary. It facilitated surgery that resulted in a person with waaay more energy than he's had for years and who constantly ticks like a bomb because the new valve is titanium based and will last longer than the rest of him. Totally worth it. Plus he has this really cool scar:




And now we are collectively experiencing a very weird period in history.

There are record numbers of people in the ICU departments across the country and across the globe. Nations all over the world are in various states of lockdown to control the spread of Covid-19 and the resulting illness that can accompany it. We are in the middle of something quite extraordinary that we have no blueprint for.

Being unconscious and sedated is not normal, healthy or desirable. Being intubated and on a ventilator is not the default position of a human being.

If prayer is our heartbeat, then to be prayer-less is unnatural and temporary. But like the ICU, there are mechanisms in place that mean it's not the end. God is like, This thing can't die. I'm taking over. I'll pump the blood and keep this thing going until you're strong enough. Until you can wake up.

This thing isn't over Xx

In the same way, the Holy Spirit helps us where we are weak. We do not know how to pray or what we should pray for, but the Holy Spirit prays to God for us with sounds that cannot be put into words. (Romans 8:26)

Why Pray? (247)



4 Apr 2020

Parenting fail (2)

Lockdown involves a family game after dinner. Attendance is compulsory, if a little challenging to the family's introverted key worker who has spent 8 hours of the day dealing with the general public from 2m away.

It's also a little challenging to the family member who does not use humour as a coping mechanism when the rest of us play Bananagrams like this.



Game ended with key worker consoling sibling upstairs, remaining sibling in the shower wondering what all the fuss was about, other parent finding the whole thing hilarious and me up early the next morning constructing this as an apology.

25 Mar 2020

Lockdown in the cave

The LORD is my rock, my protection, my Saviour. My God is my rock. I can run to him for safety. He is my shield and my saving strength, my defender. (‭‭Psalms‬ ‭18:2‬)‬‬

Apparently board and card games are enjoying a bit of a resurgence. Our household is a bit geeky ahead of the curve and we were still playing our way through the Christmas stash of new games before the Lockdown hit.

Now the Apocalypse Sanity Plan involves compulsory attendance at the evening game of Ticket to Ride / Skyjo / Ravine or Scotland Yard. And I know you're in the house somewhere because NOBODY'S GOING ANYWHERE.

Ravine is a particularly good metaphor for our situation right now - except players are cooperating for survival against adverse weather events and animal attacks rather than a virus.



The premise is: Your plane crashes on a desert island. You escape with one useful item from the wreckage. Your goal is to survive until rescue arrives. Your odds of survival increase dramatically if you cooperate and share resources. (Universal Basic Income anyone...?)

Each player's health is represented with wooden hearts. One side of the counter is a full heart. This is good. The other side represents an empty heart. This is bad.

Hearts are lost via night time animal attack or bad weather and gained by foraging for food in the day. Occasionally a wounded animal stumbles into your camp at night which allows you to eat and recover hearts, or you accidentally forage for wasps or poisoned berries in the day and lose them, but generally speaking:
Day = good
Night = bad

All manner of awful things happen in the dark. When you are vulnerable. When you can't think or see clearly. When you are afraid. Bears, racoons, rabid wolves and mental weather patterns - any of these can befall you when the night card is flipped over.


Lighting a fire offers some protection, but you can only do this if you have wood that didn't get drenched last night. You can build shelter with foraged items to shield group members, but a mud slide or gale can flatten it in one night.

Some players can't cope. The uncertainty and chaos renders them insane. The effect may be temporary until they regain a heart - or permanent until death or rescue. It's part of the fun of playing, to not know these things...

There is a game changer though.

Something that turns this whole thing around and makes it almost unfair on the weather and the rabid animals.

We'd played this game over half a dozen times before we turned it over:

The Cave



PERMANENT shelter for ALL players.

Only after numerous games, untimely deaths, episodes of insanity and continuous trench foot from the unrelenting rain does the pure sweetness of this truly sink in.

Permanent shelter.
The gales, fog, mud slides and storms don't affect the structure of The Cave. It can't be flattened.

For ALL players. 
No more rock-paper-scissoring for the tarp. Or only being awarded shelter because you don't have chocolate or an adrenaline syringe.

Everyone can fit in The Cave.

In all the games we've played, if The Cave comes up, you generally make it until rescue day. This doesn't mean that life on the island is easy. The weather is still shocking and the concept of owning anything is ludicrous - resources can still be swept away in a gale, cougars still attack and you'll occasionally wake up to find racoons rummaging through your pockets. But The Cave will shelter and keep you.

You may go insane a couple of times before the game ends, but chances are you'll eventually turn over this card one day.


I don't know. It feels almost too early to post this. We've been in lockdown less than a week and I'm under no illusions that things are about to get a whole lot worse before they get better.

But they WILL get better.

We know how the story ends.



7 Jan 2020

Inside out



Years ago I nursed a tiny old lady called Elsie. Time, arthritis and dementia meant she was constantly huddled over in an almost foetal position and her vocabulary consisted of 'No', 'Aye' and the occasional bout of singing. She needed constant care and was completely dependant on other people for all activities of daily living. Feeding. Bathing. Dressing. Toileting. Turning in the night. And anything else that might happen in between.

Like all the staff, I talked to Elsie when I was dealing with her but never expected much back. She'd outlived most of her family, and those who were still alive were elderly themselves and lived miles away, so there were no visitors to fill in the blanks and educate us about who she really was - or used to be.

Our interactions were understandably limited. Usually along the lines of:
Me: Here's your breakfast, Elsie, Ready for some porridge?
(Silence)
Me: How's that - Ok for you?
(Silence)
Me: Are you enjoying the porridge, Elsie?
Elsie: Aye

Sometimes the most mundane of interactions represent something far bigger. One day, about 3 years after I started working with her, this happened:
Me: Here we go Elsie, have some porridge.
(Silence)
Me: Ready for another spoonful?
(Silence)
Me: Are you enjoying the porridge, Elsie?
Elsie: Aye, It's lovely.

This was the longest sentence she'd ever said to me. And it included 2 brand new words I'd never heard her say before. I stared and stared and her impossibly wrinkled features and tiny sparkling eyes, shocked at the depth of conversation we were having.

Me: Great! Glad to hear it. So... how are you feeling today, Elsie?
(Silence)
Me: What would you like to do after breakfast?
(Silence)
Me: Ready for another spoonful?
Elsie: ....Aye.

And she was gone again. But I'd caught a glimpse of a real, live, actual PERSON within her slowly dying frame. I was acutely aware of the pure functional way I'd approached all interactions with her. Every shift, I'd fed and changed and dressed her like she was an elderly robot.

But Elsie - whoever she was - was still IN there. This ancient body that I'd helped keep alive for the past 3 years still housed an actual human being.

Astounding.

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

It's 3 am and I'm talking to a student in the city where we both live and we are finding each other utterly fascinating.

He's a scientist and a musician. I'm a full time parent and have a degree certificate somewhere in the house - I just can't remember where.

He's an atheist but would like to believe in something. I believe wholeheartedly which is why I'm walking the streets at 3 in the morning with a goody bag of flip flops and sweets.

He has a dog called Fidget and would love to be a father one day. Fidget was the name of my bump when I was pregnant with my middle child.

We bond over a massive range of issues that should be contentious but somehow aren't. The rapid disclosure hops around a fair bit. Free will. Faith. Euthanasia. Abortion. Torture. Politics. He feels my faith and wants to tap into it but can't. I have flashbacks to Elsie and the porridge. I stare into his eyes full of openness and wonder and know our lives are rubbing off on each other in a way I can't explain.

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

I'm at work and about to deal with someone who's been incredibly difficult both via email and over the phone. Now I'm meeting him in person for the first time and I'm determined to be super nice and professional because difficult people are a challenge I enjoy. It's like a game. If I'm helpful and he has to say 'thank you' for something, I win.

Immediately there's an opportunity.

Access to the venue is awful. We're at the rear of a very long building, a full 3 minute walk and flight upstairs from the main entrance. His car is currently parked on double yellow lines outside. It's rammed full of boxes of material that he needs to bring inside within the next 25 minutes when the road closes to everything except buses. There's a fire door by my desk which opens onto a lay-by that is usable for the next 25 minutes. Game on.

I suggest he parks and unloads in the lay-by. I offer to open the fire door each time he returns and watch his boxes while he fetches the next load. He is flustered, but grateful. He thanks me each time I open the door for him. I guard his boxes vigilantly. Later when he's unpacked his boxes, he brings me some pens for the desk and a handful of brain shaped stress toys. Game over. I win. Yay!

But then we start chatting. Over the next 2 days I grow to like him. There's a dinner coming up and he's nervous about going but expected to be there. I tell him it's only semi-formal and will be productive and hopefully fun.

He passes my desk a couple of hours before the dinner, a suit bag draped over his shoulder. 20 minutes later he passes my desk in the opposite direction, wearing the contents of the suit bag and smelling nice.

Suddenly the Game really is over.

I glimpse him as I think God does. The victory dissolves in my head and I imagine him reduced to his component parts.

Unarmed. Unthreatening. Vulnerable. Curious. Pre-loaded with potential.

Human.

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

I think about Elsie and her porridge and her words locked away inside her head. I think about Fidget's owner and our words tumbling around each other in the middle of the night. I think about this new person who initially hid from me but now I see him and the game became stupid.

I left all these interactions changed.

God often uses people to shape and form and mould our thinking. Chance encounters sometimes have an effect years into the future. How much more does the constant, daily drip effect of dialogue with those we do life with? Long term connections?

Who these people are really matters.

It's OK to choose our travelling companions wisely.

And never underestimate the Elsie's.


7 Nov 2019

Skittles

Spawn X: There's been a theft. My skittles have been eaten out the cupboard. I forgot I had them and then I remembered and when I went to get them they were gone.

Me: And you're sure you didn't eat them yourself?

Spawn X: I would have done if it weren't for the EMPTY PACKET.

(Pause for dramatic effect. Rubbish left lying around winds me up. Rubbish hidden in cupboards and drawers even more so). 

Me: Well , by the process of elimination, I didn't eat them and I'm pretty sure dad didn't. But you can ask him and get an honest answer.

Spawn X: I think we both know who they likely suspect is.

Me: Family meeting?

Spawn: I don't want a family meeting - I want justice!

Me: We can discuss at dinner - see what happens?

Spawn X: Might as well. We're having quiche so everyone will be miserable anyway.







24 Jul 2019

Making up

Bedtime conversation in Spawn Y's room. There's unresolved sibling tension. I'm hopeful they will sort it out soon so I can have a shower and finish my gin - which is downstairs getting closer to room temperature the longer I'm up here. (Spawn X knocks and enters room)
Me (whispering): Do you want me to leave?
Spawn Y (whispering): No
Me: Hey. Did you want to talk this out before bed?
Spawn X: I'm sorry I was sarcastic to you before. That wasn't cool.
Spawn Y: That's OK. I'm sorry I was irrationally sensitive.
(They hug)
Me: Ah sweeeet ... You guys are so mature. Just so you know - me and uncle Michael never had conversations like this.
Spawn X: That's cause we're better people than you.



8 Mar 2019

Falling insects

It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men. (Frederick Douglass)

A while ago Madi and me came across a poorly looking bee, crawling on the ground. We found a piece of bark and encouraged Bee to climb on it, then carefully lifted it to a hanging basket directly above us. Bee slowly crawled off the bark then promptly fell, landing with a soft thuk on the ground. Bee obviously wasn't up to hanging from a flower - it needed to stand on one. We found a flowery bush nearby and used the bit of bark to transfer Bee to that instead. We watched it stick a proboscis into the centre of the new flower and drink in liquid energy for a long time.

We walked away, happy that we'd helped Bee survive another day in an increasingly flowerless world. Maybe we'd also helped postpone the apocalypse? You know - when we run out of bees and food and wifi. If the apocalypse does happen I think cockroaches will rise up as the new dominant species. They can live off manky food and survive falls of many times their height without splatting inside out.

Two days later, Madi and me went to Clip & Climb. We watched the short safety video then followed the instructor and got harnessed in. I soon found that clipping and climbing is fun. A system to let you defy gravity and see the world 25' from the ground? What's not to like? It's hard to equate it with any other feeling as an adult who doesn't do extreme sport of any kind, but the sensation of climbing higher than I've ever climbed in my life and then gliding back to earth again was invigorating. It was like someone had tweaked gravity. I scrambled up the wall and glided down 4 times before realising I couldn't breathe properly and needed to stop. I thought of Bee, tumbling from the hanging basket. Falling many times her height and landing on the hard paving slab. How does she experience gravity? Does landing hurt? Or are bees like cockroaches?

I thought about trust. Loads of things in life require trust. Lots of things are probably so familiar and assumed that they are taken for granted and people don't recognise the trust they have in them. Like the harness.

The first time I climbed, I trusted the harness consciously. I was about to experience an unusual thing and told my brain it was OK. I made the decision to believe it would prevent me falling and dying instantly. Or bleeding out slowly, surrounded by panicked Clip and Climb employees. I climbed 5' or so (like the video advised), then leaned back and swooped back to the ground. Trusting the harness was practised and learned. Climbing and falling a short way built confidence to climb higher. To trust some more. To repeat the experience of climbing and falling and becoming knackered yet exhilarated by the whole thing and never once feeling unsafe or damaged.

But what if it hadn't worked out like that? What if all indicators were: this is a safe activity, founded on a reliable mechanism that will feel a bit weird the first few times you try it but everything will work out - but then I splat to the ground on the first attempt?

Chances are, I wouldn't try it again (even if I could still move).

What happens when the trust isn't with gravity, but with people?
I'm your primary care-giver. 
I love you. 
I will nurture you to adulthood and celebrate your independence.
I will protect your body, mind and heart until you get there.

What happens when THAT safety mechanism fails?
Try again. 
I'll catch you this time. 
It won't happen again. 
Trust me- I said it won't happen again. 
WHY WON'T YOU TRUST ME??!

And then fails again?
That's awful - I'll never treat you like that last person did. 
I'm different than them.
OK...  NOW I'm different from them.
You can trust me now.
WHY ARE YOU BLEEDING??!

It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men. 

If this is true, then it's way too big a job for any parent. Building strong children takes a village. Building strong children doesn't ban them from ever climbing (unless you want to cause a different kind of problem), but allowing them to climb within certain parameters. Still allowing them to fall, but with gravity dialled down. To jump and be caught. To jump and sometimes not be caught. To learn who's outstretched arms should be trusted.

Repairing broken men is harder. Some of them don't want to climb ever again. They are afraid of heights and harnesses. They are wary not just of dangerous people, but of everyone. The villagers don't always know what to do with them or how to help. They wonder if repair is possible and who who should foot the bill.

So... damage control. Work with what you know. What are the constants?
• Gravity on earth is 1g. Always.
• Climb to your height and practise falling from there.
• If you can still move it and there's no bleeding, swelling or disfigurement, it's just a bruise. You'll live.
• God is bigger than any mistake you can make.
• Stability attracts stability. Surround yourself with people you want to become like.
• Mechanical failure and human failure are things. Don't be bitter.
• Forgiveness is always an option, even if it's not asked for.
• Terminal velocity increases with mass, so a cockroach will out-survive you in high fall.


6 Mar 2019

Seeking and hiding

It's 3am and I'm in our latest 24/7 prayer room. Our theme is Fixing Broken Things. All the activities around the room feature it on some way. Loosely sometimes- but there if you look for it.

Then they entered into a covenant to seek the Lord God of their fathers with all their heart and with all their soul. (2 Chronicles 15:12)

We have a roll of lining paper gaffer taped to the floor with verses and prayers scribbled all over it. I look at the verse from Chronicles for a long time. I become fixated with the word seek. Isn't it weird to single out one particular word and overthink it until it sounds like something you've never heard before. A foreign syllable that feels strange in your head when you think it and on your lips when you say it and your ears are like - Whoah! That was a brand new sound.

Seek
Seek
Seek

Honestly - what does it even mean?! What does it look like to seek for something? To seek for God? And how do you seek God's presence when it's essentially everywhere? Seeking is kind of like searching, but more intense. Like there's more riding on the outcome. Like your life depends on it or something.


This song starts playing over the PA. It has a line about seeking in it and the printed lyrics are in the prayer tent. I go over to the tent and crawl inside to read them. There’s a sleeping bag and pillow and camping lantern in here. It’s 3am and I could lie down and sleep, but I’m too busy thinking about seeking, here in the tent. Hidden from the rest of the room. Hidden from the world. I’m seeking while I’m hiding. Hiding and seeking at the same time. That's kind of cool.

I remember an incident from years ago when the kids were little and my parents were down visiting us. Grandparents are nature's built-in babysitters and were playing with everyone while I tidied up after dinner. There was lots of squealing and running and laughing as they played hide and seek. There was a distinct lack of stealth to the whole thing that comes with toddlers, but no one seemed to mind and it didn't affect the enjoyment of the game. After a while, the house became quieter as the game moved on and attention (or grandparental energy) ran out. I was making a cup of tea when a muffled voice almost made me drop my mug. 'Do you think they're still looking for me...?'

It was my mum. She'd been hiding in a cupboard for the past 20 minutes, squashed next to the ironing board, 8' from where I was standing and I hadn't know she was there. The kids didn't know she was there either, and what's more, they weren't looking anymore. They were watching TV with Grandad.

Sooooooooo..... My Mum won at hide and seek.

If the end goal is to out manoeuvre the other players and stay hidden until it's decided you can't be found, then everybody gives up and declares you the winner, then that's what happened. Technically and actually. My mum was the winner.

Except that wasn't the point. The point was the game itself. The laughing and being engaged with what's happening in the moment. The being alive together.

It's so easy to beat a little kid at hide and seek. Toddlers are monumentously poor at
1: Being quiet (unless they are asleep)
2: Finding a good hiding spot
3: Staying there for any length of time



As illustrated here (pinched from my mate Michael - engaged in a covert hide and seek operation with his daughter, Abby). I love this picture. It illustrates everything that's beautiful about playing with your kid. You can't win at anything with them because you can't win at relationships. You build them. The game - the stories you create together make the whole thing work.

I think about all this in the prayer tent while I hide. I get a sudden image of God in the fringes of my mind, counting. I zip up the prayer tent to hide even better. I even lie down to make myself smaller. 4..... 3..... 2...... 1...... OK - Where are you!?

And I burst out the tent, surprising him (because you can totally do that) and he laughs and bolts and beckons me to follow him. I don't know where to run to first. He's everywhere. Divine hide and seek.

Is that even a thing? I google and unsurprisingly, other people are writing about it: There's something deep in our hearts that wants to be pursued. We love the feeling of hiding, knowing full well people who care about us are pursuing us, seeking us out. I believe there is a God-given desire in all of us to be pursued, to be sought out. We want someone to pursue us. It makes us feel wanted, worthy, and desired. God is no different. He wants us to pursue Him. I believe that He even hides Himself sometimes to see if we value Him enough to seek Him. www.wholeheartedmen.com

I think this guy's onto something. I think winning is in the connection of relationship, not the victory of the outcome.

And if you really, really want someone to find you, then you hide in plain sight. Just like Abby.