2 Oct 2022

Rocks and hard places

Here's a picture from our recent 247 Prayer Room. This activity station had 2 rucksacks that people were invited to pick up and wear. The instructions were...

Choose a Rucksack

One of these rucksack is filled with rocks
The other one is filled with water
Both are heavy, but only one is useful

What are the rocks in your life?
What refreshes and sustains you, like water?

Ask God for help to put down the rocks and supply you with water.

I tried on the water rucksack, buckling it up the way a Runner would. It had a built in bendy straw thing so you could drink the water while wearing it. I wandered around the room feeling heavier than normal as the water sloshed around. 

There was a treadmill at another prayer station. I ran on the treadmill with the water rucksack. I pretended to be a Runner. I imagined being super fit and drank water from the bendy straw. (Is Covid still a thing?) I ran for 10 minutes and got bored. 

I swapped the water rucksack for the rock one and ran on the treadmill some more carrying the rock rucksack instead. I ran for another 10 minutes and got fed up. I am not a Runner.

I got off the treadmill, but didn't discard the rucksack of rocks. 

I pottered round the room and did all the other activities. After a while, the rocks got uncomfortable. When I lay down on my stomach to write stuff and read, the weight of the rocks on my back made it hard to breathe. The water rucksack had been heavy, but had moulded to the contours of my back and distributed the weight evenly - plus it got lighter as I drank it. The rocks were always bulky and weighty and dug into my flesh through the material of the bag. 

I thought and prayed about the rocks. 

What are they and why do we carry them? 

Some people don't have rocks (lucky them). 

Some people do have rocks but don't seem to mind them. Their rocks don't cause problems because they have coping strategies and support mechanisms in place. They structure their lives wisely and are flourishing - even when life has rocks. That's great too. 

Some people have rocks but deny having them - which is OK if they're still functioning for now and not ready to deal with them yet. 

But what about the rocks we have that we want rid of? 

What do we do with things that are heavy and damaging and just plain wearisome. Why do we lug them around when we could could be carrying the water? Or nothing at all - and just stopping regularly for coffee and cheesecake?

The reasons are many and swirled in my head until I made this flowchart. (There are probably countless other reasons why we carry rocks around but the prayer room was finishing and I had the last slot and limited time to think).

1: It’s just a season in my life, and for now, this is my rock and I need to carry it. 

That’s fine! How can I help you with that? We are instructed help each other carry their heavy stuff!
'Help carry one another's burdens, and in this way you will obey the law of Christ'. (Gal 6:2)

2: I don't know what's wrong with me - I put the rocks down then pick them up again. Repeatedly...

How amazing that you KEEP putting them down. If you can't stop picking them up - then keep doing what you're doing and put them down again when you realise they are back. I salute your perseverance.
'Happy are those who remain faithful under trials, because when they succeed in passing such a test, they will receive as their reward the life which God has promised to those who love him.' (‭‭James‬ ‭1:12)‬ 

3: They are a part of me- I inherited them

OK - but did you check that out recently? Because something quite remarkable and incomprehensible happened when you became a Christian. In purely physical terms, DNA isn’t as static as we once believed. Some genes get turned on and off due to environmental factors, age or injury. In spiritual terms, it gets even weirder. There was literally a BC version of you and an afterwards one.

How critical are you of thoughts like this? Check what you believe about your inheritance. Is the rock still really yours to keep? Forever?

4: It just hurts 

That must be exhausting. What drugs are you on? (Honestly - Thank God for pharmaceuticals). 

Also - without minimising it or denying it exists or dealing with the current real time effects of the pain, can you see this situation any other way? Could you zoom out to a viewpoint beyond the boundaries of the pain and see something bigger? (Like when Chandler goes so far over the line it becomes a dot?)

Or as Jenn Johnson sings in Gravity:
But then You come
And take me by the hand
You say come up here with Me
And then my feet came off the ground
You lifted me above the clouds
As I look down the whole world seems so small
Past the stars through space and time
And I forget what's left behind
As I'm surrounded by these grander things
Up here in perfect harmony
You're orchestrating galaxies
They're lighting up as far as I can see
The majesty
The mystery
Your gravity
Pulls me close to You
And I can breathe again
Here with You

5: It’s comforting to have the rock - even tho it’s uncomfortable and painful - it’s FAMILIAR.

I get that. After carrying something for so long, it can be scary to put it down. Who are we anyway without all our packaging and memories and experiences that brought us to this place - right here, right now? 

You look like you could be a Runner, though. Why not put the rocks down and try on this rucksack instead? It's heavy, but you're strong from carrying all those rocks around. Just try it on and feel the weight of it and give it a go. The rocks will still be here if you really want them back again. Drink from this bendy straw thing when you're thirsty. Just letting you know - I've used it myself, but I wiped it afterwards and I don't have Covid.

6: OK - I might try the water thing, but honestly - I prefer caffeine. And did someone mention cake?

5 Sept 2021


Scene 1: Spending time with an old friend this Summer

In all the years we lived near each other, we did life together as extended family. Having each other's front door key. Knowing each other's number by heart (before speed dial). Refrigerator rights. Making toast in the other's kitchen. All that kind of stuff. Catching up was easy and familiar and wonderful.

As we spoke, I realised our versions of our shared past weren't quite aligned. I had to remind her of the massive part she'd played in the formation of us as a family and the type of parents we went on to be. I remembered their house as a place of acceptance and encouragement and welcome. Hanging out there was one of my favourite places to be because I could do just that - BE. 

Her memories were different. The good stuff had faded and the melancholy and anxiety had taken over. In their place was regret about stuff she'd done or said wrong - or things she'd failed to do completely. Some of that might be true, but it was a skewed version of reality that left out all the good bits. And that's not fair, honest or true.

So we reminisced. We remembered together and talked about all kinds of stuff. We shared challenges - historical and current - and recommitted to pray for each other more regularly. It was sooo good and over too quickly.


Scene 2: A couple of weeks afterwards, I found this podcast with Yeonmi Park, a North Korean defector who was trafficked out the country aged 13, along with her mother, eventually ending up in the USA. Yeonmi now lives there and campaigns for human rights. Her life story is chilling and horrific and inspiring. We know almost NOTHING about the atrocities that really go on in this world. The main thing I couldn't shake was that the regime in North Korea is pure death. It’s destructive, controlling and joyless and has claimed the lives of countless numbers of its citizens with no real accountability. The slightest hint dissent is punished severely - spilling out beyond the individual to their family, neighbours and friends. There is widespread death by association. And it's happening right now. 

Even if a person gets out, they're still not truly free as anyone they've left behind is still a target. 

The guilt is infectious. 

It continues down the bloodline and can't be erased. 


Scene 3: We’ve started singing in church again. It’s pretty wonderful after so long. The other week we sung The Blessing that became really popular online during Covid.
May His favour be upon you
And a thousand generations
And your family
And your children
And their children
And their children

As we sung, the 2 opposing worlds were clashing in my brain:
North Korea and God’s Kingdom. 

I was consumed with the realisation that guilt and death aren’t catching anymore. 

Grace is.

I was singing and crying and thinking about the conversations over the Summer. Praying for my kids and all the people I'm forever connected to. Those of us still working things out. Rehashing what’s gone before. Changing things. Taking detours. People just living and finding our place in the world. 

Why do we get so obsessed with our immediate children (and perhaps grandchildren), when our story is way older and bigger and deeper than that?

This is not North Korea.

Grace is infectious. 

We live and breathe because of it. Complicated yet beautiful stories and being written and rewritten all over the place, as we're refined to reflect our creator. Our legacies ripple out to places we don’t even know about. They will touch the lives of human beings not even born yet. 

And your children
And their children
And their children
And their children
And their children
And their children
And their children
And their children
And their children
And their children
And their children
And their children

21 Sept 2020

Hybrid worship

A few years ago, the mother of a little girl with cerebral palsy contacted the New York City Ballet and asked if they could run a workshop for her daughter. The little girl loved music and dancing and all things related to ballet - and the mum figured if her daughter felt this way, then others with physical limitations probably did too. 

The ballet school factored in the complications of wheelchairs, uncoordinated movements, muscle spasms and leg braces and said Yes. The professional dancers designed a programme, publicised it, ran the workshop and got the kids to put on a show for the parents afterwards

The parents obviously loved it. 

Some of these kids could hardly walk, but for that show on that particular evening - these children were ballerinas

The parents didn't sit in the audience to critique - to notice the flaws or judge the glaring lack of technical competence or physical perfection. The beauty in the performance ran way deeper and overwrote all that stuff. The little girl's mum looked at her daughter on stage and saw a dancer.


So... church is back on after 5 1/2 months of lockdown and like everything in the post Covid world, traces of the virus have seeped into the corners here, altering the way we do things for the foreseeable future. There's booking seats in advance, 2m social distancing, sitting in your family bubbles, wearing masks, hand gel dispensers at every doorway, a one way system throughout the building - all the usual stuff. Oh - and the Not Singing. 

Not Singing is kind of the default in most places. You can get through many situations in life complying with this one without even noticing. 

Not Singing in church though? That's kind of a bigger deal. It's notable and disorientating - even when you accept the rationale, have got your head round the theology, read a few articles and done virtual church for so long that any semblance or corporate togetherness would be welcome with no problem whatsoever. (Although getting unexpectedly emotional at Dance Monkey performed live should have been a giveaway).

As guidelines stand, for now only the worship leader can sing and we can participate by clapping, raising hands, kneeling, thinking, praying, silently singing - any way we choose to except to join in and sing. This is fundamentally weird and feels wrong. 

But it's the way things are just now. And God is still God and there's stuff to learn. 

• You can worship worship, and that's idolatry. I don't want to do that.

• In other parts of the world, people of all faiths are oppressed and tortured for their beliefs. We have freedom in this country. We enjoy benefits other people can only dream about. Recognise it and pray for those who are genuinely persecuted.

• The worship leader is like our appointed representative. Our voice. Like someone you'd vote into public office. I can listen to him/her and make their words my own. I can be grateful that they're singing them for me when I can't. (Although watching telly as an armchair politician and getting cross when they're ballsing things up isn't half as frustrating as agreeing with someone but being unable to verbalise it in real time. Isn't that weird?)

• God doesn't need volume. He senses worship from the soul. I don't know how that works or what it even really sounds like. I doubt we have the bandwidth to comprehend it. I Only know that if parents of kids with profound, physical impairments can look at them and see dancers, God can decode the silence of censored songs and hear them at whatever deafening volume we mean them.

Angels are probably pretty busy right now. They are joining in amd always have done. So the real thing is pretty loud.

Turn your ear
To heaven and hear
The noise inside
The sound of angels' awe
The sound of angels' songs
And all this for a King
We could join and sing
All to Christ the King
(David Crowder)

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 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 freezing your arse off in the rain because you 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?
Me: How's that - Ok for you?
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.
Me: Ready for another spoonful?
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?
Me: What would you like to do after breakfast?
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.



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.



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


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.