Questions without answers

I’m done with the simplistic answers and platitudes often offered up by Christians when faced with suffering. So many of us feel pain tonight after the senseless events in Manchester, attacks on innocents in the name of religion.

I can’t answer the questions – how can God allow such heartbreak, such suffering for the families and loved ones of those who lost their lives on that night?  As people of faith I believe we shouldn’t even try. The only response I can offer for such horrific events is something I heard from a vigil held today – “hate will never overcome love”. 

The love and solidarity of the Manchester community has been something to behold today.  People of faith we would do well to follow the example in times of suffering. We need to stand alongside, allow for the grief, allow for the questions.  Refuse to let hate overcome love.

Patience, darling

If you’ve been journeying with me for a while, you may remember that one of my hopes for the gap year was to decorate the girls’ bedrooms

Wow, that was almost two years ago.  That’s the thing.  Sometimes you have to have a lot of patience to realise your hopes and dreams.  Guess what?  During March my consultancy work enabled me to pay a decorator to bring Eldest’s Ravenclaw themed bedroom to life (I really didn’t have the skills for a dark blue feature wall!)  Eldest and I sat at the kitchen table in April and made a decopatch Harry Potter lampshade inspired by this one from Sunshine Sings on Etsy.  She loved choosing her favourite quotes from the old copy which was falling apart, and it turned out pretty beautifully!

Harry potter lamp

Today I’ve been listening to Noah and the Whale in Little One’s room.  Sugar soap and sponge in hand, sandpaper for the woodwork.  I’m finally doing it!  I’m enjoying the metaphor of cleaning, smoothing down rough edges, creating a little friction in order for the new and the pretty to emerge.  She’s chosen a lollipop pink to go with her 1970’s inspired IKEA duvet cover which has brown, orange, yellow and pink birds and flowers. It’s going to be gorgeous and funky, just like her.

I’ll leave you with some thought-provoking lyrics from Noah and the Whale’s Life is Life

Well he used to be somebody
And now he’s someone else
Took apart his old life
Left it on the shelf
Sick of being someone
He did not admire
Took up all his old things
Set em all on fire

He’s gonna change
Gonna change his ways
Gonna change
Gonna change his ways

And it feels like his new life can start
And it feels like heaven

Left his house at midnight
Resolute and young
In search of something greater
Than the person he’d become
Threw his bags on to the back
Of his run down eighties car
Headed out to god knows where
The distance is too far

He’s gonna change
Gonna change his ways
Gonna change
Gonna change his ways

And it feels like his new life can start
And it feels like heaven
And it feels like his new life can start
And it feels like heaven

And it feels like his new life can start
And it feels like heaven
And it feels like his new life can start
And it feels like heaven

Sanctuary

Once again I find myself speaking through the lens of Nashville, but really – this says it all for me at the moment.

(In the spirit of avoiding plot spoilers I have chosen to share a cover version of this beautiful song.  If you’re in the UK and haven’t watched season 5 of Nashville, promise me you won’t Google it or follow any of the other YouTube links in the sidebar!)

As a mother, I’m finding myself in a season where I need to be a sanctuary for my girls, and especially for Eldest to be her safe place.  Being a sanctuary calls on me to shift my priorities, to seek the way of peace in my own life and to bring beauty to a very ugly situation.  Protection, justice, compassion.

I’ve cancelled work this week

I’ve bought mini-Oreo’s for the walk home from school this week

I’ve wept this week

I’ve taken Eldest with me to swim in the sea this week

 

I’m so thankful for the space to find my own way to be a refuge, and I guess I just wish that all kids had a safe place to fall.

 

 

Swimming

Flat, still sea blends softly into the horizon

Tingling hands, catching breath

Coolness and deep surround

The sea, the sky, and I
Run gasping into the breaker spray

Full of power the sea pulls us

Tumble of white

Icy cold exhilaration
Skin pricked with goosebumps

Delicious salt-sting as I pat with my towel

Quickly into my down jacket

Smoothed stones & hot mint tea

Give thanks to the sea

Ma’people

Readers of the last few months may have gathered… I am a huge Nashville fan.  I am committed to not giving away any series 5 plot spoilers for my friends on this side of the pond, so let me just say that Rayna is one of my heroes (and I do know that she is a TV character – but she’s my hero anyway!)  I love the way that we have seen her grow as a mother as her girls have entered turbulent teenage years,  I love how passionate and open-hearted she is, and I love the way that we’ve seen her struggle to balance her career and her dreams with her life as a mentor, mother and lover.

 

There’s a scene in Nashville a few years back where Rayna has to play at a Country Club benefit.  I remember her raising her eyebrows and assuring her band leader, “These are not ma’people” (try and imagine a lovely Southern drawl)

But here’s the thing, Rayna grew up with those people.  Yet the comfortable world of the elite wasn’t for her.  She knew they weren’t her people.

Ever since we moved from a cosmopolitan, diverse Northern city to a sleepy market town in the South West, I’ve been searching for “ma’people”.  The direction life took us when Eldest was born meant that our local conservative, evangelical church began to feel less and less like home.  We had too many questions.  One of the reasons I left Facebook earlier this year was because I felt so aware that the views of many mainstream Christians just don’t reflect mine.  These are not ma’people.

When life throws a lot of crap your way, it’s interesting how it can help you find your people!  Over the last ten years or so, my friendships have deepened with other people who know what it is to feel broken.  My little WordPress community is full of amazing people who are learning to live with limits.  Next weekend I’ll be meeting up with the other mums from the ‘Head up, Heart strong’ film who have all battled postnatal illness. We will be sharing cocktails and stories of relapse.  These are just some of ma’people.

 

This week I took a new step to reach out and find ma’people.  I joined Team East Devon Swimmers for an evening swim in Sidmouth.  The water was 12 degrees C and the swimming was magical!  It was a special thing for me after a number of years living with mental illness to meet people based firstly on a shared interest, rather than on a shared experience of suffering.  I learned a new word – Thalassophile – meaning someone who loves the sea.  These too, are ma’people… and I can’t wait to get to know them better.

Here’s where we will be swimming.  Just beautiful.

Derailed

The wisdom of a cushion

April has been a testing month at times. Challenges have come and gone in lots of different aspects of life.  For a little while I had a blog post entitled ‘parenting on the edge’ formulating in my mind! Maybe I’ll still write it some day…

cushion

One of my first tasks of the day in my support worker role is to ‘wake up’ my friend’s living room. I let the light in as I open the curtains, I fold blankets and straighten the beautiful sofa cushions. Next to the hand-knitted yellow cushion is a simple cotton cushion that reads “Do small things with great love”.

I’ve been musing on the cushion a lot this month.  I’ve been finding myself at my happiest when doing the small things. Trying to do the big, scary things (like training courses) perfectly gets overwhelming.  But with the wisdom of the cushion I can remind myself to do a small thing, like encourage a participant with an affirming smile.

I can do a small thing like change Little One’s toilet-training accidents, with great love.  It might seem like such a small thing to be packing spare knickers and jersey trousers into a schoolbag, but for us it’s a huge, incredible step forward.

I sometimes feel I can only do such small things to protect and support Eldest as she walks through this horrible bullying at school…  But I can talk to the headteacher with great love, rather than demanding punishment or exclusion of the child involved.  I can let my fierce love for my child motivate me to keep doing the small things that help her feel safe.  Cups of tea, late-night cuddles in our bed, sitting at the end of her bed reading a chapter of “Divergent”, baking together.

The wisdom of a cushion has kept me going, kept me grounded this month.  I’m realising just how important the small things are, as they contain the greatest love not just for others, but for myself.  Small things allow me to be limited, to not have all the answers, but to know that I am loving greatly nonetheless.

 

Nourish

A beautiful friend pointed out to me that my balance of work at the moment is a winning combination for my personality!  I have space to explore my creativity through cooking & writing, there’s intellectual stimulation through being part of cutting-edge research applications, and I get periods of ‘extrovert time’ when I’m delivering training.

I’m nourished by all of these things.  I’m nourished by writing recipes, translating research into everyday language and working with my co-facilitator to plan engaging, supportive training.  I’m also continuing to learn to replenish my energy with time that’s just for me. Is it weird that I find watching an episode of Skins on the sofa in the daytime deeply relaxing? (Maybe it’s an attempt to prepare myself for the imminent teenage years for Eldest…)

Nashville: The Complete Soundtrack has been the accompaniment to my cooking today. Country music is so full of storytelling, and so melodic.  I love being able to join in with the harmonies while I slice vegetables and select spices.

Here are a couple of really simple soups from my growing collection

soup3

Roasted veg & brown lentil soup

  • 1/2 swede or celeriac
  • 3 carrots
  • 2 parsnips
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tbsp maple syrup
  • 1/2 tbsp wholegrain mustard
  • 1 jar passata
  • 500 ml vegetable stock
  • 150g brown lentils
  1. Chop all the root vegetables into small-medium sized chunks
  2. Roast with the olive oil, maple syrup and wholegrain mustard for 30 mins at 180c
  3. Meanwhile, simmer the lentils in the passata and stock
  4. Add the root vegetables to the lentils & passata and simmer for a further 10-20 mins

 

Red pepper, carrot and red lentil soup

  • 4 carrots
  • 4 red peppers
  • 250g red lentils
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 2 tsp oregano
  • 1 tsp fennel seeds
  • 1200-1500ml vegetable stock, depending on how thick you like the soup
  1. Fry the garlic and fennel seeds in olive oil for 2-3 mins
  2. Add the red peppers and carrots, cut into medium sized chunks
  3. Add the lentils, oregano and stock
  4. Season
  5. Simmer for 30-40 mins
  6. Blend

 

 

 

 

 

In my cabin

storm

It has taken me a while, but I have made a start on the playlist.  I have called it ‘hunker down’ – imagining myself in a wooden cabin in some Nordic country. Darkness, a fire and woollen blankets for company. Hail, snow and wind raging outside. A place of confinement and refuge at the same time.

During the confinement of depression, I want to take refuge in these songs. To be enfolded in the blankets of their melodies, to be strengthened by the fire-glow of their lyrics.  To hunker down and accept the storm.

I’m going to let a few of the songs speak for themselves

‘Believing’ Nashville Cast

I don’t remember
How I got here
When my rose coloured glasses disappeared
Sometimes my fingers
They can lose touch
Start letting go of everything I love
When I get the feeling
That my prayers have hit the ceiling
On those darker days when my faith has lost all meaning
You keep me believing

‘I won’t give up’ Jason Mraz

When I look into your eyes
It’s like watching the night sky
Or a beautiful sunrise
There’s so much they hold
And just like them old stars
I see that you’ve come so far
To be right where you are
How old is your soul?

Well I won’t give up on us, even if the skies get rough
I’m giving you all my love, I’m still looking up

‘Everybody Hurts’ REM

When your day is long
And the night, the night is yours alone
When you’re sure you’ve had enough
Of this life, well hang on

Don’t let yourself go
‘Cause everybody cries
And everybody hurts sometimes

‘MLK’ U2

Sleep
Sleep tonight
And may your dreams
Be realized
If the thunder cloud
Passes rain
So let it rain
Rain down on him
So let it be
So let it be

I hope some of these words and melodies will bring comfort to you whatever season you find yourself in.

Squiggly

Life sometimes feels very squiggly when you are in a period of remission.  You’re busy trying to rebuild life and pick up old threads but there is messiness in trying to find your equilibrium.

Recovery_reality

I used to feel quite scared of the scribble, the days when out of nowhere I don’t feel like getting up again or I find myself mind-busy and frazzled.  But as you look at the featured image for this blog don’t you think that in some ways that the messy line is actually quite beautiful?

Quite a few things have been squiggling me lately (but I’m learning to accept them as part of the beautiful tangle of life and recovery).  I was offered an ongoing role facilitating mums’ mental health courses from September this year.  In many ways it’s the role I have been dreaming of – but I knew I had to turn it down at this point in my own life journey.  I felt torn between guilt and relief as I sent off the email to say no.  No is a hard thing, but a precious thing too.

Little One has been providing us with some very tangly challenges.  The shift from winter to spring has really unsettled bedtimes and we have had more than a few nights of really screaming at the top of her voice “It’s day not night! I don’t go to bed in the day!” There have been moments of parenting genius like digging out the ‘Sunshine at Bedtime’ poem from Shirley Hughes Out and About collection. There have been many more moments of wondering what on earth to do and the pain of listening to an angry, crying child behind the bedroom door who is so very, very tired but doesn’t understand.

Eldest is going through her own messy time at the moment too and I’m there helping her to untangle some of it. There have been many cups of tea and slices of cheese on toast at the end of another upsetting day at school.  Friendships for pre-teen girls have always been challenging and fraught, but it doesn’t make it any easier knowing this when your precious girl is in tears as she tries to be her authentic self and gets knocked back.

I had something of an epiphany in the midst of the tangles.  I’ve been searching so long for that time I go “back to work” and I’m healed, whole, a functioning member of society again.  That time when I’ll have the career success I imagined when I headed off to University back in 1994.  But the thing is I already have a career.  The most important, draining, fabulous, meaningful work I could have imagined.  I’m a mother to Little One and Eldest.  The paid work is going to have to continue to take a back seat, as much for my wholeness and well-being as theirs.

Glorious mess