The News in Grief…

7 Jan

So who knew grief was such a tricksy, messy busy?  I have, I must confess , in the past sat and listened to others grappling with loss with a naive head slant, hand-folded, empathic look in my eyes, absolutely oblivious to the terrible, heart-stopping, cliff falling, jaw dropping rawness of grief.  It is only now I see that trying to even start coming to terms with these tumultuous feelings is almost impossible.

Sometimes I forget – just for a moment  and then like a cold hand on my back I jolt to reality – like waking up from a bad dream but in reverse.  And this doesn’t go away.

I am trying not to bury these feelings.  Endeavouring not to anesthetise myself from pain, but rather to hope, against hope, that I am learning something through this – yes even through all this.  Cue the naive head slant, folded hands and empathic looks.

Nothing is the same.  Everything has changed.  I have changed.

Life is shaped by death.  Death casts its ugly shadow, tainting all that has been and all that is to come.

Here’s to hoping that death loses and life wins……eventually.

Blessing for Dad….

7 Aug

May the one who exchanges beauty for ashes,

Who brings joy from mourning,

Who is able to redeem, reconcile and restore,

Bring us peace.

 

May the one who created men capable of magnificent bear hugs,

Envelope us,

Comfort us,

In our time of need.

 

May the one who sparked that cheeky glint in an eye,

Help us have eyes that see glimmers of hope all around,

Eyes open to you,

And to seeing your divine light in those around us.

 

May the one who gives eternal hope,

Who has beaten death,

Has sent it running for cover with its tail between its legs,

Bring us hope.

 

For the Kingdom is yours,

The victory is won,

Hope is assured,

Faith is secure

And Love wins,

Now and forever

AMEN

For Daddy….

7 Aug

ImageI wanted to write something devastatingly beautiful

In testament to a devastatingly beautiful life,

A devastatingly tragic death,

But words seem so empty.

 

 

You, who were able to make me smile in almost everything.

Who comforted just by the slightest touch,

And of course the breath-taking, rib-squeezing bear hug.

Who knew so much of me,

And helped me see so much more of Him.

 

To have known you is to have known something of Jesus,

Grace, joy, compassion, faith, humanity, humility, hospitality,

(maybe not patience!)

Love.

Anchored to a faith foundation that remained throughout.

Modelling hope in adversity,

Demonstrating faith in action,

Showing love.

 

I see you everywhere still

On the 1b bus, your bus,

In the stories I read my children,

At the bus park, sand park, water-tower park.

Walking through the gardens counting squirrels,

Playing scrabble,

Playing catch-up,

‘What shall we have for lunch; dip-dip egg, big egg, crackers?’

‘Another Ice-cream?’,

Fish and chips as a secret treat

Grandad roast dinners

Your Yorkshire puddings will remain unrivalled.

Special paper,

Special times.

Embarrassing me.

‘If you were supposed to have holes in your ears you’d have been born with them.’

Chats,

Big chats,

Chairs,

Toys,

Puzzles,

Grandad cheese,

Grandad Egg,

Mind your backs – all clear,

Black dogs,

‘Cup of tea?’

 

I suppose I will always hear your echo reverberating in daily life,

The shadow of you,

That thought

‘what would Dad say?’

 

Most of all you live on in the way that I live,

In the lives of my children.

My greatest tribute won’t be words but a life,

A life that hopes to be something like yours,

A life embedded in faith, fuelled by hope and lavishly rich in love.

A life like yours,

A Jesus life.

Parrot Wives: A Church-Leader Photo Phenomenon

28 May

“Parrot, parrot, parrot wives.  Parrot, parrot, parrot wives” (sung to the tune of Coldplay’s ‘Paradise’.) 

It is a strange and peculiar phenomenon that Nick and I have noted…..’The Parrot Wife’.  Go onto a church website; normally a charismatic, reformed, new stylee congregation – you know the ones with cool fonts (the type-sets rather than the christening kind) , the super-duper programme and the relevant worship; and there you may behold the parrot wife.  She may be found on the ‘who’s who’ or the ‘about us’ page under the ‘leadership’ section.  The spiel will probably outline her husband’s leadership role, his favoured football team and his choice of ‘hot wife’.  She will most likely be named as his ‘better half’ and linked, bound, tethered to their ‘beautiful children’.  She is his and her place is with his children.  The photo of parrot wife shows her perched awkwardly on his shoulder, like a pirate’s parrot.  A mate who repeats what it’s told, flaps at points but remains loyal throughout.

Behold the awkward side hug.  Almost conjoined in a lovely side hug – smiles all round – adoring looks galore!

I guess it’s difficult to take a good photo for a church website – I think maybe I have watched too much America’s Top Model and expect Nigel Barker to conjure up some magic thing of beauty – but these photos strike me as indicative of an underlying issue.  Parrot wife and awkward-side-hug are an extension of their husband.  They are not their own person.  They very often don’t get their own write-up on the website beyond their role at home and with children.  They are an appendage. like another tool on a swiss army knife, at their husbands disposal at any given point; preaching, funny one-liner, wife – tools of the trade.   A ‘hot wife’ is part and package of the role of church leader.  In a recent book written about marriage, aimed at Christians, I noted that wives were told their own calling and gifting as people is sacrificed for the furthering of their husband’s calling.  I struggle with this idea – I thought we are personally accountable as well as community responsible.  I don’t believe that marriage requires me to become a parrot, or an awkward-side-hug, but more fully me and my husband more fully him.

I think I’m tired of all this.  Church, for me, is about encouraging people to grow and become more of who God intended them to be.  The Bible seems brimmed full of talk about freedom and liberation from the constraints and ties of sometimes warped human ideals.  I thought faith was about seeing each other as beautiful and limitless because God is beautiful and limitless.  Instead again and again I feel discouraged by the way women are objectified – whether it be through being plastered on the front of ‘FHM’ or being paraded as the pastor’s wife, an accessory rather than a person.  I will not be a parrot wife.

Playground Rules…

12 Mar

I have tried to suppress my memories of awkward school playground moments wondering who to play with.  I do remember however praying night after night for a good friend who I could be with at break and lunch times – it all worked out in the end and I had some brilliant childhood friends.  More and more recently though I have found myself revisiting these memories.  When I go to pick up my daughter, who’s in reception, from school, I find myself in that awkward playground moment once again.  It’s like I have de-ja-vu.  It’s like groundhog day.  I stand awkwardly looking at my phone or being particularly attentive to my small son.  I pretend not to notice the clusters of others – laughing, with their ‘in-jokes’ and their posh buggies.   I don’t know how to make friends – how to break into the cliques and I don’t know that I have the emotional energy to do so.  Don’t get me wrong I know a couple of people and I do try to strike up conversations with others but the pervasive culture is one of ‘the it crowd’ and I feel so different.  I feel absolutely exposed and vulnerable.

A couple of weeks ago I chatted to one Mum who spent our entire conversation assuming I wouldn’t be working.  Many of the mums don’t work and that is fine with me, but I can’t be the same as them.  I haven’t got time to hang around the playground from 2 just to ‘catch-up’ with other mums.  Nick and I work 6 out of 7 nights a week between us at the moment so I can’t go for a ‘girl’s night out’ with the reception mums.  I work during the day so I can’t do lunch.

Now I have great friends outside of the school playground scenario and I’m not necessarily looking for life-long bosom buddies, but I worry that not being part of the gang will affect my girl.  We don’t get the posh hand-made party invites.  I stand looking on as the token ‘thank you’ cards are passed out from the child’s birthday party on the previous weekend.  I worry my girl will miss out because I am the awkward one in the playground.

I find myself thinking again and again maybe I should just try to be like them.  Maybe I should prepare a little longer before heading out to the school gate – maybe I should show my hair more than just a glance at a hair-brush.  Maybe I should invest in some real Uggs, an enormous ‘Kidston’ and a snazzy ‘Quinny’.  Maybe I should be at home preparing tea for the entire day, or dusting the house (to be honest it needs it!) or meeting others for lunch.  Maybe my ideals about bringing up my children, working and sharing things with Nick are just that – ideals.  Maybe I should put all that on-hold in order to further my girl’s chances of being popular.  Maybe then, just maybe, I might get an affirming look or my girl that allusive birthday party invite.

So I have this dilemma do I pretend to be something I am not – a ‘yummy mummy’ who seeks to make friends with people who’s only commonality is being a parent?  Or do I struggle through being me – happily letting my daughter dress up as a dragon for ‘world book day’ rather than being another Princess – but risking her being without social invites and perhaps friends?  I know, I know I am probably over-reacting about this all.  The playground scenarios from my childhood have cast a shadow that has blurred my perception of all this.  I think I am going back to the praying for a good friend thing!

Silencer….

3 Feb

I am a strong advocate of women being able to speak publicly about life, faith, politics, hell anything that isn’t just ‘I don’t know much about the gold standard, but I do know about fluffy kittens’!  So I find it interesting that there still seems to be a lack of women speaking publicly when we are decades past votes for women and the notion that women can have a voice…..well maybe we are still journeying on from votes for women to a place of having a voice.  Still it’s puzzling that women still fail to be much more than tokenly represented in government, as CEOs of businesses and in position of leadership and voice within the Church.  What is the hold-up?  I guess the structural machines of discrimination and prejudice take a while to get their creaky joints working.  And misogyny is still very much at large.  But I wonder what it is that stops women themselves seizing opportunities and running with them.  Sprinting off with them at such a speed that there’s no stopping them?!

I love to talk, I really do.  When I was about 8 I wanted to speak at the Christmas service at church.  I diligently wrote my talk.  I practiced it out-loud to myself underneath my covers before bed (I was a sad child!) ironing out mistakes, carving it with care.  I never did deliver that talk, and have never since.  I still have that burning desire to speak publicly, but I have very few places or contexts to practice.  I’m not sure a dozen drunk young people on a double-decker bus on a Saturday night would appreciate me pontificating on ’empowerment’ or ‘activism’!  So instead I keep my talks to myself in the car as I drive to work, or in my head as a i drift off to sleep.  I wonder whether I am the only one doing this?  Maybe I am odd!  But i think the underlying principle is ‘I want to do this more but I’m not sure how’.  So why am I not sprinting off with opportunities to make my voice heard – well I don’t know how?  How do you go about doing that?  Where are the ‘routes in’ for women to be heard in different forums in life?  I know some must exist, they have to, but how can we ensure these routes are accessible? 

I find it hard to write this because it sounds like I am just shouting ‘I WANT TO SAY SOMETHING’ – which I do – but I also want to hear from others.  I want to enriched by a diversity of sounds, stories, thoughts, ideas – things I agree with, things I don’t.  I feel scared of writing this because it is exposing – I desperately want to play a part in what’s going on around me, and I do in so many ways, but I’m not content.  I want to be heard and I want to hear others.

I think one of the issues is that in the ‘Christian world’ at least, we have a set ‘formula’ for a ‘successful’ talk.  It should be smattered with jokes, funny on-liners, lots of little anecdotes which lead to a crescendo of heart-warming / heart-wrenching (depending on the topic and the event) climax.  I am being particularly facetious today (blame the strawberry laces I’m consuming!), but I wonder if you have some experience of Christian talks whether that description brought a knowing wry smile to your face?  I am not saying having a pattern is bad – heck we have a history of liturgy – but I wonder whether this is a hard formula to just pick-up as a woman.  Not because we are not capable but because we may not have had the contexts in which to practice and hone that formula.  I see some parallels with women comedians who, I think, are sometimes judged more harshly than their male counterparts.  Are women speakers critiqued more harshly than men?  It often seems to me that men are judged individually on merit, and how they sit with regards to this tried and tested pattern – “Oh such and such (insert male Christian speaker’s name) was great today” or “I didn’t enjoy him quite as a much”, where as with women I tend to hear “See women speakers are great just listen to (insert women Christian speaker’s name)” or “See that’s why women shouldn’t speak”.  I guess I am blabbing a bit now and falling very soundly into the anecdotal category – still I wonder if there is any truth to be had here?  How can we ensure there are places for women to practice speaking publicly?

I also wonder whether that formula way of speaking is great for some, in some places, but not for all.  Is there a chance that maybe having more women feeling free and confident to share their voice may bring a point of difference into the melting pot of ideas and theology?  There are so many brilliant women who are raising their voices – let’s have more!

Lastly, I think women stop themselves.  I know there are times when people are looking around saying ‘where can we find a women to talk about this?’ and there is no response.  Why is that?  I think that the image of confident woman is blighted by words like ‘bossy’, ‘up herself”, ‘arrogant’.  I am certainly aware that putting myself forward for anything is risky and again exposing.  It is so much a part of who I am, wrapped up in my own identity, the core of me, that to parade what I believe to be something I can do allows others to knock me down, and I won’t want to get back again.  I am frightened that if I say I want to speak people will say ‘what have you got to say?’, or ‘what could you actually bring?’, or ‘who are you anyway’ or worse, nothing at all.  I am my own worst enemy at times.  I want to stay just behind the starting blocks, watching others, visualising my own race – practicing my talk under the bedcovers at night.

Starbucks and therapy: why women work with girls.

23 Jan

Lately, I have been thinking about some of the work I do with young women and thought I’d share a few things!  This post looks at some of my thoughts with regard to ‘why women choose to work with young women’ and I plan to do a follow-up looking at ‘how we go about work with young women’.  These are my own reflections from practice, they have no empirical evidence and come as the result of sleep deprivation and currently, as I type, red wine!

Anecdotally it appears to me that a growing trend in Christian youth work is single-sex work.  Particularly I have noted the increase in woman who go into youthwork looking to work with young women.  The draw of days on end in Starbucks, solving issues to do with ‘self-esteem’ is massive it seems.  I am not averse to this particular way of working.  I love cafes as much as the next person and see the value in working one-to-one and in small groups looking at issues.  I am concerned however that this trend is indicative of a deficit in the training and development of those going into work with young people (especially women), rather than a deep-seated, planned, needs-led approach to informal education. 

Being involved in delivering youthwork training for a variety of people and groups I’ve noted that very often work with young people attracts those who a)are looking to work out an ongoing issue for themselves vicariously through their work with others b) are looking for a safe place to continue on being an adolescent themselves c) are looking for an excuse to delay meeting the real world.  There are obviously lots of others who are going into youth work to see young people supported to become more, and all that.  And it would be naive to think that nobody goes into working with people to fulfil something in themselves – in fact that can be appropriate if acknowledged and handled in a transparent way.  But my concern is that if those working with young women are looking to solve something in their own lives they could project their own issues onto unsuspecting others. 

It seems to be a thread in conversations I have that many Christian women feel they lack a wealth of female role-models.  Who are the apostolic leaders?  Who are the pioneers?  Who are the really good reflective practitioners?  My concern is that rather than seeing this as a provocation to be those people to succeeding generations, many women going into youth work are looking to fill the need for affirmation, security and worth through some pseudo-therapy in starbucks.  Their meetings with young women are more to do with themselves and their issues than the development of those they meet.  I guess I’m treading a thin line here!  I am not alleging this is what happens in all mentoring sessions.  I am not alleging this is what happens in any one-to-one work, but I guess it could be.  You see sometimes I think we are very quick to ‘buy into’ stuff in Christendom.  We want to be doing the ‘latest’ kind of thing.  We want that funky youth cafe, or that edgy worship event, without necessarily reflecting on the fundamental issue of ‘need’ and the appropriateness of each approach to help facilitate a meeting of that said need.  The ‘coffee shop’ thing is really valuable, but I worry that it may just become the ‘thing to do’ without a reflection on why and how?  Or worse it is something that those going into work with young people need and because they have not had that need met – the need for real relationship; the need for challenge; the need for reflective space – they are seeking to quench that with a saturation of lattes and ‘how do you feel?’ chats. 

I have to declare that all these thoughts are a challenge to me as much as a challenge to others.  I know that I am still a work-in-progress and my own motives and approach need to be reflected upon.  I guess I am just asking whether we need to be doing more as community to try to help people work through things in appropriate spaces, so as to avoid them seeking means that may be inappropriate and damaging.  A 15-year-old can not solve my deep-seated issues about my body –  only I can do that – with the support of God and others around me.  I worry that we are setting up those going into youthwork to fail.  We have been short-changed and now we are seeking to deal with that deficit through our work with vulnerable and impressionable others – treating them almost as vessels to be used to our own means.  I hope I am way off mark with this.  I hope I have just reached the sleep-deprived insanity thing.  I hope the short-changing of generations of women can begin to be addressed in our work with young women.  I hope….