Saturday, 28 December 2013

And everyone else....

One of the challenges of new year is more often or not the question of 'what shall I do on new years eve?' I try not to think about this question too early as it preoccupies me and I worry I'd make the wrong choice. The answer to this question has led me to a variety of different new year things with different people. I think the last time I didn't enjoy new year was when I had a horrible headache and went to bed at 10 missing celebrating the new year with my then boyfriend and his parents. 

This year I thought about spending new year on my own - just to see if it was ok. I thought about watching my new Miranda DVDs and possibly being really counter cultural and going to bed early. I'm not though, as it feels right to be with people at new year and I am spending it with people who I love a lot.  

One of the best things about the time around Christmas and New Year is time people take to just be with people. For me it is my family who have unspoken traditions of gathering for boxing day tea and going for a walk in the worst weather possible (this year we did it on the day of the storms - amber weather warning - let's walk). Community is important, yet as a single person I am very aware of how easy it is for people to get left isolated where everyone else around you is doing what they want to do. To do what I want to do I sometimes feel like I am invading the space of others. 

Today I read a newly released book I saw on Twitter called 'Cancer and Theology' edited by Jake Bouma and Erik Ullestad. It's a collection of essays exploring what Christian faith has to say about cancer. It struck me in reading it how important community is. For a number of the writers what was important in their experiences and in the experiences of those around them was the community of people who stood with them. Those who didn't just walk away and offer to pray, but asked them what they needed prayer for. Those who didn't just offer to help, but turned up with hot food at the right time. Those who didn't just want to sympathise but who wanted to talk about normal stuff too. Those who didn't say it'll be ok, but acknowledged that cancer is rubbish and sat through the rubbishness with them. 

Life changes, illness, being different and looked over can isolate us from community. Our fear of 'the other' means we sometimes unthinkingly isolate those who need to be welcomed. Our fear of being annoying or rejected means we isolate ourselves from being welcomed. We can't fix everyones problems by making them like us but we can stand with them on their journey and also seek out others to ride the waves with us. 

The challenge is to seek out community and not walk away from those who can stand with us. The challenge is to face the fact we might not always get it right, but accept one another even when we don't. The challenge is that people are sometimes weird and difficult - but that's ok. The challenge is to look, listen and simply be. The challenge is to fully embrace the idea that every person within a community is made in the image of God.

Thursday, 31 October 2013

Coming down from the top of the mountain

Last week I climbed up Helvellyn in the Lake District - it's the third highest mountain in England. We went up the steep way, because striding edge is a bit scary and because the steep way is shorter. I haven't climbed a mountain the last few years of being in the Lake District for our annual autumn holiday because I haven't felt fit enough. This year I was fit enough (mainly due to strange dance exercise classes) and was able to climb..... at my own pace... but climb. 

I got to the top and I felt my left knee do that thing where it doesn't want to bend any more.... where it doesn't want to play ball and work in the way it normally does. As we put our coats on as the clouds descended on the top I wondered whether it was going to last on the way down.... and it didn't. The descent was painful, mostly sidewards and accompanied at every step with loud shouts of 'ow' as my knee complained. I even got strange looks from the woman who had stopped near the bottom as her companions went up who said to me 'that's why I haven't gone any further'. 

I'm glad I did go further. I am glad I did get to the top.... but the descent made me question whether it was worth it. With hindsight it is and next year I am going to try and train my knees up to deal with mountain climbing, perhaps buy myself a couple of sticks and maybe try a different mountain. 

When you are at the top of the mountain it is awesome. You can see for miles. You feel like you've achieved something. But, at some point you need to get down as you wouldn't be able to survive up there for a very long time despite the awesome views. 

I'm now over half way through my ministerial training (can you believe it?) and it hit me a few months ago that the feeling of elation and excitement at doing what I am meant to be doing had gone away... that I was beginning to have to face the gritty reality of what this life can be like. I needed to begin to slowly descend that mountain where everything was awesome (I am sure I annoyed everyone by telling them how brilliant it was) to a place of balance where I can survive long term. 

The trouble is, on that descent, the knee problem sets in. It starts with a niggle, a moment of oh this could be difficult and then at times makes you cry out in pain. As you hit the reality of life in the descent there are times of blessing but there are also times of wrestling where you ask 'can I still do this?'. 

When you read testimonies of people in different forms of church leadership and ministry, one that stays at the summit of the mountain sounds glorious, but is it truthful? I've read honest accounts of real wrestling with God from people like Pete Grieg (God on Mute is a brilliant book) and heard stories of and seen people who behind the public face struggle with stress and depression. 

The reality is fantastically awesome on the mountain top (which is why I want to climb another one) but is painfully difficult when you are walking sidewards down a seemingly endless path of rocks.  

I was reminded yesterday of the poem 'If' by Rudyard Kipling where it talks about how if you can keep everything together when everyone else is not that that is the thing to aim for. It talks of being strong in adversity, of not being overcome by weakness. As I thought about it, I couldn't help but question that Kipling got it wrong. I think that a lot of people might see the role of the minister as being that person who holds it together - and perhaps there are times when that is true and only right. But.... 

2 Corinthians 2:19 says: "My grace is all you need, for my power is greatest when you are weak"

Being strong isn't all it's cracked up to be. Admitting you need God is. When we are at our weakest then God's power is at it's greatest. At the moment I can't expand on that further, but as I am descending the mountain and embracing the reality of ministry I need to admit that my knees hurt, and I need to remember that God is beside me, knees hurting too. 

"For I am the Lord your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you. Do not fear; I will help you."                      Isaiah 41:13 

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Busy, Busy, STOP, Busy.....?

I love my diary. I don't go for the cheap one because it's... well..... cheap any more. I have a moleskin diary. It flops nicely when you open it, it feels nice and it smells good. It has a page for the dates and a page for notes. I love it when it looks full - when each day has something written on it - when I look like I know what I am doing perhaps. 

However, I know that the better weeks are the weeks when I don't have something written down in my diary - when it doesn't look full.... not because I have nothing to do, but it is a sign that I am getting it right... that I am not busy. Busyness is a badge that we are happy to wear - it's become the norm to be busy, to have to consult our diaries, to only be able to book people in 3 months in advance to visit (or wait until last minute just in case something better comes up). We become addicted to doing one thing after the other with no down time - no time just to be..... no time to be with God. 

The problem with busyness is that it distorts our perception on things, it makes us feel self important (I'm too busy for anyone else), it makes you rude, it's an excuse for impatience, it's an excuse for not getting stuff done, it's addictive (you have to keep yourself busy otherwise what else would you do?), it burns you out and it's just lazy (there is no time to think about prioritising what is important if you do everything). And.... it pushes out the things that really matter.... like time with God. 

On Sunday we looked in the service at Mark 1:29-39. Jesus is busy busy busy, being pulled in all directions and as soon as he can he stops........ and he spends time with God..... however much it inconveniences others, however many pressing matters are in hand.... he stops. 

At the first opportunity he has, even at an unearthly hour.... Jesus goes to talk to his Father.... he prioritises space to pray. He knows that he must rely on God for his strength to keep going in a life that his unavoidably busy - otherwise he could get caught up in the moment. Withdrawing to pray is vital. Prayer is recognising that we aren't independent - that we can't do it all ourselves. 

The problem is that when you are busy you can know all there is to know about prayer, but you don't practice it. It's like being knowledgeable about a sport but never seeing it, never playing it. But... when we take time to pray we walk to the rhythm of God's heartbeat. 

Even the saviour of the world needs quiet time, alone... with God. 

I've been challenged in the last couple of weeks about what is important... this story right near the beginning of Jesus ministry shows what is important. I shouldn't have to make time to pray as interacting with God should be integral to my life. Everything else needs time made for it but time with God should always be there. It's OK if stuff falls off the list, it's OK to say no.....  but in prayer we learn how to walk to the rhythm of God's heart beat.... and that is transforming, enabling, and so much more......

"Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no-one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint".      Isaiah 40:28-31

Monday, 30 September 2013

Taking time over the journey......

When I was learning to teach I quickly learned the art of the three part lesson. Starter, teaching and practising, plenary. Starter gets your brain going, then you do the deep stuff (maths is well deep), then you sum it up. I always felt a bit of a bad teacher when these three parts didn't quite link together. For me the forming of a lesson was a bit of an art form - the flow from one part of the lesson to another meant that the pupils needed to be taken on a journey - whether they liked it or not. 

Sometimes my lessons would not fit nicely into a block of an hour and the three parts would be extended over a series of lessons. These were lessons that generally involved some kind of project - that dreaded group work that I inflict on others but find difficult myself. In these lessons I would be the facilitator and not the teacher, I'd guide and answer the questions, but the learning and teaching would be done by the pupils themselves. These lessons were at their best when I could leave them to it and dream..... Again though, these lessons took the pupils on a journey where from the same base thinking they came up with something beautiful and often very creative, taking the mathematical journey to different stages and arriving at different places. These were the lessons I tended to enjoy most as I watched the learning unfolding before my eyes. 

I've brought a lot of my experience from teaching into ministry. Only a couple of times have I had people say that I sound a bit like a teacher - perhaps when I am getting people to be quiet or when I get people to write stuff down. One of the things that I often have said to me, particularly after a worship service, is 'you put a lot into that' - mostly not in a bad way (like information overload) but in a 'you put a lot of effort into that' kind of way.

I've just finished reading 'The Art of Curating Worship' by Mark Pierson. I wrote a post about it a while ago (it takes me a long time to read any kind of Christian book I'm not reading for college or in preparation for something). What attracted me to this book was the idea of worship leader as curator - it resonated with what I saw as my role in the classroom as more of a facilitator whenever it was possible. Pierson talks of the planning that goes into any worship event, the journey that people are taken on and how the aims of the service should not only be reflected in the preachy bit but throughout the whole event.... and for me.... this feels right. 

So this is why when I am thinking about and planning worship I become absorbed in the event throughout the whole of the week preceding, why it might appear that I put a lot into it (most of the time the ideas are formed when I am doing other stuff, it's just gathering it together). I try and put as much thought into the whole journey (which should continue after the blessing has been said) as I do the sermon. Pierson suggests that planning an act of worship needs to take serious thought and time.... when balancing life sometimes it's difficult to do that... but to honour God, perhaps that time needs to be taken..... the effort is most definitely worth it. 

Interestingly Pierson also says that number 37 of his list of things the church he is part of must be and do is 'party well'. I like that. We should have more parties as church, it's part of our journey of knowing and loving one another (and I love good parties, they are excellent fun). 

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

People are weird

People are weird. This is my favourite sentence at the moment. It's true. You engage in conversation or you spend time with other people and you quickly come to the conclusion that people are weird. Not in a bad way (most of the time) but in a confusing way, a way that is difficult to understand, a way that means that you need to begin thinking slightly differently to try and understand where other people are coming from. 

I read a quote on facebook yesterday (thanks to one of my dreaming college friends who did this - I've been quoting it to everyone) .... here it is.....

"You are a creative soul. God never intended for you to be “normal”. Your emotions fluctuate because you feel more than people understand. You’re responsible to be prophetic in your art. Don’t sell out. Stop trying to be normal. Avoid the expected. Don’t deliver what is anticipated. Be willing to do some things that may fail. And, in all of this, you will find who God created you to be: a unique, beautiful – sometimes misunderstood – voice of his hope and love to this world." Stephen Brewster

I have no idea where this quote is from... but I love it. I love the use of the word 'normal'. As an occasional statistician, the word normal reminds me of a bell shaped distribution where 95% of people are within 2 standard deviations of the mean of whatever you're testing - these people would be normal - the more we try and be closer to that mean, the bell shape kind of stretches and squeezes, but there will always be 5% of people who are abnormal. We move the boundaries and different people become weird.....

As an occasional non-statistician normality appears to be what we strive for.... whether normality is fitting in with what is expected, doing what people want, walking on the pavement and not the road (if you have ever walked anywhere with me you will know I generally don't do that), buying a house, having a stable job etc etc 

That sounds a bit boring to me...... 

I love the fact that I live in a quirky town where the only train is a steam train and where half way down my road is a field with three sheep living in it. Most of the time I love the fact that in my working life every day is different because I work with people, and with people you never know what to expect. People are unpredictable. Predictability is that job where I did the same thing every day (like when I became an expert photocopier) and where every house looks the same (it's close on my road, but the sheep make it that little bit different). 

God never intended me to be normal. If you want the same thing all the time then I'm not your person. Level headed though I am (most of the time) I can be slightly erratic, off the cuff and frankly a little bit weird. I collect names for my family tree and do maths for fun. I do pub quizzes and don't care about coming last. I can be intensely grumpy and don't want to tell you why. 

That's all OK though.... because I'm not normal.... and I'm proud of it. God created me the way I am..... not like anyone else, but in his image. If I suppress who I am I suppress who God created me to be. 

As a Christian there is no way I can be normal.... Christians are peculiar people. We follow Jesus - who is both human and divine - he was born of a virgin, died on a cross and rose from the dead three days later. If I truly believe that (which I do) there is no way in my life and ministry that I can conform to the world's expectations. I need to avoid the expected behaviour of a religious institution and be creative and surprising in the way I serve God. That's what being a disciple of Jesus does to you.... never expect me to be anything but a little bit peculiar - Jesus gives me freedom to be weird. 

I love 1 Peter 2:9 and discovered today that the King James Version uses the word 'peculiar' in its translation: 

'9 But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light:'

Thursday, 5 September 2013

Some ifs and not so many buts.....

When you watch children do things... get places.... discover, often the way they do it seems strange and alien. It doesn't make sense because we have developed our own ways of doing stuff that are simple and on the whole make life that little bit easier. 

Take this morning for example, to get the the raisins held by a 2 year old's Mum involved climbing over a large inflatable bed thing.... we looked and wondered why she didn't just walk round. It doesn't make sense for us to take the difficult route, but for her, it was the most direct route and made the most sense. The inflatable bed thing was climbable, so why not climb it? 

There will come a day when she won't choose the most difficult route, as through trial and error she will learn that walking round the obstacle is easier. It makes sense. To walk round the obstacle means avoiding any difficulty. She won't remember climbing over, but it will be engrained in her subconscious that it is not the best route. She will learn from what happened and then move on..... there's no 'what if I had done it differently, it would have been easier', it's more like when it comes to next time the flow of movement might be different....

Sometimes I'd love to be 2 again - where the decisions we make are immediate, and the 'what ifs' don't even come into play. When you watch a child discover you see their freedom from what has gone.... but as we grow it is easier to care about what others think, about our chosen routes being wrong, about how we might have done things differently. 

When we ask 'what if?' we can't change what's happened. Yeah, we took a difficult route, we can learn from that.... We said the wrong thing, we can apologise and move on..... We did something really stupid... life still maps out in front of us and not behind us....

I spend too much time thinking about the what ifs. I am a deep thinker by nature so will evaluate and analyse every encounter I have had and every thing I say or someone else says. This is great most of the time - makes me a reflective practitioner..... but sometimes I get bogged down in the 'what ifs'. It would be so much easier if I could look at the inflatable bed thing I've climbed over and say, 'well that was really hard and actually hurt' and then work it out differently when I am in that situation again. I might learn to do it differently next time, I might have to deal with the hurt or the consequences of bad decisions, but I'm not going to get hung up on the what ifs.....

We can't change the past, we've got to work with what has happened. Whether it is someone else doing or saying something really stupid, or us doing it ourselves, we can't lie down in the what ifs and dream of a time where the paths might have been different. Past decisions, experiences and mistakes might need to be worked through to take the next step, but perhaps the question should not be 'what if it had been different?', but instead 'what can I do with this now it has happened?'. what ifs - they are God's - I give them to him to take them away... and now....I need to trust God that he will help me do what it is right with the things that have happened so I can continue along what is the best path that he lays in front of me. 

Trust God from the bottom of your heart;
    don’t try to figure out everything on your own.
Listen for God’s voice in everything you do, everywhere you go;
    he’s the one who will keep you on track.                                Proverbs 3:5-6

Sunday, 18 August 2013

Logical Thinking

Logic. The tool of a mathematician. When you are learning maths, unless you are some kind of genius, you need to be taught logical ways to work through problems. The cries of 'why do I need to show my working?' are always answered, 'because you need to learn how to set out your work in logical steps to set up for the future hard maths you will do'. 

Logic. I used to teach someone who was better than me at maths. He would do a problem and if he came to the wrong conclusion he would ask me to see if I could work out what he had done wrong. The problem is that most of his logical working was different to my logic. He missed out bits, he did lots in his head, it took me a long time to make sense of his work because the way he thought logically was different to the way I thought logically. 

The problem I have when people come to different conclusions to me is when I am told that what I think or believe has no logic. I admit occasional lapses into illogicalness, and when that happens I do tell myself off for it, or proclaim my fallible humanity that I cannot always be perfect. I have a problem though, when somebody tells me I am illogical, just because they disagree with me and assume I have not thought my deep held beliefs through. I would never believe in anything that I hadn't thought through and didn't make sense - I'm a mathematician. 

I read recently an article in the Independent that is headlined 'Religious People are less intelligent than atheists....'. It can be found here. This hit home with me because I have been basically told I am stupid and illogical for believing in God - that I might as well believe in the flying spaghetti monster for all the sense it makes. When you read through the article you discover that actually the research is quite flawed and subjective - the researchers themselves do not take this as evidence that only 'stupid' people believe in God, but that there is more to it than that. They state the argument for more intelligent people not turning to religion as normally being that '...religious beliefs are irrational, not anchored in science, not testable....', but go on to conclude that there is something with more intelligent people that as they feel more capable in reason, that they do not want to lose control of what they can control - that there is an element of personal control in rejecting what they don't understand. 

Now, I don't know whether that is true, and I am always suspicious when it comes to studies like this because of their subjectivity and the margins for error in statistical testing.... but there may be something in the fact that if we accept God as necessary and rational (which many intelligent people do), then that challenges our own human capabilities and often our perception of reason, and some of us find that a huge challenge because it does mean letting go of control. 

For me it makes sense to believe in God. When I look at the world around me and in a way that is so finely tuned it makes even more sense.  I came across an article by John Polkinghorne about The Anthropic Principle a while ago, which really excited me because it linked the beauty of Physics with the existence of God (worth a read). The more I learn about science, the more God makes sense. 

I believe logic and reason do point to God. I value the work of intelligent Scientists who are also Christians that explain it in much better ways than I can (see The Faraday Institute for examples and more to read). So when I say I'm a Christian, I wish people would think and get to know me before they assume I'm illogical, because for me, it makes sense. Science and Religion are not in conflict and when we put our faith in human intelligence being the be all and end all of everything, I believe we miss out. 

Every time I learn something new about the world, I cannot help myself but glorify God. 

Saturday, 10 August 2013

Changing from the inside out....

I'm an introvert. Most people who know me know this is true. Always the quiet ones.... 

I love people watching, and sometimes I will sit quietly in a group situation until space is made for my thoughts to catch up with the conversation so that I can speak coherently about what I want to talk about. Sometimes in conversation I miss some of the conversation because I am thinking about how to respond to something that was said just a minute ago. I'll admit I'm a little bit scared of the phone.....

Recently, however, some things have come up that have questioned my introvert diagnosis.... I've begun to realise that if I spend too much time on my own I crave company to be energised. During the last week a few people have posted on facebook and twitter 27 problems only introverts will understand and I realised that I only relate to seven of them.....

I wonder if I have changed? I wonder if I have never really been a real introvert. I do get energised by spending time alone, but spending too much time alone means I need company to be energised..... When I was a teacher my time alone was important.... now.... it's important.... but my time with others is becoming more important. 

I always knew that following the call of God into ministry would challenge my very being. My very being is called, but not always ready, not always feeling worthy, and very often agitated. My very being is in God's hands, but so often tries to jump out and live within society's conventions. My very being is not so introverted any more.... 

As I journey I am changed. Sometimes this totally unsettles me.....

When I was exploring my call to ministry, in the sermon where I decided to go for it, the preacher talked about how we should not let convention get in the way of where God is calling us. She mentioned mortgages as I sat there and thought - 'why did I buy a house?' 

I still own my house, which is rented out, but there are occasions, like today, where I realise that my mortgage attachment distracts me sometimes from caring about the things that God cares about as I am reminded that it's there. I have no problems with money - I am so blessed in so many ways - God again and again provides me with just enough, however, it seems that as I change, there are things that have not changed that continue to challenge me. One of my ministry mottos is 'Let go and let God', but when money is involved sometimes that's hard, as while I am following the will of God, actually I still need to keep a grip on stuff that I own.... because I still live in the world. 

In one of our lectures last year we talked about how Old Testament Law was different to other writings around at the time as it was human centred and not money centred. When we worry about money and that comes above worrying about looking after humanity then we miss that.....

So today I am challenged. I believe that people matter more than possessions, so, while worrying is not a great thing to do.... I need to remember that if I do all the right things and live sensibly, actually, because I am in a relatively comfortable place, the money stuff will be fine.... it's the lives of the people I meet and hear about that should cause me greater anxiety than that.....

When God challenges my very being, he doesn't just challenge the introvert tendencies in me by changing me to enable me to be more effective in ministry, but he challenges me where I thought in my head I had it sorted, but in my automatic feeling responses to things, I don't necessarily do.... and I wasn't expecting that.....

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Slooowwly does it.....

I love eating out. Sitting down with friends, chatting as other people serve us and we savour what is hopefully good food and don't do the washing up afterwards. For me particularly good eating out generally has to be a bit of an experience - the food needs to be good, the atmosphere needs to be right, the company engaging and I do not need to be rushed. 

Never rush me. Please never rush me.

I love the places where I am able to sit and be as I eat - where plates aren't taken away too early and nobody hovers to see if you have finished. The best people to eat out with are those who are happy to take their time and not worried about getting to the next thing. That's not always possible, but long and lazy lunches or dinners are something I really enjoy. The best food is food that is not what you would normally cook at home and brings an element of surprise or pleasure. I love tiramisu and I savour every mouthful as it reaches all of my senses. Desserts are not made to be gobbled down but are made to be savoured.....

I've gradually learned the art of quality and not quantity. It's never about the amount of food you get but it's about the taste, smell, look, feel and even sometimes sound of the food (there is something exciting about the sound of a sizzling dish as it is brought over to your table). 

One of my favourite meals out was in a restaurant in the Algarve. It was bizarrely an English country restaurant (as you do) but was the closest one to the flat in which we were staying. We'd watched the flambeing of the pancakes of the table next door... but then they came to my Creme Brulee (second favourite dessert - the crack, the smoothness) and the waiter put whatever alcohol it was in the jug, set fire to it, and poured the blue flame from jug to jug. It was spectacular. 

My nightmare meal out is at a £3.95 carvery. Pile high, eat fast, cheap food, cattle market. You know what you are going to get, but it's all the same. 

I spotted someone buying a book called 'The Art of Curating Worship' by Mark Pierson and bought it because it looked interesting. He relates this contrast of good and bad eating experiences to our experience in worship. He talks about the 'slow-food movement' which 'involves valuing time to prepare, eat, and build community through food'. He begins to explore what he calls 'slow worship' where worship is based around the culture of the community rather than around a pre-packaged worship meal that is the same all the time. The time taken to prepare, experience and build community through worship is really important. Pierson says that the idea of 'slow worship' might mean that we come to worship with a real expectation that we will encounter God. 

When I eat out I savour the experience. 

When our worship services are clinical or pre-packaged or something to get over with so we can get on with the day then we might as well eat at a cheap carvery..... it'll do, for a moment, but is it an experience worth having? 

Saturday, 3 August 2013

Boats in the Street

I've been reading a book by Jess Walter called 'Beautiful Ruins'. It's about people whose lives cross for different reasons and the beautiful and dysfunctional relationships that are built at those crossing places. I'm about half way through and despite it doing what many books do these days and jumping from place to place and year to year I am engrossed and understand who relates to who and kind of why. It speaks about how we put up with what we have because it is familiar or because we want to make atonement for disappointing people or because we know no better than to act in the way we do. 

One of the main characters in the book is a film director called Michael Deane. Where I am up to currently he is portrayed as a bit of an idiot but with an intriguing past - a past he doesn't appear to want to reveal but comes to hit him in the face again and again. He has a fierce loyalty to people he has met, giving them the opportunity to try and make something of their film ideas (although rejecting too many) and providing space for them to be heard out (even if only by his assistant). 

We first meet Michael Deane when he is in Rome creating a film. He shows the man who has sought him out (Pasquale) the 'Sinking boat fountain' or the Fontana della Barcaccia which is in a square that used to get flooded often before river walls were built. After one such flood in the 16th Century a boat was left behind. The boat was simply dumped randomly in the disaster and the artist who created the fountain has captured some of that. 

Michael Deane shows Pasquale the fountain and says this (thinking about the mistake Pasquale has come to confront him with):

'.... sometimes there is no explanation for the things that happen. Sometimes a boat simply appears on a street. And as odd as it may seem, one has no choice but to deal with the fact that there's suddenly a boat on the street.'

This struck me as I read it this morning. In trying to understand what happens in life, we try and analyse and bring logic into the situation. This boat - the explanation was there - the flood - the waters going, leaving it behind. Yet why there and why then? We get stuck looking at the boat and wonder what would have happened if it had been different, but what we've got to deal with is the fact that the boat is there and even when it has been dismantled and taken away, the memory of the boat is left behind, as in the fountain. 

How do we deal with it? 

Sometimes it's not trying to understand and accepting that the boat needs to be walked away from. 

Sometimes it's taking the boat apart, bit by bit and building something new from the materials. 

Sometimes it's remembering the devastation left by the boat, coming back to it occasionally, but not letting it distract us. 

Sometimes it's simply accepting that the boat is there, that we'll have to continue to deal with it, that we'll never know why, but that that is OK.

One of my favourite disciples is Peter. In Matthew 14 we read the story of Jesus walking on the water and calling to Peter to 'come'. Peter does, but then he doubts and he calls out for help. Jesus gently tells him off for not believing that he could come to him. As we deal with the boats in the street and try and do it alone, we've got to remember that Jesus says 'come' - and one step at a time we might make the boat less of an influence as with each step we trust in him just that little bit more that he knows (that he is) the way.... and..... what we don't understand is in his hands and he carries it for us in our confusion and hurt.  

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Real life graphs are not all the same

When I was at secondary school I was proud of the fact that I was 'an individual' - I didn't go with the crowd. I was also very lonely as because I was a bit different I didn't really fit in. At school the in-crowd was not where I wanted to be, I was too much of a geek for the people who were trying to fit in with the in-crowd and I was never very confident and struggled to make friends.

Because I have always been on the edge, not quite fitting in to any particular group, sometimes in the centre of the group, but then gradually pushed to the edge, I realised quite quickly that people don't necessarily expect you to be different to them. If someone is found out to be different they're seen as the odd one and difficult to understand. I also began to recognise that people react to news in different ways. Some people want to share their news with the whole world, talking it through, solving problems alongside others and exploring ideas together. Others will keep their news to themselves until it becomes something that is not news any more and they have dealt with it and don't want to analyse it. Then there are all the extremes in between. There are people who want others to fix their problems, and others who don't believe they have a problem to fix ..... 

The thing is when you live in a diverse community (like church should be) is that everyone is not like you. Too often we expect people to be just like us. One of the privileges of being a minister is that people open up to you - they tell you about their lives and what makes them tick. They tell you the story of their faith journey and how they relate to God now. They reveal something of how they deal with life's problems and difficulties and as you get to know them you know how to care for them. 

If as a minister I assumed everyone dealt with life like me I'd miss the beautiful diversity in the people I care for. We are all made in God's image and in the way we relate to others in community we can express that in big ways as we learn about one another, know one another, give space to one another and serve one another. 

We've got to realise that people are different. We've got to recognise that what would make one person shout for joy makes another feel complete peace - it doesn't mean they haven't experienced the same thing, it just means they are different people, expressing their feelings in different ways.

When I was teaching real life graphs I would often get my classes to draw a graph of their emotions during the day. Some pupils would draw big ups and downs. Some would have a flatter line with small troughs and hills. Some would say, emotions? What are they? I don't want to talk about them. 

My graph is quite flat. I get grumpy, but I don't weep very often. I smile, but I don't scream with delight. I probably won't tell you about it or ask you to analyse it with me, I'm a mathematician - mathematicians solve problems alone most of the time.....but I'm there.... level headed and journeying on. 

When we are journeying with others its important to recognise what graph they would draw. God made us all different, and we have to celebrate that, but also honour one another in our differences - never expecting anyone to act exactly like us.

 "I want you to think about how all this makes you more significant, not less. A body isn’t just a single part blown up into something huge. It’s all the different-but-similar parts arranged and functioning together. If Foot said, “I’m not elegant like Hand, embellished with rings; I guess I don’t belong to this body,” would that make it so? If Ear said, “I’m not beautiful like Eye, limpid and expressive; I don’t deserve a place on the head,” would you want to remove it from the body? If the body was all eye, how could it hear? If all ear, how could it smell? As it is, we see that God has carefully placed each part of the body right where he wanted it".                                      1 Corinthians 12:14-18    

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

'Maybe I don't want to talk to you right now'

I am the sort of person who is happy to spend time with people in companionable silence. I don't need to talk. The thing that makes companionable silence different to just silence is that it doesn't become awkward. There is a recognition that just being there makes the difference and if there are silences it doesn't matter. There is space to enjoy your own thoughts and know that the other person doesn't mind. You don't need to fill the silence, because the silence makes the time together better. 

Now I have a bit more time in my life, because college has broken up for the summer, and the weather is unusually non-Lancashire (in that it is dry) I have been trying to walk more. Yesterday I walked to one of the most beautiful places I can walk to from my house (within a sensible length of time). I always forget how beautiful it is until I walk there. The last time I walked there was in deep snow, but this time it was in full blown summer, and although the same place it was very different. 

There are a few reasons why I walk. Firstly, it is good for me. Secondly, I enjoy it - it helps me stomp out some of the frustrations of the days and gives me time to reflect and thirdly because it is where God and me sometimes have a bit of a conversation - where God speaks to me most - maybe because I just have time to be. 

On the way to the most beautiful place I said to God, 'so tell me, what is it you want me to do next'. I felt him saying to me, 'maybe I don't want to talk to you right now, maybe I just want to walk with you as you enjoy your surroundings'.

There's always that moment when you think, 'well is that actually what God is saying?', yet this made me stop in my tracks. Sometimes we can be so busy looking to the next, we forget the beauty of what is around.... and because of that I walked through the most beautiful place slowly and looked up and around. 

The most beautiful place is a wood, a wood where there are dark places the sun doesn't get to, that even after the recent sunny days are still boggy, a wood where the sunlight shines through and dapples the path ahead, a wood where there are many different types of trees - some old, some new, but beautiful (trees are actually really quite beautiful). 

I noticed that a lot of the trees had branches that were twisting and turning as they were reaching to the light - like the growth in the canopy above changed year on year so the direction of growth of the trees changed year on year. The path of growth is always heading upwards but stops and changes direction from side to side when it needs to. Fixed on the light it knows where to go. 

I often wonder when we try and look at the light of God we look to the step ahead on the road we are going in first before we look at where we are now in relation to him. If we only look in the direction we know then we miss where God's light is actually shining. Yesterday God's light was shining on where I was right then - he wanted me to appreciate his beauty in creation, seeing how creation responds to him and the natural laws he has created. 

God and me in companionable silence. Sometimes that's all I need and I forget that as I wait for something profound. Right now I am determined to rest with him as I wait..... no awkward silence, just peace. 

Monday, 8 July 2013

Welcome to Narnia

One of the key points for me in Narnia has always been the lampstand. It represents a world come from to a world revealed. It is a key signpost home and it has links with the past. 

I am blessed to live in a beautiful part of the country where we have our own hill. We don't actually own it, but if you live in Ramsbottom then Holcombe Hill is your hill. It rises above the town, marking a boundary point and an observation point. On top of the hill is Peel Tower that you can see for miles around. When you are coming home, the tower appears, so you know home is near. Living at the foot of the hill occasionally there is an urge to climb the hill. The last time that happened to me was on Easter Monday on 4 hours of sleep. This morning at 6am I had that urge again. 

The thing with climbing the hill is that it takes you above and outside of real life. You can look down, and this morning particularly clearly, even see as far as Manchester. You gradually remove yourself from the world of normality and get time to stop and think. At the top of the hill is a bench. That bench is one of the best placed benches I know with amazing views, yet rarely when I want to sit on it is there anyone else on it - there is always space to sit and be. 

When I go up the hill from my house I tend to go up a cobbled old road. On this road, about half way up, is a lamp post. It's a proper Narnia lamp stand. This morning it signified the removal of myself from all the agitation of everyday life. At that point on the walk I felt I was entering Narnia - an imaginary world detached from the mundane, the irritation, the problems. 

Narnia is not a place where problems disappear. When you think about Narnia it is not a fantasy world of perfection like many other children's books might portray as the problems of the world left are still there, but different. Edmund is still an idiot and makes the wrong choices, Lucy is still an annoying small child, but with great wisdom, Peter is still the annoying older brother, but who wants to look out for his siblings. Susan is still Susan (I never really liked Susan - don't know why). 

Going past the lampstand for me today was not a run away from the problems and difficulties and agitations of normal life but was a step aside from them. A chance to look down and across at them and to say 'God, here you go, help me with this, what's your perspective?'.

When you take some time and sit apart from the world that troubles you it is easier to get some God perspective.

We can't expect to take ourselves into a Narnia of oblivion where all our problems disappear - that place doesn't exist, but in Narnia we might expect to meet Aslan - who in the stories is symbolic of Jesus who takes all of our burdens, helps us to carry them and gives us peace. 

Jesus said this:

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”                                   Matthew 11:28-30 MSG

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Running in last place

My school sports day was held on a field down the road from school as we didn't have a field close to the buildings. We would all troop down one afternoon to watch people run and throw and jump and try and behave ourselves. One race that was never on that afternoon was the 1500 metres, because it took far too long. I once ran it. It was a lonely race. I came last.

When I was teaching, the 1500 metres was always one of the deciders. In the 1500 metres there is always someone in last place. That person is needed for points but how much they are needed isn't realised until they are the only runner finishing for the crucial point. The winning house in sports day could be decided by that point. That runner got encouraged when they were the only runner, but got ignored in the rest of the race.

The last place runner carries the burdens of the team without the team realising that they've been carried. The last place runner only runs because there is no one else to run. The last place runner is the one who is there - only noticed when needed - only noticed when there is nothing better to do. 

The trend when I was at uni was to write nice things about one another on a piece of paper to take away. I've still got a few, but there was one comment that always sticks out - I read it over and over because in some ways it's great, but in some ways it confines me to last place:

'Thanks Claire for being the one to come and chat when I've been on my own'. 

The last place runner. It's OK to be there sometimes but there are times you want to be first - first picked for the team - noticed for your gifts and abilities first rather than only when there is no one else who can do the job. Noticed for the burden you are carrying before you collapse beneath the weight of it. 

There are good things about running in last place but sometimes you need to be walked with, led to the front, recognised, complimented and loved for being someone different to the one who is there when no one else is. 

Jesus said: "So the last will be first, and the first will be last". (Matt 20:16)

But in this he is not saying we are going to swap places, but that we are all given the same opportunity, the same hope, the same gift of grace that means we can be forgiven if we choose to accept the forgiveness God gives through Jesus. 

So as someone who too often finds herself running in last place, jumping up and down and shouting 'I'm here' (one of the problems of being a quiet introvert who needs to have time to think), this gives me hope of  a future where there is no last place. 

But for now..... if, as I am, you are seeking to be Christ-like....... perhaps we need to be looking for those who are running on their own behind the rest of the field we are naturally inclined to cheer on and think about how we might walk with them, encourage them, compliment them, inspire them and enable them as they run to the finish line without collapsing beneath the whole team's burdens or the exhaustion of racing alone. 

Friday, 31 May 2013

For the love of a song

Sometimes when I am stressed or at a loose end I forget that playing the piano normally chills me out and fills the time. Today was one of those days, but as I started playing my fingers wouldn't move in the right direction for Beethoven - think they had seized up - so I turned to my trusty All Woman song book to have a play and sing. The advantage of living in a detached house is that I can play and sing as loud as I'd like.

The thing I noticed in these songs today is that firstly they are all about love, and secondly about pining after lost love (apart from diamonds are forever which is about stuffing love, having diamonds because love is too much of a hassle).

Since when have we got to the point that all we can sing about is love? The content of the songs speak volumes about how women approach love - there us an air of dependence, a hint of 'lose love, lose yourself'. I wonder if it speaks of a tradition of submission and in that needing to be needed. In the songs the woman pines for the man's affection and hopes not to be let down.

'Anything for you, but you're not here'
'Baby how I miss your love.... I need you'
'Love, soft as an easy chair'

OK, maybe the last one is not so needy - but, seriously? If love is soft as an easy chair I wouldn't want it.

This morning I read that classic description of love from 1 Corinthians 13. It speaks not of a needy love, not of a love that is soft and squishy but of a love that is strong, deeply grounded and challenging. If we were to love with all of the qualities of that chapter we would be some sort of love superhero.

Patient, kind, not jealous, not boastful, not proud, not rude, doesn't want its own way, not irritable, keeps no record of wrong, does not rejoice about injustice, rejoices in a truth win, never gives up, never loses faith, always hopeful, endures through all circumstances.

Well hard.

I've seen too many of my female friends strive after the song descriptions of love (and, I have to admit I've done this myself) - a needy love, a love that keeps you hanging on, a love that is soft and squishy and..... Well kind of lovely.

But I wonder if that degrades us as women. As we seek this kind of love we miss the depth of unconditional love - love that lies its foundations on the description of love that speaks of God in 1 Corinthians 13 - love that gets so agitated about injustice it has to do something about it. Love that never fails.

As broken humans to love in that way is hard because stuff lies around - insecurities, failed relationships, barriers (like diamonds that are forever) and a need to be needed. But.... In love for family and friends, for stranger and neighbour, there is a description of love to work towards. Then we might have something different to sing about.

Back to the Beethoven. It's safer.

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

A man on a horse and flowers on a cross

A couple of weeks ago I was in Prague with other students from across Europe thinking about spirituality and discipleship. While there we were encouraged to spend time on an Urban Spirituality Retreat. This involved looking at the Urban landscape – the buildings mainly for me - and spending more time focussing on them than your normally would – noticing things that you wouldn’t normally notice and waiting on what God might have to say to you. It involved standing still in the freezing cold for a while, which was distracting! But in that standing still, and making space just to be in God’s presence God showed me some things.....

I left the metro at Museum station which takes you to the Museum (as you'd think...). This is at the top of Wenceslas Square, where a horse is ridden majestically by Wenceslas, the patron saint of Bohemia, ready to make its way down the grandeur of the Square (which is more like an avenue). The statue quickly distracts you and points you into the city. Wenceslas was martyred because of his Christian faith.

As I approached I noticed some flowers lying on the floor on the opposite side of the road to the statue. Instead of following the swarms of people heading down the square I went to look. The flowers were lying on a bronze cross. The cross is almost flat on the floor and could be easily missed because the statue and the Museum draw your eyes away from the cross. I found out later that the cross is a memorial to Jan Palach and Jan Zajic – two people who stood up against injustice through communist rule. Both died in demonstration in the 1960s and were buried away from the centre of the city. After the Velvet revolution this cross was laid in their memory.

As I stared at the cross my eyes were again drawn to the majestic majesty of Wenceslas. It reminded me of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. On that day the crowds view of a saviour was in total contrast to what would happen later in the week, just as the huge statue contrasted to the cross that lay on the floor. The story of Holy Week speaks of an unlikely victory, and a victory that can easily be missed.

When we lay memorials we do it so we have space to remember. We might have special dates when we remember or certain places. Wenceslas was remembered as a King straight after his death because of his heroic profession of his faith. The two Jan’s were remembered for their sacrifice, years after they died for a regime that took as many years to be overthrown. There were probably people who celebrated them because of their sacrifice – but for me – I knew of Wenceslas, but had to find out who the cross was for - and I think that says something about how we look at Jesus - we need to ask those questions. Why the cross?

On entering Holy Week we enter it with that Palm Sunday procession.... with preparations for a King.... with confidence and boldness. We enter with joy and gladness...... for the disciples perhaps they were built up by the excitement of the crowd – this man they followed would be crowned King. As the week went on, the crowd diminished, the hatred grew, and Jesus ended up alone on the cross, seemingly defeated.

The cross on the floor in Prague reminds the residents of where they have come from – they not only have a history of greatness, but also have a history of sadness and evil, which they were rescued from, and the two people who this cross remembers were significant on that journey. When you see the cross in Prague, you remember, but..... you could too easily miss it.....

The story of Holy Week is a story of new beginnings. In Jesus death and resurrection we have a new covenant – a new promise – a new life with God, and we remember why as we tell and hear the story during Holy Week.

Remembering is important. 

Remembering truth makes it less ritual and more real. 

Remembering truth stops the sanitisation of the good news to make it easy. 

Remembering truth helps to answer the questions of why and how. 

Remembering reminds me why it is Christ I follow. 

Thomas said to him [Jesus], "Lord we do not know where you are going so how can we know the way?"
Jesus answered, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the father except through me. If you really know me, you will know my father as well, from now on you do know him and have seen him."                          John 14:5-7 (NIV)

Thursday, 14 March 2013

The wonder of pi.....

Today is international pi day. I love pi day. It's like a celebration of all that is beautiful about curves and circles. You can find pi in the most unexpected of places. Every pi day I have to listen to the pi song. It tells the story of the discovery of pi. Some of the lyrics go like this:

'...... The question resting on the Grecian hearts was what is the circumference of a circle.
But they were set on rational numbers, it ranks among their biggest blunders.....' 

And then goes on to talk of the light bulb moment when 'irrationality was realised' (irrational numbers can't be written as fractions making maths more difficult) - that 'something deep within them died' when they discovered pi. 

But without pi there would be no circles..... The earth would be flat........  Tides wouldn't work....... We couldn't describe sound or microwaves......

So the Greeks - they had to be challenged - they had to be stripped down to basics to understand this new and different concept. They had to dream dreams different to anything they had before as they discovered something new and life changing about God's creation.

If they had continued with what was comfortable and easy (fractions - yes they are!) And not had this desire to discover - to move forward - then their work would have been lacking. They stopped, were challenged, explored and transformed.

To believe in irrational numbers there had to be a step of faith.

As we get on with the every day and run from place to place without stopping it's too easy to avoid the potential for challenge, the potential to confront our biggest fears, the potential that God might show us something new.

(I learnt today that there is an approximation for pi of 3 in the Bible..... It doesn't mention pi but mentions the dimensions of a circle, which would work if pi was rounded to 3 - see 1 Kings 7: 23-24 or if we do a bit more maths it actually gets approx 3.14 - how cool is that!)

Just to note - we're not really sure who discovered pi, but God created it...! 

Monday, 11 March 2013

Wondering in the clouds

Looking out of the window of a plane when I have travelled up through the murky grey above the fluffy white where the clouds look like cotton wool and the sun comes out always makes me feel a little like I am living out James and the Giant Peach in real life. I can't help but dream about James' descriptions of the men who lived in the clouds rolling up hail stones. In the tape we used to listen to in the car it always came across as something beautiful, something mysterious, something amazing. In flying above the clouds the mysteries and beauty of God's creation cannot help but come to the forefront of my mind. Why do so many people take photos from planes? Because the beauty and awesomeness never fails to amaze.

In an hour and a half flight it is difficult to be amazed for too long as the screams of children who clearly find flying painful and the worries over what might greet us on landing combine with a mix of excitement about the unknown and new.

That moment of wonder, in the busyness of what next is something to hold on to. 

It's too easy to forget the wonder in the every day. One of the challenges I have given myself this year is to make time to remember to stop and wonder. I turn off the TV at breakfast time and try (and often fail) to spend more time walking, praying and thinking instead of rushing from place to place. This lent there are a lot of people who have signed up to being 'not busy' as their discipline, yet being not busy becomes difficult. One of the challenges is to spend half and hour a day just 'being' which is something I've been trying to intertwine into my day (and a discipline I hope to continue indefinitely). We discussed in our pub bible study how being shattered gets in the way of our relationship with God and we were encouraged to make time to just be. A bit like a daily sabbath moment (if that's possible?). 

It's in those moments of wonder that I remember the glory of God, that I rest in his presence and remember that despite my smallness, God cares about me enough to know how many hairs are on my head........ and more. 

Why would I not want to have those wonder moments?

"God's plan is to make known his secret to his people, this rich and glorious secret which he has for all peoples. And the secret is that Christ is in you, which means that you will share in the glory of God"

Colossians 1:27

Friday, 8 March 2013

Women I know....

This week at college we had a lunch where the women ministers gathered together to share their experiences of being women in ministry, to think about how we might encourage other women in leadership and to just be together. Today is International Women's Day and in both of these things I have been reminded of the importance of standing up as a woman in solidarity with other women who are not given opportunities or rights across Churches and in the world. 

I am one of those people who nervously identifies myself as a feminist. Nervously because when I change men to human, son to child and brotherly to family in songs I've been laughed at and told I need to get over it - that it doesn't mean that the song does not put women as equal to men..... but for me it does. Nervously because feminism is viewed by some as militant and anti-men.... which I am not. Hannah Mudge has written here about these kind of views and it makes me want to come out and say, yes, it's alright to say that I am a feminist... 

A book I've read recently 'A Year of Biblical Womanhood' by Rachel Held Evans . This interested me because I'd always been angry at John Piper and Wayne Grudem's book on Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood as I was a student and UCCF relay worker and it held pride of place on the bookstall.... every time. I felt it challenged everything about what I was called to do....  I'd read Grudem's chapter in his Systematic Theology on the roles of men and women and I couldn't touch that book for fear of having to shout loudly. 

Evans talks about the Proverbs 31 woman - how actually this woman is everything but the woman who stays at home and has a certain role. She identifies how the Proverbs 31 woman is a 'woman of valour' - honouring women who have a significant role to play in the lives of people and in society. Valour isn't really a word I'd use every day, but the woman of valour in Proverbs 31 is one that is honoured because of what she does, not someone who is good because she performs certain tasks. In response to what she discovered in exploring the Proverbs 31 woman Evans decided to encourage people to talk about those who are Women of Valour in their lives..... so I am going to take the opportunity on International Women's Day to identify those women who have played a significant role on my journey. I don't normally do things like this, as I get embarrassed when I'm nice. I'm not sure whether the people I am going to mention will read this, but I want anyone who reads this to know how important these people are in my life and journey.... so here goes..... (seriously, this is quite difficult, but have to do it!)

Ingrid Shelley was my helper at my Baptism when I was 12. I asked her to be my helper because it was her I first told I wanted to be baptised after she had led us through a Youth Weekend and what she said during that weekend had a big impact in me understanding who I was in Christ. Ingrid has been significant on my journey because she modelled a way of leading that was enabling. She encouraged us to do stuff that we would never have done and created a mindset within the youth group where I knew I could believe in myself. Thank you. 

When I met Pat Took her graciousness and care for me and my family was deep. Her wisdom is evident and gentle. Yet it was in Pat's sermon at Baptist Assembly where she challenged us not to let the conventions of society get in the way of God's calling that I was challenged to properly follow my calling to ministry. Thank you.

It's difficult sometimes being an evangelical woman minister (people assume too often that I cannot be evangelical, because I'm a woman), and when I was exploring my call to ministry, Dianne Tidball was not quiet about the difficulties of being an evangelical woman, yet she is so clearly called to where she is that in looking at her I am inspired to stick to what I believe and to keep living in a world that does not always accept me in what I am called to do. Thank you. 

I cannot talk about significant women without talking about the most significant women who have been there right from before I was born. 

Firstly, my sister, Sarah. I stole her chocolates and begrudged sharing a room with her, yet now in Sarah I have one of my best friends. She has always encouraged me and believed in me, told me I am ridiculous when I am doing stupid things, been angry with me and celebrated with me. She is more full of wisdom than she realises. I am so proud of Sarah because she is one of the strongest women I know, and even in journeying through the darkest of times she brings and is light. Thankyou ace sista. 

It's mothers day on Sunday, and I cannot talk about significant women without mentioning the best mum in the world. Cares deeply, blesses abundantly, rings at the right moment, models the love of God. Brought me into the world, continues to bring me through the world. Thank you.

There is my international women's day gushiness. It won't happen too often, but I felt that today, of all days, it is important. 

One thing I will never forget from my time in Kolkata is the women I met in the house church in the village outside of the city. They shared their testimonies and one woman said that despite her terrible home life that God blesses her in the smallest of things and gives her hope. A woman I will never forget. Thank you and praying that life will improve.