My God is in Control

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When I began treatment for an underactive thyroid a couple of years ago, I was relieved – at last the symptoms of the past few years would disappear. Some did go. But last November, after years of refusing to even consider I had CFS/ME, the consultant’s diagnosis meant I couldn’t hide from it any longer. This condition, which has eaten away at my life for more than a decade, has become part of the story of who I am. Over the past few weeks, I have been unable to work. The disappointment of living with this condition can be crushing. But during this time of my physical life being made smaller, when everything I love to do has been curtailed, my life has been enriched. I am learning more about the depths and the mystery of the love and grace and mercy of the God who created the universe, the God I get to call Father. This post tells me I’m not alone …

Hope Whispers

Living with a Chronic Illness means coping with the insecurity of not knowing what the next week will hold. These past months have been a struggle, as I have juggled accepting that I am not in control of my illness, with carrying the weight of expectation upon me that I must somehow find a way to control it. The stakes are high and failure has the potential to move the course of my life in a different direction. You carry fear with you in the back of your mind, fear that you will have to have more time off, fear that one day work will decide it’s time to let me go, fear that ultimately the weight of my successes will be less than my failures.

But the reality is, illness or not, none of us are really in control of our lives. Any control we believe we have is…

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One Voice from the Somme – A Personal Remembrance

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On 17th October 1914, standing just  five feet five and one-quarter inches tall, with blue eyes, fair hair and a ruddy complexion,  a 19 years and 184 days old almost-still-boy, a joiner by trade, enlisted into the British Army and became a Private in the 11th Service Battalion The Border Regiment (Lonsdales). His name was John and he was my grandfather’s brother.

Amongst the few mementoes we have of John are the remains of two letters. One, written whilst training at Codford, Wiltshire, and written to his brother contains the following lines:

“I have been looking for a letter from you ever since I came back from my leave, but maybe you won’t have time to write, but anyway no news is good news isn’t it  … We are having fairly nice weather here now but it’s getting rather cold back end like … How is Grandma’s cold getting on, I hope it’s about alright again, tell her I will write soon.”

An ordinary young man writing home about ordinary things.

Only the last page of the second letter, written to his stepmother, still exists. I believe it was the last letter he ever wrote, which makes these lines even more poignant:

“I suppose you haven’t any idea when the war is going to finish have you because we haven’t, but there’s one conversation Jeannie, “it can’t last forever” can it … I wrote to the School Master a week or two since … well he hasn’t wrote back yet, but maybe he won’t have time to write to soldiers in fact some people don’t believe in it, but never mind, what the eye doesn’t see the heart doesn’t grieve … P.S. We are going to the trenches tomorrow Sunday for a few days and then I think we are going away back for a rest, but I will tell you all the news later.”

John Willian SalkeldAlong with over 500 other men from the 800 in the Lonsdale battalion, John participated in the first day of the bloodiest battle in human history – The Battle of the Somme. That day, 1st July 1916 saw 57 470 British casualties of which 19 240 were killed. John was one of them. By the end of the battle on 18th November 2016, of the more than one million men wounded or killed, there were 419 654 British officially dead, missing or wounded. 72 000 of the British dead have no known graves.

I find the numbers impossible to grasp, but each statistic is the bookmark to the story of one life that tells its own ordinary story, a story that ended far too abruptly.

My son, a historian who now works at Cumbria’s Museum of Military Life, was given an amazing opportunity by the local ITV news channel. They took him to the Somme, where he became the first member of our family to visit John’s grave. You can watch the moving report here.

When I learned about John’s story, just a few years ago, I wanted to write something based on what I’d discovered. Currently, I am working on a novel about a twelve-year-old boy, which though set during WW2, draws on the legacy of 1st July 1916. I have also started work on another, contemporary, novel that also draws on the period of WW1. As I write, and as I remember my great uncle John and the thousands upon thousands of other lives lived and lost in that period of our world’s history, I know with certainty that not one of their stories can be called ordinary, that not one of their stories should be forgotten.

 

Hug a Teacher Today

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“Teachers affect eternity, nobody knows where their influence ends.” Touching post by Cassandra that highlights just how much we owe our good teachers, our unsung heroes.

Cassandra Rankin

When I was my Ella’s age, my mother began her trek as a single mom. She worked hard, my grandparents worked hard, we all worked hard…and with the money from our family’s town-wide paper route, and the efforts from all of what extra time she had, she studied herself as far as she could go through community college classes.
When I was my Gracie’s age, my mom made the hard decision to uproot her little family to a town two hours away from our home where I started a new high school, my brother started Junior High, and she started life as a college student with two kids. Over the next four years, we lived in cinderblock campus housing and she studied and she studied.
When I was my Colton’s age, my grandparents and my brother and I all put on our Sunday best and we went to the big stadium…

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Just Finishing is Victory

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Where do you go when you’ve got no strength left?

rebeccadavies

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‘When the going gets tough, the tough get going’ was a popular proverb as I was growing up and its message has remained with me, urging me on, reminding me that when conditions become difficult, strong people take action.

That’s great if you are strong.
But…
What if you are not? What if, in fact, you feel quite weak? What happens then?

‘When the going gets tough, the weak….’? Collapse and give up?

Yesterday, I felt God speak to me about iron and His desire to put iron inside me, (metaphorically speaking) to make me strong.

Jeremiah 1:18 says’ Today I have made you a fortified city, an iron pillar and a bronze wall to stand against the whole land’

But I am weak! Have you forgotten?

Then I remember that ‘God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.’ (1 Corinthians 1:27) and I breathe a…

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When the world shifts

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Today, the news in the UK is headlined by the story that the leader of the Church of England, the Archbishop of Canterbury, has recently learned that his biological father was not the man who brought him up. His reaction to this, which would shake anyone, never mind it being broadcast to the world, is a wonderful expression of grace and love and redemption and is well worth the read.

Personal statement from Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury

No Ordinary Love Story

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A reader used the phrase “no ordinary love story” when they contacted me recently to tell me how much they enjoyed my book, Strong as Death. It got me thinking. Can love ever be ordinary?

Over sixty years ago, a fourteen year old girl caught sight of a sixteen year old boy.

“See him there, I’m going to marry him,” she told the friend standing next to her.

“Who is he?” her friend asked.

“I have no idea,” the girl replied.

Fifty eight years ago this week, seven years after she fell in love at first sight, the girl married the boy whose name she hadn’t known. Today, there are probably only three people in the world who remember that anniversary. I am one of them, my siblings the others. That boy and girl were my parents.

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My parents on their wedding day in March 1958

I grew up experiencing every day what it is to have parents who love each other. And I grew up knowing what it is to have parents who loved me, who would comfort me when I hurt, fight my corner when I needed someone standing there with me. I will be eternally grateful for that. There is nothing ordinary about a child experiencing unconditional love.

Death robbed me of my father’s love when I was twenty three and my youngest sibling was just fourteen. My mother’s heart broke, but still she loved her children through their sorrows and joys and triumphs and disasters until her death twenty two years later.

I remember my parents’ love every day. But it came to an end, because that’s what death does. It ends things.

Thirty four years ago, I met the wonderful man I married. He loved me every day, and I broke what we had. For the first time in my life, I learned what guilt really tastes like, how heavy shame is. We divorced.

And then something astonishing happened, a longer story for another time, but one that involves reconciliation, forgiveness. A slate wiped clean. A rebirth of love and a second chance at a marriage that will last until death us do part, because, though some broken love stories can be redeemed, death finally defeats even those that last a lifetime

But there is another kind of love, one that fills me every day with awe and wonder. It’s the love of a father who went through the unimaginable loss of his only, extraordinary son, so that the guilt and shame of ordinary people like me could be banished forever. So that death could never again have the final word, could never again write the end of the story.

No love is ever ordinary, but there is only one love not even death can break and I’m so glad to have discovered it. Of all the astonishing and undeserved loves I have ever known, none compare with the extraordinary love that was unleashed on the day Jesus rose from the grave, the day people all over the world, including this ordinary woman, who has been loved back to life by that same extraordinary God, remember this Easter weekend.

Getting Stuck and Getting Unstuck

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I’m stuck. I’m not talking stuck as being fifteen and locked in your German pen friend’s bathroom on your very first evening in Cologne and the only way out seems to be climbing out of the window. But it’s on the second storey and you can’t even climb a ladder … And I’m not talking stuck as in when you get your palazzo pants caught in the wheel of a supermarket trolley and the only way out you can think of (because no one stops to help mad stuck-in-supermarket-trolley women) is to take your trousers off. But it’s broad daylight, you’re in the middle of a busy car park and you’re wearing your worst underwear and your husband’s socks …

I’m writing stuck. Maybe this is writer’s block? But I’ve always thought that meant you didn’t know what to write. That’s not my problem. I’m over forty thousand words into the first draft of my current novel and I’m loving the first thirty five thousand words. I know how the plot develops, I’ve seen how it ends. It’s the couple of chapters linking where I’ve got to and where I want to be that are the problem. It’s not that they’re bad chapters, in fact I love them. I’ve done some of my best writing in them. But they don’t work. I’m stuck in the middle of a novel and I don’t know how to get unstuck.

Strangely enough, this has happened before. The first time, I rewrote and rewrote and rewrote the same section until months passed by. Each time I tried to progress the story past that being-stuck point, something stopped me. I call that something “the voices” (you know, the ones that all writers hear, the ones that shout: “Don’t write them, write me! Me! Me! Write me!” All writers do hear them, right?) By the time I finished that (unpublished) book, I must have written at least half a dozen different versions of the same novel.

With ‘Strong as Death’ and ‘Selkie’, I experienced similar struggles, but by the time I tackled ‘Selkie’, I’d managed to convince myself to plough on past the being-stuck point to finish a first draft. I then went back and fixed what was wrong, and it worked.

I’ve got to a bit of a of being-stuck point in my life. I know where I want the plot (if that’s not stretching the analogy too thin) to go, but one thing my life has taught me time and again is, though I may think I’m writing it, I may think I have it all mapped out, that is rarely the case. So, prayerfully handing over my life stuck-point to the God I trust, my job is to keep moving forward, believing that in His time and in His hands, a resolution that hasn’t even figured in my very fertile imagination, will come about. And it will be perfect. Well, that’s been my experience thus far in my story, and believe me, some of the stuck-points I’ve been in have been more than tricky …

So, back to my WIP (or should work in progress be wip, or WiP?). I’m going to ignore the voices, leave those chapters as they are, and I’m going to move forward and write the parts I know will work. Sometimes, it’s only looking back you can see how things should have been written. Fortunately, with novels, we get that luxury.

Oh, and the German bathroom incident? The host family eventually realised something must be wrong, after all even cultural differences don’t account for unusually prolonged bathroom breaks. I threw the key out of the bathroom window and someone managed to unlock the door from the other side. (That was a master piece of communication through a locked door when neither party spoke the other’s language terribly well. Good job I knew the word for window. Fenster, in case you ever need it.) And the trolley incident? Knights in armour, I find, tend to be well over sixty and don’t even flinch when their quite creaky knees complain that there are better things to do than lie down in the middle of a wet, busy car park to fiddle with a mad stuck-in-supermarket-trolley woman’s trouser leg.

I’d like to say that I’ve never again had to be rescued from a bathroom, or a supermarket trolley. I can’t, though I am beginning to learn from my mistakes.