My Radiant Friend

Standard

On Thursday of last week, the news I and countless others had been waiting to hear, dreading to hear, came through. A woman we had come to know and love had finally lost her eight year battle with breast cancer. Some had known Jan a short time, others a lifetime. For me, it was thirty six years, earthly years that took only the blink of an eye to pass. Since Thursday, I have looked though the mementoes of friendship collected over the decades. As a thank you for being her bridesmaid when she married the love of her life, Rob, Jan gave me a small crystal swan, which has travelled with me for over thirty years, through all the changing scenes of my life, and I have always placed it where I can see it. These past few days, it has been right in front of me when I have sought solitude, catching the sunlight and throwing rainbows round the room as I have wept and cried out with the agony of loss, as I have replayed memories like a favourite film I haven’t watched for far too long. And as the swan refracts the sunlight, I am again reminded of the Jan the world has lost, a woman who became more radiant with each year.

The first time I met Jan, I was dazzled by the sparkling young woman who fizzed withA sparkling young woman love for others and welcomed me into her heart and life with arms that never grew tired of gathering, never failed to be full of love. As I sit today, once again wondering how I could begin to write a tribute to this remarkable woman – where can I start? – the sunlight hits my little swan and I know: Jan has left this world a lighter place because of her life.

Rob’s calling as an Officer in the British army meant that they led a somewhat nomadic existence: at one point they had nineteen house moves in twenty years. That sort of nomadic life resulted in hundreds (and hundreds) of lives that crossed Jan’s and witnessed her radiance: not for Jan the life of a lamp in the corner of a carefully co-ordinated room, but the life of a beacon on a hill, one that illuminated a path for the lost, the lonely, the heartbroken, the simply broken. The lamp of Jan’s life was not a perfect Jan and Rob Sunday 9th April 2017vessel, over the years it was knocked and dropped and bashed. The years she learned to wait, to lay aside personal ambitions, the years of struggles and pressures she couldn’t skirt, the final years of failing health and the prospect of missing the joys so many get to experience – retirement, grandchildren – have been the very means by which she discovered her greatest treasure: the goodness of God, which springs from His love that endures forever.

We spoke several times over the past few months about that goodness, laid out like a feast, the grandest of picnics, right in face of the final enemy, death. The goodness of God that sends fear fleeing back into the shadows of the valley. The goodness of God that brings peace and rest when our hearts would have us despair. The cracks and fissures and dents that shaped Jan’s life created a lamp so intricate, so beautiful that there was little left of any hard veneer that would limit the light it radiated: there was nowhere for the light that filled Jan’s life to go other than to spill out into the world from the depth of her surrendered soul. And now, dwelling in the house of the Lord forever, she stands before the throne of the heavenly father she adores, the days of knocks and cracks behind her because: ‘He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever … And the city has no need of sun or moon, for the glory of God illuminates the city and the Lamb is its light.’ (Revelation 21 verses 2 and 23)

There are things in life, circumstances, choices, people, that knock us and wound us and break us. And there are people in life who stand with us, who give us their arms and hearts and help remould us. Jan was one of my shaping-people: she was light and salt and a channel of God’s grace and love. Jan taught me that there is a love, there is a grace that has no limits, no depths, no sides, no heights that can ever be scaled, and she walked in the mystery of the goodness of God in the face of her enemies, for her the cancer that A friendship that spanned decadesfinally destroyed her body. I am ever grateful that I had the privilege of knowing this radiant woman.

Jan in her own words:  

29 June 2016 ‘…My journey of surrender is not one of believing that somehow the bad things that happen are ok, but that in the midst of the bad things I am ok, because God can take care of my heart and provide all I need to be at peace and to live a godly life, and also knowing that God is doing all he can, working for the good to surface. Sometimes the good is so amazing that we think God wanted the bad to happen, but no – it is his amazing surrendered self to winning us back that is his work. He is utterly, utterly good …’

New Year’s Eve 2016: ‘… Hope means the confident expectation of goodness and I believe in hope for us both this coming year. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow us all the days of our lives …’

Rest – Matt Maher

No Ordinary Love Story

Standard

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.

20160326_132005

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.

“Light is precious in a world so dark”

Standard

For the past month, the nights should have been getting shorter, but it doesn’t feel like it. Day after grey day, the clouds that deluged this beautiful part of the world with devastating floods at the start of December continue to hide the sun like a threat. As I write this, it’s raining again and weather forecasts warn of more possible flooding in the north west of the UK.

More than two thousand people in my home city of Carlisle are either living in temporary accommodation or camping out in the upstairs rooms of their devastated homes. Those who have insurance find that the wheels of bureaucracy move slowly. And those who weren’t insured …

Of course, floods don’t sweep away the challenges people were already facing; illness, relationship breakdown, bereavement, stress, redundancy – the list goes on. And problems aren’t limited to one area of the world. Every country, every community, every family, every person has their portion of difficulties that come in every shade of dark.

Cassandra Rankin (if you haven’t discovered her blog yet, take a look – it’s a gem), shared a quote this week:

“Stories are light.” ― Kate DiCamilloThe Tale of Despereaux

Are stories light? Depends on the author. Depends on the story. There are some stories that are so dark their only flavour is hopelessness and fear. Others seem full of light when all they are is sweetness. And too much sugar is bad for you; too much sugar makes you sick. Too much sugar kills you. We’re hearing that all the time these days.

I looked up the rest of Kate DiCamillo’s quote and have précised it to: “Tell … a story. Make some light.”

Jesus had some things to say about light to his followers. One of them goes like this:

“You are the light of the world … let your light shine before others” Matthew 5:14, 16.

And in one of John’s letters he writes: “If we claim to have fellowship with Him and yet walk in darkness, we lie …” 1 John 1:5, 6

Believer or not, we can all find ways to write stories of light with our lives. That way, in the times when our chapters begin to grow dark, when the words become too faint to read, the stories of others will provide some light in our darkness. I want my life to tell a story. I want to make some light.

Angels and Shepherds

Standard

Countless people around the world are preparing for Christmas, the time of year where believers celebrate the essence of God, His word, His light, His hope, come to earth to live the life of a man. They remember that the Creator of the universe, who conducts the music of the stars and cups the oceans in his hand, chose to send His son, not as a mighty king, but in the form of the weakest and most vulnerable of humanity, a baby born to impoverished parents who quickly became refugees as they fled persecution to a foreign place, the very country that had imprisoned their ancestors as slaves for generations before.

For those brought up in the Christian tradition, we know the stories so well, how angels burst the skies apart, jostling with each other to wonder at what God was doing, how their unstoppable delight spilled out as praises that filled the heavens and caught the attention of field workers. We have so often seen tea-towel-wearing children in Nativity plays that we forget the first worshippers were rough and ready men, uneducated, grappling with the elements, sleeping under the skies to scratch a living from the flocks in their care. Perhaps, with their lifetimes of intimate knowledge of the natural world, it’s not surprising that they were the first to recognise that something supernatural, something astonishing, was afoot as they witnessed heaven breaking open.

And later, the Magi, mysterious men educated in the ways of the stars, were so mystified by what they saw as they studied the heavens that each one packed up their life to try and discover just what had happened to the natural order they’d spent their lives observing.

At the weekend, I sang Christmas carols with other believers and was once again left breathless, amazed at the words that threaten to become ordinary in their familiarity. If I truly believe the message of Christmas, that God sent His son to be His light in a world that so often seems consumed by darkness, that His Son held His arms wide to welcome the weakest, the poorest, the most despised, that His Son’s hands touched the untouchable, fed the hungry and brought healing to the sick, then the hope and compassion he brought must impact on the way I live.

If the Spirit of God, brought to man by the Christ Child who gave up the riches of heaven for the life of a man living in a time of freedom-curtailing occupation amongst religious bigots and corrupt politicians, is alive in the hearts of those who choose to give their lives to Him, then I have no other path to tread in 2016 than the one that follows the pattern for life Jesus set. I will fall. I will fail. But I trust the love of an extraordinary God who breathes light and hope and life into ordinary people like me.

Whatever you believe, amidst the circumstances you face, I pray you will know hope this Christmas and in the year to come.

 

Strong as Death – free till Sunday

Standard
Second edition.

Second edition.

Download my debut novel, Strong as Death, free this weekend –  click here for Amazon UK and click here for Amazon.com– and please let me know what you think by leaving a review on Amazon and/or Goodreads. I’d love to hear what you think, but here’s a few highlights of what a few others have said on Amazon:

5.0 out of 5 stars A truly beautiful tale of the power of love… 22 April 2014

‘Strong as Death’ is the beautifully written story of young love and the obstacles it must overcome. Anyone who remembers the pain and joys of their first lover will feel an affinity with this beautiful tale, mixed with memories of those awkward first moments, and then the thrill of realising that your heart’s desire might just be feeling the same way!

4.0 out of 5 stars A most intriguing read. 29 Aug. 2015

This … is a magical spell binding novel with a clever twist to the tale! It is beautifully descriptive with funny lines that made me laugh aloud and yet a sincerity and sadness about choices and there being a right time for everything  … After reading this I was keen to read this author’s recent novel ‘Selkie’ and was delighted I did… absolutely fantastic!

5.0 out of 5 stars A rollercoaster of emotions

… (a) …  wondrous tale … The main character’s journey is a rollercoaster ride of emotion, and the imagery is outstanding throughout … I highly recommend this book. A superb piece of writing.

5.0 out of 5 stars Heart achingly beautiful

I loved this book! The writing is exquisite. The story is compelling. I really cared about the characters, felt their fear, their love, their hope, their despair. Tears of sorrow and joy were spilled along the way. Will love and faith ultimately triumph? I had to find out, so I could not put it down. I love this book!

5.0 out of 5 stars I could not put this down!

I absolutely loved this book and was hooked into the story from the first page. The characters were beautifully drawn and the story unfolded in my head as the plot unfurled … Julia Lund has a gift for description and making the characters come alive from the page. Minnie is a vibrant central character and I so wanted everything to work out well for her. I found myself emotionally tied into the situations that she found herself and just when I thought it was all lost…. read it for yourself and you won’t be disappointed …

4.0 out of 5 stars

I enjoyed reading this …  Minnie is an engaging, vulnerable protagonist. The sections with her nemesis in reminded me curiously of Evil and his minions in “Time Bandits”! Julia Lund has an ear for narrative detail and dialogue; it’s a nice change to read an English book like this, rather than American counterparts. Anyone even considering getting this should do so: a well-written novel …

What’s the book about? Here’s a hint …

You’re not supposed to think about dying when you’re sixteen, but when you’ve heard death whisper your name, felt it brush your cheek, is there anything that can stop it claiming you?

The first time talented musician Minnie Shilling sets eyes on Dylan Lachlan, time shifts and she falls heart and soul in love of the forever kind. But as she starts to hope that just maybe Dylan feels the same, she is increasingly troubled by inexplicable sights and a sense that someone is watching her; someone no one else sees. As Minnie’s life comes under threat from the dark force that will move Hell to steal her soul, which will turn out to be stronger? A love to live for? Or the kiss of death?

The season changes

Standard
Last of the summer roses

Last of the summer roses

Today, as I sit at my desk in my garden room to write my first blog post in many weeks, the fragrance of autumn is in the air even as the garden clings on to the last signs of summer and I am reminded how much I love these times of year when one season hands over to the next. I even love it when winter begins to breathe its frosty breath across the last of autumn’s leaves; I love the anticipation of cosy fires and evenings snuggled as a family and Christmas to come – winter’s bribes for all the harshness of the dark, cold months it will surely carry in its wake.

Feeding an elephant

Feeding an elephant

This summer, I’ve lost count of the thousands of miles I have travelled; I’ve touched an elephant, seen the wonders of the Swartberg Mountains looking as though they’d been folded like soft sheets of golden pastry. I’ve seen Table Mountain disappear under a cloud as though it had never been there and tasted sunsets that stopped my breath. I’ve seen fish eagles soar and hippos sleep and humming birds sit still as they preened. I’ve seen the first shoots of answered prayers I’ve prayed for years and I have seen the hearts of people I love broken. I’ve seen poverty that is beyond anything I’ve ever experienced, yet still I haven’t met the poorest the world tolerates. I’ve seen the evidence of wealth most only imagine and have struggled for breath in the humidity in which it thrives. And against such backdrops of wonder, I have been reminded of just exactly where my treasure lies. It’s in the love of the family and the friends and the God who scoop me up when I fall, who fight for me when I have no strength, who hold me when I cry and who rejoice with me when I’m overjoyed.

Table Mountain from Blouberg

Table Mountain from Blouberg

And my writing? As the season is changing, so is the project I’m working on. Just as nothing we go through in life, the storms and the calms, are ever wasted, so it is with the years of planning and writing and losing my way and the struggling to discover just what has been missing from this project. As the fractured pieces begin to make sense, I’m excited to see what the coming autumn and winter will bring. And I’m also looking forward to reconnecting with the many amazing people I’ve met through my blog. I’ve missed you.

Sunset at Blouberg

Sunset at Blouberg

Catching magic

Standard

Golden dragonfly.

Golden dragonfly.

Recently, my husband suggested an evening walk somewhere magical. A Site of Special Scientific Interest, Drumbrugh Moss is an ancient and rare place that is home to flora and fauna that has been established for thousands of years. With each step we took, dragonflies, clouds of them, took flight. As the sun caught their wings, the air was filled with shimmers of turquoise and emerald and copper and gold, and my breath was taken away as that place seemed to be alive with more than the memory of the time when faeries were real and their tales were true. I wish I could have captured the sight, but I’m not a photographer and the only camera I own is on my phone. I’ve done my best with these images I’m sharing here.
Dragonfly landing on Steve's hand.

Dragonfly landing on Steve’s hand.

Drumbrugh Moss - a magical place.

Drumbrugh Moss – a magical place.

Turquoise dragonfly.

Turquoise dragonfly.

Dragonflies are a symbol of resurrection, a symbol of hope, and I was reminded of a scene in my novel, Strong as Death. Omitting a name for those who haven’t read it, this passage came to mind:

“Music I’ve never heard before, sung by a voice I never thought I’d hear again, joins in with the silvery snow-dance and floats towards me and I search through the lacy veil to find the source. And there he is, singing his song of darkness that became warm, like liquid velvet that shimmers with a promise, velvet black that swallowed the shadows of the pain that was his charred and broken body. And there is light, singing to him, and in him and through him, pulling him into the circle of silver that glimmers at the end of the dark. And the silver explodes and the sound is glorious and the broken body, the body that’s no longer his, falls away to the bottom of the dark. And iridescent wings lift him towards a blue he never imagined, rays of light touch his body reborn, sending flashes of green and flares of cerise like a first sunrise. And his new song reaches for the chorus of the dragonflies that flock above him as he soars to join his dragonfly-song with theirs.”

Strong as Death second edition

Strong as Death
second edition

I hope I catch the imagery of these magical creatures with my words, if not my pictures and if you’d like to give Strong as Death a try, you can find it:

Amazon.co.uk

Amazon.com