My Radiant Friend

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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

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#PrayforParis

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I was seventeen the first time I visited Paris. After a two week stay with a French Family in Nuits-St-Georges, the school party I travelled with had a little free time in the capital city before heading home. I will never forget those few hours alone exploring the streets, crossing the river, stumbling upon Notre Dame, wandering the length of the Champs Elysées. I’m not a city girl, but on that day Paris crept into my heart. My husband and I spent our honeymoon there and I’ve been blessed enough to return several times. One year, as I attended a two week Education conference, I spent le 14 juillet watching fireworks light up the sky over la Seine as French citizens all over the country and the world, celebrated their values of Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité. Freedom. Equality. Brotherhood.

Expressions of shock and horror and condemnation over the events this weekend that have claimed so many lives have been expressed millions of times across the world, the destruction that a handful can inflict on a community beyond comprehension.

I don’t know the names of the dead, I haven’t yet seen any of their photos that will trickle across our television screens in the days and weeks ahead. People who’d had a hard day at work, who were celebrating a birthday, catching up with friends, laughing at a joke, trying to say sorry to someone. People who’d planned what they were going to wear, bought tickets for a concert weeks ago, saved up for an evening out, looked forward to a great weekend. No two stories the same. Gone.

So, what sort of people could perpetrate such unthinkable acts of murder? What sort of evil inhabits their hearts?

#PrayforParis, alongside other expressions of grief, has swept social media. As I did just that earlier today, as I continue to pray for that city in my own inadequacy, I was reminded to examine my own heart. Along with all the others who profess to be Christians, we are called to be light in the world, for even the tiniest light can be seen through darkness. We are called to be salt, to add flavour to the life of the world. We are told that out of the heart, a man speaks, and as a man speaks, so actions follow. But so often, my heart is so full of my own needs, my own frustrations, my own prejudices, my own intolerance, that impatience, anger, dissatisfaction, jealousy, selfishness are what spills out. Self-justification becomes the currency by which I buy my peace of mind; it’s okay to say this, do that because the person I’m irritated by, the person who has cheated me, hurt me, betrayed me, doesn’t deserve anything else. Their hearts aren’t filled with patience and goodness or love, so why should I bother about how I treat them? Because, so long as I profess to love God, to claim His forgiveness, it’s my heart I should bother about.

In my last blog post, I wrote about words and quoted one of St Paul’s letters where he talks about the nature of love. That same passage could equally apply here, but I’m reminding myself of other words he wrote, to yet another group of early Christians in Galatia who were not quite getting the point:

‘But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control. There is no law against these things.’

As the city of Paris, the French nation, the people of the world community who condemn the evil that has been done, as humanity seeks to root it out and replace darkness with light, let me look to my own heart and make sure that the fruit I produce in my life is not bitter or spoiled or rotten.

Leas Amoureux aux Poireaux; Robert Doisneau, Paris 1950

Leas Amoureux aux Poireaux; Robert Doisneau, Paris 1950

It’s only words

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Words. Perhaps unsurprisingly for a writer, I think about them a lot. Sometimes, capturing them is like trying to trap breeze-blown soap bubbles. Other times they hang rich as ripe blackberries in a thorn-filled hedgerow. How to pick and pour and blend and mix and mould them into the smells and tastes and touches of the story that plays through my mind like the dream of someone else’s life? How to turn them into feelings and sights and sounds when they are just marks on a page? Words.

Some words I’ll always remember writing. Or reading. Or hearing. Words that made me feel safe, words that made me feel smart, words that made me feel stupid. Words that shattered my world. And then there are the words I can’t even remember writing. Or reading. Or saying. Words that came out of my mouth and made someone’s day. Or destroyed it. If only I thought as much about the words I speak as the words I write.

Words written almost two thousand years ago, words that millions of people have heard or read, still have the power to make me forget to breathe as their truth reminds me it’s not the eloquence or beauty of my words that that write the most powerful story.

“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing. 

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away… And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” St Paul, writing to the Corinthian church in his first letter to them. Chapter 13.

Strong as Death – free till Sunday

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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 Stories We Write

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My parents told me stories that still echo in my heart today. Like the one where Dad rowed right through a rainbow in a tiny boat, or when Mum dived to the bottom of the ocean without ever leaving her attic bedroom. By the age of eight, my best buddy had already won every ice skating accolade the world could offer and I’d danced the lead in Swan Lake with the Royal Ballet.

And then there are the stories you don’t even know you’ve written. A few months after my mother died, a doctor friend told me something Mum never got to know. During a consultation, a patient recognised the GP as the person who’d played the organ at my mother’s funeral service. “I hadn’t seen her since we were at school,” he said, “but when I read about her service in the newspaper, I had to go. She was a few years older than me and one day, some older boys were bullying me in the playground. She came and chased them off. I’ve never forgotten that.”

The stories of who we are, how we get to be the people we become, are as fantastical and ordinary and unbelievable and mundane as snow stopping play at a cricket match during a hot UK June (1975 if you want to check).

Whatever stories I pen, however many people read them, it’s the story I write with my life that’s most important. It’s full of flaws I can’t edit out, but love and grace and forgiveness mean that I get unlimited chances to make each page better.

Let my life be the proof …

The season changes

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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

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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