Tuesday, 2 June 2020

Gratitude (2)

Some time ago, I wrote a post about how, for Lent this year I had been keeping a gratitude journal.

It is now the end of the Easter season and there seems a certain symmetry to ending this daily record. I am not intending to stop being grateful for the many good things, big and small, which are part of my life. I hope the discipline of consciously being thankful is sufficiently embedded, to be able to set the notebook aside, at least for a time, without losing the spirit of thankfulness it has reminded me to cultivate.

It may not be of interest to anyone else, but just in case the notebook gets lost (which it easily might!) I thought I'd transfer the record here. I've removed all the waffly explanations, all the repetition and the names of individuals, but other than that, this is what I have been grateful for during the Lent and Easter Season 2020:

Sunshine through the windows at morning prayer, 
good news about school places, 
sharing poetry, 
random messages from friends, 
the Birch drop-in, 
coffee shops, 
walks in the sunshine, 
good conversations, 
a grant from the national lottery, 
lunch with friends, 
a concert, 
a lie-in, 
discovering new little bits of green in walking / cycling distance, 
childish enthusiasm, 
junior church, 
dinner with friends, 
primary school visits, 
positive feedback, 
doing something creative, 
a tidy room and a jobs list in order, 
long overdue catch-ups, 
celebrating birthdays, 
being invited to read a book on the recommendation of someone else, 
being trusted by a friend, 
messages about new projects starting, 
a nap, 
watching children I care about grow up, 
the amazing, inspiring women I am privileged to know, 
time shared with friends, 
making plans with others, 
the reassurance of knowing views are shared, 
affirmation from friends, 
impromptu dinner invites, 
fresh clean sheets, 
the Stories of Hope and Home group: individually and collectively, 
being thanked, 
homemade cookies, 
reusable sanitary towels, 
story-sharing and singing with little people, 
the bus driver waiting as I ran to the bus-stop, 
loving and being loved, 
hospitality offered and received, 
being able to support, advise and mentor, 
wasting time together with important people in my life, 
live-streaming prayers and knowing others are praying with us, 
pub trips, 
planning for what remains possible in uncertain times, 
getting my bike out for the first time in forever, 
phone calls just because, 
so many education related things, 
blue skies, fresh air, sunshine
being the right kind of tired, 
seeing people again after a long interval,
family in all its many forms, 
random banter and nonsense, 
BVSC payroll services, 
living in a big building, 
impromptu contact, 
modern technology, 
sleeping until the alarm, 
face-to-face encounters, 
canals and towpaths, 
signs of spring, 
mains electricity, 
school stories, 
empty roads, 
the privileges of wealth, 
roast dinner, 
bike-rides and growing cycling confidence, 
lovely but predictably bonkers mums and tots online, 
Northern Leg of Student Cross: those who walk, those who welcome, 
finding pussy willow, 
a sense of purpose, 
prioritising getting outside, 
group chats and individual chats, 
leaving the city centre, 
time offline, 
safe spaces for tears, 
beautiful songs, 
feeling supported by colleagues, 
a sense of faith and a community with whom to share it, 
being busy, 
ice-cream on the roof, 
buds and spring flowers, 
watching the sunrise, 
the virtual pilgrimage, 
sunlight reflected in water, 
pretty pink blossom, 
online sessions for school kids, 
a tablecloth with 585 names stitched into it, 
good mental and physical health, 
a comfortable home, 
good food, 
the satisfaction of a deep clean, 
not-pub quizzes, 
google maps, 
thoughtful gifts, 
planting things and the possibility of new growth, 
memories of Christmas day, 
a new laptop, 
thousands of daisies, 
chance encounters, 
the market cheese stall, 
lengthening days and light evenings, 
leaf tea, 
sunflowers growing, 
the NHS, 
the completed We Tell Stories performance project, 
chocolate brownies, 
singing and laughter, 
the centenary square fountains, 
time and space to myself, 
sunshine after rain, 
watching the seasons change, 
goslings and ducklings, 
the sense of satisfaction of ticking a long-overdue job off a jobs list, 
finding ways to feel connected to others, 
featuring in the Imix positive stories blog, 
relaxing and having fun, 
chalk-art on the roof, 
reduced price stickers, 
City Academy Birmingham, 
good books and the time to read them, 
chocolate cornflake cakes, 
seeing progress in English and watching confidence grow, 
jacket potatoes, grated cheese and baked beans, memories of swimming lessons as a child, 
a spectacular moon, 
warm evenings, 
wisdom and guidance and support received, 
seeing the joy that something very small can bring to someone else, 
brightly coloured flowers, 
Lancaster chaplaincy, 
the kindness of strangers, 
standing outside in warm summer rain, 
learning how places interconnect, 
sharing my love of words with friends, 
cream cakes, 
libraries and museums, 
parcels in the post, 
always having enough to eat, 
space for chatting that embraces both the silly and the serious, 
summer trips with families, 
walking without a specific plan, 
takeaway curry night, 
meeting people not through a screen, 
 my blog, 
books that say a lot in a few words, 
meeting someone again in a much better place than last time I saw them, 
bamboo socks, 
a zoom Iftar meal and memories of previous shared meals, 
the first cup of tea in the morning, 
parks and public outdoor spaces, 
being in the moment, 
the early days of summer, 
scotch pancakes for breakfast, 
technology and technical skills, 
interfaith / intercultural friendships, 
gestures of intimacy and friendship, 
curlywurlies and memories of Lonsdale, 
waking up to radio 3, 
a friendly postman, 
a routine of regular prayer, 
the gift of bringing people together and building community, 
freshly picked strawberries, 
planting bulbs and the memories of the various events and times these were originally bought for, 
bamboo towels, 
cycling and walking infrastructure, 
many shades of green, 

Removing the repetition and the named individuals has, I realise, somewhat shifted the balance of what is included: rereading the original record shows it has a very definite predominance of people. It was rare for more than a couple of days to go by without a mention of some of the many people, individually, collectively who really matter to me. Though it isn't perhaps reflected here, this, more than anything else shines through as that for which I am most grateful in my life. 

Sunday, 31 May 2020

Happy Pentecost!

In a poem I wrote for Pentecost some years ago, which I reread recently, I found these lines:

And the spirit dances
Within our doubt

They are words which still resonate today.
In the chaos, and the confusion and in all that we can't quite get our heads round; even in the midst of the incomprehensible suffering we see: in some mysterious way, God's spirit remains present.

Happy Pentecost!

Sunday, 24 May 2020

The isolation at the centre

We live right at the heart of a city centre.

We know that it is a distinctive place to be based ... And much of our life is shaped by our locality. We have, perhaps, come to somewhat take for granted this place at the centre, at the crossroads, at the meeting point. A place where there is always life and busy-ness and people, and joy and challenge and community in many different forms.

And then, a couple of months ago, almost overnight, everything changed. I know, that is not unique to us. This is not a post about some competitive one-up-man-ship about whose life has faced the most upheaval in recent weeks, not at all. But it possibly a reflection on some of the aspects which I think are, in fact, relatively specific to our situation.

We quickly learned after coming here that the model of community we were creating wasn't just going to be about those who lived together in the flat long-term: much of our community was going to be about those who passed through, for longer or shorter periods of times, and those who connected in, in more or less committed ways. Individually and together we hope we have created spaces of meeting, of coming together, for lots of different people. The table cloth, into which we stitch the names of those who share our table, stands as testament to some of that.

Carrs Lane Lived Community is, in that sense, a mirror of the community in which we are based. Birmingham city centre is always (the last few weeks aside) busy. There are always people criss-crossing, pausing for a while, meeting. But the "community" here is a transient one. With all the hubbub and busyness it can be easy to forget that this place at the heart of it all, this place which is so connected, is in fact a bit of an island.

So when the passing through and the meeting all stops; when this crossroads, this hub suddenly falls silent; life beings to look very, very different.

While others have spoken of the highlight of stepping outside on a Thursday to meet their neighbours, of knowing for the first time the names of those who live next door; we have adjusted to the streets around us emptying; the face-to-face real human contact which was so much part of our everyday has all but come to a standstill.

And while I am eternally grateful for the existence of the internet, and social media, and video conferencing apps and all of that ... It is not the same. Existing in this isolation at the centre has been, at times, a challenge.

When we first came here, I wasn't even really sure I wanted to live at the centre of a busy city; it was one of the aspects of coming here which is someways least appealed. But that was a long time ago, and in the intervening years I have thrived on living in this very peopled place.

And I think its ok to admit that I am missing that reality. I miss looking out of windows and seeing the whole of humanity in all its glorious, messy diversity passing by. I miss sharing food with lots and lots of different people. I miss conversations: the deep and theological, the fleeting and incidental; the serious and the frankly rather silly. I miss the sharing of tears and the sharing of laughter, neither of which are quite the same through a screen.

Don't get me wrong. I am ever an optimist and I can see much that is good.

This is in fact, still, in some ways, a place at the centre. We have continued to pray, right here, at the heart of the city, and have gathered new less geographically bound communities to pray alongside us. We have continued to gather friends and community around us on virtual platforms, at times including refreshing and renewing friendships which might otherwise be more distant. We have continued to find ways to reach out, where we can, to some of those we aspire to support.

There are, I admit, certain advantages to the emptiness of the building. I have enjoyed not having to pack away the prayer area each day to make way for other users.

The fact that no-one is having to sleep by our bin-store because, whatever its flaws and failings, there has been at least a solid attempt to get everyone into accommodation is a testament to what is and could be possible in supporting those who are street homeless.

Having long struggled with the signs of excessive consumerism and its detrimental effects on both mental health and the environment; a few months of less shopping in no bad thing.

The roads are quieter, which has given me renewed confidence on my bike, and the pollution levels are undoubtedly at the lowest they have been for some time: as long as I don't catch Covid, my lungs, at least, may be in better shape rather than worse through all of this.

Like many people, I don't actually want a return to business as usual. I don't want the homeless kicked back onto the streets, I don't want a return to queues to endless excessive consumerism, I don't want everyone jumping back in their cars.

But I can't deny that I am longing for a bit more community that doesn't just rely on a laptop or phone.

Admittedly, I'm possibly writing this post at slightly the wrong moment: during the last week or so, there have been a few more people around the city centre, but it is far from being back to the usual hubbub of life and colour; a little one to one face to face contact has become more possible; there are glimmers that, while "normality" may be a long way off, new possibilities may emerge. But I started writing it probably about a month ago, and, for me, if for no-one else, it is a record I think I want to keep.

Saturday, 9 May 2020

All the things we do not write

Several years ago, when I first started this blog, I had no real idea what it would become.

I started writing it when I was setting off on an exciting adventure to a completely different culture, and some of my friends and family had expressed interest in following the journey. At first, then, it was intended simply as a space to record and share what life looked like in the Philippines.

It quickly became apparent it could never really just be that. It was never going to be just objective observations, if such a thing even exists: it was always going to be shaped by the lenses through which I was watching the world. Reflecting on that process, on what those lenses were, how they effected and distorted the world I saw through them, quickly became an important part of how I used this space.

I also knew, when I began, that I had never been any good at diary writing. I recalled occasional phases of wanting to write a diary, to keep a record, to be able to look back and go 'oh yeah, that'; but I had never kept it up for long. I wasn't at all convinced I'd manage to motivate myself to keep blogging throughout my time in the Philippines, let alone that I'd still be fairly consistently putting stuff up here nearly nine years later. I am really pleased that I have.

I really value this space, but there have always been challenges to it too. Way back when, in a different context, I wrote another post touching on some of them.

This is my diary, the place I explore the realities of my life, but there have always been things that have never been written here. There always will be. There have always been reflections which have been measured against how appropriate it is to share them more widely, without knowing who might read it. The public nature of this space has been a great motivator: to write, to reflect, to process, to record. But it has its limitations too.

This has always been a space for sharing MY story, and my reflections on it ... but to quote a cliche, no-one is an island, and my story is never just my story. Each of our stories is always an interplay between our own life, and the lives of others. Whatever I might want to share of my story, I also have to be fair to what they might, or might not want me to share of theirs. I am deeply aware that sharing the ways the joys of life intermingle with others is often easier than the stories of pain and struggle, and maybe part of this post is about reflecting on how to ensure that this is in some way a fair record, even if it is,by its nature, an incomplete one.

It is part of the beauty and richness of my life that it is entwined in complex and intricate ways with the lives of so many others. Clearly, then, parts of their stories are inevitably shared here too; but their agency, or lack of agency, in what I write always has to be taken into account too. Because this blog is also not only my story, but it is very much my version of my story. It is and always has been, very deliberately not objective. It is not even attempting to be, and I hope there is no pretence that it is.

There are those stories which are very deeply and definitely 'my stories' but which are intricately intertwined with those of others in ways in which it makes it impossible to tell the one without the other: an other I might or might not feel I have the right or the capacity to tell. There are also those stories which are part of mine only by virtue of them being entrusted to me and, for all the ways they effect me, may or may not therefore be mine to tell at all.

Integrity is deeply important to me, and I have always wanted this to be as authentic as possible a record and reflection of who I am. I hope that it is. I hope the fact that, out of respect for those around me, it only tells a part of the story, never detracts from the desire for it to be a genuine record. I guess this post is my reminder to myself, and to you, that it can aspire to be that, even in the midst of all the things that are left unsaid.

This is blog post number 300. 
If you've followed from the beginning, that's a whole lot of words you've read. 
If you've followed at all, thank you for sharing the journey!
It continues ...

Saturday, 2 May 2020

Like daisies...

like daisies
turn our faces
towards the light
so bright

perhaps, sometimes
it is right
We too
must curl up tight
the dark 
of night

So long as we remember that
Morning comes

And when it does
we must
allow its warmth
to penetrate
And thus
and open
to face
our world

There are hundreds of daisies out at the moment: maybe the grass is being mown less often, maybe they are always there and I'm just usually more distracted and less attentive. So that was half the inspiration for this poem. 
I kind of love the thing about daisies turning to face the sun, and also how they all curl up over night but open again when the sun comes out in the morning. 

But I think the other part of the inspiration was something else. 
We're living in very strange times: some of us have more time and are busy telling ourselves we should make the most of it: do more, create more, learn more. And some will. We've all seen the memes about Newton discovering theories and whatnot during the plague. 
But while he was doing that, a whole lot of people, were curled up at home just trying to survive. And while they might not be in the history books, that was ok too. It still is.
Most of us, I imagine, are a mixture of both. With days or moments where we feel inspired and productive; and days or moments when we don't. Certain tasks may motivate and energise us, others may hover on jobs lists we just can't face.

Daisies are still daisies when they curl up at night. And the morning will come.

Saturday, 18 April 2020


Some years I have found a way to do Lent well, other years not so much.

This year, way back in the different existence we inhabited at the time, I set myself a gratitude challenge: each day I would record three things for which I was grateful: the big things or the small. I bought a notebook. I tried to slot it into a routine.

There were rules. Only three and always three: no more than that on the good days, no fewer, either on tougher days or days when I didn't feel I had enough time to think about it. And no 'buts', or 'even better ifs': I was to record only the positives, without qualifying it with the doubts or hesitations or slight negatives on the side.

And I stuck with it. We have now entered the Easter season, and in theory, therefore I should have laid that little notebook to one side. But there are still blank pages, and the need to seek out, or to remember to recognise things for which to be grateful is still here, so, for now at least I am continuing. I have found my 'gratitude diary' has become a mixture of recording my appreciation of the things I still have, and the things I've lost, but have perhaps learned to appreciate more for their absence. In the midst of uncertainty and challenge, it feels valuable to make space to remember how much I have to be grateful for.

Since the beginning of Lent, the things I have to be grateful for in my daily life have in one sense, changed quite considerably. Small things have taken on renewed significance. My days, like everyone else's, look very different.

In another sense, though, the common threads which run through this record have scarcely changed at all: finding beauty; the practicalities and privileges which facilitate my comfortable life; the importance of relationships with others. I hope that this discipline of keeping this record will help me to continue to make space to remember to be grateful for these things, whatever form and shape they take.

Tuesday, 14 April 2020

Zoom Squares

On Easter Sunday morning, I got up early to watch the sun rise over the city. Despite my later tiredness, I was very glad I did. Birmingham, silent beneath a colourful sky fading from darkness to light, is beautiful.

As I watched, this phrase, "The earth still turns and the sun still rises" came to me: I think I was struck by something of the things that remain certain when the whole world seems to have been turned upside down.

That, I thought, is the beginning of a poem.

It was, but by the time it came together it didn't include those words, despite my best efforts to shoehorn them back in somehow. Perhaps there's another one waiting to be written at some point. Perhaps not.

In the meantime, that became this.

(*Despite not particularly liking the sound of my own voice, I think it works better listened to than read so ...)

It is here, perhaps
In this the space
Where everything changes
That we discover
That these the cords
Which tied us down
In fact
The bonds which bound us
To a reality
We at least kind of understood
The anchor
Now cut adrift 
From all we thought we knew
To be true
We don't quite know
Where we will go
But we will find
We're intertwined
With others who
Apart, together
Still turn me
Towards you

Almost overnight
All these the people
Who once were
Flesh and blood
With outstretched arms
And hugs
To hold us close
Zoom Squares
Moving pictures on a screen
And yet
Though slightly out of focus
From that we thought we knew
They smile at us
And we at them
And so
While we may freeze or falter
We realise
The connections has not
In fact
Been lost
And there is hope
They still turn me
Into us.

Friday, 10 April 2020

Adjusting to a new reality

It's about a month since I last posted anything on here. As always, there are a few unfinished drafts which may or may not see the light of day at some point ... but suddenly most seem less relevant to the strange new reality in which we find ourselves. In one sense it feels like hyperbole to suggest 'everything has changed' but actually, it kind of has: and it means that I feel like to write something, it has to, at least somehow relate to this new situation. Perhaps that will change, when this becomes our mundane reality, but that's not how it feels right now. And so here I am, just one more person casting their disparate and at times dysfunctional thoughts about life in the pandemic into the ether, perhaps as nothing more than a reminder to myself, in times to come, of how it felt to be caught up in the story of this generation.

As it became increasingly obvious that, some point soon, we'd be heading to a time of increased physical distancing and lock-down, my brain was teeming with ideas of things that I would do with all the extra time I found myself with: jobs that had been hovering at the bottom of jobs lists for a very long time, creative projects, more writing: I nearly posted an apology on here for the inevitable deluge of blog posts to follow.

You'll have noticed. This has not been the case.

Time has become a strange paradox of stretching indefinitely into emptiness and flying by as quickly as ever. Whole days seem to disappear with the same struggle to fit everything I want to do in. No change there then: but it is not how I expected this time to feel.

In some ways, life looks very, very different to it did a month ago, but in other ways, not as much as I thought it might. My energies have, for the most part, been directed exactly where they always were: towards building relationships and community with those I love and care about. There's still some stuff that could be very loosely defined as teaching mixed in. The fact that the format is very different, and I, like the rest of the world, have discovered new depths of appreciation for technology, has not detracted from my first priority in my new routine and reality being sustaining human connection.

I abandoned the term social distancing almost as soon as it had become common parlance: this is not, I suggest, what any of us need right now. Physical distancing, certainly, but that is a very different thing. I know that the last thing I need right now is to feel more socially distant from my communities I would say it is part of the human condition to need social connection, perhaps even more so in times of uncertainty and crisis. We are made for togetherness. Perhaps the imposed separateness has given many of us a renewed appreciation for this need.

Despite the reality of almost no physical face-to-face contact (answering the door to the postman has become one of the highlights of my day, I kid ye not!) there have definitely been times when I have felt almost overwhelmed by the quantity of social contact. There is, perhaps a certain increased intensity inherent in continuing conversations and 'holding space' online rather than in person. Overall though, I am pleased with how my (virtual) social connectedness is shaping up.

I know myself well enough to know that a sense of purpose is deeply important to me. I know how much I would struggle to feel I wasn't able to contribute or make a difference: it was one of my biggest fears as we headed towards this strange new reality. For different people, I am sure the approach of lockdown presented very different things to stress about for different people. This was mine. When so much of my raison d'etre is focused around human encounter, what would I still have to offer from being tucked away in a corner?

I am deeply grateful that the reality has felt much more constructive than some of my concerns beforehand suggested. Much of what I am committing my time and energy to has, I hope, great value for those towards whom it is directed: but I make no illusions that this is entirely altruistic. All this reaching out in support of others is also fulfilling a deep need in me. I had twinges of guilt about that to start with as I questioned my own motivations.

This is not the first time I have wrestled with such a thing, working out how to justify whether roles which bring me great joy and fulfillment can really be called work. But I think I have made peace with it, at least for now, at least in the context. I don't think it detracts from the good I can offer others if it also gives me life: on the contrary, perhaps it is this which will make it more sustainable. Perhaps it is this which confirms it is vocation.

Now I've started writing, I have a number of other tangentially related things I think I want to say, but this post is probably already long enough, so maybe that's for another day.

Tuesday, 3 March 2020

Wonderful Wales

It is now almost a fortnight since I got back from a truly wonderful few days in Wales with the participants from the Stories of Hope and Home project. Nearly everyone I have spoken to about it has said I should be "writing all this down" so I guess this is my attempt to do so, at least in part.

Perhaps I should have written something immediately when the impressions of the trip and all that it meant, to them and to me, were still fresh and raw. But at the point I was certainly too tired to string together a coherent sentence! I came home utterly exhausted ... and with zero regrets about a truly wonderful shared experience.

I was fairly tired even before we set off... after a few semi-sleepless nights worrying about ensuring everything was in place for it all to go as smoothly as possible and for everyone to have a wonderful time: expectations, mine and theirs, of this being a very special experience, were high, so I was desperately keen to ensure it lived up to the dream! But with the activities planned, the resources collated, the menus decided, the participant list finalised, what could possibly go wrong?

By departure day, it was fairly obvious that Storm Dennis was going to be wreaking havoc across the whole of South Wales. Red weather warnings are hardly an auspicious start to a few days away to enjoy the countryside! We were travelling as far as Cardiff by megabus (because it was cheap, but given the number of cancelled trains that weekend, it turned out to have been an excellent choice). By the time we were en route (with everyone having made it comfortably on time, thereby alleviating the first of my significant worries) it was clear the train we were due to get up to the village where we were staying was not running; but the local bus service wasn't showing any disruptions, so it looked like we weren't going to have to change our plans too much, and we enjoyed a couple of hours in the National Museum before locating a bus stop.

I think it's fair to say it was pretty obvious we weren't locals: the ethnic mix of the Stories of Hope and Home group is somewhat different to the general make up of the population in the Welsh valleys. It wasn't surprising we attracted a degree of interest. We were asked by interested locals where we were from and where we were going... When I said (with some trepidation about my pronunciation of Welsh place names), that we were en route to Troedyrhiw, the reply "but you can't be, the village was evacuated this morning" was not, if I'm entirely honest, what I wanted to hear. Not that anyone else understood what was going on ... this was one of several occasions when I had to identify that no, that wasn't welsh,just English with a strong welsh accent. So I spent the rest of the journey carrying out hasty google searches to try and work out whether the place where we were staying was outside the evacuation zone. 19 people including a toddler in self-contained accommodation with a clear plan of activities was quite stressful enough ... ending up in an evacuation centre with a lot of undoubtedly distressed locals was probably not my ideal scenario at this stage.

As we walked passed lots of houses with their sodden furniture and carpets out in their front yards; rarely have I been so grateful for the fact that we were walking uphill!  Anyway, we arrived and if the downstairs kitchen floor showed some evidence that flood water had made its way in, it was not going to deter us from settling in and having a good time. And after that beginning, the only way was up, surely!? It was just as well Helena was joining us the next day and that, as well as bringing the food for the rest of our trip, could throw in a few extra essentials ... such as a mop and bucket!

By dinner time on the first evening it was fairly obvious that the timetable was going to have to be fairly flexible, ... and that was even before such complications as a stay in a local hospital for one of the participants were added to the mix the following day. Frequent adjustments to the timetable were probably inevitable, adapting to various complications and to the weather forecast; but having a timetable and a plan meant that we did fit a lot in to the time we had together. Helped, undoubtedly too, that everyone had come with a desire to get the most they could out of the trip.

While we may have come to the table late, come to the table we did: all of us. It was something of a squeeze to fit everyone into the dining room, but we managed it: this was to prove to be a significant and beautiful feature of the trip: to sit and eat together as family; with good food, conversation and laughter. 

I'm not sure I slept at all the first night, a situation that improved slightly, but not hugely on the following nights. It meant I was already awake when I heard someone in the kitchen making falafel for breakfast ... at 4am! You'd think, after the early start (I gave up all pretense at sleeping and was in the kitchen myself, watching rather than being useful, by 5), that breakfast would be ready on time, but in a pattern that was to be repeated throughout, that didn't exactly come to pass.

The locals we met on the bus had suggested that Troedyrhiw was not a particularly attractive place, but I guess it depends on your points of comparison .. because no, this was not the Brecon Beacons, but nor was it inner city Birmingham, and to be able to step outside and be on a grass covered hillside within a few minutes walk from the front door was a much-appreciated novelty, even for those who were not particularly motivated by outdoor activity and opted for the shorter version of the walk each day. For those who were more adventurous, and continued for a longer walk, being caught on the hillside in a hailstorm was all part of the experience. For me, it feels like a feature of British holidays that if, when walking in the countryside you find yourself in a mix of sleet, rain and hail, you do up your coat a little tighter and carry on regardless, so I consider them now to be fully inculturated! The weather was kinder to us the following day (for February, anyway), and after a visit to Aberfan with the whole group, about half went on for what turned out to be about a five hour walk. Those who know me will be aware that the fact I was the one entrusted with an OS map was always going to be a bit of a risk, but we only had to climb over one (or was it two?) fences when we got slightly off track, and a good time was had by all! The rest of the group who had wandered back to the house to chill out also seemed to have had a nice time too, so everyone was satisfied.

In between and around all that, we did various activities back at the house: this was, after all, at least in theory, a residential trip not just a holiday! And so it proved to be. I continue to appreciate the enthusiasm with which this group of people throw themselves into the things I invite them to do: which this time included art, charades and drama as well as discussion. There was lots and lots of laughter, a healthy dose of competitiveness at times, but also some deep thoughtfulness and careful reflections shared. Some of the foundations for our summer play have certainly been laid and our community is a little, or maybe a lot, closer than it already was.

And so we arrived at the final evening, and if I hit a wall of utter exhaustion and slightly overwrought emotion by early evening, I think that's allowed! And I came out the other side to a lovely evening of good company, and expressions of gratitude and friendship.

By some minor miracle, we managed to leave the house not just on time, but early, for our return journey; which meant we had longer in Cardiff than I had dared to hope... although after a fascinating visit to the Senedd we did end up cutting it rather more fine than was good for anyone's blood pressure to make it back to the megabus stop. But we made it, and the rest is history. By early evening, as planned, we were back in Birmingham, and I suspect the suggestion of stopping for a cup of tea was as much because of an unspoken desire for the experience not to come to an end as for any other reason. I know, because despite my exhaustion, there was something of that in me, too. That said, when every did, finally, wend their way homeward, I appreciated an early night and a very good night's sleep!

So that was that, in the broadest of broad brushstrokes, our few days in Wales. Lots of joy, a few tears, and, as I mentioned more than once during the trip, "only manageable amounts of stress!" This blog post is already (more than) long enough but in fact, it is probably not the broad brushstrokes and sketched outlines that best tell the story of this trip. It is the endless little anecdotes of individual moments, the mundane as much as the noteworthy, which really tell the story. Or perhaps it is a story which can't really be told, and had to be lived. That too, probably.

There is also this post https://www.storiesofhome.org.uk/2020/02/wales.html which says something about what the trip meant to those who I accompanied.

Friday, 14 February 2020

Stories of Hope and Home (2)

Scrolling through my blog feed, I realised it was a long time since I wrote anything here about Stories of Hope and Home... which is some what surprising, given that it has very quickly expanded to fill much of my time and even more of my head-space.

The last post on the subject was written way back in September, before it really even existed. Five months later, it is in a very different place.

Much has happened, and it has been (and I am sure will continue to be) a truly amazing privilege to help this fledgling project take flight. Somehow, though, it seems pretty hard to put into words, which is ironic, given it is a project entirely based around doing exactly that. It surely shouldn't be so difficult to tell the story of telling stories? And yet, somehow, there is no simple, coherent narrative to capture all that this project has very quickly become. Perhaps though, that is one of the many things we are learning together: that stories are not simple and ordered and complete. They are made up of seemingly throw-away comments which tell deep truths, and of tattered scraps of paper which reveal something of ourselves.

The Stories of Hope and Home group started meeting at the beginning of October. Since then, 30 different individuals have engaged with the project, from eighteen different nationalities. Men and women, of different ages, different cultures, different religions, different languages ... who have built a truly beautiful, supportive community which cradles both laughter and tears. The numbers only tell a tiny part of a story which is woven out of so many other stories being brought together and held in this space.

And for me, in the midst of it all, to be entrusted with so many snippets of so many stories feels like an immense privilege but also a significant responsibility. Back in the autumn, I asked one of the participants for permission to share a part of their story. She replied "you don't have to ask, because my story is also your story now" That, which encapsulated in words much of what I feel I have been given by those I am working with, felt like such an act of trust and such a very precious gift.

The other part of the project, to create opportunities for the project participants to share their stories with children and young people in schools also already feels like it is bearing fruit. A rough calculation suggests we have spoken to almost 300 school students, plus their staff, since we got started. But again, the numbers tell only a tiny snippet of the story. The real story lies in watching young people's faces change as they listen, in hearing them respond, in sensing their engagement; and in listening to conversations between participants about their own reflections on what and why they are sharing their stories with these young people.

There are still, for me, questions and challenges around this part of the project that whir around my brain. I really believe in the power and possibility of this: my own life has been significantly enriched and transformed by my own encounters with these stories and these people; I want to be part of offering something of that experience to others. I have also seen the value for individual participants of having space to share their stories, and having those stories really heard. But none of that has fully assuaged my nagging doubts and questions around the ethics of this work, and I am continuing to reflect on how to ensure I am respecting the integrity of those who are participating in the project and ensuring I do not abuse the trust they are placing in me. I hope I am getting the balance right. I hope I will be forgiven for the occasions I inevitably get it wrong.

Friday, 7 February 2020

Saying goodbye

On the 31st December 2019 I was walking along the spectacular coast path of northern Cornwall. It was also, officially, my last day at St Chad's Sanctuary.

In reality, my last 'proper' work day was ten days earlier when I had helped welcome seventy children, and their parents, to a Christmas party: complete with Santa, pass the parcel, and a scratch nativity play; to a room filled with noise and mess and laughter and joy.

Last Sunday I gathered together with some of the many, many friends I have worked alongside there, to mark the end of an era.

You cannot possibly have either known me personally over the last few years, or have followed this blog, without understanding that this place has been hugely important to me. It is where I met many of those I am privileged to now call my friends. It has played a significant part in Birmingham becoming a place I call home.

Deciding that the time was right to part company was, therefore, never going to be easy. There were, predictably, tears. There was a period of angst and uncertainty. But, in the end, for all the sadness, I am at peace that I have made the right decision. Of course there are many things, and people, and activities, that I miss. I'm sure there will be for many weeks (months, years ...) to come.

But there is much I will not miss ... because while I am saying goodbye to St Chad's Sanctuary, I am not going to be saying goodbye to much of what it has given me. There are many, many friends, who, I hope and trust will still be part of my life. The passion it has given me for campaigning about asylum issues and caring about those caught up in the struggle has not diminished. The desire to build supportive, inclusive community which offers safe space to hold both the beauty and challenge of life has not changed. All of that I will take with me, into the new projects I am trying to build and more importantly, I hope, into my approach to the kind of life I am trying to live. And tea. I will continue to drink countless cups of tea.

I will always carry a deep gratitude for St Chad's Sanctuary and all it has given me. In the past six and a half years I have learned a huge amount and grown much. I have discerned and deepened a sense of vocation, discovering and refining where my gifts and enthusiasms lie. Until recently, St Chad's Sanctuary was the right place to fulfill that vocation. Now, new adventures call. My head is already fast filling up with new ideas and possibilities; my diary is already fast filling up with new activities and commitments; and my heart is already overflowing with the love and energy to continue.

The farewells have been said, but the work is only just beginning.

*            *            *

I somehow feel I can't write a blogpost entitled 'saying goodbye' without at least a passing reference to the fact that there was that other significant farewell last week too: the one from an institution which, for all its deep flaws, (and however much I would like us to still be in the EU I'm not going to start pretending it was / is perfect), at least partly tried to stand for a sense that we are better together. 

So I will mourn the small inconveniences it will cause me, but more importantly I will mourn for the attitude of insularity it portrays and the insidious injustices that will cause to many much more vulnerable than myself. But while it is ok to make space to mourn, now is not the time to curl up in a ball and weep... now is the time to stand up and be counted.

The farewells have been said, but the work is only just beginning!

Wednesday, 29 January 2020

Answers (7)

It continues ...

30) What's been the biggest mistake so far in your life and what did you learn from it?

I found this one so hard! Actually, we all did, and in fact, it's still blue-tacked to the wall because none of us has really come up with a satisfactory answer, but we were at a bit of a standstill so just sort of left it there while we moved on to the next one!

Don't get me wrong ... it's not as if I haven't made plenty of mistakes: I'm pretty sure I've got a whole heap of things wrong, and that I've hurt both others (if that's you, sorry about that) and probably at times myself by my choices and my actions. I'm sure I've had times where I have knowingly made the wrong choice, and there are plenty of occasions where with the benefit of hindsight I might (but also might not) have done something differently. I'm not in denial about that ...but whatever those things are, I've also moved on from them and let them go. I've had, all in all, a pretty easy and privileged life so far, but even the bits that have been the hardest, and the choices that may or may not have been mistakes, have been part of shaping the me I am today: and I have no regrets about who and where I am.

31) What matters the most to you?

What, not who. That was the clarification for this one. Because, yes, people and community would probably have been my go-to answer, but with that excluded I had to think again.

I think then, aside from people, it is having some sort of purpose and feeling like I can have a positive impact on the world which matters most to me.

32) If you could do one thing and get away with it, what would it be?

A lot of different people visited while this one was up on the board ... and many and varied were the ideas (and that's just the ones people felt able to share publicly!) We established that it was 'get away with' not just in a legalistic sense,but genuinely, no repercussions,no guilt, ... 

In the end I settled for acquiring one of the right wing newspapers, changing it to a progressive one without people stopping buying it, and in so doing having a major influence over the opinions and values of the population; and thereby significantly change the political landscape of the country. I do realise there are a number of flaws in the plan (I don't want the former owners to financial benefit from my acquisition of it, deep down, I don't really want one newspaper to hold such deep influence over people, even if it is saying things I agree with, and so on ...) But hey, we can all dream ...

33) If I could change one thing in my life, what would I change and why?

I write this as we approach the end of 2019... which is a year in which I have experienced a fair amount of change one way or another. To be honest then, right now, the answer I want to give is that I think I would choose not to have any more change for a little while, that I want to first give myself time to allow the current changes to settle into place before looking ahead to the next desire for newness and adventure ... which I'm sure will come again soon enough! 

It is interesting (to me at least, perhaps not to anyone else!), that this is how I feel as I reflect on this question. Interesting because it is probably relatively unusual. I think most of those who know me have long given up on the idea that I might "grow up, settle down", and they're right ... I love living a life in which I'm able to be open to turning off down unexpected side roads which open into incredible possibilities. But today is a day for walking down the path I'm currently on, and knowing that's ok too.

34) If you could have anybody else's life, who's would you take?

You know what, actually, I think I'll keep my own. I know my life may not be perfect: but overall, it's hard to imagine anyone else's is much better. I have all the material wealth I need to live an extremely comfortable and privileged life; I have a sense of vocation and a fulfilling work life. I have a faith which sustains me; I am involved in loads of different things which add variety and interest to my week; I have endless opportunities for fun and laughter; I have a wide community of different people to love and by whom I know myself to be loved. 

I am not only satisfied but happy with the life I live. I know that in itself is an immense privilege which I hope I will never take for granted.

This has been sitting unpublished in drafts for a while, but still, we have reached the end of our "year of questions" with a fair few still in the unasked questions jar. We have not yet, after the Christmas break, quite got back into the habit of drawing out a new one, but I think we probably will; so there may yet be a few more of these posts to come. 

Tuesday, 14 January 2020

Election reflections

I started writing this post a while ago, when the election results were still a very fresh memory invoking very raw emotions. Since then, other priorities and activities mean reflecting on it has easily slipped down the agenda. There are still things I want to say.

Late on that Thursday evening, after the exit poll but while a small glimmer of hope was still alive before the results were actually confirmed, I wrote the following as my facebook status:

Tonight could be very depressing ...

Were it not for the fact that democracy is not just, and not even mostly, about what happens in the polling stations. It is about the choices we make every day. About the lives we choose to live.

So yes, I'll stay up shouting at the television tonight.

But tomorrow I will stand up and do my bit to create the kind of world in which I want to live. It might be a bit harder, but it will still be worth the effort. I am not giving up.

I wrote it because I needed to find a way to remain hopeful and believe I can still make a difference in a society which felt a little more broken than it did the day before. I wrote it because this is the reality we find ourselves in and I know that just blaming "the other" who voted for a set of values I find impossible to understand ultimately isn't helpful. Most of all, I wrote it because I really believe it to be true.

Those words remain at the heart of where I am at in relation to what happened on election night. They remain my most coherent reflection, but I have, unsurprisingly, had plenty of other thoughts too. Despite the elapse of time, my disparate collection of thoughts have not coalesced into some kind of succinct discourse; and if I wait until they form some kind of coherent reflection, the moment will have passed (to some extent,since I started writing this, it feels a little like it already has!), so I thought I'd just share them as random snippets, for what they are worth, just as they are:

*          *          *
I know I am very privileged that my every day reality provides me with many opportunities to help try and create this 'better place' I say I believe in. The tomorrow of which I wrote on Thursday night, mostly involved teaching twenty-something refugee and asylum-seeking children who are waiting for school places. Some of them have been waiting several months for a school place in a system that is clearly not really able to cope, many of them are living in temporary accommodation, in some cases in one room in hostel accommodation with no kitchens, no washing machine. I know their lives are not about to get any easier, and I may not be able to do much about that. I also know that for those couple of hours they learned new words, they shared ideas, they built friendships with each other, they smiled and they laughed. I know that is a good thing.

*          *          *
It feels like on Thursday simplistic certainty won over nuance and compromise. Whatever else one can say about the winning election campaign (and there is much I could write on the subject) it was unquestionably successful. Like the Brexit campaign before it, the strategy of choose a simple message, repeat it endlessly regardless of the topic you are supposed to be discussing, the question you have been asked, seemed to work. And if I found the failure to drop the stuck record intensely irritating ... I guess that didn't matter, because I was never the target audience. My immediate temptation, I think, was to wish that "my side" had perhaps done the same: found a simple, catchy repeatable message to hammer home. Given how election campaigns and media soundbite collection works, maybe some of that would have had value ... But at a deeper level, I know, ultimately, that isn't the solution. It is not what I want. I do not want a political game that is reduced to who can come up with the catchiest slogan. I do not want further polarisation of an already divided society. I want to remind myself not to give up on nuance, and complexity, and grey areas, and doubt.

*          *          *
Fear is an extremely powerful force. I've written about that before. I probably don't need to do so again now, but this election reminded me again of how significant a force it is in the way our society operates, and therefore how important it is, in lots of different situations, to resist succumbing to it. The election result didn't happen in a vacuum: lots of other decisions and scenarios where fear is allowed to dominate discourse have brought us to where we are. I think the message that love overcomes fear, the challenge to not be afraid, lies at the heart of the gospel call. I will continue to aspire to heed it.

*          *          *
One of the conversations I had with someone the day after the election was about the fact that I and others, were quite openly sharing our disappointment and disagreement with the election result. It was one of multiple conversations in recent weeks with those for whom government repression on a scale I in my privilege will undoubtedly never experience, has been a very tangible reality. Those conversations stand as a rallying call: that apathy or running away is not a solution. I remain in an immensely privileged position and it comes with a great responsibility to struggle for those who, in myriad different ways, don't share that privilege.

*          *          *
If fear is an extremely powerful force,the desire to find someone to blame is an incredibly powerful temptation. 'Othering' and creating scapegoats to shoulder the blame has been a powerful political tool which has, in my opinion helped bring us to where we are... but for those of us who are unhappy with the results said election, the desire to apportion blame to those whose choices were different to our own is also a strong one. In some cases, and in some ways, that is possibly / probably justified. Democracy works on the assumption that people can take responsibility for their choices. But what to do when you have the deep sense that many of those who voted for the current government have and will suffer more as a consequence than I will, protected as I am by my privilege? And if I blame "them" in the way they blamed "the other" in the way they voted, am I not just perpetuating the same story that there always has to be someone to blame, and that someone is always someone else.

*          *          *
I have struggled to try and understand why it seems so many people are voting against their own best interests. Don't get me wrong: I get that there's a place for voting or acting against your own interests: for choosing to take the "preferential option for the poor", choosing to do what is best for those weaker or more vulnerable or more in need than ourselves even when it is against our own personal benefit. But to vote / act for something that is less good for ourselves than it is for those already richer or more powerful than ourselves? I have really struggled to make sense of that. I have more to say on that subject, I think, probably. But that might be a post in its own right at some point.

*          *          *
Enough. I think. For now at least.

Saturday, 28 December 2019

Christmas Poem 2019

And this is hope
Fragile shards of light
Pierce pinpricks through
The darkest night

And this is peace
This captured dream
Is gently bathed
In a starlight stream

And this is joy
In the vast expanse
Bright colours shine
Amid sparks that dance

And this is love
Whether we laugh or cry
Stars are scattered
Across the endless sky

And this is God
Dark and bright collide
And heaven chooses
To on earth reside

Merry Christmas!

Monday, 9 December 2019

Praying ... together

Of all the aspects which make up our life here, the prayer is the foundation around which everything else revolves. I genuinely believe that without it, it is not just the routine of the day which would change, but the whole of life, what I am involved in and capable of, which would look very, very different. Despite its centrality, it is something not easily defined. I believe there is an inherent value to the routine of prayer, without necessarily being able to articulate why.

From the beginning of our time here in Birmingham, it has always been important to us that the routine of prayer is consistent, and that the times of prayer are open and public. Often we pray alone, but we pray always with the possibility that may not be the case. There have been many, many challenges and barriers (in some cases literal ones) to ensuring this. There are struggles and frustrations. There are times when it seems almost impossible to continue.

And then, one morning or one evening, someone hesitates at the door. They ask tentatively about the prayer. They come in and join us.

Sometimes, they say little or nothing about the experience. Sometimes, they find a way to express very simply that it was what they needed, right then, in that moment.

We may or may not see them again.

In the midst of what can be a challenging environment in which to pray; these are the necessary reminders that perhaps we are doing something right.

Wednesday, 4 December 2019


This is partly a post justifying why I haven't written a blog post for a while (which even if you noticed, you probably didn't mind!) but also a bit of a reflection of the writing-shaped-thing that took over the last month instead.

Several years ago I registered on the NaNoWriMo website. This year, for the first time, I actually attempted to complete this crazy challenge which consists of writing a novel (albeit a short one) in just one month.

The idea that I could possibly do this: to write 50,000 words in thirty days, without really giving up anything else or creating additional space in my already overloaded schedule was, frankly, bonkers.

Perhaps needless to say, I didn't manage it.

But, that said, I did commit to writing something, at least, every single day, for thirty days. Which I managed to stick to. In total, in November, I wrote 28,512 words. Which is quite a few.

By any normal standards, that feels like a phenomenal achievement.

So it is an interesting dynamic to still feel somewhat disappointed that I didn't "win" and write the full 50,000 words despite every little bit of my rational brain telling me that it really doesn't matter. I knew by about half way through the month I definitely wasn't going to hit the total. I tried to let go of the pressure of the word count and just enjoy the achievement of writing as much as I did. Mostly, I succeeded, but not entirely.

But if the word count was a pressure and a source of mild frustration or disappointment, it was also a motivation. I have often thought about wanting to do more creative writing, but the NaNoWriMo challenge encouraged me to make it a priority and, mostly, I genuinely enjoyed it. It will be interesting to see whether I manage to carve out time to continue.

A lot of it, unsurprisingly, isn't particularly good. Some of it doesn't make a whole lot of sense. There are plenty of badly written bits that don't scan and inconsistencies and general things that good writing doesn't have. But, in between, there are some bits that I think are perhaps reasonably well written. With a lot of editing some of it might, even, at some point, be something I'd be ready to share. No promises.

So yes, that was November.

Friday, 1 November 2019

Musings on care for the climate

My rational brain tells me that, of all the issues which currently confront us, and let's be honest,the list is quite long, climate change is the most significant. It is both the biggest threat, in that it bears the potential for the total destruction of life as we know it; and the most imminent, in that if we don't do something soon, it will probably be too late to do anything at all. That being the case, I know there is an urgency to this issue which surpasses that of other concerns.

At events and in discussions relating to climate change, that is what I will say: that this is an emergency on which I feel compelled to act. And it is, and I do. I am trying to reflect (with varying degrees of success) on at least some lifestyle choices which will have a positive impact on reducing my carbon footprint. I played a (tiny) part in the Extinction Rebellion protests in London. I marched for the climate with the school strikers and will probably do so again.

And yet ... while this is rationally true, I have to confess it is not the issue about which I feel the most passionate. What ever my brain tells me, somewhere deep in my gut this is not the issue which most stirs my emotions; it is not the issue about which I get most angry, fearful or sad.

I guess one of the things I am trying to figure out is both why not, and whether that is ok.

While my head tells me that all my campaigning energy should be directed to fighting climate change, my heart insists that it is the prevalence of global conflict exacerbated by the global arms trade; the insidious rise of ever-greater financial inequalities; and the creeping, gradual acceptance of destructive, divisive, racist political ideologies which demand my attention.

I know, ultimately, that all of these things matter and that all are interrelated in complicated ways. I know that no social justice issue can be fought in isolation and I guess I will continue to struggle with knowing I can't do it all, and with assessing and evaluating where my energy is best directed. I suspect it will be a lifelong struggle. I think I am prepared to keep struggling.

Monday, 28 October 2019

Take off your shoes

"Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground"
(Exodus 3:5)

This summer (and early autumn) has involved lots of 'taking off your sandals'.

There have been no burning bushes. On the contrary, my 'take of your sandals' moments have generally involved some kind of stream (or the sea, or a waterfall, or a water feature). There is something deeply attractive about water in the sunshine to which my inner child is irresistibly drawn!

 Unlike Moses' experience, my 'take off your sandals' moments have not been when I have been alone in the wilderness, at a distance from my community; rather they have been moments of laughter and friendship, with lots of different people.

I guess there are a fair few other differences between my experience and Moses' too ... aside from the obvious few thousand years and contrasting geographical locations. Not least that Moses was a member of an oppressed people, into whose experience of slavery and oppression a liberating God spoke a promise of freedom: I meanwhile am acutely aware of my position of privilege. I know I have a wonderful life, one for which I am sincerely grateful.

I believe there is something inherently beautiful about the sight and sound of water: be it a gently tumbling stream, or the crashing power of north sea waves. There is something beautiful too about shared moments of joy with those who one loves and by whom one feels loved.

There have been no burning bushes this summer but there has certainly been Holy Ground.

Wednesday, 9 October 2019

Answers (6)

After a summer interlude, so it continues ...

25) What's one thing I'd like to do more of and why? How can I make it happen?

I'm allowed two, right? I have recently (although not so recently that I should have made as little progress as I have) started learning Arabic. Having decided to do so at all, I guess I'd like to make the time to put a bit more time and effort into it. I have no illusions, language learning, especially of one so different to my own, is really hard, so I'm not, at least at the moment, aiming for fluency, but the capacity for some basic conversation would be nice!

The other is that I would love to write more, particularly to continue developing my creative writing. I have been inspired (or more accurately re-inspired), recently about the power of story and poetry and would like to explore that further. I know that kind of thing takes not only time, but mental energy and I'd like to make more space for it. Apologies in advance for the potential increase in blog posts if this one actually happens ...

26) What are my personal gifts?

The thing that was most obvious in the discussion about this one is just how hard we all find it to celebrate our gifts: to talk about the things we believe we offer to the world. I know there is a fine line, and self-adulation isn't helpful either, (there is plenty of evidence in the political sphere of the damage that can be done by individuals having too high an opinion of themselves!) but it strikes me as also kind of sad that we are so uncomfortable with answering this question among friends. Of course we could all have identified gifts in each other, but there is something about sharing our own gifts, the things we believe to be of value, the things we offer from the deepest part of ourselves, whether or not they are the first things others would identify.

So, after that unnecessarily extended preamble ... I think one of my personal gifts is an ability to approach situations and encounters with enthusiasm and passion and hopefully to communicate some of that to those around me and inspire them too. 

27) What is one thing I'd like to do less of and why? How can I make it happen?

I'd like to come up with something meaningful and profound for this ... but in reality, wasting time scrolling through social media is the main thing that springs to mind! How can I make it happen ... well a bit more self-discipline I guess! Removing the facebook app from my phone has made a difference, but I still log on to the web browser version more often than I should. 

I don't want to give up on social media altogether: I get much of my news from twitter (not necessarily a good idea, I am aware of the echo chamber effect, but it brings me into contact with lots of interesting articles, some of which at least I skim read, others of which I am at least glad to have seen the headline) and I keep in something approaching contact with many friends through scrolling past the highlights of their lives which they choose to share on facebook; and while I know its not a great way to sustain relationships it is potentially better than nothing (I know there are others who would disagree) But I'm not sure I have yet struck the healthy balance I would like to achieve. So I'll keep working on it!

28) If you could tell your younger self one thing right now, what would it be?

I guess this depends, among other things, on just how much younger. 

I think the me who was probably in most need of advice from my older self would be the teenage me, and I guess I'd advise myself not to worry so much about whether you fit in or not: to be myself without worrying too much about trying to get it "right" by the standards of your peers or societal expectations: because if its all a bit of an act, it probably won't work anyway and certainly won't make you happy ... And in the end, you will find people to love you just for being who you really are.

And probably, I'd have ignored my older self, and carried on, because that is just the nature of things, I suspect.

29) What are my most important dreams and desires? How can I make them happen?

I'd been thinking about this for a while and struggling to come up with an answer: and then it was sort of out of the blue, when I wasn't really thinking about this, that the answer I wanted to give came to me.

There are certain people I have met or known who make me feel better about myself or about the world; who enable me to go on into my day, into my life feeling happier, or more optimistic or that more is somehow possible. Some are people I know or have known well; others have been those with whom the encounters have been fleeting but important: their role in my life should not be underestimated. Each of them, in different ways, has helped me to journey forward with trust and hope and joy.  

That. My dream is that I might sometimes, at least a little, be able to be that for others. 

I looked back at the first of these 'answers'posts recently ... My answers seem to have become progressively longer and more convoluted (some of you may not be surprised!) Perhaps I'll try and get back to something a bit more snappy for the next one!