The one about…love!

I’ve been reading a book called ‘Why are they so weird? What’s really going on in a teenagers brain.’* It’s a fascinating read and helpful as I attempt to navigate life with my tribe. The author of the book visits a well known neuroscientist who explains a little about what a developing brain needs.

To develop properly, she says, the brain must have certain experiences: good diet, exercise for good blood flow, challenges and love.
‘You know, I say that part about love in all my lectures and the men all laugh. They are scientists and they know t’s true, but they won’t say it,’ she said, as she carefully tucked the brain back in its tupperware bowl and closed the lid on the flowered hatbox. ‘Then, after the lectures, you know what those men want? They all want a hug,'”*

Love, it seems, is really quite important and the scientists agree. But what is love? What does love even look like? Is it that warm, fuzzy feeling we get when all is well in our “world”? Do I only feel it when the children are happy/ healthy/ behaving? Do they only feel loved when I say “I love you” or hug them or buy them something? I’m told God loves me and Sid says he loves me but what difference does that make when I’ve been yelled at about an unwashed PE kit, the missing script for the play, a forgotten water bottle and the inconvenience of putting shoes on, all in the space of half an hour! The barrage of abuse can leave you feeling drained, especially when your two year old wouldn’t sleep and you spent most of the night in bed with him. Where does love feature in that!? I’m feeling something but I’m not sure it’s love!

So what is this love thing? Does love change anything when your world is shaken or when the story that’s unfolding is not what you hoped for and it hurts? What does love look like and does it make a difference?

A guy called Pete Rollins writes a lot about love (and I mean a lot…he has such mind blowing philosophical theological way of attempting to understand life…read his books…honestly!) He wrote this:

Love is the crazy, mad, and perhaps ridiculous gesture of saying yes to life, of seeing it as worthy of our embrace and even worthy of our total sacrifice.**

What does it mean to say yes to life, to embrace life? Maybe we say “yes” when we get up, carry on, force a smile, stop and take a breath, slow down, make that phone call, change that plan, have that conversation, give that hug, write that message, mop that floor, open those curtains, the list could go on. I don’t know what saying “yes” looks like for you or how you embrace life but it often requires something more of us, we often have to dig deep and find an energy we didn’t know we had…and that energy? Love? What if there’s something powerful about saying yes to life, despite the tears, the fear, the uncertainty, because as we do, this force we call love transcends the moment?

What if love, actively choosing life, saying “yes” and embracing life, keeps these momentary (although sometimes seemingly eternal) problems, fears, frustrations, heartbreaks, in their place? In some senses all that we have is this moment, the past has gone and the future is unknown no matter how much we think we know. But what if we find that each ‘now’, each moment, features in a bigger story at work in the world, a story which is more than the now, a story bigger than any one moment, or person, or power, or government, or leader, or illness, or celebrity, or prisoner, or child, or mother, or father, or sister, or brother or even death? A story that is held by love, a story which has existed from the beginning and continues into forever. What if in that story love has the first and the final say, we just get to play our part, and our part makes the story interesting but it isn’t the whole story!

Love then is not something we own, or something we wait to receive. Love is not something that relies on there being another to love. Love certainly isn’t just a word.

What if love is not something that is given but rather is better understood as an action, or an attitude to life; and in that act of love we say yes to life, in that expression of love we recognise life as worthy of giving our deepest self to, sometimes in the inconvenience and the rethinking of plans because sometimes love requires us to sacrifice one way for a new way. As we love, as we give of ourselves to that moment and find ourselves in the bigger story, that’s when the mystery is manifest, the force, spirit, energy, divine otherness, God becomes more tangible, more real. What if that’s where we find “God’s love” really does make a difference and that “God’s love” changes everything because actually God is love.

*All credit to Barbara Strauch for her research and writing!
* The Idolatry of God: Breaking our addiction to certainty and satisfaction.

The one about…fear.

I knew it was going to be ‘one of those evenings’ when she said she couldn’t get to sleep! The wind was unusually strong, and eerily loud, especially through the huge yew trees which stood at the top of the garden.

“It’s just the wind”…I tried desperately to play it down but it didn’t help that last winter a large branch had fallen and narrowly missed the van parked on the driveway. I knew my attempts to convince her that it was ‘just a bit windy’ weren’t going to make any difference, no matter how many distraction techniques I tried!

I’d had about half an hour to myself, I don’t think I ask for much, just a little time to gather my thoughts, process the day and just be me once they’re all in bed…but best laid plans and all that! I took a breath and tried not to sound irritated, she was genuinely scared… “Ok, get into my bed, I’ll sit in there with you!” That was my evening gone!

I checked the oldest three were settled, and the rest were asleep. I put the dog to bed and texted Sid (he was out with friends) to warn him there was a child in his bed and he’d have to jump into hers when he returned, then I got into bed, the wind still howling…she took my hand and gripped it and then, within minutes I felt her grip loosen and her body relax, she slept…

It was the most beautiful moment. All my irritation and disappointment about “my time” melted away as I watched her sleep. The wind still howled, the trees still swayed and I was very aware that there’d be nothing I could do if they did fall on the house…but somehow I made her feel safe, somehow me being there was enough.

There were many things I thought about in that moment. I wondered why I’d got so precious about my time? Did I think I deserved an evening to myself, like it was something I’d earnt! Did I think I could clock out of parenting at 8:30pm because most of them were in bed? Had I learnt nothing in fifteen years!! There’s always another evening and I do know parenting is 24/7… it’s not like our youngest let’s me forget that!

I think the thing that bemused me most was the trust my daughter had in me, she found security and safety, not because I could change anything, but just because she knew I loved her. It was almost as if, in that moment, love overcame fear; as if love drove the fear out; as if love left no room for fear to exist.

I know that much of the fear in our world could be overcome if we learnt to love others rather than hate or distrust them. I know that some fear is irrational and can be negated by logic and self-talk. But what about the fears that are deeply personal, the fears that haunt us about who we are, where we’re going and how this is all going to end? How do we face those fears?

It seems sometimes we distract ourselves from those fears; we shop, we work, we socialise, we watch TV, we read books, we flick through social media, the list could go on and none of the things we do are wrong or bad in moderation, but they can become avoidance techniques and in the long run they’re about as useful as me trying to play the ‘Greatest Showman’ soundtrack to my daughter to drown out the wind!

The fear doesn’t go, it might be numbed or hushed for a while but often, deep within, our soul is still troubled, still uneasy, still fearful, no matter how much we try to avoid it.

Admitting fear exists is painful, it leaves us vulnerable. Maybe acknowledging that our soul needs to be held; that what’s deepest within us needs to connect to someone or something else; that our truest reality needs to know love, is the start to working with that fear.

Maybe that’s why the bible talks of God as love.

What if in that moment where I held my daughter’s hand, the mystery that we call God; that divine force; that love; became a very present reality? What if it’s love that both awakens and calms our soul? What if love is one way we experience the something that is outside of us, something we know to be true but can’t always define? What if God really is love and love really does exist!

The one about…another dimension.

We seem to have a remarkably good grasp of space and time. We use a calendar, wear a watch, keep a diary. We can see pretty much anywhere on google earth and if we input the right information into our SatNav we can find the way to our chosen location. We talk of historical events and place them in a specific space and time and we dream of the future and plan the next night out, holiday or adventure.

Spacetime is how we understand our world because all events occur in a particular place and time. Spacetime is the fusion of the three dimensions of space and the one dimension of time and these dimensions are inextricably linked. But what if there’s another way to understand our existence? What if there’s more to life than the three dimensions of space and our one dimension understanding of time? What if there’s something that exists outside of space and time?

There’s a novel called Flatland, written in 1884 by a ‘school master’ called Edwin Abbot. It’s the story of a two-dimensional world called Flatland, occupied by geometric figures. One day this world is visited by a three dimensional object (a sphere) who introduces the idea of a third dimension, in hopes of educating the inhabitants of Flatland of a third dimensional reality. The two dimensional beings are open to the idea of new dimensions, so the square visits one dimensional Lineland where he appears simply as a line. He then visits Spaceland where the circle he has met is seen as a sphere. As the concept of further dimensions are introduced he becomes fearful and incapable of comprehending such realities. Despite the best efforts of the sphere to convince him that there is something more, the square lives out his days within the comfort of his known Flatland.

That’s the synopsis of the last book I read! There’s a great quote, where the sphere talks to the square (because that’s what shapes do?!)

“When you entered the realm of Lineland you were compelled to manifest yourself to the King, not as a square but as a line, because that Linear Realm had not dimensions enough to represent the whole of you…your country of two dimensions is not spacious enough to represent me, a being of three, but can only exhibit a slice of me, which is what you call a circle.”

It’s fascinating because it opens up questions of realities beyond what we know to be true. What if there really are realities or dimensions beyond our own known consciousness and we are simply unable to comprehend reality outside our own known sphere? What if our use of language when we talk of wonder, cosmic energy or spirituality is exactly the same problem that the square experienced; that our understanding of dimension is not ‘spacious enough to represent’ the mystery? Which leads to the question of what if we had the ability to transcend the known reality and what if that allowed us, at least for a brief moment, to see life from a different perspective, to hold for a moment the view that time and space could offer so much more than we’d ever realised?

What if meditation, reflection, prayer, contemplation (whatever word we use) are all tools through which we’re able to transcend our known consciousness into a deeper connection outside of space and time? What if religion offers, or at least should offer, opportunities to experience moments of space and time outside of the normal, known Spacetime Continuum? What if religion allows us to place story and experiences within a larger story or collective experience that allows life to be understood more holistically, more fully? What if experiencing life, even for brief moments in another dimension, allows us to hold our own lives more lightly, to see the bigger picture and know that all life and even death is held and sacred? What if there is something else to all of this?

The one about…the moon!

Belief, it’s an interesting concept, something we often dismiss because we’d rather understand and control; we’d rather have proof and logic than just seemingly ‘whimsical’ belief.

It’s fifty years since man first landed on the moon. There are people who don’t believe it to be true. There are whole websites, probably books, maybe some peoples’ life’s work devoted to the arguments for and against the first moon landing; conspiracy theorists looking to prove it a hoax and Nasa scientists devoted to proving it true.

My mum was twenty six when Neil Armstrong walked on the moon. She was working nights, listening to the news broadcast on the radio in the nurses station as she and her colleagues staffed the maternity ward. She tells me that she remembers that night so vividly, looking out of the window into the darkness, seeing the glow of the moon and whispering “they’re walking on you right now”. She describes the wonder, the awe, the incredulity of the momentous occasion taking place. She believes. As that incredible event took place, around 238,855 miles away from where she stood, right there in the rooms around her women were giving birth to tiny human beings that they had grown themselves, hidden for months in the womb and then released into life on planet earth, to eventually take their first steps on our incredible planet. We’re not short of things to believe in.

Sure enough both the moon landing and childbirth can be explained in rational scientific terms, some would say its not rocket science but one of them clearly is and the other possibly requires a nursing degree to fully understand the intricacies of the finer details of conception, growth and birth. We can talk about each event in a rational, logical way but there’s something about our logical, reasoned explorations into space and our ability to reproduce that is overridden at some point, for most people, by sheer awe, wonder, mystery and magnificence. What if it’s in those moments of mystery we find that joy and hope are rekindled?

So as we watch the replays of the moon landing this week and are reminded of that ‘one small step for man’ let’s not lose sight of the gift that it is to believe. Perhaps over the next few days, as we catch a glimpse of the moon for ourselves we too might stop and just for a moment lose ourselves in the mystery and the wonder. What if we were to find joy in choosing to simply believe? What if there are more opportunities for belief than we’ve ever really appreciated? What if the rediscovery of belief, wonder and ultimately hope is the ‘giant leap’ mankind now needs to take.

 

The one about…moving (part 2)

It’s hard not to be overwhelmed by details. The primary school doesn’t have places for two of the three children that need to go there and while the secondary school can offer places to our three secondary aged children, it can’t offer two of the GCSEs that our eldest has been studying for the last two years.
It seems that nothing is ever “easy”, maybe life would be dull if it was but sometimes I’d like to be given the opportunity to find out. Sometimes I’d like to at least be given the option of ‘easy’, or maybe I wouldn’t, I’m not actually that good at decsions. It’s safe to say that I don’t really know what I want, so I tried to write a list.

  • I want to live by the sea.
  • I want to live in Peterborough.
  • I want to run.
  • I want to sit and read.
  • I want to stay up late and lie in.
  • I want to get up early and write.
  • I want to live in a tiny cottage.
  • I want to raise my family.
  • I want to only buy clothes from charity shops.
  • I want to recreate my wardrobe completely from H and M.
  • I want the children to stay little.
  • I want the joy of watching the children grow up.
  • I want everything to stay the same.
  • I want to be living an adventure.

Do you see what I mean? I don’t know what I want and I don’t even want the same thing all of the time and sometimes I want two opposing things at the same time. Complicated? Confusing? There are a few directions my thoughts have gone as I wrestle with the confusion.

Firstly, I do want to be a full time mum, it’s all I’ve ever really wanted. I remember telling Sid that fact the second time we went out together and then getting home and wondering if it was the right thing to say to a guy I’d only just met?! I’m so blessed to have not had to work since we had children. We’ve never had two incomes; when Sid was a student I worked full time, then we had children and he’s worked, and because of that we’ve never taken on a lifestyle that we can’t sustain. That does however mean that my identity has become completely absorbed in family and as they grow up I’m left with less confidence and belief in who I am and what I can do. I’m sure I’m not the only full time mum to feel like this; to feel vulnerable, confused and scared of re-imagining life as the children begin to need me less or in different ways. I’ve been parenting preschoolers for over fifteen years, that’s a long career to have to stand down from, especially when I don’t really want to. Then we plan to move to a new area, for Sid to start a new job, as our youngest starts playgroup, and I’m left slightly bereft of a life I’ve loved and slightly unsure of who I am in it all.

The second thought my exploration of “I” led me to was a reminder that although I am still Deb, sixteen years ago I chose to be ‘Sid and Deb’, we got married and my ‘I’ became a ‘we’. That means that any decision I make now needs to be made in light of the promises I made then. Over time “we” has expanded to the nine of “us” and I can’t just do what I want, instead I do what we think is best for all of us. So, while we all maintain a right to our individuality, we are also family and I know that sometimes decisions have to be made that are for the good of ‘us’ not just for one individual. Marriage, family, and individual identities within that are hard to navigate and lately my “I” has been shouting loudly and stomping its feet, asking “what about me?” and that’s hard, that leads to tears and confusion and that is hard to reconcile when the life that we have created is being changed, relocated and redefined when there’s so much about it that you just want to keep the same.

My final thought was about how the ” I/we/us” concept also, for me, includes a spiritual element and that somewhere in all my musings the God character features. I was reminded of a quote by Paula D’arcy, she said, “God comes to you disguised as your life.” Could that possibly be true and what would that really look like? How would God, love, that force, that cosmic energy, the otherness I look for to help me reframe and reconnect with myself and ultimate reality, appear as my life? What if ‘God’ appears as those instances, people or events that seem to disrupt my otherwise comfortable, ordered existence? What if this somewhat painful exploration of where I’m at in life is in fact the divine breaking in to remind me that there’s always more. What if in the midst of all the fears and worries, the attempts to make sense of who I am, ‘God’ is simply saying through people, music and moments that “this all belongs”. What if I don’t have to worry about the future, or know exactly what it will look like because today I know what I have to do, today I have all I need and every time “today” appears again I find the same to be true. So while there are days where I’m overwhelmed by the details, days where I’m fearful and unsure and days where I want to hide out in a cottage by the sea, there are also days where I remember how blessed I am. There are days where I’m able to hold it all in perspective and days where the light seems to shine a little brighter than the day before and somehow I know that this will all make sense.

The one about…moving.

Sid has been offered job. It has been a long, emotional journey, full of unexpected turns and strangely surprising outcomes, so it’s no surprise that people keep congratulating us on the good news. While I’m sure it must be ‘good news’, right now it feels more like ‘news’, which isn’t really how I think I should feel or how I expected to feel but I do remember similar feelings surfacing just over fifteen years ago when our first child was born.

I can picture myself standing in the tiny lounge of our quirky Victorian terraced house in Northampton, reading the ‘Congratulations on Your New Baby’ cards. I was standing because the tiny baby boy I was holding seemed to cry every time I hovered anywhere near a chair. I distinctly remember reading and re-reading the cards, desperately trying to fathom what on earth everyone was congratulating us for. The ‘new arrival’ did not let me sleep, he fed at least every three hours, sometimes for an hour; day and night. My nipples bled, other parts of my anatomy had been subjected to damage severe enough to warrant stitches, so even if he would let me sit down it wasn’t actually comfortable and then there was the affect the whole experience had inflicted on my marriage. My husband, whose eyes had once sparkled with playful attraction, now didn’t dare look at me; partly because the disturbing images of birth that he’d just witnessed tormented his mind whenever he saw me and partly because we both knew that if he looked at me the wrong way there was no guarantee I would respond as a loving wife should. A combination of sleep deprivation, hormonal overload and genuine fear of the tiny human in my arms left my mood somewhat unpredictable and not in a good way!  Yet there we both were, standing at a safe distance from each other, wondering if there would ever be such a thing as a safe distance from the baby, reading cards that spoke of happiness, joy and love…none of it made any sense.

The reality was that the people who designed those cards, and the people who bought them, knew that the arrival of a new baby was good news. There was an awareness that the seemingly demanding little person would bring us so much joy, laughter and happiness; all which would out weigh any drama surrounding his arrival, any need for sleep and anything else difficult, painful or just simply sad that we would inevitably experiecne at various points in our lives with him. They knew that this new life was good, and they were right. Our baby was and is a cause for celebration and we’ve had six more causes for celebration since, each with their own unique birth dramas, each with their own attempt at sleep deprivation as a form of torture and over the years, each with their own ‘moments’ where we’ve had to take a breath and just hold them through it, whatever it was. All of these moments have been totally worth every second of the craziness that is our life together.

So as I sit here, trying hard to comprehend that the news of a new job is in fact ‘good news’, I am reminded of those first time parent feelings. I’m reminded that in those early days where I felt lost and lonely and overwhelmed I was held and loved and somehow carried through. I’m reminded that all I ever had to do was take the next step, the next breath, change the next nappy! So while I’m apprehensive about how the next few weeks are going to play out, I do know that leaving a people and a place that I love will eventually be OK and that embracing a ‘new life’ together will be a great adventure. I know that despite my fears, despite the seemingly inordinate amount of details there are to sort out and despite the tears and the tension of trying to carry all of the emotions involved, including my own, that we are moving forwards. I also know that all I actually have to do is take the next step, whatever that is, because that’s all any of us can do. So while some steps might be more tentative than others, and some steps might bring tears and confusion, and while sometimes it might feel as though I’m going round in circles I know that ultimately this is all headed somewhere and that the somewhere is good.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The one about…questions of identity.

‘You’re not my second choice, it was fifty fifty and my mind was everywhere. I was looking at you, I was looking at her with split seconds in between, it was a good date but I woke up this morning and realised I can’t put all my eggs in one basket…’

That was his basic argument, a great way to convince a girl you like her after the girl you really liked decided she preferred someone else! It seems that Lucie prefers Joe to Tommy so now Tommy wants to convince Amber he was never really that into Lucie while Joe is still slightly hurt that Lucie even agreed to the date with Tommy. Atleast that’s what was happening on Wednesday, who knows who’s with who now! I’ve only watched twenty minutes of Love Island but it’s enough…enough to know that there’s a question they’re all asking.

Who are you and why are you here?

It’s a good question and in the context of the show the answer seems obvious: ‘I’m Tommy and I’m here to find love’ but who are you really Tommy and why are you actually here?

There’s a story behind the question, it’s a story with a number of variations, but they all follow the same general pattern and it goes something like this:

Thousands of years ago there was man, a rabbi, a master teacher, a scholar; the kind of person you would go to when you were struggling with the deep mysteries and challenges of life.

One day this rabbi was walking to his home. While he was walking he was in deep thought, which you might expect from a master teacher. Since we was in deep thought he failed to take the path toward his village. Instead, he kept walking in the wrong direction. It wasn’t until he found himself at the gates of a Roman Military fortress that he realised he had missed a turn.

He then heard a soldier yelling at him from the the top of the gates. The solider asked, “Who are you? And, why are you here?” The rabbi needed to buy himself some time so he replied, “what?”

The solider repeated himself asking, “Who are you? And, why are you here?”

The Rabbi replied by asking, “How much do they pay you to ask that question?”

The solider replied, “Five drachmas a week.” The Rabbi responded, “I will pay you double that to stand outside the door of my house and ask me those two questions every single day.’

“Who are you? And, why are you here?”

It’s a question that probes our understanding of identity and purpose. It seems the more the question is asked the more difficult it becomes to answer.

I answered the ‘who are you’ question and it went something like this: I’m a wife, mum, daughter, sister, aunt and friend. I’m a runner and a blogger and I’m a little bit crazy.

Of course there’s a problem with my answer, a big problem. What happens if or when my relationships breakdown or end? What happens if I can’t run or write? That just leaves me crazy! (probably a clinically diagnosed crazy!) Do I lose my identity?

Yet all of our relationships, encounters and experiences feed into our understanding of identity, just as being ‘second choice’ shapes who Love Islands’ Ambers thinks she is. Our experiences and encounters all in some way define who we are and influence what we believe we can do. Sadly for some what we believe about who we are isn’t always positive and the two Love Island suicides are a sorry reminder. So how do we hold the stark reality that to be defined just by our relationships and abilities leaves us vulnerable to loss of identity as the seasons of life change, along with the knowledge that living through all those seasons has made us who we are?

Maybe who we are somehow needs to be rooted in something outside of ourselves, something that exists beyond our experiences and encounters, something that holds true even when what we thought was true fails us?

What if the ‘something’ that holds true is the story we find ourselves in, a love story, a metanarrative at work in the world which holds all things. A story bigger than our own that enables us to live our own story, one that enables us to experience each encounter and relationship while placing those experiences and encounters safely within a bigger narrative and validating their importance. In the same way that light ‘isn’t what we see but that which enables us to see’, so the bigger story isn’t our story to tell but the one that enables all stories to be told. It’s in this metanarrative that we find out who we really are because our story is able to continue within it even when relationships come and go, jobs change or people move away. This means that our identity can remain true, uncompromised and authentic no matter what we experience. It means we can have integrity as individuals no matter what encounters we face. We’re not defined by what we can do or who we know but by knowing that our story is held by the bigger story and that everything we experience simply becomes part of the bigger story and belongs.

What if this means that, as we look back through history we see billions of people who, through their own story, have shaped the meta narrative; people who have moved the whole story of humanity forward towards unity? What if every individual who has ever existed has, in some way, contributed to the unfolding story of humanity? It seems that some stories have been more prominent, for good and for bad, and that they, in their own way, have influenced what we know to be true. Yet the majority of stories go unseen; individuals living out their lives seeking ways to bring unity and peace, to love others and the planet and see something good occur in the world. Billions of people who have raised children, taught children, cared for relatives, cared for the sick, grown a business or worked tirelessly in offices, factories and fields to contribute something towards the good of humanity. Billions of people who have smiled at a stranger, held the door open, offered help, welcomed, included, shared, given, simply been there, all living out their story, doing their “thing” while encouraging others. What if that is what this thing we call life is actually all about? Some people, in doing their ‘thing’ have made money, or acquired fame and power; this has sometimes been used for good, but sometimes has been used to exploit others or make them feel inferior. It seems that even those who have acquired the most wealth, power or influence still don’t get out of here alive which demands the bigger question: ‘why are you here?’ Reality TV might have us all believe we’re here to acquire wealth, status, power or fame but what if our real purpose has more to do with seeking out peace, finding ways of increasing  understanding, hope and joy? What if experiencing love, a true love that’s more about others and our planet than about competition or comparison, is what were here to discover? Maybe that’s more interesting, maybe that’s something we can all take part in, maybe that’s something that moves the whole of the story forwards towards ultimate peace and goodness. Maybe that’s something worth living, and even dying for.

You can find my interview asking ‘Who are a you and why are you here?’ on the Prodigal Collective web page www.prodigalcollective.co.uk or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/theprodigalcollective