When Your Holiday is
Not ^Almost^ Heaven
Last year, I wrote a popular post entitled ‘When Your Holiday is Not Heaven.’ I stand by that, but this year, my holiday was actually pretty darn close to heaven, and here’s some reasons why:
1. It was perfect weather. Hot enough to sunbathe and read, but not so much that sweat is actually pouring even out of your eyelids.
2. You can wear dresses every day. (Admittedly, this might not be everyone’s idea of heaven, but it made me pretty happy.)
3. Beauty. I was well set-up on my lounger on the balcony, where I could turn my head and see (in this order): furiously pink and peaceful white flowers; the dark green carpet of olive trees all the way down the mountainside; dazzling white houses of the town, sparkling in the sun; the azure sea – not quite a mirror, but a spread of blue silk; the thin, impossible line between sea and sky, blue on blue. After so much of my year staring at a rapidly yellowing magnolia-white wall, my soul soaked up all the colour. There will be so much colour in heaven, I reckon.
4. Everyone is relaxed and warm. Obviously, I was still needing to use a wheelchair, Jon carrying me to my sun loungers, but somehow my muscles relaxed in a way they hadn’t last year.
5. Everyone is the best version of themselves on a good holiday. At our British departure airport, sixty people walked past Jon obviously struggling with three suitcases, a wife in a wheelchair and a young son. At the Greek side we had holiday-makers rushing to help us. Everyone was friendly and helpful in a way they wouldn’t have been at home, and at restaurants we talked to the total strangers on neighbouring tables and shared our life stories.
6. There are people of every nation, living in harmony, loving the diversity. One of the things I loved the most was going for a push-walk around the little harbour, and seeing people dressed up in their finery: different ages, nationalities, fashions, voices and languages.
If you took out the one morning of screaming after the Splinter Incident (the boy, not me, I hasten to add), and just added Jesus physically there, an end to suffering and death, everything saturated in the love and goodness of God, plus a few angels- then perhaps it would have been heaven itself. (Look out for me in heaven wearing awesome dresses.) And Andy Murray won Wimbledon! (Not sure how many tennis matches would happen in heaven, but it was good all the same).
August was similarly happy – we actually had a summer this year! (Exclamation mark entirely warranted). We had special times with good friends visiting, and when Jon and the boy went to a Christian conference, I survived home alone for the longest time EVER, thanks to the help of a dozen friends who came in and helped with shopping, food and washing dishes etc. It made me ponder how lucky we are to be in a place with so many kind friends.
I did a few edits on my latest book (journeying with four Bible characters who wrestle with waiting and doubt); not so many as I would have liked, but I did a good job of listening to my body and living at a sustainable pace (i.e. lots of sunbathing in the garden!)
JON HAS NEWS!
We got the news over the summer that Jon has been accepted to begin a Doctorate in Theology and Ministry (DThM) at Durham University. (It’s PhD level, but more like an American PhD than a British one, because there’s a taught component in social research methods.) SQUEE! As Jon’s research straddles not just theology but education theory and sociology of religion and culture, this is the perfect option.
His research project is called ‘Ikon and Logos – Communicating the Living Word in a Visual Culture.’ In the New Testament Jesus is described as both ikon and logos – image and word of God – and yet so often our church services can be just word-focused. Jon will particularly examine how UK theological training colleges prepare ministers for sharing the faith in our very visual culture. I’m so excited about what his studies will show, and the possibility of helping the wider church think about communication in a visual culture.
He’ll continue as full-time vicar of our wonderful church, but he’ll step down from his Assistant Director of Ordinands role and devote 1.5 days (ish) per week to this research. I’d love your prayers for him as he tries to fit it all in, in addition to caring for a sick wife and young child. Check out his blog post introducing it here.
Birthday Party Extraordinaire – Space Themed
In the middle of all this, the boy turned an extra year old, and I accepted the challenge to throw a party even greater than last year’s storybook party. This year was the space-themed, and the kids had a special visitor in the form of Luna, a sprite who lives on the moon and regaled them with tales from space. (She spoke like a high-pitched, smiley Una Stubbs-as-housekeeper-in-BBC’s-Sherlock, and looked at little like me.)
I discovered how to mess with kids’ heads: tell kids some verifiable facts (e.g. ‘yes! you’re right! Jupiter is the biggest planet in our solar system!) alongside outrageous imaginative lies (‘Most humans think that Jupiter is a gas giant. But if you go right into the eye of Jupiter – you know, that coloured spot? – you’ll discover it’s waterfall upon waterfall of glorious liquid sweets, and you can stick out your tongue and taste all the colours of the rainbow’). They have no idea what to make of you – which means they pay extra attention to you, and don’t get distracted so much, so = party win.
The only downside to this successful character is that now the boy (and his friends) often ask to talk to Luna instead of me, because she’s way more interesting. (Which is a little insulting, I feel.)
Best picks of the Internet (lots, but browse the headings which interest you):
“Sometimes depression has no rhyme or reason, it just turns up.”
- Steffy Bushell for The Mighty – What Your Friend with Depression Wants You to Know
“…people encounter blame for becoming ill, on the premise that they have the wrong state of mind, rather than receiving support and love while going through a difficult time.”
- Such an important article on the limits of positive thinking: Rachel Cohen-Rottenberg – How Positive Thinking Can Do More Harm Than Good
Severe ME Day
In July, Tom Jarrett died, aged 39 (by suicide, having battled unsuccessfully the excruciating pain he had from his M.E. for almost a decade). I didn’t know him personally, but I’d seen his son’s sweet fundraising video before, and I was sad. He was a lovely man, beloved by his friends and church. Do pray for his family – wife and two young sons – now doing life without their father.
Emily Collingridge’s (1981-2012) story also haunts me. It was reported in the press that she died in hospital from the side effects of her pain-relief drugs for her very severe ME. This year her mother revealed a fuller, more shocking picture – of medical abuse and neglect in her last days:
“[The hospital specialist] professed to have some knowledge of ME, but finally was forced to admit that he was ignorant of the illness in its severe form – up until then he had thought he was going to cure her. His attitude towards her was arrogant, bullying and rude… He allowed her to go without food and vomit three or four times a day for weeks on end with a ‘wait and see’ attitude…
“By March she had deteriorated further and there was evident concern among the doctors who were so out of their depth. While screaming in agony she was subjected to a barrage of intrusive tests – she could not move her legs, her breathing was strange. In the early hours of March 18th, the nurse on duty wished me “Happy Mother’s Day”. Six hours later Emily had a respiratory arrest. Seven hours after that she was dead.” from 25% ME Group, Emily Collingridge Remembrance
This reminds me why I campaign (however sporadically) for better treatment of ME patients, especially those with severe ME. The 25% ME group for severe sufferers is a lifeline for people like Emily. You can donate here. Thank you.
- “Thousands have died either directly due to the illness or from suicide as a result of suffering caused by the illness. Most had suffered some form of mistreatment, whether through medical incompetence, government indifference or social neglect.” Well worth a read -more stories of those who have died from this horrible illness: Body Count: the tragic stories of severe ME
The Bad News:
- 42 Scientists Vs. The Lancet and PACE trial authors. The Lancet (respected medical journal in the UK) behaves bizarrely with regards to the flawed PACE trial. It goes like this: 6 scientists call on the journal to independently reevaluate the PACE trial. Editor invites a proper, formal response to be printed in the journal. This time 42 eminent scientists sign the new open letter. The Lancet delays, and then says that ‘after discussing the matter with the PACE trial authors’ The Lancet will not be publishing the letter the Lancet invited the scientists to submit. If you’ve ever wondered why the PACE trial simply won’t die, consider the power the PACE trial authors have over this supposedly independent journal. Virology Blog – Once Again Lancet Stumbles on Pace
- Canada officials turn down the only application for an ME research grant because ‘CFS isn’t real’ – ME Action report; see also Health Rising for more details
- Chronically Ill Disabled People Refused Benefits. Great report from Centre of Welfare Reform showing that the ‘biopsychosocial’ approach to medicine (e.g. telling ME patients they need to exercise) is having a knock-on effect on benefits – with disabled people being refused benefits on the grounds that they need to think themselves well.
The Good News:
- New study that shows ME patients have something wrong in the gut microbiome: – Washington Post
- Brilliant article by Prof Jo Edwards (UCL) on the PACE trial and why it was the right decision for the tribunal to order release of the raw data, confronting the bad science and the slurs on ME patients – TheConversation.com
- Absolutely brilliant article by Laura Bates in the Guardian on Andy Murray, Serena Williams and sexism: ‘Normal in our society means male’
“Here is the thing about being a woman in the world, we can’t just do the thing, we have to perform the thing.” Brilliant (and hilarious) article by Abby Norman on the different standards for men and women – Patriarchy and Performance – Olympic Gymnatics is SO UNFAIR.
- Mary Karr in the New Yorker – The Crotchgrabber – On a shockingly casual case of sexual assault
- “Women like her – and you and your mom and your sister and your grandmother – are being judged daily, she writes, by a toxic standard of beauty and cultural norms that “define a woman’s value based on her marital and maternal status… In other words, you have to be thin. And pregnant.” The Guardian on Jennifer Anniston being hounded by the press on her stomach size.
- Laura Bates – The Guardian – Handbags and kitten heels – how not to write about prime ministers
- Sometimes satire is the best weapon – this gave me a wry smile Theresa May’s hubby steals the show in a sexy navy suit as he begins life as First Man | Metro News
- For all the women (and small children) who have Big Feelings – this made me smile and cry. Love this 5 min vid by Abby Norman – Rilla at the Roller Derby
- In defence of ‘Black Lives Matter’ – Black lives matter vs all lives matter
- What I learnt from leading tours about slavery at a plantation – Margaret Biser for Vox.com
- Good piece in The New York Times about the difference between diary and memoir and what it’s like to be memoir author – When you write a memoir readers think they know you better than they do
- Joanna Penn – Self publishing vs traditional publishing
- Joanna Penn – How to hit the USA Today list with Ad-stacking (clue – it costs money!)
- Joanna Penn – Before you self-publish
- Joanna Penn – How to record your own audiobooks
- Jeffrey Kater for Joanna Penn – Audiobook production
The amusing side of politics
- Remember the July Madness? Buzz feed guide to how we got another Prime Minister so quickly
- David Cameron accidentally left his mic on at the end of his press interview, thus announcing his departure in the most quintessentially British way ever – “thank you. Do doo do doo. Right. Good.”
- People then remixed David Cameron’s humming into brilliant Star Wars and techno dance themes
- I got a mention in Katharine Welby-Roberts’ piece for Christian Today – Finding God in the midst of suffering
- Really helpful – Helping Children Regain Their Emotional Safety After a Tragedy | Kidpower Teenpower Fullpower International
- How to unlock your child’s heart (NB many of the questions are on striving to be a better person and achieve more, which I’m always slightly wary of pushing too much on children – they have so much of that at school. But it’s a great idea, and I think I might try and adapt it). Momastery – Key Jar
- One of those ‘oh no, I’ve been doing it all wrong!’ parenting moments, but oh-so-helpful – How to Talk to Kids About Their Art
- Funniest interview ever from the Olympics – deadpan Irish awesomeness – Irish brothers O’Donovan interview
- Best staircase EVER
- Hurrah for good teachers! This made me cry a little – autistic boy fails test
- On social media I started a discussion about constellations – whether there was a universal understanding of the shapes of the stars in the sky, whether the myths came first or the constellation names etc. What I discovered along the way was this little gem – how the Incas find their way in the dark not by the stars themselves, but the dark places in between. It’s just aching for a metaphor. The dark constellations of the incas
- I absolutely love Esther’s youtube channel about living off-grid (ish) in a yurt on a mountain, while they build a homestead out of their own materials. This is about why she talks to goats. SO MUCH TO LOVE. She talks to goats?? – Esther Emery.
Best of TV (and Netflix)
- Finale of Good Wife!! Series 7 had been dragging for me, but the final episodes brought it back for me – a worthy way to end one of the best TV series in recent years. HIT.
- Episodes – SO good. Two British writers travel to USA to remake their popular TV series and struggle with LA life. Matt LeBlanc is hilarious, and I love Carol. Why does Netflix only have three seasons?? HIT.
- Crazy Ex-Girlfriend – My new guilty-pleasure. A successful lawyer quits her job in New York and moves to Caifornia to win the love of (/stalk) her ex-boyfriend from summer camp. At times on the wrong side of politically correct, but this overcomes the cringe-factor because of the great acting and hilarious songs. (The chorus of “I have friends, I definitely have friends” is worryingly resonant for me…) HIT.
- Don’t trust the B**** in Apartment 23 – A good girl type moves into an apartment with an amoral and shocking roommate – and they end up becoming friends. Kristen Ritter is magnificent as the eponymous B**** and James Van Der Beek is hilarious as a version of himself. A bit sweary and crude at times, but darkly funny. If you missed it the first time round, check it out on Netflix.
- Californication – I watched the first episode but found I had zero sympathy or interest in the misogynistic main character, so quit. MISS.
- Green Wing – I missed episodes, so I tried this hospital drama which has both of the British actors from Episodes – but it’s not really as good. MISS.
- Kimmy Schmidt – still enjoying the second series – particularly the ones with Tina Fey in. (I seem to be the only one who thinks this…)
- Olympics! – I watched a fair amount with the boy. It was hard to navigate: watching live, I would get really excited to see that we’d won gold in the swimming – only to discover that this was the preliminaries and the final was at some future unidentified time, which I would inevitably miss. Loved the women’s gymnastics, and Simone Biles really is a phenomenon. Diving was a real drama too – the unexpected and glorious wins of Laugher and Mears, with the equally unexpected defeat of Tom Daley, who was looking, even in the preliminaries, like he deserved to walk away with the gold. I’m still rooting for him as a come-back-kid in Tokyo next time. And we cheered Mo Farah on in the 5K and 10K races – fascinating to watch the race strategy.
Favourite App – Medisafe
Do you take lots of medications but don’t want the faff of doing a pill box each week? The Medisafe app is totally saving my life right now. This app buzzes at you when you need to take your pills (and tells you which pills to take), and buzzes at you when you need to renew your prescription. Free, and brilliant. Medisafe.com
In case you missed it there was some great stuff on the blog…
Most popular on the blog:
- “This is what I wrestle with: what if our hearts still dream big, when we are forced to live small?” The Mudroom – Dreaming Big, Living Small
- “We are not all bouncy and shiny. We cannot be. Some of us have had real damage, and that takes time to heal.” (still currently at number 1 of She Loves’ most popular posts) When Your Body Prophesies To You
- For Every Wannabe Missionary (Assimilate or Go Home)
- Brexit, hate crime, racism – what’s happened to our country? Not just about Brexit, we’re seeing this same six-stage pattern of anger and scapegoating in other countries in recession.
- My Child is Scared – What Do I Say? 6 top tips on dealing with an anxious child
- I read a lot of books. Here they are – Book Reviews Jul Aug 2016
Soul Bare was released – a collaboration of thirty-plus voices in Christian publishing, including Seth Haines, Sarah Bessey, Emily P Freeman, Holley Gerth, and many others, including me.
My chapter is about how a bookclub revealed the truth about my life in a surprising way. So it was lovely to present the original bookclub members with Soul Bare.
It’s a collection of powerful stories which answer the question ‘How are Christians supposed to have hope and experience wholeness amidst personal challenges and failures?’ It’s been thrilling to see how well it’s been received.
Have you got your copy of Soul Bare yet? I’d love to know what you think!
And have you read my first (short) book yet, Coming Back to God When You Feel Empty? (sign up below for your free copy).
PHEW!!!! That’s it! (Until the next time…)
Over to you:
- What were you into way back in the summer?