Thank you so much to those who commented and messaged me about my last post. It’s great to know you’re still happy to read my witterings 🙂 Having completed the plan I mentioned in that post, I was quite daunted by a year’s worth of empty spaces. But already I have most of January filled, either done or preparing to do. It feels good, after a year of sitting around not doing much at all.
My experience of anxiety and depression doesn’t feel like any I’ve read or heard about. Maybe each journey is unique. I’ve come a long way, there are some days when I feel totally normal but others when I get a wave of anxiety every time the house phone rings or my mobile buzzes. Though why I’m worried about calls on the landline, I can’t tell you. My Amazon account is fine thank you very much.
I felt I’d levelled off in my recovery, the two main problems being headaches and not sleeping very well. So I arranged a chat with the doctor, and we tweaked my medication a bit. Already I can feel the benefits. If we weren’t in lockdown, the doc said she’d be advising me to get out and about. I’m sure it would aid my recovery to visit nice places. Meet with friends, have coffee and laughs. Maybe a couple of nights away with himself. None of that is possible at the moment.
But I have to do something. I was on the treadmill this morning for half an hour. After falling and really hurting myself last year AND the year before, I’m still very nervous about being outside. Especially in this snowy weather.
I need to move forward. I want to move forward. but I’m going to take my time and go at my own pace. I’m so grateful to God for the time and space that lockdown brought, but I feel ready to start making my way back in to regular face to face contact, that is NOT on a computer screen.
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I have emerged from my biannual “why do I bother writing? what’s the point? yada yada” phase, set for another year of scribbling. I’m in the process of making a plan for the year. Dividing the year in to four quarters with a the intention *coughs* of working on one major project each quarter, with some flash fiction, research and social media malarkey as I go. During my “woe is me, I am unpublished” season, I did wonder about shutting this blog down. The thought stayed with me during the planning. Who reads blogs any more? Anything longer than a tweet and people scroll on don’t they?
You still there?
I have deliberately not written much about Covid or Lockdown. What is there to say? I ate too much, moved to little but did use the restricted time to aid my recovery from anxiety and depression which I wrote about back in October last year. I’m doing so much better. The depression has lifted for the most part, thank God, but anxiety is still an issue for me. Increasing Covid numbers do not help.
I’m finding that having a plan for the year is helpful. Not just a writing plan – a life plan. I pray it will give me something to focus on when I’m feeling a bit wobbly and uncertain. It includes getting rid of the weight I put on during lockdown. And getting back into running. I got to the stage of doing 3 x 5k runs each week. The I fell. My confidence has not repaired to the degree my injured knee has. I had been praying for a treadmill for a couple of years. So I could walk regularly in the winter weather. God miraculously provided one – from the people who I was on my way to visit when I fell. (Bit of a Matrix moment there. You know the bit where the oracle says, “don’t worry about the vase,” and Neo says, “what vase?” he turns around and knocks a vase over. ) Anyway, I’m ready for writing, running, counting my carbs, and watching my mental health; doing all of those things with God’s help and guidance.
God has been with me all the way and I pray for his blessing on all those areas of my life. He underpins it all. The only time there’ll be no point in writing, is if He ever decides I should go and do something else 🙂 So if you’re still here and still reading, thank you so much for sticking with me.
God bless each and every one of you in 2021!
p.s. if you read Gorse Lodge, thank you! Do leave a review on Amazon and/or Goodreads. It really means a lot to a writer. In the meantime, this quarter I’ll be working on edits to publish my second novel.
It’s November! So as well as premature Christmas ads and dark evenings, it’s also time for 50,000 words in 30 days. I haven’t always ‘won’ NaNoWriMo (by winning I mean hit the word count), but it has given me some great raw material. Two of the books I’ve self published, my novel Gorse Lodge, and my second collection of short stories, A Sense of the Sea and other stories came from work done during NaNoWriMo. My non fic WIP, Have Mercy, is also a NaNo project.
As if I had nothing to do, I am starting a brand new novel idea. I just love starting stories and I get such a buzz out of finding out what happens next as I write. This time last year I barely wrote 2000 words and it shows how low and exhausted I was. I will return to that WIP, but I feel I need to move on this year.
One of my favourite stories from school is Silas Marner and my new novel is inspired by that story. How an abandoned child changed someone’s life forever. On NaNoWriMo, my username is auntyamo, if you’re doing the challenge and you’d like to buddy up. You can keep an eye on my progress on the bar at the top right.
It’s great to have Liz Carter back today. If you didn’t read yesterday’s post, you really should. Liz’s honesty and openness is such a blessing. Here she is with the second part of her post on Light and Dark.
It’s good to be back 🙂 I finished yesterday, by saying, the more I dig into Scripture, the more I find the most starkly honest writings there poured out for all to see, overflowings of emotion and anger and sorrow spilling onto the pages – most of the prophetic writings are like this and the Psalms are full of songs of lament as much as songs of praise.
It seems to me that we are on dangerous ground if we insist that we must keep our own darkness hidden in the darkness, because that is not the biblical model.
Biblical writers craft their words with honesty and authenticity. They tell it how it is. They do not tell us that there will be no suffering in the Christian life, nor do they tell us that the Christian life will be blessed with health and wealth and no pain. In fact, if anything, they tell us the opposite. Paul tells us that he lived in hardship and persecution, suffering for Christ and with Christ – and his words are full of the profound mystery of the intersection of brokenness and the peace of God that passes all understanding. The Psalmists wrote of isolation and imprisonment, of sickness and danger. And in the centre of it all we have Jesus, a man of sorrows who knew the great depths of suffering like no other.
I always think it would be so hard to follow a faith where the deity remains outside of our understanding and experience. Christianity is unprecedented among faiths in that God became one of us and sunk into our pain and mess with us. The incarnation points to the beautiful and complex intricacies of the fingerprints of God amongst us; a God willing to lay aside all his majesty and fall into the dust, to suffer and die, to take all our pain and sin and mess upon his body. It is a mystery that cannot be contained in words, but a mystery bursting at the seams with hope and life, and one that speaks loud into our own agonies like nothing else.
And this, ultimately, is what lights our path ahead; the knowledge that God is not far away, but is with us by his Spirit and in his experience of broken humanity. On days I have nothing left I can only look back to God, as the Psalmists so often did in their wretched poems of sadness and yearning. I can still choose to ‘yet praise’ within the days of trouble.
This winter will be long and bleak, and bleaker still for some of us, for many reasons. But winter ends in a glorious awakening, and God reminds us of that in a love song:
‘See, the winter is past, the rains are over and gone.’ (Song of Songs 2:10)
One of my poems from my new book incorporates this theme, and so I would like to share a few words from this poem with you today, with the prayer that God will speak to the deep places in you and flood you with a hope wider, deeper, longer and higher than you could ever imagine:
Oh hasten the day when death flees away when the winter of mourning melts to joy in the morning, when bleak shadows are drenched in the glory of your dazzling light, when darkest places and worn-down wastes are crushed in the power of outrageous grace The winter is past; the rains are over and gone, find love that is deep and love that is long find immersive light and ageless depths find crazy love in inexorable breadth Oh hasten the day when night flees away.
Treasure in Dark Places is a collection of poetry and short stories which are re-imaginings of biblical accounts and encounters with Jesus that take the reader into the heart of the stories, where you yourself can experience and encounter the God who loves you, and where you will find resonance and comfort in your own struggle.
Continuing the theme of Light and Dark, I am delighted to welcome Liz Carter to the blog. She will be sharing today and tomorrow, and we’ll hear about her new book, Treasure in Dark Places: Stories and poems of hope in the hurting.
So, over to Liz…
With the clocks going back and the winter drawing in, many of us are living with a creeping sense of dread that coils around us like the fog on a chilly winter day. As the days grow colder and the nights darker, we often feel enveloped in gloom, and now more than ever, as we wonder when all this will come to an end. Winter seems to stretch ahead with no promise of hope, with no sparkles of joy to look towards and wait for with anticipation. Winter 2020 seems like a pit of nothingness, a black hole of rubbishness and sadness.
Perhaps, for some of you, it’s not just 2020 that feels that way to you. Perhaps you’ve lived through years where the nights are too dark and the air too frozen around you. Maybe you’ve been living with sickness, physically or mentally, or living with grief, or other burdens which have left you bruised and battered, unsure where to look for any signs of hope.
For me, this year has been tough, but my whole life has been lived in pain, to some degree, with a chronic lung condition from infancy. This year I went into shielding in March after receiving the letter that punched me in the gut with its words instilling more fear in me: I’d been identified, it told me, as someone with risk of severe illness if I caught Covid-19. I separated out from my family and lived in my room for almost five months, caged into a life without touch or the usual family interaction. It was tough. It sent me spiralling mentally, into restless, tearful nights and days that seemed to stretch too long at times.
But God kept sending me little reminders of his presence and his love. As I began to let go of some of my fear and pour out some of my restlessness into poetry and other forms of writing, God spoke peace into my heart, and even sparks of joy at times.
God reminded me that it is sometimes in the darkest places where we find unexpected treasure, where light is able to break through in even more splendour, puncturing the blackness and calling us on towards the hope we find in Jesus.
I wonder if you have ever felt that you should be happy at all times as a Christian. Perhaps you’ve even heard teaching encouraging you to claim prosperity and health in all areas of your life, that because God is a generous God he will give you these – you only need to ask. Perhaps you’ve felt unable to share honestly about tough times, because you have been led to feel that you are, in some way, failing God because of your struggle. You hear the great triumphant stories of healing and wholeness, of God coming through for people when they are suffering, of God’s great and miraculous provision. But when it doesn’t seem to happen like that in your life, you can be left sad and alone, hugging your suffering to yourself in the mistaken idea that you cannot share it with others, because it might put them off the idea of faith.
Yet the more I dig into Scripture, the more I find the most starkly honest writings there poured out for all to see, overflowings of emotion and anger and sorrow spilling onto the pages – most of the prophetic writings are like this and the Psalms are full of songs of lament as much as songs of praise. Tomorrow I will write more about that and share one of the poems from my book
Thank you Liz. It’s a blessing to read such refreshing honesty in difficult times.
I look forward to hearing more. In the mean time, Liz’s book Treasure in Dark Places: Stories and poems of hope in the hurting can be found here. Until tomorrow… A x
So many people love this time of year. Autumn colours, pumpkin spice lattes, snuggly scarves, warm fires, falling leaves etc. It’s not my favourite season. I prefer Spring. The hope of good weather and the promise of longer days and brighter evenings. The only thing I love about this time of year is that I can get all my hats out and start wearing them again. I have quite a few. In fact those of you who have been following this blog for a long time will remember it was originally called, Just Another Christian Woman… talking through her hat.
As a kid, I hated the dark. My bedroom door had a glass panel above it and when the landing light was on I got the benefit of it. But it was always turned off when the last person went to bed. I often felt vulnerable once the light was off.
If everyone was asleep, who would hear if someone broke in? A fear of my home being broken into stayed with me for years; even now I don’t like to stay on my own overnight.
In my teenage years dark evenings meant I had to be in. I wasn’t allowed out after dark until I was 16 or so. Even then I had to fight for it. Until that great liberation, in the winter months, I’d run home from school, change out of my uniform and meet my friend. We’d do a quick lap of Tallaght, stopping off in the Town Centre to look at the make-up stall or visit the record shop, then run home to be in before the dusk curfew. When we were finally allowed out after dark, it turned out it was too cold to be hanging around the streets, (unless the was a boy to meet), so we’d end up in her kitchen or mine.
Sounds like a bit of a contradiction doesn’t it? I didn’t want the dark as a small child, but was eager to be out and about on a dark evening when I was a teenager. On reflection, I think darkness was ok, as long as was with my friend. I didn’t want to be out in the dark on my own. It’s darkness when I’m alone that gave/gives me problems.
1 John 1:5 says “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.” If John had been Irish, he might have said, “there’s no darkness at all, at all.” No darkness what so ever. The closer we get to him, the less darkness there is. In a time of social distancing, it is such a comfort to remember that God is not distant. He is always with us. Not two millimetres away, never mind two metres.
Two things come from this for me. 1. I am never alone, God is always with me 2. If he is with me, there is no darkness at all (at all) 🙂
Thanks so much for all your encouraging comments and messages about my last post. I really appreciate it. It’s great to be back writing again after a long dry spell.
I’ve been thinking about this post for a couple of weeks now. Not sure what to say or how to say it. Searching for the words to describe the last year or more honestly, without sounding like I’m grasping at the sympathy vote. Before COVID was a familiar talking point, before lockdowns were a thing, before facemasks were commonplace, I was already heading into isolation. I knew it was coming, I could feel it creeping up on me. The stress, the anxiety, the fear, the weight of perceived responsibility, the exhaustion, the disappointment in myself and worst of all, the distance between myself and God.
At the end of December 2019, I shoved it all in a corner of my brain and we went to Ireland for Christmas. I had a fantastic time with my Irish family. I forgot about (well, ignored) my endless to do list, my inability to do my job properly and my lack of enthusiasm for church life. I was home and free and happy. But by the end of that trip I was ill; my usual winter lurgy, I thought. After we came home, I fell down a couple of steps hurting my already injured ribs. I went back to work for a few days, but after starting to cry when my boss asked me, “How are you doing?” I went home and rang the doctor’s surgery. In her treatment room I poured it all out. Sickness and pain, both inner and outer, which left me with no ability to pick up the load I had laid down before Christmas. The GP’s advice was to forget about even trying to go back to that life. “For how long?” I asked. “I’ve loads to do.” “You’ll know when you’re ready,” was her reply. I went home with my sick note, a prescription for the pain (both inner and outer), and sat down in an armchair. I sat in that chair every day for weeks. I didn’t cry again. I wasn’t pining for home. I didn’t want to binge eat. I wasn’t even sad. It didn’t feel like depression should feel. It didn’t feel like how it felt the last time. I was just empty.
It was clear that I could not return to the job I’d been doing, and should not return to all of the many calls on my time. It had never occurred to me that I could change things. I thought I was being lazy and selfish; a bad Christian and a BAD pastor’s WIFE (not a BAD PASTOR’S wife, you understand). But the doctor, and the pastor, and others I spoke to assured me that it was not only possible, but essential. I decided to give myself permission to only do what I could. I wanted to start running again but was worried colleagues might see me in the the park and think, she’s off sick, how comes she’s doing laps of the duck pond?
The Occupational Health doctor my employers put me in touch with, said I should get out there. He told me he’d prescribe it if he could. In his opinion, getting out doors and moving again is better than any pill he could give me. So I started an online couch to 2k, which went on to a 2 to 5k. I was running again and making good progress. This is me having just finished my first non-stop 5k. The elation I felt did indeed do more for me than the pills I’ve been taking (grateful as I am for them).
I’m officially finished work, but ‘under the doctor’ as they say in Wales. All this is just the start of my way back. I’m in no fit state to go job hunting. This is a time to reenergise, get my eating back on track, keep active, edit my book, and as from four weeks ago, venture back into church life. The irony is not lost on me, that I now wear an actual mask to church, at a time when I’m finally able to take the emotional one off.
I’m doing so so much better these days. Still have a way to go. But by God’s grace and love, I’m getting there.
Helloooo! Am back after another blogging break. I have a good excuse though. I was nursing injured ribs. I almost called this post ‘Falling Slowly.’ I can remember every moment of the fall and the landing. I tripped over a few millimetres of crooked paving stone and landed with an extremely painful THUD! So I was out of action for a few weeks. Then I went on holidays…
We went on a road trip. Not as far and wide as we’d planned, due to my delicate condition. We went to Cirencester, the Cotswolds, Oxford, Kent, Chichester, Farnborough and our last day before returning to Wales, was a day in Bath. If you know me, you know I love Bath. I’m always up for a spot of Jane Austen spotting. But what really fascinated me on this visit was our walk around Bath Abbey. They have embarked on a major project of renovation and restoration. At the same time as repairing the collapsing floor, they are working on preserving the history of the building, and reducing their carbon footprint. They will be running the warm spa waters under the Abbey and utilising underfloor heating. It’s a super project called ‘Footprint’ and I’ll add the link below if you’d like to visit the Abbey website and read about it.
My first pastor regularly reminded us that the church is not just bricks and mortar. We met in a community centre and were delighted eventually to have our own permanent home in the loft space of a row of shops. But he kept reminding us, we were not get to caught up in our surroundings, but to get caught up with Jesus, and the Word of God.
As I entered Bath Abbey and saw the huge undertaking of restoration work, my old pastor’s words rang in my ears, and I confess I kinda snorted at what I could see happening. I know I know – a terrible attitude, but almost immediately God pulled me up on it…
God’s Word was all over the building. Each panel used to ‘fence off’ the renovation area had a Scripture verse on it. We found copies of The Lord’s Prayer in one of the small chapels, in a number of languages (including Welsh). There’s also an exhibition called, ‘Let My People Go.’ 23 beautiful pieces of work that reflect Bible stories from Creation, through to Moses.
Bath Abbey is definitely not JUST about the bricks and mortar, even though the bricks and mortar currently need some attention. I was blown away by it, I have to admit.
As I’ve spent some time healing from my injuries, I’ve been pondering my own efforts in physical restoration and renovation over the last few years. I continue to look after myself, staying active and trying to lose some more weight. But I too am not JUST about my bricks and mortar. I’ve written before about how I’ve mistreated this temple I’ve been given, and though I need to take care of my body, I also need to make sure I’m taking care of my spirit. I’m crumbling on the outside, there’s no denying it – aches and pains, still carrying too much weight, laughter lines that have developed into hilarity tunnels. But… as long as there’s plenty of God’s Word on the inside, I reckon I’ll stay standing.
Go check out the Bath Abbey website… and do visit if you can. It’s a super place, inside and out 🙂 x
June (and the beginning of July) were just too busy – but brilliant. Each Saturday, there was something on, or I was away. Lots of travelling, long days and late nights. From the 1st weekend in June spent in Scargill House in Yorkshire, 2nd Saturday there was afternoon tea in our church, the following weekend I was in Bala, North Wales. Then next Saturday, I helped organise a fundraising coffee morning for Relay for Life in Pontypool. The last weekend in June was the Relay itself. Oh and the 1st week in July was a church afternoon tea again. Last Saturday I was sitting down – it was weird, I felt like I should have been dashing about somewhere…
It’s a relief to be able to stop for a bit and review the non-stop weekends of busyness. In all the travelling and organising, there were moments when I was stopped in my tracks and made to be still. This is one of them…
When I was looking at our route back to Pontypool from Bala, I noticed we could travel via Aberfan. I’d wanted to visit Aberfan since hearing about the tragedy in 2016, 50 years after it happened. A colliery spoil tip collapsed killing 116 children and 28 adults. It engulfed the local primary school and some of the buildings nearby. I hadn’t heard about it before the anniversary, and was shocked by the reports I read about the tragedy. And that it happened only 20 miles from where I lived. I didn’t want to gawp or stare, or nosey into a town’s history of grief. But I did want to see for myself an image that had imprinted on my mind when I saw it on the news. Two rows of white marble scalloped headstones. The resting place of those who had lost their lives.
It was a steep climb up to the grave yard and sight of the gravestones took my breath away. Even now it’s hard to get my head around such heartbreaking history. Rich and I walked slowly along the row, without much conversation. There was nothing to say. Every so often I stopped and shook my head in disbelief as I read messages of love and loss on the gravestones. I stopped again at one grave whose flowers had fallen over. I fixed them as best I could and found myself talking to the 7 year old buried there. “Let me tidy these for you love,” I said, trying not to cry for the little stranger. “There you go. Can’t leave you untidy now, can I? It’s the least I can do for you.” It was overwhelming. A moment that will never leave me.
I spent many “why God?” moments after that. And though I don’t agree with those who believe God is cruel and uninterested, I can understand why tragic events bring those responses. It sent me back to the book of Isaiah, which I had been studying for a while. I’m not about to preach a sermon, but reading God’s Word reminds me that even in the most devastating situations, he is worth trusting. I get that many would disagree with me, but I still believe God is good.
Well I hope you’ve enjoyed the mix of flash fiction on here today. It’s one of my fave writing days of the year, and though I spend a lot of time on longer projects these days, I do love a short and snappy story.
So the final offering for today, comes from me and it’s a little darker than my usual tales… let me know what you think…
A Dream Come True?
by Annmarie Miles
My eyes opened; my heart pounded in my chest. I sucked breath in to my lungs and tried to work out where I was. My eyes darted around the room. In the dark I could just make out the shape of my jacket hanging off the wardrobe door.
You’re at home. You’re home, it’s okay.
I turned my head towards the steady breathing next to me. He was facing me. Smiling. He always smiled when he slept. It was one of my favourite things about him.
My breathing increased as I looked at him. He was the villain in my nightmare; again. For almost a month I’d been dreaming about him. Every night, his aggression towards me increased. Tonight he was throttling me. Strangling the life out of me. I was losing consciousness when I woke in search of air. I wanted to move away from him, but feared I’d wake him. I needed to be further away from those images before I would feel safe next to him.
I wish I’d never gone to that party. I wish I’d never stopped to eavesdrop on what his colleagues were saying about his “latest obsession.” It took a while to realise they were talking about me. I thought they were jealous of the car. They sneered and jeered and the more they said, the more compelled I was to listen. They disgusted me with their envy and bitterness. They were describing a different man from the one who now filled my heart and mind. I was considering walking up to one of them and slapping his face when he said, “She’ll disappear like the rest of them. Mark this day she’ll go the way the way of the others. Buried in the woods somewhere probably.”
My feet wouldn’t move. I pulled my wrap around my shoulders as the cold breeze of their laughter swept over me. I returned to the table and he smiled that glorious smile then kissed me. Every night since, he has tried to kill me in my dreams.
The memory of that night shrunk my bladder. I slid from the bed and walked to the bathroom. When I came back, he was sitting up in the bed.
“You ok, Peach?”
“Yeah, I’m fine, something just woke me. I can’t get off again.”
“Well, if you can’t sleep, how about I tell you about my day. That should bore you back sleep.”
I laughed. The sound of his voice dissolved my fears and after my second yawn, he said, “My work here is done. Come on, let’s get you back to sleep.”
I lay down and he moved towards me, draping his arm softly around me. He nuzzled my neck and I sank into the curve of his embrace. Sleep surrounded me, and as it did, I felt his grip tighten.