Wednesday, February 29, 2012

29th February 2012

So what have we got here? Made me think of a Jackson Pollock, if you sort of close one eye and squint sideways… he was an abstract expressionist painter around sixty years ago. But of course my photo has nothing whatsoever to do with that somewhat troubled character and yes I ventured out into the countryside today, for the first time in a week or so. And found peace once again as I walked with God. I’m so very dependent upon the Lord at the moment, and even though I know he’s with me at all times and everywhere I go, there’s still something so very special about setting aside exclusive time to spend with him. That works best for me when I walk alone, which is something I’ve done in different ways for years and years. I remember decades ago, every time I travelled to work I would take time out to walk around Derby Arboretum just to pray. I had many revelations over the years walking around what is claimed to be England’s first public park. But it feels strange just thinking about all that now as it’s sited in an inner city area with a somewhat challenging reputation. Prostitutes would parade up and down one of the perimeter roads and muggings were not that uncommon on the park. It was not that unusual for me to walk around with up to £1000 of cash in connection with my insurance work but I never ever got troubled by anyone. Not there anyway, though I’ve had a few escapades elsewhere with so-called clients. One guy booked an appointment at my office and I called at his home to do business with himself and girlfriend. All quite normal. He asked for a repeat visit the following week and then he suddenly produced a photo of himself, wearing army fatigues and carrying an automatic weapon. He told the story of fighting as a mercenary in Bosnia. And then he went a bit wild, pushing me around and making unjustified demands… somehow I remained totally at peace and calmed the situation down before simply walking back out to my car. I think I must have been crazy… or confident in my God. I stayed away from the park once the sun set though! And never went near that guy’s house either! But there were others just a crazy, there always are aren’t there?

It’s not just Jackson Pollock who lived a troubled life. Despite his artistic genius, and accompanying fame, he suffered notoriety as a somewhat volatile character struggling with alcoholism. In some ways I guess we all have a fight with the demonic at different points in life. Some might reach out to alcohol to escape inner torment; others turn to drugs or sexual promiscuity for a quick fix. And no matter our inner peace, in greater or smaller measure we all live with the difficulties that this world puts across our path. The real question is how to deal with them. Do we turn to what is plainly wrongdoing with excess, illegality or immorality? Or do we turn to the Lord to life a life that pleases him and grants a peace beyond compare. I trust God, no matter the twists and turns of life that we all face.

In the centre of my picture is a bird’s nest. A little home for a wild creature built in a fairly challenging environment. I sometimes wonder about that very first twig they have to position when beginning to build. How many times does it simply fall to the ground before being woven securely into place? I remain determined to press on with rebuilding my own life. Maybe I’ve already got the first twig of my new ‘nest’ in place by simply living with Godly hope. For sure there’s a long way to go yet, before I feel at home with my new circumstances. But I will persevere.

As will my dad. I took him to hospital early this morning. He didn’t want to go and I don’t blame him. Unfortunately he was only there for an hour or so before being told the whole operation list for the day had been cancelled. No idea why but maybe the surgeon rang in sick or something, who knows. Anyway he’s rebooked for 8am tomorrow with a firm ‘guarantee’ that it will proceed. I need to remember to reset my alarm for that one!

John 10:10 ‘The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life.’ (NLT)

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

28th February 2012

                     Copyright © 2010 Microsoft Corporation
In one sense, I’ve had a pretty good week. Ok, my health has been rather up and down, and I’ve been forced to slow right down to try and make a recovery from last week’s Chronic Fatigue relapse. But thinking back I can’t recall getting particularly upset thinking about Jane for some time. My memory plays tricks though so I may have simply forgotten. Anyway, today I found myself remembering her quiet suffering through her final weeks of life. That’s not unusual of course, but the point is that today I allowed myself to cry again as I recalled that time. And it struck me that in some mysterious way I was almost crying on her behalf. Yes, Jane had unfulfilled dreams and even the start of new plans for her life when it became obvious that barring the Lord’s miraculous intervention she would soon be dying. But though we knew this for quite a long time, we both chose to embrace life in full measure rather than simply make plans for a funeral. Until her final hours this is very much how Jane lived… in the bright light of life rather than the shadow of death. So for example in her wardrobe I still have barely worn clothes she chose to buy shortly before she died. She couldn’t walk and hardly talk but thank God for online shopping, it made her happy for a day. There was one thing Jane needed to do though and eventually couldn’t. Because of the severity of her breathing problems she had to avoid all emotional expression. So no laughing or crying and eventually she couldn’t even talk as she struggled so much just to breathe. It became particularly hard when she had to stop having all visitors apart from our four children. That meant no grandkids, for example, which would have been really upsetting though she couldn’t show it. She really needed to cry but didn’t. So today I’m doing it for her, which may sound strange, but I’ve shed plenty of tears for my own loss and now it’s time to share in Jane’s! I just felt so sorry for her and the suffering she endured so very silently.

Unfortunately once the empathy taps were turned on I found myself caring about the plight of others, specifically in a semi-fictional setting. Trying to pass the time in as relaxing way as possible, yesterday I started watching Upstairs Downstairs on BBC iPlayer, so today it was episode two. One storyline engaged with the immigration of Jewish children into the UK after fleeing the Nazi pogrom, at the onset of the Second World War. Somehow I saw beyond the glamour of the latest TV series and into the lives of a group of very frightened and vulnerable children, thrust from their homes, separated from parents, and landing in a foreign country. Yet, of course, these were the fortunate ones. But I just felt so sorry for them all and shared a few of my tears for their plight, albeit 70 years ago. This evening I listened to a few minutes of the Archers as I was driving to my house group… and I had to check myself when I started to get upset over the completely fictional ‘Tony Archer’ nearly dying from a  heart attack! Emotions are a funny thing when let out to ‘play’. My dad has a repeat biopsy to face tomorrow after previous unclear results from a minor op a month ago. And he’s actually a real life WW2 child war evacuee from his then home near Dover. I’m taking him to hospital, so no tears whilst I’m driving!

Some situations deserve tears so I’m not afraid to cry and there’s something quite special about being able to share in the suffering of others. Understanding in this way is at the heart of compassion which in turn motivates action. But equally some situations demand a party where only tears of joy are shed. Yes, today Jane is in heaven preparing for the wonderful day when the Lord calls his ‘Bride’, The Church, to himself. And that day will herald an end to all suffering; one day there will be no more tears, and peace will reign complete upon planet Earth. Oh yes, one day soon the Lord Jesus will return!

1 Peter 4:12-13 ‘Dear friends, don’t be surprised at the fiery trials you are going through, as if something strange were happening to you. Instead, be very glad—for these trials make you partners with Christ in his suffering, so that you will have the wonderful joy of seeing his glory when it is revealed to all the world.’ (NLT)

Monday, February 27, 2012

27th February 2012

A fairly busy morning, so it was mid-afternoon before I really slowed down today. And I don’t feel too bad so far. Yes I’ve finished off cleaning the motorhome water tanks, tested the gas and a few other small jobs, so it’s basically ready to go anytime I choose. Sooner rather than later I reckon, and I’ve posted a picture I took of my motorhome parked in the grounds of a quite random French Chateau somewhere near Le Mans… something to dream about for the rest of the evening. I remember this campsite had a quite outstanding French Chef working in a candlelit outdoor restaurant, and he cooked us one of the best meals I’ve ever had. A wonderfully romantic surprise it was… you don’t get that happening on any UK site I’ve been on. But today it’s still nice having freedom to go basically whenever I want, even if I’m alone and I can’t do romance any more.

Anyway I’ve agreed to support both my dad and a friend with hospital transport over the next week or so. Neither has a firm diagnosis yet, but both are facing the threat of cancer which can be a terrifying experience for some. My friend has a particularly strong and secure faith journey and is quite ready to accept whatever the Lord allows to come across his path. He’ll be fine whatever comes along as God is with him in a very real way. And having seen Jane walk through so many challenging treatments with a permanent smile on her face, I have every confidence in the grace of God.

I remember a conversation I had with Jane many years before she became ill. Although I can’t remember the specific challenges of our lives at that time, I can remember feeling that life was tough and we’d both had enough… sounds like normal life come to think of it! Anyway we were looking at a scripture in Corinthians, where Paul stated that we grow weary in our present bodies and long to be clothed in new heavenly bodies. Jane simply made the comment that that was exactly how she felt, she was ready to meet with the Lord and be done with earthly ‘corruption’. Although she fought to live, she never had the slightest fear of death and suffered the discomfort and disappointment of ill health almost with disdain. She refused to allow the severest challenge to change who she was a person, and kept a hold of peace with supreme dignity. I found the grace of God upon her to be awesome. The Lord was truly with her in all that she faced. Jesus Christ really is the answer to our every problem.

2 Corinthians 5:1-8 ‘For we know that when this earthly tent we live in is taken down (that is, when we die and leave this earthly body), we will have a house in heaven, an eternal body made for us by God himself and not by human hands. We grow weary in our present bodies, and we long to put on our heavenly bodies like new clothing. For we will put on heavenly bodies; we will not be spirits without bodies. While we live in these earthly bodies, we groan and sigh, but it’s not that we want to die and get rid of these bodies that clothe us. Rather, we want to put on our new bodies so that these dying bodies will be swallowed up by life. God himself has prepared us for this, and as a guarantee he has given us his Holy Spirit. So we are always confident, even though we know that as long as we live in these bodies we are not at home with the Lord. For we live by believing and not by seeing. Yes, we are fully confident, and we would rather be away from these earthly bodies, for then we will be at home with the Lord.’ (NLT)

Sunday, February 26, 2012

26th February 2012

From here
Yes there I am (in a purple shirt) on the church website and as I was walking through the city centre, on my way to church this morning, I had a glimpse of contentment. Just a glimpse. Yes, I could imagine growing old as a single; enjoying my family as they continued their journey through life; enjoying being part of a thriving church, albeit on the edge; and enjoying all manner of creative arts to keep myself occupied. Ok, travelling a little as well, we all like to do that don’t we? But it’s all a lie, and just not who I am. Not yet anyway, maybe another twenty years or so I’d be content to slow down, not at my age though. And I’m certainly not content with my present situation. Apart from the family thing I’m just not happy with my life and meaningful activity  being kept at arm’s length. I need to be at the centre of anything I’m involved with, working wholeheartedly to build the Kingdom of God. Basically keeping busy. Not on the outside watching others do the work, but sharing in the labour, even taking the initiative. Ignoring a couple of breaks, for around twenty years I led a number of church groups and ministry teams; most of the time I found great satisfaction in doing that. And although I was accountable to a line manager, I had quite a bit of autonomy in my workplace having almost sole responsibility for an insurance agency. That kept me busy. As did raising four children! But nowadays I do almost nothing and hate it! After decades of ongoing project management whilst juggling family life my diary is completely empty. I know I have my own ill health to manage but I’m not a complete invalid by any stretch of the imagination. And yes, I’m still in recovery after several years of emotional trauma caring for my wife as she died… but life goes on. I can’t keep doing nothing.

Today felt emotionally cold, I just feel numb. The weather was almost spring-like, which unfortunately reminded me of similar days when Jane and I would be working on the house, the garden, the motorhome or whatever. We’d always be looking towards something specific, together. For ourselves, for each other, for a young family. We always had a life to build and direction was easy to define. I don’t feel like that right now. Actually I don’t feel like doing anything that’s set before me, very little holds any attraction any more. Enthusiasm has just about died, along with Jane. All I have left is determination. But I will fight the negatives which could so easily destroy my life.

One thing’s for sure, it’s most unlikely that change will come my way by just sitting around at home complaining about my lot in life. I have to get out as much as possible to meet people, but more importantly I need to reach out to the Lord by positioning myself as best as I can in a place where I might meet with him. I’m talking about stepping aside from the normal daily routine to focus purely upon God. That’s probably easiest at church, though I have to say that my solo walks through the countryside are good as well. Whatever it takes I need to reach out to the Lord, setting aside all that distracts and allowing him into my life. This evening I even made the journey to Trent Vineyard and enjoyed that very different experience.

Isaiah 55:6 ‘Seek the LORD while you can find him. Call on him now while he is near.’ (NLT)

Saturday, February 25, 2012

25th February 2012

Well I tackled a little job this morning and found it quite tiring, which is always frustrating. But I can’t sit around forever. Yes I’m beginning to feel like getting away in my motorhome and that’s not as totally straightforward as in the summer. After a few months just sitting there, the water tanks needed purifying and the whole system needed a pressure test. Last year we had particularly severe frosts, so despite completely draining the system, I still ended up with a burst pipe and split showerhead. Repairing these faults whilst camping might be possible as I carry a repair kit, but it’s so much easier at home. No such problem today though! But the idea of a holiday is to relax, not work. And I’m sure ready for a break, though I’ll hang around for a few more days as my dad’s back in hospital on Wednesday for a repeat biopsy after unclear results a few weeks ago. I’d like to support them as best as I can, but we really need a good outcome from this new test. My brother-in-law is in the middle of a serious cancer battle right now and it’s all getting to be a bit much for my parents. And me. I have a friend awaiting results sometime soon. And then my son-in law has a hole in the heart op to face…

I suppose I’m properly qualified to support any hospital patient, having spent such a lengthy time doing just that over the past 5 years or so. I’ve certainly experienced the horrendous challenge of a cancer journey in quite some depth. And whilst it was only Jane who endured the treatment, which was never easy, I still have to say that the Lord was with us every step of the way. His peace, his guidance and his provision were with us the whole time. I can recall only a couple of brief moments when it felt like the pressure was really too much, and then God intervened with immediate effect. From the very first of Jane’s treatments, I determined that if Jane were to die I would be right by her side supporting her in whatever way possible. That’s exactly how she went. But I really hated it when I was excluded from operating theatres, the thought of losing Jane like that was probably the closest I ever got to being fearful. However for her first major op I went home for a couple of hours to try and switch off. The Lord sent a friend round quite randomly and unknowingly, so he simply sat and prayed with me for a while. A couple of years ago Jane was booked in for a third major op, and during the pre-op consultation it became very clear that this really was not a good idea. The Lord intervened and in the middle of the consultation we were able to contact a source for alternate treatment and agreed to proceed with that. We were never in limbo. And I have confidence that every decision was of the Lord.

We continued to walk down a pathway of God’s peace. He carried us through these ordeals without ever failing to show mercy. It’s impossible to judge how any number of different decisions along the way might have affected Jane’s disease progression, but ultimately we both retained the peace of God every step of the way. And surely he, and he alone determines when our time on earth is finished. No matter what precautions I take to frost proof my motorhome I still burst a pipe. Jane and I purposefully tried to eat healthily and exercise from the first days of our marriage… she still had cancer, and I have no idea how or why. Of course we did our very best to fight this evil thing as well. The only thing that makes any sense at all is walking with Lord, he doesn't always lead us out of trouble, but for sure he’s with us every step of the way. And given our ultimate destination of an eternity in his presence that’s all that really matters.

Psalm 139:16 ‘You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed.’ (NLT)

Friday, February 24, 2012

24th February 2012

After being so ill, I decided to play it safe today by doing almost nothing. Chronic Fatigue is a difficult condition to read though, as later on yesterday evening I began to feel quite a lot better, so much so that I visited my grand-daughter to leave her a birthday card. And so far today I’ve not felt too ill either, just ‘normal’. Nonetheless I’ve had a day of rest to try and make sure I’m properly recovering from quite a serious relapse. So far so good! But it’s not been an unpleasant day, even though my biggest excursion was to hang my washing out for the first time in weeks. Of course it rained within the hour! Yes, I’ve read a lot whilst listening to Mike Harding and then Paul Jones on BBC iPlayer, which was just a little sad as I remember it was Jane who introduced me to Paul Jones Rhythm and Blues programme. I’m more of a purist blues guy really but it passes the time in a nicely pleasant way. As did the more traditional folk programme.

And I’ve made a start with my artwork as well. A very simple outline drawing as a start to reproducing one of Jane’s mixed media works. She rattled off a short series of paintings over a couple of days a few years ago, all inspired by the seafront in Deal. She gave me this one as a birthday present one time and yes they are real sea shells from the beach there.

But not a day passes without contemporary Christian worship filling my home and that’s where my heart is really. Not particularly the American soft-rock style, just the God centred worship that is always so important to me and which that genre makes so easily accessible. So at the moment I’m enjoying Chris Tomlin, but it could easily be Tim Hughes or Matt Redman or Hillsong and a multitude of other albums. I find it fascinating how worship is truly global and the songs we sing in Derby are often used by churches worldwide. Occasionally, say on holiday or maybe as I watch Christian TV, I’ve been intrigued to recognise a very similar message being preached in Churches not just in different parts of the UK but internationally as well. It’s happened so regularly over many years that I cannot doubt it’s orchestration by the Holy Spirit. He truly directs not just the worship of the Church but the message of God to the Church.

I wonder what they’re singing in heaven today. I’m very happy to be wrong but I can’t quite imagine Matt Redman’s ‘10,000 Reasons’ being sung there no matter how much I appreciate it. I do expect Charles Wesley, Fanny Crosby, Isaac Watts and especially King David are still producing new work in great quantities, though with what sort of instrumentation we’ll have to wait and see. I’ve always enjoyed a screaming overdriven electric guitar myself. But whatever the worship of heaven, I’m quite confident that in some way or other it compliments quite perfectly the Holy Spirit worship we enjoy here on earth.

Revelation 5:13 ‘And then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea. They sang: “Blessing and honour and glory and power belong to the one sitting on the throne and to the Lamb forever and ever.” (NLT)

Thursday, February 23, 2012

23rd February

Ok, hands up, I got it wrong, though I’m not exactly sure what! I almost couldn’t get out of bed this morning I was so ill; when I did make a move it was getting on for 10:30am and that’s not like me at all. I managed a few chores before collapsing into my chair for a few hours, struggling even to read my book. It’s only Chronic Fatigue Syndrome I know and I’ve really had enough of this blight upon my life. I just want to get on with living ‘normally’; I can’t be doing with it. But what has brought about this, hopefully, temporary relapse? It’s so easy to presume that making the extra effort required to go swimming yesterday was the trigger, but I’m not convinced. The condition is far more complicated than that and I really believe it was more to do with the underlying stress I live with at the moment. Just coping with normal everyday activities is more challenging than I expected, as I never appreciated how valuable it was to ‘unpack’ the day in conversation with Jane.  So quite recently my son had his temporary employment contract extended until the end of June and I can’t tell Jane this good news. And my oldest grand-daughter had a really good school report and again I have no-one to tell. My son-in-law has a hospital appointment sometime soon to discuss a procedure to deal with a hole in the heart and I’ve got no-one to pray with anymore. Yes, basically every relationship I have, with family and friends, involves success alongside concerns, to greater or lesser degree, and I have to deal with this alone now. I don’t like it. I even forget to ask about some serious things which leaves me feeling rather guilty. Should I have made a ‘fuss’ of my grand-daughter’s hard work in some way? I’ve no idea as Jane didn’t leave me a rule book on that type of thing. She’d know. I don’t.

Although I don’t claim to understand any of it in depth, I was exposed to a certain amount of teaching that Jane had at University. Her first degree was a Creative Expressive Arts course and it seems to me that there is therapeutic value in expressing the frustrations, concerns and unsolvable problems that we all live with. So, rather than bottling them up to ferment into toxic thoughts, it always helps to share in some way… ‘a problem shared is a problem halved’ goes the saying. Obviously that doesn’t work if it is used to gossip or malign a third-party in some way as that simply spreads the problem! But nonetheless we each have to find our own coping mechanisms for life’s challenges. For me it was simply sharing just about everything with Jane… given the intimate and at times embarrassing conversations over years, I can’t believe we had any secrets. We allowed nothing to come between us. I no longer have that privilege and wonder how much of an effect that has on my health. A few years ago I started dabbling with watercolours and began to find that very relaxing, therapeutic if you like. I can’t pretend anything I did was at all accomplished, but I did learn to enjoy the process, I guess until Jane began to go through more severe health problems and I got distracted. I think I’ll go get my pencils and paints out now so I might give it a go tomorrow… oops, I’ve just remembered it’s my grand-daughter’s 10th birthday then, so I need to pop round there as well!

1 Peter 5:7 ‘Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you.’ (NLT)

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

22nd February

Wikipedia Commons Licence in the Public Domain from here 
I went swimming again first thing and that was good. But it’s usually more the challenge of getting there than the actual swim itself. I guess it’s all about perseverance, pressing through the discomfort of winter weather and doubts about being able to cope. I remember thinking a couple of days ago that come what may I would go swimming and expected to only manage say ten lengths. That would have been fine and just reward for overcoming fatigue to get there, but in any event on that day as well as this morning I managed more than double that. I’ve been surprised at what I can achieve once I have a go, though I remember twenty years ago I could easily swim 50 lengths or more without real effort. And that was when I’d damaged my back with a ruptured disc, so I barely used my legs to swim at all. I developed great upper body strength in those days.

Actually I’ve had an interesting few days getting into all manner of conversations with a number of different people. And topics have been particularly diverse touching on medieval British History as well as speculating on the potential future foreign policies of the Syrian opposition should they ever gain power. I’ve been embroiled in the practical details concerning the nature of unity in marriage; so how important is it for a man and wife to find agreement on major issues? Can God's calling sometimes bring division in that very special relationship? And then it was a discussion concerning human diversity… is it possible for the world’s races to have descended from the few people on Noah’s Ark who the Bible suggests are ancestors of all? Then, today apparently Richard Dawkins shot himself in the foot whilst exploiting a survey of Christians which revealed many had very poor knowledge of religion. So 64% of Christians were unable to name the first book of the New Testament and Richard Dawkins attempted to major on this fact… until he was challenged to give the full title of Darwin’s ‘Origin of Species’, the evolutionary biologist’s bible. The bizarre thing is that not only did he fail to recall it but he even made an involuntary cry of ‘oh god’ in the midst of his stuttered attempt. The church canon who’d challenged him very graciously suggested that that type of question was just not a valid measure of belief.

But today I met a guy at the swimming baths who I found quite inspiring. It seems he’s recently been released from 10 months in hospital with a spinal problem. And his problem was caused simply by a good night’s sleep. He’d been a fairly active sportsman playing rugby, football and cricket and the guess is that old injuries had suddenly caused a problem as he stretched in bed. Anyway he woke up on a very ordinary day completely paralysed from the neck down, as vertebrae had moved to trap his spinal cord. He’s regained limited mobility and wears a morphine patch to help manage the condition. We swapped spinal injury stories and our experience in the hydrotherapy pool which I visited for a different problem. But here was this guy who had been good enough to test for Manchester United youth team, and was now disabled, yet he persevered by swimming a number of lengths, quite slowly but he did it. He’s out of hospital and slowly walking into his life again.

I find that an encouraging reminder of the rewards for perseverance. When I damaged my back I spent 3 months on my back in the most extreme pain. I was off work for 7 months in total and returned almost bent double using a walking stick to get about. For a short time I’d even used a wheelchair. Epidural injections as a day patient were well scary but brought wonderful relief! Basically I then swam and prayed my way into recovery. Today I am 100% recovered from that problem and now I have a very different problem to overcome… bereavement. I’ll get there I know and I will make a full recovery, life will not just be good it will also feel good once again. In the mean time I will simply press on by persevering in my faith journey. And God will direct my steps.

Hebrews 10:36 ‘Patient endurance is what you need now, so that you will continue to do God’s will. Then you will receive all that he has promised.’ (NLT)

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

21st February

So the latest weather report says the day has been just about dry, mostly overcast, and with just the barest suggestion of blue sky even with a late afternoon photo from my bedroom window. Yes, no real tears and though the aftermath of losing Jane has certainly cast it’s shadow over the day, at times I’ve felt just a hint of the joy that comes with the hope of eternity in Christ.

I certainly felt fairly reasonable first thing. And my normal Tuesday morning routine is to transport Jane’s mum to her old folks group, however for the second week in a row that didn’t work. Both times she’s forgotten what day it is and last week she even missed the coach trip to a nearby reservoir. At least the staff at the sheltered housing complex had made sure she was up and dressed this week, which was good of them. Of more concern is her health as she has some sort of infectious skin problem, and despite a doctor’s prescription it looks pretty horrid to me. She certainly needed another medical visit asap and was waiting for that to happen. Again, her residential carers are doing what they can but that still leaves me feeling rather upset as that’s exactly the sort of care Jane would have given. She’s in a mess physically, totally depressed and doesn’t want to live anymore. At 97 she has no reserves to draw upon and despite some regular family visits is really quite isolated, compared with living in the family home we shared for so long. I felt quite distressed just spending a short time with her but I’m quite in despair as to how to help. My family home no longer exists and I miss that terribly. I get on surprisingly well with my son and we certainly have a few laughs but compared with having Jane around I might as well be living on the moon. And after years supporting Jane’s battle with terminal cancer, culminating in intensive palliative care in the home, I can’t face end of life care for her mum. I’m all out of give. No matter what the need. I’ll try and visit at least weekly and maybe pray with her but ‘interfering’ in any way with her existing care structure is not going to happen. She’s even broken her phone again and that’s quite a few she’s got through now. Bring back an original Bakelite model and she’d be fine, but progress sure is hard for the technophobic aged.

For some time I’ve been thinking of going away for a short break, but every time I thought about making it happen it just felt like hard work. I explored winter campsite options and found an attractive new possibility on the edge of Delaware Forest near Chester, but then it snowed! A couple of times I looked at continental coach trips, given that I don’t fancy a long haul without shared driving, but I’m not quite ready to take the step of confining myself to the unavoidable company of a group of strangers for a few days. One year, soon after Jane’s first major operation, followed by radiotherapy, we made it to Barcelona on a coach trip and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. We met some really nice people and though the escorted tours were a bit mixed in quality it was nice not to have to be concerned with organising anything. Just go, do, eat, drink and have fun as it were! Anyway, this morning I fired up my motorhome to take it off my driveway for the first time in some months, and simply went shopping! But as a road test and brief taster of life driving a camper I felt stirred again, almost enthusiastic, so maybe before long I’ll find a motorway and go explore a brand new forest experience... the fact that there’s a Bose Outlet Store in the area has nothing to do with it, honestly!

Finished writing early tonight so I’m off to a ‘Creation Ministries’ evening at church, with presentations entitled "Darwin's Theory: Good Science?" and "Dinosaurs & Dragons - Monsters or Myths?" I’ve been exposed to a lot of ‘alternative’ science over the years so I’m quite interested in what they’ve got to say.

Genesis 1:1 ‘In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth’ (NLT)

Monday, February 20, 2012

20th February

Yes today really did feel like long and muddy walk, at times rather hard work. I started the day with determined plans to go swimming, but from the outset I just felt far too exhausted to even consider it. I persevered with tidying up downstairs and sorting the cat out and decided that I really should go swimming. Then I started feeling dizzy with exhaustion. Ugh! But I have to go if I’m ever going to break the cycle of fatigue leading to inactivity, leading to weakness, and then I’m tired after the slightest exertion. I’m still relatively strong and fit but I would soon lose that if I gave up trying. And everything about Chronic Fatigue Syndrome says ‘give up’. I refuse to do that, so as soon as the pendulum of determination swung in the right direction, I simply hopped in my car and drove to the swimming baths. And I managed 24 lengths which I was quite chuffed about, especially as I felt fine afterwards. Indeed I felt so good that I knocked ill health and fatigue completely on the head by walking the long walk at Kedleston after lunch. That’s when my rather uninspiring muddy picture was taken. And this evening I still feel fine. But it sure was a bit of a slog, just not giving in to the easy option of rest and relaxation.

Anyway, I enjoyed the exercise which in a funny sort of way mirrored the perseverance needed to deal with the challenging thoughts I’ve been dealing with. Of course I’ve been thinking about Jane and grateful to have unthinkingly chosen a private changing cubicle at the swimming baths. I normally brave it out in the public area which I don’t really like… far too many naked men for comfort there. I’m shy. However in the brief privacy as I undressed, I started crying, thinking of Jane and the times we’d gone swimming together. And I remembered the communal changing rooms we’d sometimes encountered away from Derby, where everyone used cubicles for privacy, so Jane and I would occasionally share one together. That was much more pleasing on the eye and far less threatening than a men only changing room!

For the rest of the morning I remembered some of the things that have gone from my life, and kept getting upset. But then I went on my walk and started thinking things through. I found myself asking an interesting question… ‘How much am I really missing Jane, compared with missing the life I lived with her?’ The point is, Jane has gone, can’t come back and obviously I miss her. And I get upset about that, but not as upset as a few months ago. I’m beginning to heal as I walk through my time of mourning, and I’m getting used to her not being with me. Being alone is not impossible, just very hard. But what about the life I shared with her, the things we enjoyed doing together? Well for starters I get to walk in the countryside far more often than when Jane was with me, and I enjoy that, so that’s good. My son is turning into a very accomplished cook, which Jane was, so I’m being fed quite nicely, at least at weekends, so that’s good. I still get to go camping and now I can go whenever I want, so that’s good. But these things are but the tip of an iceberg, as there are so many activities which Jane usually suggested we do and now I just don’t think about doing them.

But I could, there’s no reason why not, as I just have to get used to doing things alone. I don’t find that so easy I have to admit, as even on my regular visits to Kedleston Hall, the vast majority of visitors are either couples or family groups. A painful reminder of loss. Nonetheless I have something to start thinking about, actively considering possibilities for re-engaging in lost pleasures. I’ll have to venture out to an art gallery sometime soon, maybe tour a nearby historic house. What about the cinema or even the playhouse? I think I’d draw the line at going out for a meal as that would be weird. It all feels like walking through mud though, but somehow I will persevere with these small steps and my life will continue with a renewal of quality and creative activity. For sure most things I’ve ever done are still available… ok I know I can’t go swimming with a beautiful woman anymore! But there’s a whole world waiting to be explored. I’ve just got to get used to being alone.

Deuteronomy 31:6 ‘Your God, the Lord himself, will be with you. He will not fail you or abandon you.’ (GNT)

Sunday, February 19, 2012

19th February

My garden is what you might call untended and a little wild; though over the years we’ve often worked quite hard at caring for it. It’s just a little too big for me to work nowadays as, although being narrow, it’s 80 metres long. At different times Jane and I almost lived outdoors, I loved it; but this past 9 months I really have completely ignored it. So it’s a bit of a mess, though my kids have helped with basic mowing and hedge cutting. Nonetheless at this time of year beauty springs out of the earth once more. Yes there’s a somewhat sparse scattering of yellow and purple crocus bulbs to compliment the few surviving snowdrops and surprisingly flourishing purple heather in my rockery. For many, many years we had a good show of mixed bulbs every spring until they gradually stopped coming. So three years ago Jane bought maybe 500 bulbs which we spent a happy few days planting, and the following spring they were spectacular. Last year very few resurfaced, and this year I see no sign whatsoever of daffodils and tulips even beginning to grow. Just a few crocuses. No idea what we’ve done wrong either. Maybe it’s the weather, maybe diseased or tired soil, maybe poor quality bulbs, maybe premature mowing? It’s a shame though as I like to see easily managed colour in the garden.

Anyway I’m grateful for and always surprised at the beauty that does quite simply burst out of my otherwise barren garden. My flower beds no longer have a trimmed border, actually they could almost be mowed at the moment; and the rockery is a mess with overlarge plants needing serious tlc. My greenhouse needs dismantling and shipping to the tip, and further down the garden has patently turned wild with 30’ high hedges. Funny thing is, the bulbs I planted there some 30 years ago still give a good show. Just can’t see them from near the house. I don’t deserve the beauty that is there, but there you go, I still get it.

In one sense my life is as barren as my garden, and I feel a bit of a wreck. I don’t suppose I’m that much fun to be with either, though I try to behave ‘normally’ when in company. But and it’s the most amazing BUT, the Lord still shows up in my life… day after day I know his presence, his comfort, his peace. And hope is right there at the centre of my thinking. I just know that he is working for good in all that I am and all that I do; I know that all is well and all will be well as I journey into the future. He deals with the weeds in my life, he neatly trims the borders and at times extends my boundaries. He causes fruitfulness where I deserve only barrenness. He’ll never let me go no matter how messed up my life seems. I have absolute confidence in the Bible as the infallible Word of God and the evidence I find there defines my faith journey. Jane died ‘in Christ’ and enjoys his perfect presence in heaven today. As long as my journey remains with him, one day I too shall meet the Lord Jesus face to face, surely the greatest joy for those who receive him as Saviour. And on that day I reckon Jane will not be too far away sharing in my delight.

Isaiah 61:3 ‘To all who mourn in Israel, he will give a crown of beauty for ashes, a joyous blessing instead of mourning, festive praise instead of despair. In their righteousness, they will be like great oaks that the LORD has planted for his own glory.’ (NLT)

Saturday, February 18, 2012

18th February

Let’s keep busy, let’s keep busy, let’s keep busy! No problem today, It’s been full on since answering my front door just as I was about to start breakfast. No time to think about things; just allowing the flow of activity to carry me along. And I feel all right as well, as it’s been rather satisfying entertaining visitors and then doing my good deed for the day. Yes I was brought up as a good Boy Scout trying to do one every day. Of course it was a late breakfast as I like to sort out the cat and tidy up the kitchen before settling down to eat. Yes, let’s open a window and even light a fragrant candle… why not feel comfortable at breakfast? My eldest turned up for her normal Saturday morning visit and that was nice. I managed to make her cry though as the conversation turned to her mum and we ended up going through some of Jane’s stuff. How can a hairdryer and straighteners cause tears? If I’d simply fetched them to give her, it probably would have been easier; but we ended up working our way through Jane’s wardrobe and drawers together. It’s not that easy looking at everything Jane wore together with other personal possessions for the first time in a long while. It was harder for my daughter of course as I been living with this stuff everyday, albeit shut away in the wardrobe. It doesn’t affect me anything like as much as a few months ago so that’s encouraging.

Anyway I’m short of a few scarves and some other stuff, like my daughter’s mostly unused birthday present for Jane last year... a selection of cosmetics that I would never understand and have no use for anyway. I certainly don’t feel attached to much of Jane’s possessions and will dispose of it in one way or another sometime. Just not yet. I plan on keeping her wedding and engagement rings and a bracelet she’d worn for years but apart from that I’m happy to share. I’ve always enjoyed her artwork so that’ll find a place in this bachelor pad of mine and now I think of it it’s about time to have a painting swap around. Any practising artist produces masses of work and Jane was no exception. She produced quite varied work with suggestions of any number of recognised artists as inspiration. So do I fancy a Rousseau and remember Jane’s leanings towards Naivety; or Picasso and experiments with Cubism; she excelled in drawing with the always Romantic Renoir in mind; Rothko has hung in rooms he never could have imagined as has Degas. Yes a wonderful sketch of the Degas Dancer sculpture would look good. Then over a couple of days she methodically reproduced a whole set of his Bathers series in pastels. But her favourite class at Uni was the Tuesday evening Life Class and she enjoyed the relaxed atmosphere as much as the art work. I can’t quite work out what to do with a whole selection of nude drawings though, and not all as modest as the one above…

So back to my good deed, which more accurately was a joint effort with my son; between us we managed to put together a very usable computer system for my eldest daughter who was living with an ancient machine which needed a serious upgrade. My son had the bulk of what was necessary, discarded after rebuilding his own computer. He always ‘needs’ a top of the range gaming desktop. And now my daughter can do just about anything quite efficiently apart from play the more recent pc games. No problem!

Galatians 6:9 ‘So let’s not get tired of doing what is good’ (NLT)

Friday, February 17, 2012

17th February

It’s been a really quiet day. And aside from a headache I’ve felt reasonably good, even managing a fairly strenuous job cleaning my conservatory roof. But I did have a time of sadness when I picked up my guitar to spend time with the Lord. My favourite all time activity is singing and playing in worship and there’s something so special about the way that God touches us when we open our hearts with praise and thanksgiving. I find the hardness that so easily grows with the ongoing slog of day after day challenge, simply melts away, but sometimes it feels as though spending time in this way is the last thing I want to do. Yes oftentimes I feel pretty grotty, just trying to survive another day, and the thought of quieting my mind and slowing down to reach out to God feels too much like hard work. It’s so much easier to succumb to the temptation of rather more worldly pleasures and their instant and easy distraction. Yes when the work of the day is complete let’s pick up a book, play a video game or browse the net… whatever, it all takes my mind off things. But ultimately only God can restore my life, all else is transient and relatively shallow.

Sometime soon I’ll re-engage, get back in the saddle and turn my attention to more constructive activity. I have a whole list of things I’d like to do, such as practising my guitar. I’m already reasonably accomplished having been playing since I was 12, but I sometimes wonder what I might learn to do with a more disciplined approach. I have a keyboard to spread my wings on as well, but then I came across a very interesting Irish Bouzouki for sale which would help me grow in a totally different direction. Then again I have pencils and sketchbooks, oils and acrylics, watercolours and pastels just lying around waiting for attention using any number of easels. My digital still and video photography is transparently at beginner’s level and could well do with studious attention. I know I could get along to an adult education class or join an art group of some sort to meet people, and then there’s the world of volunteering with opportunities at my church or whatever. The problem is, I’m still grieving and nothing much holds my attention. I feel like I’ve lost interest, motivation is very low. But that’s a temporary condition as I remain determined to walk with the Lord and he’ll lead me on I know. More than that I always enjoy spending time with him once I get past the hurdle of messed up emotions. God is bigger than any problem anyway and that’s why it’s a good idea to share them with him.

So today as I picked up my guitar and started singing I soon found myself moved to tears. The Lord softened my heart and I cried over my personal loss once more. Perhaps it’s necessary for my heart to open in this way, allowing grief to freely flow, in order for progress to be made. There’s no safer place to express the deepest feelings than in the presence of God. Hiding anything away is ultimately pointless as one day all will be revealed. But opening up in that way is not easy and the temptation is increasingly to avoid it. Learning to meet with God in the midst of grief, giving the pain over to him and embracing his peace is the best thing I could ever do.

Matthew 5:4 ‘God blesses those who mourn, for they will be comforted.’ (NLT)

Thursday, February 16, 2012

16th February

Well I’ve kept busy today, visiting the sick, collecting prescriptions and the like. So that’s very helpful as regards my own ill health. Yes I’ve managed to avoid engaging with grief and the inward focus that so easily turns into an outward expression of mourning. And that was despite relating a fairly comprehensive tale of Jane’s cancer journey which didn’t trouble me at all. But it has helped me begin to verbalise some challenging thoughts I’ve been having since losing Jane. I guess I’ve talked about Jane’s final days many times before so all I want to say now is that God’s favour was with her all the way through her treatment, more than that she remained totally at peace, filled with the love of God, no matter what was happening. Of course the banner of hope, under which we cried out to God for healing, waved a final goodbye as Jane entered the restoring presence of Jesus Christ in heaven. But God’s glory is all that matters, whatever pathway we walk down, and he never left us to fight the battle alone.

So, having prayed for years with faithful support from an army of believers around the world, how has that challenged my belief in the power and favour of the Lord? Our pursuit of healing and restoration for Jane in this life was single-minded, and obviously that particular hope was unfulfilled. But is that ok? Is my faith journey damaged? During the four year battle she endured multiple toxic treatments and operations, as well as a private dietary based programme. For some reason Jane asked me to take today’s photo of her enduring a frozen scalp during chemo, on the day ward in Nottingham this time last year. It was designed to save her hair and worked well… she was a tough one my Jane. With every new decision, we prayed, seeking God’s direction and then stepped out in faith trusting in his mercy and favour. We sought the Lord for healing initially from local church elders before visiting prayer rooms across this nation and then the USA. Ultimately the disease progression matched the exact expectation of her brilliant oncology consultant. So then where was God in all that is the obvious question? I suppose there are some questions that can only be fully answered when we meet him face to face, but then again come that day in heaven I expect that the concerns of today will be the last thing we’d want to talk about! Anyway, for sure I know that God intervenes in the troubles of mankind to answer prayer both large and small but I cannot say why he did not allow Jane to stay with me by healing her. He could have, but didn’t. I know she’s better off in heaven, that’s obvious, but I don’t feel that good about it I have to say. Even though I can be happy for Jane I’m struggling to be happy for myself. Bereavement is very painful. So again where was God and also where is God in all this? I may not understand much but this I know, God is with me every minute of every day and always has been. His love carried Jane and myself through a horrendous ordeal and I am confident that he will never leave me, no matter what challenge is set before me.

Having witnessed God’s grace and provision of medical expertise over the final weeks of Jane’s life, as she slowly suffocated to death with massive growths in both lungs, I can confidently say that neither death nor the process of dying holds any fear for me. I’d prefer to wait a few more decades, but I am quite sure that God’s provision is there for all who reach out to him when their time comes. Without God this ordeal would have been almost impossible to cope with, and bereavement after so many years of love would truly have broken my heart. I wouldn’t want to live anymore. But I do! And God’s love fills the brokenness in my life as much as the wholeness he’s been working on for so many years. So when doubts about God answering prayer seem to shake my confidence, I look within and remember the lifetime of favour he’s gifted me. Then I know that those doubts are like tumbleweed blowing through a deserted town… they have no place in my life anymore. My life is filled with the love and purpose and people of God. And always will be. My destiny is secure. As is Jane’s.

James 1:2-8 ‘Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing. If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking. But when you ask him, be sure that your faith is in God alone. Do not waver, for a person with divided loyalty is as unsettled as a wave of the sea that is blown and tossed by the wind. Such people should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Their loyalty is divided between God and the world, and they are unstable in everything they do.’ (NLT)

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

15th February

Not quite sure where I'm going wrong but today’s been a bit of a downer as I just feel absolutely exhausted, very weak and a little dizzy again. The frustrating thing is I reckon I had the best night’s sleep in a very long time, a good 8 hours without waking for a minute and yet I still felt exhausted when I got up. I've not been particularly upset thinking of Jane either, just the normal underlying sadness. Chronic Fatigue Syndrome is a rubbish condition to deal with whilst walking through the challenge of bereavement. I refuse to give up though and will persevere in my determination to somehow climb out of ill health. So today I visited my usual woodland trail and squelched my way around a very muddy track. It was so much easier and cleaner in the snow last week as I now have to hose myself down at the garden tap again. Waterproof trousers and hiking boots are great! The right tools for the job as it were.

So then what ‘tools’ do I need to rebuild my life? I’m not sure if I should ever describe my faith journey as a tool, but that’s picture language for you, and yes, the Lord has to be central in every way to all that I am and do. That’s who I am and that’s who I want to be… a man of God. Unfortunately that’s a work in progress and always will be as I’ve got a long way to go. But I do have to trust that the Lord accepts me as I am and really that’s the starting point of every Christian journey, and still works well for me after 30 years as a believer. And with that understanding come certain non-negotiables such as prayer, living with the Bible as a handbook to life and belonging to a Church. All three have challenges in different ways but I can’t see how you can truly walk with God and not have them in your life.

But what else? My family is right up there at the top of any list as well. I couldn’t imagine living without having them within easy reach they’re so important. Especially at the moment. And whilst I suppose there are a number of trusted friends with whom I’m happy to share all manner of private thoughts and questions, truth be told I’m a bit of a loner. But I’m pretty much sharing the whole of my life in this blog so I guess I’m not really that much of a private person. Just a lonely one without a social life anymore. So why did God have to make women so attractive? Not just physically although that’s always something to be careful about focussing on, it’s more that I miss their company. Having been brought up with four younger sisters and raised three daughters myself I’ve always been surrounded by females. So now there’s me and my adult son home alone and it feels strange to say the least. At least he doesn’t watch football so I’ve succeeded at something as he grew up! Ok I suppose what I’m really trying to say is that my life doesn’t feel right without a woman to share it with, and that’s a pretty big ‘ingredient’ that’s missing. I feel completely lost.

Luke 19:10 ‘For the Son of Man came to seek and save those who are lost.’ (NLT)

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

14th February

Actually, it’s not been too bad a day today. And that’s a pleasant surprise after yesterday’s ordeal. I had another good night’s sleep after retiring earlier than normal feeling totally exhausted, but the big difference today was that I avoided thinking too much about Jane. So no tears, not yet anyway. The trick is to keep myself occupied with a focus that does not allow time to sink into grief. Any prolonged activity can be tiring  so I have to be a little careful, but reading usually works for an hour before I need a change. And the World Wide Web is quite appropriately named as it so easily ensnares, and often can be a complete waste of time. I do find it fascinating though as the variety and number of websites available for access is absolutely huge. The problem is that most of it is either incomprehensible or irrelevant to my interests, and seductively designed to persuade me to get my wallet out. The bulk of the rest is garbage that should never be allowed… I think, though, internet censorship is an interesting debate in itself. And it’s coming whether we like it or not. For me it depends upon who’s doing the censoring. But anyway the tiny bit of the internet that I can use safely is actually really amazing and quite valuable. And it’s not that small anyway. It’s huge. Oh yes, Amazon and eBay, the BBC and Wikipedia, Google News and Google Maps have ‘stolen’ so much time from me. Street View is so useful when travelling to a new location. But then I sometimes get lost in the world of blogs and any problem relating to just about any subject will have someone posting a solution in a group somewhere. It’s all a bit like using a satnav though, as it’s so easy to put your thinking cap aside and leave common sense at home. Blindly follow the little voice and you’re guaranteed to drive the wrong way down a one way street sooner or later. I once had a cross country car journey, 50 miles from home, that for no good reason turned me off a major A road onto a very narrow almost single track into the countryside. I simply presumed it was going to be a time saving short cut, but after a few miles the little voice quite randomly told me to ‘do a U-turn when possible’, before leading me back to the exact same spot on the A road I’d left some time before! I’d like to think that was a programming bug or satellite transmission glitch but I’m more tempted to wonder about the mischief making tendencies of the disgruntled satnav computer programmer. My return journey a few hours later it tried the same trick but I can’t be fooled twice though. Not in one day anyway… unless I’m in France!

Anyway, I digress. Or do I? That’s the whole point, I’m ‘gainfully’ occupying myself with harmless trivia in order to calm the inner torment and cries of grief that can so easily explode and damage my health once again. Yes I’m having a much better day and I need to build upon it somehow. Most years I have to wait until late summer before my health begins to improve. Currently I’ve had a few setbacks, but remain determined to manage Chronic Fatigue and have a flying start to the warmer weather. Then who knows what might happen, I can’t live with this affliction forever surely? If I do what I can to live right surely God will do what he can. And that’s a lot more than any ability of mine for sure.

Proverbs 3:5-6 ‘Trust in the LORD with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take.’ (NLT)

Monday, February 13, 2012

13th February

                                  Copyright © 2010 Microsoft Corporation

What a tough day. And I wish I could get to grips with controlling my M.E. symptoms. The only good thing about them today has been the lack of a headache, which is actually really good as I find them totally draining. I had a really good night’s sleep for a change and when I woke didn’t feel too bad for a change. The problem then was that I couldn’t stop thinking about Jane and ended up getting really upset for several hours. So before long I started feeling very weak and a little dizzy, quite typical of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Fortunately I’d arranged to visit my friend in hospital and that was a good distraction, lifting me out of grief for a couple of hours. I actually enjoyed myself as we solved the problem of how to improve the NHS… yes a retired Ofsted Inspector and Financial Advisor really do have all the answers!

Then we moved on to an equally contentious question regarding disestablishment of the Church of England. The funny thing is that as I was driving home a variation on that same debate continued on the radio. How weird is that? They were specifically talking of the role of Bishops in the House of Lords and their role in rejecting the recent government bill designed to impose a welfare cap. I agree with the former Archbishop of Canterbury who was quite outspoken in his criticism of the Bishops involved. Welfare dependency is a trap that needs dealing with and this bill seems a very modest step in the right direction, at least as it affects the able bodied. I'm not quite so sure about the implications for the disabled and infirm though. But if this is the Christian voice in parliament I can’t say that it represents me at all, and I really can’t see why the church should involve itself in government in this way anyway. Surely the all-important message of the Gospel of Christ and teaching of the Word of God should be the main focus of church leaders? And part of that work would be supporting those who are actually called by God to become politicians not clergy, and opening up the Word of God to encourage Godliness. Each to their own I say, and anyway who is looking after the church when they are sitting in parliament? Ok I'm not C of E, so maybe I'm not the right person to speak on this, but it does feel like a blurring of roles to me, which is a direct consequence of that denomination being established as the national religion. Basically I believe that the pulpit can have a far more influential voice than the benches of parliament, which is by design adversarial, perhaps only rewarding the worldly wisdom of the skilled debater.

Well that was a helpful digression from the world of grief and I really do need to get out more and engage with the real world. Sitting around at home feeling sorry for myself is just not helpful.

Acts 6:2 ‘So the Twelve called a meeting of all the believers. They said, “We apostles should spend our time teaching the word of God, not running a food program.’ (NLT)

Sunday, February 12, 2012

12th February

I feel cold today. Not particularly physically, though there is always going to be a suggestion of that when the weather is still rather icy. No, it’s more relational I guess, though I’m not thinking of the existing close relationships I have with family and friends. I used to love meeting new people, listening to their stories and getting to know them, at least a little. But now I just feel like locking myself away and shutting the world out, which is certainly not a good idea and not really who I am. When I was at work I had a core client group of maybe 600 households and at just about every one I would have been welcomed into the home at a moment’s notice. And I met new people almost on a daily basis. I loved that side of my work, and counted it to be a real privilege to have so many people who were not just business clients, but friends as well. Right now though I’m in danger of becoming totally reclusive. It’s so much easier to process grief when alone and my grief for sure still needs processing. But increasingly the greater challenge has to do with how I move on with my life and what direction I choose to take. If I stay home alone nothing changes, but I do feel safe and in control of my health. If I take the step of meeting new people I find the challenge of engagement rather draining. Chronic Fatigue Syndrome has no obvious outward indicator, neither can the recently widowed wear a recognised sign of ongoing grief. Yet both conditions bring their own demands and inhibitions, so before long explanations are needed, and I start thinking about how much easier it is to relate to people who already know and understand.

Today I ended up in a slightly difficult conversation about my hair length. It was with a guy I’ve known for decades and he’s never seen me with such long hair. He was certainly not remotely confrontational and actually said nothing wrong, it’s just one more of those slightly difficult and rather personal areas that is hard to explain in a brief conversation. I’m not sure if I can put my finger on a single reason anyway. It just feels like the right thing to do… for a season, then I’ll probably smarten up again, act my age and all the rest of it. I quite like being different from the norm though, so let’s see.

And all through the day I’ve felt a little out of sorts, as though things aren’t working as well as they might. I slightly overslept for a start and then dithered for ages trying to decide about going to church as I’d missed the early meeting I normally attend. I could have gone to the second morning meeting which duplicates the first, but felt challenged by the Lord to visit my nearest church for a change. It’s a very different experience from my Elim church with it’s Pentecostal heritage, having a more formal evangelical flavour. Nonetheless I enjoyed the meeting. A good friend of mine normally attends and I was surprised when his wife turned up on her own. She took me aside straight away with effuse, and completely unnecessary, apologies for not phoning to let me know my friend was in hospital. He’d been admitted just a few days ago and ended up with keyhole surgery. The strong suggestion is that he should expect a diagnosis of cancer when the biopsy results surface. I hate the thought of them fighting that particular battle having been there myself. But what can you do about it? Apart from offer transport and the like… I can pray, that’s what I can do. And God still heals in the 21st Century for sure! His love for each one of us is far more than we can ever imagine. There are convicted felons on death row around the world who deserve their conviction, and I could not conceive of my own son willingly taking the place of one of those who deserve death. Yet that is exactly the kind of love that the Lord has for each one of us. Yes each and every one of us will one day die, and we all deserve that penalty for we all are inclined to wrongdoing. Be it in great measure or small is irrelevant, for not one of us can achieve the standards of perfection required to enter and enjoy the glory of heaven. So I for one will be eternally grateful that there was one perfect man, who did deserve the rewards of heaven, who chose to take my deserved punishment that I may receive his deserved reward.

Romans 8:32 ‘Since he did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t he also give us everything else?’ (NLT)

Saturday, February 11, 2012

11th February

I remember last summer walking along this trail wondering what it would be like in winter. And now I know, it’s quite beautiful and I love it just as much as in warmer weather. It’s funny how I don’t get at all bored with the same few routes all the time either as there’s always something new happening. But being the weekend there were quite a few people around and that made a change, especially as everyone was so very friendly. There’s something about snow and sunshine that brings out the best in people when outdoors having fun. I’ve had a couple of encounters with aggressive drivers during the week and begun to despair of meeting nice normal people again. Sometimes it feels as though everybody’s out to get you when all you want is a peaceful life, to be polite and mind your own business. I don’t really enjoy the fast pace of city life, maybe I’ll have to think hard about relocating, somewhere down the line.

It’s almost 9 months since I lost Jane, and I’m not sure whether I’m still moving on. I think my grief journey has stalled at the moment despite being in a very different place from the early weeks and months. In a way I feel trapped. The raw pain of grief and the trauma of initial shock have certainly eased quite substantially. So yes I will be all right one day for sure, it’s just the challenge of engaging with a changed life that I’m struggling with. Finding new purpose is the name of the game. I loved building my family and my marriage. Life was wonderful. I’ve found leading worship teams and church small groups to be particularly fulfilling. My job was always very demanding and highly stressful, occupying some 50+ hours each week, but being able to handle that was always satisfying. Caring for Jane towards the end was a 24/7 occupation and a true labour of love over the four or five years of terminal illness. But today I have no demands upon my time. Not one… unless the never ending round of home decorating counts! Truth be told I’ve shied away from several invitations to get involved at church as I still need time out, though I did a bit of worship leading over Christmas which was enjoyable. I always enjoy spending time with my family and that is mutually supportive, so will always have great value. There’s nothing else though, and I’m struggling to see how I could or should engage with life again. Church has always been a big part of things for me, but at the moment I don’t feel inspired at all. Even though my church is doing all the things that I believe in, with excellent teaching and a great worship team I struggle to feel part of it. Maybe that’s just a reflection of not feeling part of life in any way. I’m still rather broken. Every purpose I had has for sure ended and I’m left with a clear choice now. Do I see my life as a closed book with the storyline complete, or does it have blank pages simply waiting to be written? Pass me a pen somebody… please!

Psalm 139:16 ‘You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed.’ (NLT)

Friday, February 10, 2012

10th February

Some days are just way beyond sadness. I’m trying to avoid the issue by keeping busy, though it’s not that easy. So I managed my swimming exercise this morning with a surprising 28-30 lengths, but am I the only one who loses count after a while? Anyway, that was encouraging and I’m already beginning to feel stronger so that’s got to be good. My son had a day off work using up his holiday entitlement, so he’s kept me company all day researching and shopping for a replacement hard drive and wireless signal extender. I’m determined to resolve my home network problems! Yes life was much simpler with a wired LAN to various desktops around my home, but newer technology now demands wireless which persists in disconnecting. I’ll get there, but though it can be frustrating, especially when trying to media stream, it’s actually quite helpful having a little problem to distract from the larger issues I’m dealing with.

I know I’ve got to move on, to let go of Jane and say goodbye to life as I’ve known it, but my problem is that I simply don’t want to. I’m fighting my own desires all the time. I’m trying to move on, whilst my whole being groans with an intense yearning to go back to how it was. The future holds no real attraction; I can ‘see’ nothing to compare with that which I’ve lost. I really need fresh vision, a new way of seeing things, a different perspective. Somehow I need to find a way to see as God sees, a heavenly perspective. But at the moment I have blinkered vision which is not that helpful. This evening I’ve been thinking that I’d love to be back on the cancer ward, watching the chemotherapy infusion timer, praying that they wouldn’t need to move the cannula again, collecting a massive bag of drugs to take home, setting my phone reminders for the complicated drug timetable, helping with the self-injections for several days, taking careful temperature readings, reminding to self-test urine samples with accompanying colour charts to interpret the degree of liver damage… and all the rest of the horrendous detail of the cancer journey. My point is that Jane was there, and I loved looking after her. It almost feels like that was what I was made for. And now my life is empty and I don’t know why I’m here anymore. If Jane were here she’d sort me out, because she was brilliant at looking after me. I think we were totally dependent upon each other, a matching pair for sure.

Somehow, don’t ask me how, I will get through this, I will keep going and I will have the victory over the emotional distress that is so pervasive. My God is bigger than any problem I can ever face; in him is the answer to my every need. I need him to restore my life, I need to get to grips with the new and that has to be at least as engaging as the old otherwise I’ll keep reaching back. I don’t want to go forwards into any more hospital wards though, I’ll just have the good stuff please…

Psalm 23 ‘The LORD is my shepherd; I have all that I need. He lets me rest in green meadows; he leads me beside peaceful streams.’ (NLT)

Thursday, February 09, 2012

9th February

Another day of struggling to maintain motivation and focus. This pair of cedars at Kedleston are completely unmoved by the recent snowfall. I’m always impacted by the sheer majesty of these trees and being evergreen they never change. So then, I should be writing about my trudge through the snow this morning and how I’m looking to the future, and how I mustn’t become like these trees… unchanging! Ok, well I guess I have some good parts of my life to keep but basically I have to move on from my marriage to Jane. That’s finished. I’m an older single looking for a new life. But the temptation to write another ‘looking back’ blog post is actually, as always, quite strong. I just have to get it out of my system somehow. And maybe it would be more true to life anyway? Yes, I have been fighting the tears all day. So… 

It may sound odd, but I really miss being told off by Jane. And this snap harks back to our meat eating days not that many years ago… and yes I deserved a mild rebuke for playing with my camera when Jane had been hard at work cooking! She loved the little kitchen in our motorhome, though I suppose part of that love was that she was just cooking for the two of us, rather than having to compromise for the larger family. So then, we became vegetarian, a couple of months before Jane was diagnosed with cancer, in a quite dramatic turnaround from our normal beliefs. It was one completely random day about five years ago, when without any previous discussion I felt the Lord saying I should become vegetarian. Whilst I didn’t exactly discount the thought, it certainly didn’t fit my theology or any strong ethical consideration. The next day I can remember Jane and I were driving for a walk in the countryside and our conversation soon turned to that subject. When Jane shared that she’d felt the Lord say exactly the same thing to her the day before we were really left with no choice but to give up meat. And the really ‘strange’ thing was that the Lord instantly took away all desire for meat and it was no effort whatsoever to change. Actually, the opposite occurred, as we found a new enjoyment in the very different menus that we explored with great enthusiasm. For me it’s still more about dietary consideration rather than the ethics of animal husbandry, and the more I hear about how food is produced the more I feel comfortable in that choice. Similar principles apply to my choice to eat organic wherever possible.

Becoming vegetarian was a fairly big decision; although we took it quite spontaneously, we were in total agreement. And even now it’s not a strictly strict thing. Out of politeness as a guest on rare occasions I have eaten meat. Now and again I’ve also eaten my way through non-conforming packets of sweets for similar reasons. But basically my animal product intake is massively reduced. I’m very close to being tee-total as well, in a similar way. And I reckon I’m the healthier for all of this. Anyway I wanted to talk about making decisions. They’re so much easier when two can agree. I miss Jane’s gentle affirmation that I’m doing the right thing, whatever it is. And even more I miss her correction. Yes I can get distracted by the unimportant at times and miss the main thing, whatever that is. I miss having a prayer partner.

Matthew 18:19-20 ’I also tell you this: If two of you agree here on earth concerning anything you ask, my Father in heaven will do it for you. For where two or three gather together as my followers, I am there among them.’ (NLT)