Friday, 23 September 2011

Messing About On The River

I've had a lovely day today.  Most of the time when I book a day off work, it's to do housework or something else domestic, but this year I promised Sam and Eleanor I'd try to take more time off to spend with them on school trips.  This has meant working quite late some evenings to work up the flexi for the days off, but it's been worth it to just spend time with each of them.

There seems to be something really special about having your Mum come along on a school trip.  Eleanor thoroughly enjoyed having me come along and leading her group.

Today we visited the Henley River and Rowing Museum.  It was a beautiful day, great bunch of kids, river ride up and back through the lock and a visit to the Wind In The Willows exhibition.  The River Thames is stunning.  I realised today I need to take the kids to more places like this - we live by some beautiful river areas and locks.  As a kid I used to spend a lot of time at Boulters Lock in Maidenhead, where I grew up.  I would cycle to see my best friend in Cookham every week and we'd swim across the river there and I used to canoe at Hurley sometimes too.

Sunday, 18 September 2011


Saturday, September 17, 2011 4:20 PM, EDT

I wish I had good news, the thing in her brain turned out to be a stroke. Her blood pressure never really recovered and she was suffering multiple organ problems. She fought the good fight but succumbed to her bodily failures this afternoon. 

She died surrounded by family and friends who were in attendance as she ascended. It seems that God has need of something that needs done!

I wish I could say that I was able to read to her all of your good thoughts and prayers but she wanted me to tell you that I read sone to her and she appreciated each and every one,

May the peace of the Lord be with you all.
These heartbreaking words were written by Heather's husband, Scott.  Heather was 42 years old and the mother to Abby 10, and Ellie 8, two adorable young girls who are far too young to lose their Mum.

I've never met Heather, but she was a friend.  A friend I made over ten years ago not long after I'd had Joshua.  I was considering returning to work and the ante-natal group I was with was very anti in a different way - anti mothers returning to work, and instead of showing me support and encouraging me with the extremely difficult situation I faced, I was made to feel like the worst mother on the planet.  I found a website called BabyCentre, looked on the working mums board to see if there were other mums like me who felt wretched about having to return to work, but they were few and far between - in fact the whole site was slow and rarely visited.  So I turned to the US 'Working Moms' board and boy, did I find a huge welcome there.  I also found Heather.

For many months a huge group of us would post about anything and everything to do with our lives as Mums.  We got through teething together, eating problems, sleep problems, returning to work issues, learning to budget and juggle childcare and doing all the things a mum does, plus a full time job.  You name it, we shared it.  We talked about our beliefs, our faiths, our dreams and hopes for our children.  We also compared birth stories, bemoaned our jelly bellies and discussed planning our next pregnancies.  I shared about Joshua's food intolerances (one of the Mums on there was also on the food allergy board and led me there for advice I would never have found in the UK).  We shared our joys at our babies developing, passing milestones, we shared sleepless nights, we bounced ideas off each other, we moaned at each other and we had a lot of laughs together.  After a while we started to receive nasty posts from very militant SAHMs who really didn't understand who we were or why we worked.  It became an unpleasant place for us to be.  Also, as a close group we found we were dominating the board, so one of the Mums decided to set up a separate board away from BabyCentre which was closed invitation only and I was overjoyed to see the e-mail inviting me - I was and remain the only British Mum on that board and I feel honoured and privileged to be part of such a wonderful group of caring, loving and considerate women.  Women who cover all walks of life, we have Mums in the field of law, engineering, forensics, accounting, admin and many more professions - all united by one common factor - we started off as mums who worked outside the home.  We are now a mixed group with some who have managed to beat financial pressure and debt and have stepped over the boundary and now stay home with their kids.  We were overjoyed for them when they managed this and the diversity of our group dynamic in this respect has made us even closer.

Heather was also in this group - in fact, she still very much is.  Her overwhelming joyous and  vibrant personality will ensure she remains very alive on our board.  We've shared more than ten years of living her life with her online.  She has shared about her girls growing up, about her work, how much she loves her husband, church, her friends and just about anything we've randomly posted about.  She was a very clever woman, very in tune with people's feelings and able to just say the right things.  Her posts were hugely encouraging and at times so funny you'd have to read through a haze of tears through laughing so much.

Many of us have not met - some have - I'm yet to make it to a get-together - I am determined one day I will and Andy knows the importance of these ladies in my life.  Some people may find it weird and freaky to get close to somebody you've never met, but this is the thing about this group - we're real.  We are real women, real Mums, real wives and girlfriends.  We just live a long way from each other.  Ten years ago, a group like this was unheard of - we were very unique in how we operated and it's not without any surprise that Heather was in this group. I can't imagine what it would have been without her.  We loved her posts, we loved her wit and humour, we loved her words of encouragement and her ability to open up about herself and let us see just what wonderful woman she was.

We've seen triumphs on our board - we've celebrated when a friend has beaten breast cancer, we shared the anguish of one friend being diagnosed with Graves Disease, we've cried over miscarriages, we've fumed over absent fathers not doing their things for their kids, we are great friends with a Mum who has a child with mental health problems, we've smiled from ear to ear when a pregnancy has been announced and we've gone gooey over pictures of newborns, we've posted pics of our kids starting school.  We are a family - a very close family, so close in fact, that in the past we've had other women want to join our board as they know it's so supportive and we've had to reluctantly turn them away because it would rock the dynamics of just how strong we are as a unit.

But our unit has been struck by the biggest bolt of lighting yet.  Of all the challenges we have faced as a group and individually, nothing has been as immense as the battle Heather faced.  She complained of her back hurting as far back as April and posted regularly about how it was affecting her comfort at work, how she couldn't sleep, how it had sucked the fun out of summer for her, how she was getting all sorts of different treatments.  She was a fit woman, training for triathlons, working at a good job and enjoying the everyday normality of being a Mum to two beautiful girls, being Scott's wife and a much loved friend to the huge, huge group of people around her. 

Heather once mentioned how energetic her parents were and how she wished when she was their age, she had their energy for when her own girls had children of their own. When we discussed other things involving kids she said she had thought about how sometimes it's better not to tell some kids about bad stuff until it's about to happen, especially if they're the type to worry and fret.  It's a cruel irony now that she won't get to be energetic when her girls grow up and that her girls are now having to cope with the most horrific bad news a child can be given. A cruelty in their young lives they will never get used to.

Heather went into hospital two weeks ago due to her chronic back pain.  She posted to us that she was having tests done and would likely be in hospital for a few days.  She posted briefly on Facebook that she had 'pan can in liver'.  That's the last we heard from her.  We have kept in touch with Scott about her condition and we have cried bucket loads at hearing the doctors had confirmed she had pancreatic cancer which had spread to her liver. She never had time to digest the news and get her affairs in order.  She never even had time to start fighting the disease. We were stunned when just six days later we lost our beautiful friend.  Our vibrant, funny, nutty, triathlete Heather.  

Our prayers and thoughts are with Scott, Abby and Ellie and also Heather's Mum and Dad.  Heather had a huge real life support group and we know that the family will be well cared for.  Heather was a believer and through all the angst, pain and grief, the only consolations are that her pain was brief and that when it ended she was able to run straight into Jesus arms.

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Remembering 9/11

As today marks the 10th anniversary of the chilling attack on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and the fatal hijacking of Flight 93, my thoughts like many others have turned to what I was doing when it happened. A day's unfolding etched indelibly on my mind. I wasn't born when either of the Kennedy brothers were assassinated or when John Lennon was shot. I don't remember Elvis dying as I was only five years old. I recall Aryton Senna's fatal crash quite vividly and that of Princess Diana and it's this recollection of 'celebrity' deaths that got me thinking about why we always seem to put an emphasis on remembering where we are when these things happen.

For 9/11, I was at work.  It was early afternoon and along with a colleague I was researching information for our latest publicity leaflet about one of the theatres of the Second World War.  Ironic that my work too centres around mindless global violence.  Engrossed in our reading the door suddenly burst open and our manager told us the World Trade Center had been hit by an aeroplane.  Like the rest of the world the thought of such a terrible accident happening shocked us and our thoughts immediately turned to the people in the building.  My later thoughts focusing on those poor souls in the aeroplanes didn't surface until quite some time later.

The building where I work has a top floor that is a social area.  We have a lounge area and TV and as the events unfolded, more and more colleagues came to watch the news.  As we all started to take in the possibility it was a terrorist attack and the first mumblings of Al Queda were mentioned, it was then with a chill running through me and a nausea in the pit of my stomach I saw that second plane hurtle through the air.  It seemed at first it would miss the building, but then that sickening turn and angle to deliberately impact the building - that's what stood out.  Even now, watching that plane fly in, I want to put my hand into the screen, wrap it around the plane and pull it out of the air so it doesn't crash. 

Nobody spoke, nobody gasped.  Some stared at the screen, some stared at the floor, some just stared at each other - total disbelief knowing that at that very moment, whilst we were standing safe in our workplace we were watching people die - people, who just like us had turned up for an ordinary day at work.  They weren't celebrities, world leaders or royalty.  Just men and women going about their business.  We saw bodies falling, people blown from the building by the blast, people running through the street in the huge cloud of dust, running for their lives - how many people succumbed to the suffocation of that blast one can only imagine.  I remember vividly the telephone call released of a man on the line to the fire department begging the firemen to find him as the room around him billowed with black smoke, then his scream .. the call abruptly ending because at that point, the building collapsed.

I'd like to think that things in this world will get better.  But globally I know they won't.  When the world cries out for hope and peace, my thoughts are that these words are futile, unless you have the certainty of believing there will come a day when there will be peace, when Jesus returns to the earth to restore His kingdom to that he intended when Garden of Eden was first created.  We can question why God allows these evil acts to happen and we can call on Him to intervene, but our expectation of Him just stepping in has to be realistic that if He is to step in, just where would we have Him stand?  Do we ask Him to wipe out all the terrorists currently plotting and scheming to commit atrocious acts, or do we go one step back in the chain and ask Him to take out all the people indoctrinating these men and women to become terrorists?  Do we then ask God to take out their children too, for fear they may become like their parents, and then the neighbours, as they must have been exposed to some kind of dangerous thinking along the way?  How do we categorise evil?  Surely anything that has an intention to harm another is a form of evil?  Do we ask God to take out house burglars - their actions are deliberate and wrong - and harmful to others?  Do we ask God to take out our own children as they fight with each other and then lie to get themselves out of trouble and lay the blame on each other?  Do we ask God to take out our spouses as they insult us during arguments and refuse to take any blame for their actions?  Either way we look at it, we as humans are harming each other every day, even the people we love and who claim to love us - should extremism be the only reason we call upon God to intervene?

So, whilst we lament a world full of scorn, terror and sorrow, we also rejoice and find comfort in God, who does care.  God, who has given us comfort that although these things will happen, His plan is righteous, just and perfect.  I'm yet to understand just how this all fits together, but I have faith that one day, when I stand before Him, I'll understand why men committed that act on that dreadful day ten years ago.

But until that day, my thoughts return to those poor people, some of whom probably just for a fleeting few seconds saw the planes head towards their office windows.  The passengers who knew seconds before, they were going to die. People in the lower floors hearing the deafening crash of the building above them collapsing and knowing they'd never make it out alive.  The 'jumpers'.  Families watching in horror as they knew their loved ones had gone - wives and husbands receiving mobile phone calls to say goodbye. Women carrying unborn children who would never meet their Daddy, toddlers and schoolchildren left at schools waiting for their Mummies to come pick them up, but never did.  Relatives waiting at airports for planes that never landed.

We must never give up on God.  We must never give up on each other.  With prayer and forgiveness we have the power to make some parts of the world a better place.  The part of the world where we live, where we interact daily.  We have the power to love the people around us, not to let bad feeling fester - to share in joys and heartbreaks and to support each other when in need.  Let's remember not to let 9/11 hold us back.  Let's look forward to a day when evil WILL be conquered.

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Marriage - Revising and Refreshing

In all walks of life you will meet experts.  Experts on finance, HR, marketing, building, athletics, decorating ... you name it, there is probably a qualification somewhere that covers some aspect of it.  But nowhere, is there an expert on every aspect of marriage.  It's easy to become incredibly complacent about how you conduct your life alongside the person you have devoted yourself to and it's easy to become caught up in the mechanics of day to day life, living alongside each other, but not with each other.  
Show me a married couple who insist their marriage is perfect and I'll show you either two liars, two very disillusioned people who haven't quite realised they're married or two people whose lives are so far apart, the chasm between them has become so normal, they don't see the abnormality of it.  Marriage is hard work.  At times it is heartbreaking, lonely and confusing, but mostly you wonder how you'd ever live without that person and the rewards of sharing your life with them are immense. 

So many people now enter marriage flippantly, blinded by the notion that it's akin to their career path.  If they get fed up with a job or it doesn't pay the rate they want, they move on.  If the spouse gets a bit boring and the responsibilities become monotonous, they move on.  For some that do stay the course they think by the time they've clocked up a decade together, they've got the whole thing nailed.  I'm sometimes cynical like this as I've clocked up 14 years of marriage and find myself at times thinking I'm a bit of a guru when it comes to certain problems and how to deal with them. There are many challenges within marriage I can confidently expertly advise on because I've experienced them and there are some challenges I know nothing about because I haven't.  Having gone through some very challenging moments, I can see things from the same platform as the poacher turned gamekeeper, but even my advice has the danger of becoming flawed because of the complacency of time and familiarity.  At other times I can be the best person to speak to and my advice can be well received and heeded.  But as I said, nobody is an expert on every aspect of marriage.

So, how do you deal with this?  How do you keep your marriage alive and fun?  How do you still love that person the way you did on your wedding day?  How do you learn to love them more?  How do you live as one, yet remain as two individuals?  How do you get through problems? How do you forgive?  How do you move on and how do you look back and choose to reflect on the good times and not throw up the bad ones?  How many of us married couples really take time to evaluate our marriages and treasure them for what they are and what the years have given us?  Do we really stop and think about what our marriage means to us?

Having gone through a separation and reconciliation, I can say that I have evaluated my marriage.  Andy and I both had to evaluate it.  We had to look at what God had given us and what we were doing a mighty fine job of destroying.  We had to stop and think where we stood before God and before each other and we had to look at very uncomfortable situations we were finding ourselves in.  We learned that the best support for us were couples in solid relationships or people in no relationship.  People with faltering marriages of their own proved toxic to our efforts to rebuild ours, so we had to distance ourselves.  We found some couples with seemingly healthy marriages took sides with one or the other and that created wounds and distrust, moreso because we asked them not to.  Because of this, rebuilding our marriage broke friendships as we found some people actually enjoyed taking sides and creating tensions between us - it staggered me particularly how two faced people were.  We had to sever previous friendships which was heartbreaking, but necessary.  The rebuilding of those friendships will hopefully return one day, but in order to save what was precious, sacrifices had to be made at the time.

Going back to the basics of anything in life is a good thing.  It's refreshing to remind ourselves why we made a certain choice, why we chose to be where we are or why God chose to put us where we are.  It's healthy to go back and repoint the bricks upon which we've built our lives, to rediscover the simple pleasures and attractions that have led us to where we are now.

So Andy and I have booked ourselves on The Marriage Course.  Seven sessions covering various aspects of marriage and how to build on them.  You may well think that after nearly 16 years together and over 14 years of them being married, we'd have run out of things to talk about or build on.  But that's why.  We don't want to become flippant, stale and stagnated in our marriage.  We don't want the newlyweds thinking we're a pair of past it old timers whose marriage consists of bringing up children and working.  We have so much more than that together.  We've weathered many storms throughout our marriage and we've also seen many rainbows, but the fundamental foundation for me and Andy is that our marriage stays strong, alive and God centred.  We're really looking forward to it and to having many more fantastic years together.  We know it won't always be perfect, but we will always remember that God made our marriage and remains in the centre of it.  Taking time out once a week to rediscover parts of our relationship that could so easily be lost, to pick up where things have become stale and just to spend time alone talking about the two of us and not the kids, finances, shopping and 99 other things will be fun, thought provoking and essential.

So, whether you've been married one year or 25 years, never be afraid to look back at the basics.  Don't get caught up in thinking that because you tell each other you love each other every day and you text or message one another or you get through a day without an argument, that you have nothing more to give or receive.  You do.  You both do.