Photo credits

The Embalse de Riano in northern Spain. The picture was taken by .... me!

Wednesday, February 28

Living, Preaching, Working

A dark cloud follows Mrs around the house. It will only evaporate when she can cuddle her as-yet-unconcieved baby in her arms. I can only do so much to help....

I am due to preach to our 9:30 congregation this Sunday - the older and more conservative congregation, which I rarely attend and have never had any fomral role in before. ie tey don't know me, so its a bit embarrasing to stand up and preach to them. Especially when I feel so hypocritical doing so when I am spiritually messed up and struggling to believe. I get to speak on the camel and the needle. So its half a sermon on the uselessness of deeds and half a sermon on the essentialness of deeds. Hard to tie up logically.

My licensing is due two months today. I have the letter from the Bishop saying all is OK, I have been approved etc. So unless I fall into 'serious' public sin between now and then, it will happen.

At work, a minor change is that the law is changing on 1st April, which measn my current arrangement as part of a composite comany will cease to be legal. I will have to establish my own limited company and be a Director and carry legal responsibilities. I am wondering of I should call the company "Charlatans'R'Us"?

Monday, February 26

Gather the broken pieces

This weekend I attended the final year group meeting of my training course prior to my licensing in April.

We each had to do a presentation on our three month placement. ie I had to listen to 17 sermons!.. well sixteen, actually, becasue numebr 6 was mine. It was of course the best and most enlighteneing and stimuleted the most discussion up to that point. I surprised them all by truning up in a cassock and surplice, and spoke about how much my views of vestments (and most things anglo-catholic) had changed during the placement.

But good though my talk was, it was totally outclasssed by the person after me. She was a lady in her 70s, short, clinging to the lecturn to control her nervous shaking, and yet she delivered a fantastically well-prepared talk, whihc he best stand-up comedians would have been proud of, and she had us rolling about in fits of laughter with tears rolling down our cheeks.

Another woman's talk also contained God's word for me for the time - based on the feeding of the five thousand, where the disciples are told to gather up the broken pieces, and of course find that these are more than there was to start with. she was speaking about a placement at a homeless charity, but for me it applied to our own circumstances, where we feel broken and can't understand why this has happened if we were in god's will. yet in the feeding, the bread started off in jesus's hands and it was good and perfcet, yet had to be broken by him so that more could be made of it. and so, i now felt, that we were in God's will, in a perfect place, and yet he had to break it to make it more. THis has helped me to understand some of why god has given us such a rough time of late.

And so I went home, and Mrs was gald to hear what I reported, especially since she could report to me that she had had some blod spotting - which almost certainly meant that she was pregnant again. And so we were ecstatic for 24 hours.

It helped that our youngest, riding his new bicycle on his 7th birthday, was cycling off into the distance on just his second day without trainer wheels!

But the joy was short-lived, since this morning her bleeding has expanded to a full gush and it turns out that it is just her cylce getting back into routine after the miscarriage, and not a pregnancy.

So why did God allow us to be told there was a ripe follicle when we went for the scan? Why did he lead her up the garden path with an appearance of a definite implantation blood-spotting, only for it to be a period? why does he give us these falkse dawns? why the rollercoaster of ecstasy is despondancy?

Why does he put me back in a leadership role for the workpace alpha, discussing "how does God guide us?", when I am really messsed up about these things? How can I preach when i barely believe?

And so I open up my blog to pour out his frustration and rage, and find that the verse of the day in the panel at the top left is This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.” (1 John 4:9)I have been missing the point. I want God's love to be expressed in him solving what I think are the problems, but he shows his love by adressing the REAL problem. And are not my trivia nothing in comparison to what he has done?

Friday, February 23

Really tired

Trying to do too much as usual.

I have my final year group meeting for the Reader training course tomorrow, at which I have to do a presentation on my placement.

It is my son't birthday but I will have to miss most of it. instead, i will take him to the safari park on sunday, whihc means we will miss church, and I am supposed to be on warden duty and I need to swap at short notice with someone.

i should have swapped ages ago but i have been busy preparing for my next sermon - on the passage about the camel and the eye of the needle, for our 9:30 congregation the following Sunday. This will be the first time I am at the front in that meeting, so I am nervous and anxious to do it well.

I have not been sleeping well lately. I fall asleep on the couch when my wife is talking to me, but if for any reason I wake up in the night, I don't get back to sleep again for hours. Typically - wake for toilet at 1:30am - fall asleep again at 6:15 - alarm goes off at 6:30. Consequently grumpy Dad can't cope with kids all day and they get unfairly told off. Part of the trouble is I lie there fretting about things that I can't change. For example the Sexual Orientation Regulations mean that Catholic adoption agencies - which are the best in the country - will have to close, or else act against their conscience. It is now in effect illegal to practice your Catholic faith in this country. And if Catholics are banned from practicing their faith, what does it say about democracy? What does it say for the future of the rest of churches, will they too become illegal? A bit of persecution is said to do the church good, but i can't say I relish the prospect.

Also this week I have had a daughter sick for three days, or more to the point nights.

My wife's arthritis is such that she can no longer pull the duvet over herself at night, and I tell her to call me but she doesn't dare to wake me up when I am not sleeping well. (We sleep in separate beds owing to her illness, so that she can be comfortable)

I have also lead the latest session of the workplace alpha - whchwas OK but not brilliant, and i am in the support role next week.

I am also supposed to be leading woship at another church service shortly. And I am not sure i am up to it.

Work has been hard lately, in that it has been quiet, and I hate trying to look busy.

My mortage is up for renewal, and we have decided to see if we can get an additional advance to have the basement improved - since my sons' beds are currently pushed against damp walls in there. the job will cost £40,ooo, so i am having stressful meetings with mortgage brokers and dealing with sums of money that are small compared to my £multimillion Civil Engineering projects, but look very big for a domestic budget.

And while i am busy, it serves to emphasis to my wife that she is not.

Lately she has struggled to get out of bed with arthritis in the morning, and she has also had to look after the sick daughter, but basically her future looks blank. and so she is oversensitive to any slight indication of pregancy, real or imagined, in her belly.

Oh yes, also, my 79 year old mum has just had a pacemaker fitted. her heart rate dropped to 30 and she was probably dying, but they fixed that problem. But now she has gone to the other extreme with a rate of 120. they are tring to get her to the specialist as soon as possible next week. My 83 year old Dad has angina, cancer, and failing eyesight. he can no longer watch TV or more importantly read the Bible, which has been his life for the last 75 years or so, and his legs don't work properpy owing to age-related problems in his spinal chord.

The mother in law is going to have a hysterectomy. Unless it is just the latest in her usual game of "any desease you have, I have a worse one".

Well, what is the point of a blog if you can't have a good moan form time to time?

My next post will be positive and uplifting, I hope!

Monday, February 19

Back at Church

On Saturday I watched the film "In America" with Mrs.

This is a fantastic film, mainly about coming to terms with the loss of a child, and is partly autobiographical. Losing a child that has been born and cradled in your arms and that you have watched grow and have held conversations with is clearly far worse than my own experience with miscarriage. But since our own loss was more than just the baby but also all of the plans and dreams attached to it, we felt the message fo the film was very relevant. We cried. And we felt better. And afterwards I felt that I could go to Church in the morning, and actually worship for the first time since the miscarriage.

In the morning, Mrs told me that she had been up all night, unable to sleep because fo the rheumatoid arthritis, which has flared up as a consequence of the miscarriage. She cried. She felt that even now the miscarriage won't let go of her and let her move on. Having planned to go to church, she now felt she couldn't go, partly through sheer exhaustion but also because the problems were still overwhelming her. She went back to bed.

I carried on with my chores. I was supposed to be going to the early service, but now had to cancel. I stayed at home and wrestled with my kids. [I won, even against those who are bigger than me now]. I laughed. But in private I also cried - deep belly sobs, for the first time in years. I told God I couldn't cope any more. And I cried out to Him to heal her. Again. And again.

At about 10:30 I started telling the kids to get their shoes on ready for the 11 o'clock service. And Mrs emerged from the bedroom, dressed! So my prayer was beginning to be be answered!

We walked to church, slowly as she hobbled along like an old lady, taking 15 minutes over the normal 5 minute distance.

As we arrived, our cell group leaders responsible for our pastoral care, who had been conspicuously absent when all we needed was just a card from them, came up to us and made a public show of embracing us and welcoming us in. We barely resisted the urge to thump them.

The service was one which I would normally have raved about, with good songs and a powerful sermon. But it is hard to sing songs of love to the one you feel has wounded you and let you down. You know theologically in your head that that is not how it is, but that is still how it feels in your heart. And so for most of the songs, while the congregation danced and waved, we could only sit on the back row with tears streaming down our faces.

The sermon was about trusting those who have let you down, so it was very apt, and we felt God spoke to us through it.

Afterwards, still not really up to talking to people, we made a sharp exit and headed to Pizza Hut (a reward to our kids who all got exceptionally good comments from the teachers at their various school's parents' evenings).

In the evening I was supposed to be leading the evening service as part of my training, but they had phoned me during the week asking me to let the Vicar do it for some programming reason, and I was only too happy to oblige.

Today I couldn't get out of my turn to lead the Alpha Course group at work. "Session 5 - How and why should I read the Bible?". It went OK, but one does feel very hypocritical taking on the role of Christian teacher when one is so messed up and lacking faith inside.

Now I know that this will all work out well in the end - that is the whole point of me having a blog and writing about the ups and downs of the Christian life. But it is rough!

Thursday, February 15

Moving On / Paris [Chapter 1]

Well I’m having a dreadfully dull day at work so I might as well spend time on the blog – though I had more or less given up on it since it was taking to much time and too much emotional energy engaging in debate on other blogs.

Mrs has finally stopped bleeding, nearly 4 weeks after the main miscarriage and 6 weeks after it started.

It has been a major blow to her physically, emotionally, and spiritually, but I think things are finally beginning to pick up. It’s perhaps hard for any new readers out there to appreciate how the miscarriage devastated the whole of her life. The pregnancy was THE PLAN to resolve an ongoing mid life crisis, and an on-going sense of rejection in various walks of life. More importantly, we felt it was the path God had sent us on, and so when it failed we had a lot of questions about whether we had heard correctly from God, whether God does in fact give detailed guidance for day to day life, how much prayer works and how much life is predestined (in love of course) regardless of how we pray. For example, my daughter’s class at her Church of England school had been praying specifically that the pregnancy would be protected against miscarriage. So that means that about 30 children who might have developed a faith and belief in the power of prayer will no longer have that belief. Can God then blame them if they lack faith later in life?

Another factor was that for Mrs this baby was going to be her passport to renewed activity in the children’s work at church, from which she has felt excluded in the past. And yet the people that she would have to work with in that work are the people who have wound us up most in the aftermath of the miscarriage – everyone else in the church ahs expressed sympathy and sent cards, but these particular people – one being our cell group leader tasked with our pastoral care, has not sent a card and has cold-shouldered my wife when she could have been a real comfort. I can’t tell the whole, story here, but we feel really betrayed by the people who should have been there for us when it counted, and these are the people Mrs was hoping to work with in her grand solution to life, and yet can’t now stand being in the same room with them. So there are still huge frustrations and issues to deal with, and the big question of her life remains unresolved.

But it is not all doom and gloom. We also received a nice card from some other people that we have found difficult in the past, and so this may be an opening for better relationships there.

Also, while Mrs was still pregnant, I booked a three day break for us in Paris as a Birthday present. This was to be a case of ‘if we don’t do it now we never will’ sine the baby would put an end to travel for a long time. In the end the holiday became more of a therapeutic break, part of comforting her after the miscarriage. Easy Jet got us there and back in relative comfort, though we had to sit separately on the way there and coming back it was clear that the French skill at organising railways does not extend to organising the boarding of planes.

We stayed in a two-star hotel. Originally this was supposed to be “Hotel Modern” at Rue Forest near the Moulin Rouge, but when we arrived for our pre-booked room they said it was being refurbished and that they had moved us to another hotel just out the back, with better rooms and a quieter area. Well it was quieter, because it was a long walk from anything useful. (Hotel du Roi Rene in Batignolles), and the ‘better rooms’ were dingy and small. The shower was hot but barely dribbled, and the electric socket was loose. I would not recommend either hotel to my worst enemy.

Moving On / Paris [Chapter 2]

Despite all this we had a fantastic time. Our main objective was to sit in cafes absorbing the atmosphere, rather than rushing round sightseeing. So we had lunch in the CafĂ© Panis opposite Notre Dame (very good), we had cappuccinos in cafes looking onto the Arc de Triomphe and Sacre Couer, and the Place du Tertre in Montmartre where the artists do their stuff, and had coffee from a kiosk looking at the Eiffel tower. We cruised on the seine, shopped on the Champs Elysees, and walked around St Germain, Montmartre and various other areas each of which had its own atmosphere and culture while still being typically French. This included a walk past the famous Moulin Rouge, and on down the street which we knew was the red light district but were still taken aback by how explicit some of the posters where, with only the smallest stickers censoring the ladies’ naughty bits. For those of you who have read my blog in the past and issues of pornography in our marriage, you will understand that this was difficult for both of us. From my part all of my past addictions were straining to be released again, in total conflict with my opposing urge to demonstrate to my wife that I am now OK in this area. From her part, she could tell that it was having a strong effect on me, which she found upsetting. We also went into Sacre Couer, which was very peaceful but full of posters preaching Catholic theology that I couldn’t agree with. And we also went into Notre Dame while a mass was taking place. I really enjoyed this. There was a real sense of awe and majesty. When the priest said “behold the lamb of God which takes away the sin of the world” it was really a powerful statement, with the church members forming a large congregation in the centre and thousands of tourists clustered around the edges. Of course I have to take issue with the fact he was probably referring to the wafer in his hand, but even from my own strongly Protestant perspective I was strongly conscious that the priest was preaching the gospel to people who might otherwise never hear it, and although I would argue he preached it imperfectly with many Roman Catholic distortions of the truth the word of God is powerful enough to overcome those imperfections and call people to himself in that context. I really felt that God was present.

So, before the Holiday, Mrs announced that she would try to make a concerted effort to return to God on her return. And I believe that this will have been part of that return.

I should have mentioned that we left our children at home in England, with our 16 year old son in charge assisted by the 15 year old. Number 3 was our main concern, being of a very different personality to the others and hence at the centre of most rows. So we announced that while he wasn’t old enough to share responsibility with numbers 1 and 2, he was old enough to do his own thing, and so we gave him a supply of pies to heat up and money for the chip shop. So with him feeling proudly independent, we managed to separate out the main source of trouble without causing offence to anyone. The youngest two spent one night with friends. We returned to a tidy and peaceful household, so either it all went very well or they have hidden the evidence!

Mrs is now feeling much better. On Wednesday she went for a scan and was finally given the all-clear. They also announced that she had a ripe follicle ready, should she wish to start trying again. And so she came home in a very good mood, and without giving too much away she is making me very happy too.