Looking for Europe 2: BCDO South, finding the light shines in the darkness

May 27th

We were woken by distant thunder on show day #2. I’d arrived at the BCDO festival campsite late the previous evening and met up again with Jude, M, and some other fellow UK fans, and we were all camped together. We had a chilled late evening and morning hanging out on the campsite together, drinking Switchfoot related beverages, eating chocolate, dodging rain showers and jamming Switchfoot and Brooms songs together.

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Eventually we wandered onto the festival site, went over to Switchfoot’s merch stall where some of my friends picked up their first ever items of merch, and then went over to the interview tent. As hoped, the guys were indeed giving an interview that afternoon, so we all met up again to watch that.

You can watch the interview here. Romey and Jon were interviewed this time, we got a wave hi from them at the start. Bizarrely, and I’m still confused about why, Kitty Jon* got pulled up on stage and Jude had to explain it! They talked about honesty, hope, what success means as an artist… which is the heaviest vegetable… and as Jon was talking about the chaos and madness of what can happen in live music he shot just a tiny split-second glace in our direction with a twinkle in his eye! Jon got asked did they ever get told stories from their fans about what their music has done, and he looked at me and smiled, ‘Yes all the time, someone here was at our show in Amsterdam…’ At the end there was a great question about how they don’t like to be boxed in by labels but ‘where are you most comfortable, leading worship or reaching non Christians’? Jon’s response was very deep and wise and inclusive; we’re all searching, all hungry for something bigger, Christian or not, God doesn’t draw lines between us but sees us all as His children. But I noticed he referenced something I’d written to him (whether consciously or more likely not), that what he does is always his worship, ‘worth-ship’, when you sing you take people with you.

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The afternoon was rather dominated by chaos and chasing round trying to find out what was happening with VIP. Eventually through running back and forth we found tour manager Chico and got in. Tim was with his family so wasn’t there but I met the others and we asked each other how we were – they were much better having had a wonderful day off in Brighton with Martin Smith (who I spotted backstage too!), but I told them about my bus journey: ‘This is what I do for you guys!’ 😀 Drew asked what I thought of the festival, and I had to be honest and said it felt a bit of a weird bubble! A guy was there from the Philippines, he was so happy as it was his first time meeting them, and he got to speak to Romey. I got a hug from Romey, who asked where the cat was: ‘In here (pointing to my bag) – but I tell you what, I’ll let the cat out of the bag’ 😀 (Jon then made precisely the same joke!) I got a picture with Jon and Kitty Jon; real Jon said ‘Some people are cat people; some people are Cat People. I’m Cat Man – you got Cat Woman, we need Cat Man!’ 😀 On seeing the photo afterwards one of my friends pointed out that Jon was dressed almost identically to Kitty Jon, and indeed it would have been perfect if he had been wearing his hat! Switchfoot were talking to Jude about Amsterdam and she said  she loved how they improvise the setlist, so I jumped in and told them I was waiting for them to stick in Healer of Souls as so many British fans were into that one… let’s see 🙂

Jude also remembered to ask the question we’ve all been wanting to know the answer to; what is the little end track on New Way To Be Human?? Jon answered right away: ‘Chin 105 – it’s a fake radio station!’ :O 😀 It’s a jingle?! :O I told him there’d been a lot of theories going around; he liked ‘chew on a pie’! 😀

And then wow the concert!! We got pretty much front row or nearby, and were treated to a full hour of epic rock! They did not play Healer of Souls, nor any of M’s other picks (he’d said they would be neglecting their duty to rock’n’roll if they didn’t play that, Holy Water, Bull In A China Shop or Where The Light Shines Through!), but it was still awesome; they rocked up Gone again, and played us Stars, We Are One, Your Love Is A Song (that solo gets more awesome every time!), and opened with Float this time. It was a great set of songs that spanned their career, and I definitely felt they did not neglect their duty to rock! I particularly loved hearing them play so much from Nothing Is Sound, that album is very special to me.

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And then…

After a wonderful evening, we got word of an aftershow over at the chapel. And disaster struck. We rushed down there, to find a security guard and a locked gate; that part of the site would not be open until 10:30. The tweet had said 10. Tried another gate; same result. Went back. No luck. Tried the second gate again. By this time I had got separated from everyone, and the crowds were building up around the very small gate and beginning to press in. And I broke. The chaos out there and the chaos in here collided; the first thing was the heartbreak of being shut out from the aftershow. Then the pressing crowd and the anxiety around that; I felt like I might be hurt, I got scared. Then the despair on having to duck out and return to my tent. Then alone in the tent, all my most painful thoughts assaulted me…

Depression won that night. If he’d have said 10:30, and/or I hadn’t been ill, and/or his music didn’t mean so very much to me it would have been ok, but it was as it was. I just couldn’t stop crying. It went far beyond a missed aftershow into some very painful places. I let the thoughts assault me, let the tears come, and tried to hang on through it all, every let up in the assault a chance to take some deep breaths and pray and search for light and hope, until I could clearly see the brightness of everything good that had happened so far, and the strength of hope, standing in strong contrast to the excruciating pain.

M came back eventually and tried to persuade me to go over once it was 10:30 but by then I was too hurting and brain-fogged to be able to think clearly or to move. And then the others came back. They’d caught the end half of what had turned out to be a beautiful hour long solo set. I was, and especially now am, relieved and extremely happy for them that they got to see it, but at the time my heart just splintered into pieces; that was my dream, and I’d been shut out of it, and I felt like a failure….

 

*I should explain; Jude and I have a mascot, a soft toy black and white cat named Jon after the real Jon and his climbing abilities… and tendency to end up places he’s not sure how to get back down from 🙂

Read Part 1 here and part 3 here

Looking for Europe 1: Amsterdam, and not getting run over

(May 23-26th)

Bicycles.

I didn’t notice immediately. It took me a few moments to register, as I woke up on a bus outside Eindhoven station in the Netherlands. A woman was cycling past towards the station, and as my brain slowly caught up with my eyes, I realised that she cycled past rows, upon rows, upon rows of bicycles. Bicycle racks on every single pavement I could see, heaving with bikes. Bikes piled on top of bikes. Bikes chained to or propped up against every available surface. Bikes parked on the pavements. Bikes sailing down the street. By the end of the day I think I had seen more bicycles in 24 hours than I had in the rest of my 34 years put together. And I cycle! Welcome to the Netherlands.

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I had caught the bus the previous evening in London, after taking a train straight from work at 4:30pm that afternoon. The real tour nerves had kicked in about T -2; sitting at my desk, I had glanced up at the clock. 2:45pm. Almost 3. That’s almost 4, and that’s almost 4:30… Suddenly it was all happening, really soon, and I freaked out! I felt so dizzy and emotional I had to leave my desk and go and sit quietly in the kitchen for a bit with a cup of tea and take some deep breaths. It passed, but it was spectacular. And before too long I was signing off at work and catching my train!

This first part of the great adventure I was alone; I was due to meet up with my tour buddy Jude in Amsterdam. Jude is a fellow crazy Switchfoot fanatic who I met on the last tour and we have become the best of friends through our shared love of the band and general nuttiness. But she was travelling separately, and meeting me there. So I spent the journey daydreaming, birdwatching, reminiscing about the last tour, wishing there would be another full moon during this tour, and sitting out on deck on the midnight ferry, on my own, watching the waves in the dark, and listening to Darkness from The Wonderlands

After waking to what appeared to be The Great Bicycle Explosion Of 2017 it was a fairly short journey on to Amsterdam, where after some confusion I eventually managed to locate Jude, and we in turn managed to locate the hostel. We decided to take another train out to Haarlem to see Corrie Ten Boom’s house there that afternoon. When we got to Haarlem, we made the mistake of asking the sat nav to give us directions to get to the house. After telling us it was a ten minute walk, as we expected, it then led us on a 45 minute wild expedition right out across the very pretty town, to a silly yellow scarecrow advertising a carwash, before telling us to turn around and go back a different way to pretty much where we started!! We got there – it was very close to the station in a different direction. 😀 The house was amazing and moving, but that’s another story. We returned to find Amsterdam heaving with crazy drunken football fans, so once we’d got some food we took refuge in the hostel for the night.

Then it was show day, number 1 of 7!!

After a slow start, trying to sleep off the journey and crazy crowd, we got some iced tea and coffee as it was hot already, then went on a boat tour of the canals, which was beautiful way to chill out and see some more of the city. And not get run over.

I have never been so convinced I was going to be run over before in my life! Amsterdam is not the place to be as a pedestrian. Stepping out onto the street from the (usually narrow and crowded) pavement you have to dodge bikes, trams, bikes, cars, bikes, taxis and motorbikes, several lanes of each and all going in different directions. The lanes are not clearly marked, the crossings can take ages, trams seemed to run both ways on all the lines, and bikes often don’t stop for the crossings anyway. Once you’ve survived crossing one lane of traffic there’s often only a tiny thin refuge to stand on whilst you wait to cross the next lane, easily missed, and even once you think you’ve crossed successfully you can easily find yourself standing in the middle of a cycle lane without realising it until you find a motorcycle hurtling towards you! Even the pavements are so much the domain of the bicycle that we often had to walk on the road to dodge round parked and piled bikes. There were some close calls, but I’m glad to report that we are both still three dimensional. Don’t get run over..!

Then it was time for the first VIP event.

We met up with a couple of friends outside the venue, and were enjoying meeting in person for the first time when Switchfoot showed up, coming and going between their bus and the venue! We got to chat to them briefly as they went back and forth, Jon first and then the other guys too. They recognised Jude from being at the Switchfoot Getaway the previous year, which was lovely, but unsurprisingly didn’t recognise me. They had had horrible flight problems so looked exhausted, apart from Tim who had been over already with his family on holiday. We thanked each other for being there, and I told them I was glad they arrived ok, sympathised with their travel problems, and thanked them for bringing the sunshine with them! I confess I turned to jelly a little bit after re-meeting Jon for the first time then, but it was just fine after that.

There were big delays so we ended up standing round for ages before going in, so we had plenty of time to meet other fans. People were there from the Netherlands, Sweden, Indonesia, Germany, USA and more, and were all lovely! 🙂 Suddenly we could hear Switchfoot soundchecking House Burns and Mess Of Me from inside. I had been chatting, but when I heard that I just got so happy that whatever I was saying went out my head and I just gravitated to the door with a big goofy grin on my face, I had to listen! And then we got to go in just as they were finishing Mess and I went to the front and rocked out and sang like it was a show! They said hi to us, played Dark Horses, and asked how we were. It was my Dutch friend’s birthday, so they got everyone to sing her happy birthday, then asked for requests – and got them all! Eventually they chose to play us Souvenirs 🙂

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After that we lined up for photos – my friends and I got to the back of the queue and conspired! We had a plan to get a silly VIP photo involving moustaches in honour of Chad, who was born in Amsterdam. We got chatting to Josh (the merch guy/ guitar tech) a bit while we waited, and he said the guys were going to the sea in Brighton tomorrow, and we told him they should find time to go to the west coast sometime, and maybe play Boardmasters too.

Then it was my turn! They didn’t try to introduce themselves, I just went in and said hi to Chad and Drew and got to chat to them for a moment. Jude filmed as I got out my letter to Jon. I showed the guys I had chocolate coffee beans and before I’d even finished saying it Jon was just like ‘Give, give!!’ 😀 I said I thought they might be needed after all the travel, and he said ‘oh yeah!’ 😀 Then I introduced myself properly (‘Hi, I’m Helen, I write to you too much – and I’ve done it again!’) I handed him my letter, then the one from the SwitchFam (I blanked and forgot who!), and letters from friends from Nepal and India, and then the DVD of our spoof tour video. I said ‘I don’t know if you saw this but Jude and I spoofed your silly tour vid…’ and Jon straightaway said ‘Yes we did, that was amazing! You guys did a great job, you left out no detail, it was all in there. You must have spent ages on it’ I laughed, ‘Yeah you have no idea, 6 months..!’ 😀 And he remarked on my daisies – then I got his real attention for a moment – ‘Yes they’re my favourite, they’ve been really meaningful to me since way before there was a connection with you. I was so happy when you released that song!’ And he said they were very meaningful to him too, and even more so since he named his daughter after them. That was so lovely 🙂 By this point I was really trembling! I took out the ‘Europe is Where The Light Shines Through’ banner (which got some wows!) and got my picture with it. Jon had his arm round me so could definitely feel me shaking, very embarrassing! Then he asked for a picture just with me and the flag, which I was kind of blown away by 😀

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Then I got out the way for my friend’s VIP. She had a birthday sign and confetti cannons – which hilariously failed to go off and resulted in the funniest sequence of photos! I filmed it, they sang her happy birthday and there was a funny moment of confusion with the cannons before they ended up throwing the confetti! They chatted whilst Jude came out and had some lovely chats with them, recognising her and crowning her ‘queen of the UK fam!’.

And then the moustaches came out! The guys loved them! Chad took one and everyone was like ‘no you don’t need one!’ Romey put his on his head. The guys took lots of their own photos and had fun goofing around with them, and then we got our own photos – it was so funny 😀

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And oh I was so happy and so full of love! I know I was giving off the wrong impression but it’s so hard not to with fan love at this kind of level.

We had time to run and get a takeaway and come back and line up. I got some amazing falafels, super spicy and messy! And I got to take a fried aubergine to a show. Never done that before.

The stage was super high but we got in first and went to the middle 🙂 Army Of Bones opened and were really good. I was really excited when I heard they would be opening for Switchfoot, that’s near perfect for me, especially as I had missed seeing Martin Smith’s previous band play with Switchfoot. It felt like I was getting a second chance. They didn’t give us any interaction, but Martin’s performance is so captivating and the music rocked! He spliced New Way To Be Human into Love Song For A City 🙂 I think even Jude, who isn’t really a fan, was impressed 🙂 By the end of their set people pressing in from the sides had got me even more central.

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Switchfoot opened with If The House Burns Down Tonight. I’ve got to admit that’s a bit of a weird opener; all the build up and then just that quiet ‘Ashes from the flames…’ before it gets going… but then it really does get going after that! It wasn’t an easy show to take pictures at, and in any case my friends were covered in cameras, so I just watched the show.

This show felt a little like Munich’s, with similar lighting, no crowd barrier, and a chilled and happy vibe, though this was I think mostly due to tired spaceyness rather than surfing this time! The venue had more climbing potential however, which Jon utilised! He went into the crowd a couple of times, including going up onto the balcony, over the side and down into the crowd in true nailbiting fashion during Love Alone Is Worth The Fight.

At my friend’s birthday request they played Your Love Is A Song, Drew giving it a killer solo.

Early on in the show, a guy called Peter held up a sign saying, in pictures, ‘Can I play guitar on The Sound?’ Jon took the sign, looked at it, figured out what it said and replied  ‘I think we’re going a little too fast; it’s early on in this relationship, maybe we can slow down and see where this goes?’ 😀 But later he did indeed get to play it, and he really rocked! He even got the beautiful Love Is The Movement guitar too!

They went very off piste from the original set list.  ‘I want to take this right back; it’s not on the set list… Chad, what would you do if I said ‘Al Pacino’..?’ And they played Gone – I never really thought of it as a rock song but wow it was quite heavy this time, all crunching, screaming guitars! It was brilliant!

All my banners came out at different points during the show; ‘Europe’ and ‘Where  I Belong (WIB)’ Jon held up, he took ‘Thank you’ to look at too. ‘Healer of Souls’ he just went ‘Ooh :/ ‘! Play the song Jon!!

The encore was amazing; they played Float (YESSS! So much fun!), I Won’t Let You Go (which had Jude in tears), and Dare You To Move (which is always going to make me happy!), so beautiful!

Overall there was a worshipful feel to the whole thing, it felt like we were really involved with the lyrics, personally and collectively…

Afterwards we stood and chatted to ‘fam for ages by the bus. Suddenly after a long wait I picked up Jon’s tweet: Aftershow in 15 minutes by the bus! Eeeee!! I was wearing the (still wet) WIB banner when he came out. He took us along the street to a bridge over a canal and stopped just as I was next to him, so I got front row! He played Vice Verses and All Of God’s Children, which were beautiful and deep, Just Rob Me (oh my goodness..!! Absolutely hilarious!), 24, and On Fire merging into Your Love Is Strong, it was really lovely. During Vice Verses we heard some funny noises in the street (car horns maybe?) joining in the song (‘It’s a duet!’ said Jon!) 😀 Boats passing by on the canal slowed down to watch, and despite how small the bridge is and how quiet the city seemed, several times we had to dodge bicycles and cars (Jon remarked ‘This bridge is busy!’). He looked at me at the end and I just said ‘thank you!’ 🙂

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Afterwards I walked back to the bus with him. There was all the usual hounding and selfie-taking, Jon masterfully steering the crowd towards the bus the whole time, so I stayed aside and just took it in. But I did get to thank him for playing so many songs that mean so much to me and he thanked me for being there. After that, we got to hang around and say goodbye to most the guys. Drew told me he put me in their Instagram, and they had – the picture of me with my flag, as well as them goofing around with the Chad moustaches! So sweet! We wished them safe travels and goodnight and see you at BCDO. They didn’t leave for us to wave them off, so eventually we left instead.

I ate my concert aubergine and fangirled online a bit, then it was a quick sleep before dashing to catch the bus back to London. Getting across Amsterdam proved a bit simpler this time, but the bus was not very comfortable. I picked up some iced tea on the way, and accidentally bought a fizzy kind, which was not right at all! I spent most of the journey getting glitter on the bus, and enjoying the memories.

It was extremely hot and the bus did not have much air conditioning, so it was disappointing to realise we were going back through the tunnel, not on the ferry. The result was we were sat in the tunnel carpark waiting to board for two and a half hours, going nowhere and getting ever hotter. And then I got the news: Switchfoot really are coming back this autumn, and are giving us a proper UK tour!! :O 😀 :’) Wowowow!! Everything got a bit surreal from there. I emerged back into the UK, and immediately saw a dense murmeration of midges over the roadside trees, and then witnessed grown men holding a sack race, and a bizarre junk shop full of weird statues, dummies and ornate lamps, as we entered London…

I love Switchfoot so much 🙂 Also, how many times did Jon shake my hand/ high five me?! Bring on the rest of the tour!!

Read Part 2 here

The week before, part two

I have plans next week. Big plans!

Two years ago, I was freaking out in anticipation ahead of my first trip following Switchfoot on tour round Europe, and meeting them for the first time. And… I’m doing it again!

Switchfoot are addictive. The first time I saw them they were so much better than I even hoped that I vowed I would do my best to see them as much as possible from then on. They are not over this side of the Atlantic all that often so I had a while to wait, but two years ago I finally got that chance, and I grasped it, seeing them five times. And next week they are back! And I am incredibly blessed to have the chance to keep my word and follow them again. I have tickets to see them play seven shows over the two week long tour, in six different countries!

It feels different this time, in so many ways. For one thing, since this past year or so has thrown a little bit of unpleasant anxiety into the mix, I’ve not been enjoying the adrenalin quite so much as last time, although I’ve had some really giddy moments where I’ve thought about meeting Switchfoot again and seeing them play live, and had to take some deep breaths! On the other hand, I am calmer; this won’t be my first time meeting them this time, I’m not starting from scratch. I’m also not expecting things to work out so near-perfectly this time around. Some incredibly special things happened last time; memories with my husband, friends, Switchfoot, and the sky, and encounters with God, that can never be replicated. I’m excited to see what does happen, but whatever that is, it won’t be the same. There’s more travel, more people, more logistics this time round; packing more shows into actually a shorter period of time, all in different countries, going in and out of the continent three times, and meeting up with different fans for each show, all means there is more that could go wrong! The planning has been very stressful at times. On the other hand, we do have a plan! I was reminded the other day that this time two years ago we had only just sorted out our travel and accommodation for Germany, whereas we had most of the itinerary planned out months ago (thanks to J my travel buddy!). There’s the fact my husband is not coming with me. We had the best times last time, but he took one look at my insane schedule and said no! We’re meeting up for one show, but that was enough for him. Instead, I’ll be travelling with my best and craziest fellow megafan, which should be fun! We can be quite a pair. I hope Switchfoot are ready for this…!

And I have changed so much as a fan. I was almost completely new to Switchfoot concerts and the fan relationship two years ago. Now I know what it’s like to be part of the (very extended) tour family, and I know not only the sort of practicalities to expect to the extent of being able to advise other fans, but also that what we’re doing could really mean something, really give something back to the band themselves. At least, I hope so. They’ve given so, so much to me over the years, I owe them this and much more.

Well. I’m packed. Yes there’s still a week to go, but I had to do it to stop the nerves building up enough to keep me up at night. I’ve packed all the important stuff (Oreos, jelly worms, soft toy cat, fake moustaches, glitter… you know). So now I’m left just counting down the days!

Yeah let’s do this!

Resurrecting me

Like so many of Jon Foreman’s songs, Resurrect Me has played a huge part in my story.
I stayed up till 3:30am last night watching (amongst other things in the beautiful, honest, hope-filled evening that was TWLOHA’s Heavy and Light concert) Jon singing this song. In a whole evening dedicated to being real, opening up about when life hurts, and affirming that hope is real, it struck me again that this song was what first inspired me to seek help for my own pain about a year ago.
I’d been back and forth between ‘ok’ and ‘not ok’ for some time, and keeping an eye on myself, aware I needed to take my mental health seriously but not sure at what point to reach out.
And then one day last spring I found myself listening to this song. I’ve listened to it hundreds of times, but that day one line jumped out at me: ‘I tried to drown the pain with a friend of mine, it didn’t seem to help, ah she’s got a pretty face with her wedding lace but I’m still waking up with myself
Suddenly it was obvious; if I’m not ok now, without a job, what makes me think I will be ok when I get one? Isn’t the problem right here, in me? A line in a book I was reading that same week confirmed it: Wherever we go, ‘We take ourselves with us’. I had to find a way to be ok with that!
Here is the truth. I was ‘ok’, but I was carrying pain that previous jobs had not fixed. Neither had my marriage, my relocation or my home. Maybe it was ok for that ‘ok’ to not be enough, and to seek help.
I can testify that it was absolutely worth it! There is help and support out there, none of us are alone in our pain, and as TWLOHA will tell you, hope is real, help is real and recovery is possible. I’m now on that road; I hope that I am learning to ‘take myself with me’ now, to be able to keep my eyes on the honest reality of the state of my soul and listen to both my ‘light’ and my ‘heavy’.
I don’t know where you are at. But if you find yourself waiting for something to complete you, I’d love to encourage you to find help to discover that you can be whole already, without that thing yet in place. If you’re not ok with yourself now, you will not be ok when that job, relationship, family, move, marriage, money, or home arrives. That pain is there, in you. And that’s ok. And you can be helped to find yourself whole, now.
Resurrection is real.

You can watch the whole of Heavy and Light here, I recommend the whole thing, a really affirming and honest event.

Singing dangerous prayers against the darkness

God’s taken me and my church on an amazing worship journey these past few weeks. We’ve been studying the first letter of John, and singing all the dangerous prayers. It’s all felt extremely timely.

I’ve found it very difficult to write recently; the political situation we’re in is unlike anything I’ve seen before and evolving rapidly. I wonder what I can say into the face of it that won’t be an irrelevance a week later, or what I have to add to the clamour of voices already speaking loudly, especially when I don’t think any of us have navigated anything like this before and none of us entirely know the way. If I’m honest, I’m fumbling along in the dark trying to find what love looks like just as much as anyone else!

 

But then, into our chaos, God speaks.

 

The teaching in church over the last few weeks has looked at 1 John, which was written to a church suffering from the effects of false claims, which were causing division in the church. Truth itself was under attack, and the Christian community was finding itself fractured. So John writes to assure the church that there is a real truth we can be sure of, in Jesus, and then sets out how we can know it better.

If we want to know where to walk, we need light to be able to see the path. Walking in the light as he calls it is not about whether or not we are ‘saved’, but about how well we know God. We must press into God to see clearly. Honesty and accountability are the path to better relationships with one another and with God, and when we are able to live in total honest openness like this, the truth can be seen and known and division healed. Before we leapt to making judgements of others, we must look honestly at ourselves and see the roots of the same problems in us. And all can be forgiven!

Jesus is our standard against which we must measure truth and love. The more we know Him, the more we can discern these things. And His love, real love, is a love that sacrifices itself, its own interests, and its very life for others and for the benefit of the wider community.

We live in dark times, as truth is under attack and we are being divided against one another. But we can face down and overcome the darkness by striving for closeness with God, personal purity coupled with a transparency and humility that keeps us on the right track and helps build connection with others, and sacrificial love.

 

And then the worship! I don’t know how intentional this has been (I like to think it has been), but most of the songs we have been singing these past few weeks have been the surrender songs*. Big, dangerous prayers, reminding us that we follow a God who became a perfect example of surrendered sacrifice and who is worth everything, and committing ourselves to laying down our lives for God’s work in the world. I say dangerous, because if we really take what we sing seriously and are prepared to let God take us up on our words, we could find ourselves called into painfully sacrificial love for the benefit of God’s people and plans. Laying down our lives is going to hurt! But here we are singing these words, over and over, and I believe truly desiring God’s will be done in and through us, whatever the cost.

And it’s not just been music; on one week we looked back at the bold prayers we’d been encouraged to pray a few months earlier, and to be encouraged by the answers we’d seen to keep up the bold prayers. One week as part of our worship we spent a while praying over our involvement in the world and in politics, that we as a church can bring light into the world.

And a holy silence has descended between these powerful songs as we have sensed the presence of the Holy Spirit working in us. We can be a very reserved church at times, but it’s seemed the Spirit has been at work, breaking down our reservedness, and I’ve never heard this congregation sing so passionately or keep such profound silences.

 

It’s made me wonder about the implications for me personally; here I am, laying aside my claims to a career (which still eludes me) and an easy, comfortable life, and pledging myself to Christ in the battle for truth and love…. I just don’t know how my life and the world situations I find myself in will pan out. I’m aware it could get very difficult and unpleasant, but also that God is worth it all; though I wonder, am I brave enough, should it come to real sacrifice..?

But bigger than my own life, it has felt as if we are being commissioned as a community to face up to the darkness we face in this troubled world, and lay ourselves down in God’s service to work to bring light, and love, and truth, and restoration. Will we take up the call?

 

At the end of one of our worship sessions, an image came to me as we sang; I saw the church standing together, facing a great crowd of terrible dark monsters, but singing out against the darkness these songs of surrender. And the darkness cowered in fear as we sang!

 

* I mean, just look at these songs and lyrics! –
Jesus, be the centre (be my hope, be my song, be my path, be my guide, be the reason that I live…)
Jesus, all for Jesus (all I am and have and ever hope to be, all of my amvitions, hopes and plans, I surrender these into Your hands, for it’s only in Your will that I am free…)
Receive our adoration (we choose to leave it all behind and turn our eyes towards the prize, the upward call of God in Christ, You have our hearts, Lord, take our lives, receive our adoration Jesus, Lamb (sacrifice) of God, how wonderful You are…)
Amazing grace
Blessed be Your name (You give and take away, my heart will choose to say blessed be Your name…)
I surrender all I am to the Saviour who surrendered all for me
Take my life and let it be…
Mighty to save (take me as You find me, all my fears and failures, fill my life again, I give my life to follow everything I believe in, now I surrender…)
This is my desire (I give You my heart, I give You my soul, I live for You alone, every breath that I take, every moment I’m awake, Lord have Your way in me…)
All to Jesus I surrender…
Jesus, lover of my soul (it’s not about me, as if You should do things my way, You alone are God and I surrender to Your ways…)

An ambush

Wolf,

I sense you lurking in the shadows

Behind my path

Watching

Waiting for another chance to attack

To beat me around the head and knock me down again.

As long as I keep walking on

You stalk me

You have control.

But what if…

What if I could lead you into a trap?

Lure you towards some waiting ambush?

Let a cage drop and catch you behind bars?

And then turn and face you

Who is in control now?

Shall we talk?

Being thankful

We hosted a Thanksgiving dinner for the first time this year! This has not been an easy year at all, personally or politically, but aside from liking the tradition and fancying the cooking challenge, I wanted to do this as I felt that actually I still have a huge amount to be thankful for from the past year, and that in a time when circumstances make it harder to see the good things and feel thankful, setting aside a little time to focus on what I am truly thankful for is a good discipline. The more I’ve thought about it, the more good I’ve spotted amongst the mess, and it has left me feeling genuinely grateful for those good things and a lot more positive about the year. So; my list:

  • Time at home. My new year’s resolution this year was straightforward after last year’s wonderful chaos; to do nothing! Well, maybe not ‘nothing’, but no crazy plans, no charging around the country(/world) week after week, and to focus on spending time right here at home, with our local friends and church family, and making progress on our DIY projects. And we’ve done that! It’s been really nice being a little more settled.
  • Living in Devon. Related to the last point – we live in a nice place! It’s been good to spend more time just enjoying where we live. Our main holiday this year was to Lundy Island, an island off the north coast in a protected area, which is therefore jumping with sealife. We saw so many seabirds, seals, jellyfish, rockpoolies and dolphins, and it was beautiful – all almost on our doorstep! And the walks and beach trips we’ve done closer to home have been wonderful too. We made an effort this summer to go down to the coast on nice evenings for barbecues or chips on the beach as the sun goes down. I can’t help but be thankful that my life looks like this after years living and working in and near London, it’s a real blessing.
  • The support for our whitewashing nonviolent direct action last year. I’ve been blown away by the amount of support I and my fellow activists have received since our action last November. A huge crowd of supporters turned out to our trial, some coming a really long way to be there. There were far too many people to fit in the viewing gallery and many stood outside in driving rain for us all day, praying, holding banners and looking after us. I’m so humbled! And on top of that, when we received a (much smaller than expected) fine, friends, family and supporters crowdfunded enough to pay it off in full! We checked the amount that came in a week after the verdict, and it seemed a random amount; but then we totalled up our collective fine and realised it was the same amount to the nearest pound! Shortly after this we closed the crowdfunder early as we had exceeded our target, despite not expecting to meet it, and found the amount raised exactly covered our expenses for the action too! I am profoundly grateful to God for so fully honouring our imperfect willingness to do this, and to our supporters, both for the obvious practical help this was, but also for the solidarity of knowing we had so many people standing beside us and willing to also pay the price of speaking out on climate change.
  • Good news on climate change. Aside from the ratification of the Paris climate agreement, it seems politically that this has been a bad year for climate, as in practice the political world has barely moved into action at all, and in many cases we’re still seeing the politics moving backwards. However; more and more this year I’ve seen signs of change, almost in spite of the politics of it all. The economics are starting to shift. As renewables grow, in spite of policies that hamper them, and the combined pressure from increasingly cheap renewable energy, financial disinvestment, uncertainty over the future under international climate agreements and the cost of carbon hits the fossil fuel industries, a real practical shift away from fossil fuels has begun. We have a long way to go, and fast, but this is genuinely encouraging. We need to keep up the momentum on fossil fuel disinvestment, which is really a win-win situation, whilst at the same time urging our governments to think progressively and practically get behind this shift, which would really speed the process up.
  • Vegan abundance! Going vegan ten years ago was relatively straightforward, with plenty of choices available in ordinary shops, and at least something you could eat in most restaurants when out. But there has been such a fast shift over the last year or so! Several vegan/explicitly vegan-friendly businesses have popped up all over town, raised consciousness means I’m finding it more common for non-veggie friends to know how to make really nice things for us, little innovations the world seems to have just discovered (coconut cream makes wonderful whipped cream, chickpea water works like egg whites…) mean vegan baking has suddenly become even easier and cafes are cottoning on, and even some vegan cheese seems to be finally starting to resemble the real thing! I’m suddenly beginning to realise how much self-control I’ve lost over the years, now that what was a ‘special diet’ is becoming so mainstream; I’ve been used to luxuries being just that, and therefore jumping at the chance to indulge when the chance arose from time to time, but suddenly it seems there are easy luxuries everywhere and I have to be restrained for the sake of wallet and waistline! But at the same time, what a nice problem to have – such great news for me, and for animals and the environment 🙂
  • The mental health services. Wow am I thankful for the help that I’ve found available to me this year as I’ve found myself battling depression! I’ve heard the horror stories and know not everyone gets the help they need when they need it, even when they do seek it, but my experience has been good so I know that’s only one side of the picture. I’d love to see the day when mental health is taken as seriously as physical health, because it is, and everyone can find help. But I’m very thankful that I have a good GP, have been able to take part in a well-taught CBT course for free, and have had help from my church towards paying to see a counsellor. Each of these things have been a God-send in an unpleasant situation, and I am so thankful.
  • Supportive family and friends. And again on a related note, I am deeply thankful for the community of people I have in my life who have treated my illness as an illness, been understanding as they can be, and been there to encourage me and share advice. I feel honoured to be able to reciprocate that to others too, and am grateful to have that chance through this circumstance. It’s brought me closer to myself, to others, and to God.
  • The RSPB. Last year I was volunteering for several different charities, often on my own and with irregular hours. This year I decided to change and focus on my work with the RSPB nature conservation charity, filling my newly-free days in the week by taking on some scientific support work in their local office, which means I’m now working with others and with pretty regular office hours, and getting to use my science brain a bit. Simplifying my work this year has itself done me a lot of good; but so has the RSPB directly. Conservation is not always the most encouraging world to work in, with so many species and habitats under threat. But working with the RSPB, I see an amazing array of good news stories as hard work saving nature really does pay off. Both internally and externslly there’s a real emphasis on hope and encouragement around this. The project I’ve worked most with this year has just celebrated a milestone as a little bird we almost lost from the country has been brought back from the brink and is increasing (you can read more about that here, it’s a nice reminder that good news is out there!). But even in addition to this, the organisation takes staff wellbeing seriously (as a volunteeer I am still considered part of the staff team) and has done a lot of work to raise the profile of wellbeing and mental health and promote activities and support that can help. I’m not sure I could be working in a better environment right now!
  • Being able to ‘do autumn properly’. It’s no secret that I love autumn! I felt like I missed out on it a bit last year in my busyness, so this year I made an effort to give time to enjoying it as much as possible. So we went on holiday in the Lake District, swam and bodyboarded in the sea, went for walks in the local arboretum and elsewhere, picked up colourful leaves, made some of them into pretty decorations or collages, went birdwatching plenty to catch the migration in progress, baked for halloween and used it to pray over the world’s darkness, went to the legendary Nottingham Goose Fair (enormous cheesy funfair, and something I haven’t done since leaving home), went to an apple day and made apple fritters to celebrate, had a Thanksgiving party and a Harvest ploughman’s meal, went to a fireworks display, and planted trees in the garden. I don’t think I’ve missed anything this year, and although it’s been unusually warm and dry and the trees gave us a bit of a stop-start display this year it’s been wonderful – and I have far too many photos! 😀
  • Switchfoot. I confess, when I drafted this list, this was the first thing I wrote! A lot of bad things have happened in the world this year. But 2016 was also the year Switchfoot brought us their 10th album, Where The Light Shines Through. And in a dark year, it really has been where the light has shone through for me, not just a highlight of the year for a fan, but also an incredibly timely album full of messages of hope and strength and light, so much needed just now. This band has done more than anyone else this year to encourage me to look for the points of light breaking through the darkness, keep my eyes on the Source of my hope, and work to become where the light shines through myself.