Tag Archives: Failure

Oh blessed…

At this time of year, with Switchfoot having toured here this same week in both 2015 and 2017, I’m unavoidably drawn into the memories, reliving all those powerful experiences. There are two experiences within all of that that really stand out; one, really connecting with Jon for the first time at the end of the 2015 tour, when for the first time I felt my fan-love was accepted. The other, that dark night in 2017, the shadow that proved the sunshine of the rest of the year, when I missed Jon play an impromptu solo show at BCDO South, because it happened at 10pm in the chapel, and I wasn’t allowed onto that part of the site till 10:30pm, and depression and anxiety won out.

Add in Switchfoot’s current hiatus, and that was a heady mix of feelings to be carrying when the opportunity arose to go to BCDO South again this year. To begin with I really wasn’t sure I wanted to go. It’s previously felt a bit of an odd evangelical Christian bubble, isolated from reality in more ways than one. There were artists I did want to see, but did I want to see any of them enough to cross the country for? It’s a long way, and the costs would add up. And then, no Switchfoot. It would be the first time I’d gone there without them. Would I want to be faced with all those memories in their absence?

However. I have a second favourite band.

I could never really claim to have ever been a megafan of Delirious?; nonetheless, they’ve been a really big deal to me right from my introduction to them, at a signing in a local record store in early 2000. I ended up front row as they played, lead singer Martin Smith climbing onto the gear cases I was squashed up against and even standing on the CD of theirs I had just bought in the process! I was hooked by their engaging and energetic performance and big sound, and let’s admit it, those dark eyes..! The CD thankfully survived, so I lined up for the signing. I was 16, had never met anyone famous before, and they’d made quite an impression on me; I was starstruck, and they didn’t really have time for me. Ah well. It was amazing!

That was the beginning of the journey. Delirious? were immediately my second band (first place initially going to another band before Switchfoot well and truly won my heart), and over the next few years I followed them avidly. At the time I knew no greater high than the Delirious? post concert rush. In those early days I’d not learned what to do with my heart; I gave it all to my top two bands, obsessing to a crazy extent, finding out everything I could about them, and yet not really giving them a lot to show for it (of course, pre social media, that was a lot harder anyhow…). It wasn’t long before I figured this was unhealthy and that I needed to get things in perspective and focus on God. As a result, I reined it right in. As my love for Switchfoot grew, I swore I’d not be the same with them, that I’d pay them as little attention as possible, and just enjoy the music and focus my heart on God. I didn’t know their names, I wasn’t on their mailing list, I avoided their website, and I never saw them play live. Yet, I loved them more and more, and found God at work through what they do.

Delirious? and Switchfoot fitted perfectly together in those days for me: Switchfoot are American, Delirious? British; Delirious? I used to see a couple of times a year, and yet I never dared see Switchfoot till 2011; my Switchfoot obsession is centred around Jon Foreman and his lyrics and vocals, Delirious? It was always Stu and Stew and their amazing guitar and drums. Delirious? had a cheese-factor Switchfoot never did, yet soloed in a way Switchfoot at least never did in the studio. I’ve long felt almost as at home in Stu’s guitar tones as I do in Jon’s voice. Over the years their respective songs Come Like You Promise and Dare You To Move have both jostled for the position of favourite favourite song (Dare’s been ahead for some time now, but the former holds the endurance record!). Both bands inspired and challenged me with their lyrics (though Switchfoot more so), and I loved their music. Delirious? met my need for a band I could follow, ‘get to know’, and enjoy live, since I’d begun that way with them, whilst something even deeper was at work with Switchfoot.

I got hold of Switchfoot’s Nothing Is Sound and Delirious?’s The Mission Bell at the same time in 2005; I remember being struck straight away by the similar feel of even the cover art, but even before playing them I read through the lyrics to both. Goosebumps. These were powerful words that engaged with the world in all its brokenness, met me where I was, and inspired me to act to make it better. It excited me, and I knew I’d found my place musically.

And yet somehow something went wrong. As I journeyed into megafandom of Switchfoot, and then Jon Foreman more generally, somehow I began to take Delirious? for granted. They were always around. I didn’t even have to make the effort, sooner or later they’d be playing near me. There’d be the same old songs, the same amazing solos, the same goofing around and forgetting lyrics by Martin, that same high afterwards… The last time I saw them was at Greenbelt festival in 2007. I was tired after a long day, and they were playing a similar set to the last few shows of theirs I’d seen. I left half way through to get some rest.

To this day I don’t know what happened*, but the next thing I knew of them they were finishing their final tour. All that time I’d followed them, and been on their mailing list, and known everything about them, and somehow I’d missed their final album, split and last tour. Stew Smith had even been the first to leave the band some time before the end, and Stu G had emigrated to the USA. I was shellshocked and heartbroken. When I got hold of that final album, Kingdom Of Comfort, and discovered it to be up there with my all-time favourite albums, full of the most powerful lyrics, and made for the big stage, I was even more devastated to have missed that closing chapter. I had been a truly terrible fan!

Delirious? left a hole in my heart – both the pain of that bad ending, and the lack of a band to follow. The result? Throwing myself full into my love of Switchfoot, knowing now what I stood to lose, and embracing the megafandom for what it was. The rest of that story I’ve already told of course.

So, here I am in 2018. A decade without Delirious? and though time had softened the pain, I still felt their absence from my life and all my regrets. Meanwhile, I’d spent the past few years learning what it means to love (verb!) an artist, how to be a good fan whilst keeping things in perspective, how to give back, what it can mean to them too to do so, how to build connection. After what Switchfoot’s 2015 tour taught me, I realised I needed to learn from that with other artists too, and that included seeking out what Stu G was up to these days, getting onto his mailing list and social media, and finally showing up as a fan there too.

And now – Stu was coming to the UK to play BCDO (the festival spearheaded by Delirious? keyboard player Tim Jupp), and Martin was also on the programme, along with a few other artists I also liked, including Verra Cruz, also up there amongst my favourite bands. Ok, no more terrible fan. I booked, I went!

We arrived Saturday morning, pitched the tent in blazing sunshine, picked up a programme, and discovered that Stu G was playing almost immediately, so dashed over to catch his set. And oh wow! We arrived just as he started playing Delirious?’s Bliss, and despite him playing at the very civilised Tearfund Tea Tent, with most of the rest of the crowd sat at tables enjoying cream teas, we ran to the front and danced like it was 1999!

Although there as a solo artist, he had a band with him so was able to give us the epic, atmospheric rock he’s always done best, all smiles and clearly in his element. Bliss was followed by the moody solo hit King Of The Stars, the first time I’d seen this live and it was stunning. He then talked a bit about his Beatitudes project; for the past few years he’s been exploring, both practically and through musical collaborations, what the blessings of Jesus mean for us today, resulting in an album, book and film, all of which I can thoroughly recommend. He said that he had found the beatitudes to be less a list of targets to strive for, more a set of promises about how ‘God is on your side at the bottom of life’. And he played the opening song of the project, Oh Blessed, on acoustic guitar, having us sing the title lyric with him. It sounded lovely. Then switching back to electric we were treated to In The Middle from the same project, lyrically powerful and with the kind of heavy riff that Delirious? had been known for. And then, a precious gift – he played the song Kingdom Of Comfort! It sounded as amazing live as I’d always imagined it would, but never thought I’d get to experience. After effectively giving up some of my favourite songs for lost, to finally hear one of them was very healing. And he ended with Delirious?’s Investigate, as epic and soaring as it ever had been, Stu producing a killer solo and reminding me that he is still one of the very best guitarists out there. He looked really happy to see us enjoying it all, throwing a lot of smiles in our direction. Wow! What a way to start a beautiful weekend.

Afterwards he was selling CDs and his new book about the beatitudes Words From The Hill, so I thought I could make up for a lot of missed opportunities and bad fandom by getting hold of them. So I did, and he came out to meet us, and I got the book signed! It was so good to finally meet him ‘properly’; I got to tell him about how I’d been a massive Delirious? fan, had really missed them, how special it was hearing those songs again, and especially Kingdom of Comfort, and told him he was still my favourite guitarist. He was so touched both by our rocking out and my story! And whilst I was speaking, he signed the book:

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Oh my gosh! I may actually have put things right finally…

We saw another couple of bands, and then it was time for Stu G’s second set of the day, also at the Tea Tent. As he was setting up, Martin Smith came up and chatted with him, and there were smiles and hugs between them, and he even helped Stu set up the stage. That made my heart happy! This time Stu kicked off with Delirious?’s Sanctify, which sounded huge. There was a funny moment at the end as he had to sing the line ‘The cloud’s getting bigger now’; he paused, looking up at the perfect clear blue sky with a grin on his face, and sang it with a questioning tone, which made us laugh! Then he gave us Inside Outside, a Delirious? song that he’d always taken lead vocal on, it was great to hear this one live. Then we rocked out through Bliss and King Of The Stars again before having to leave and dash over to the Illuminate stage for the awesome Verra Cruz, whose set clashed disastrously with his! Seriously, that guitar work..!

We got word that Kari Jobe, on Mainstage that evening, would have some special guests 😉 So we rounded off an amazing day of live music at her set. And yes, something precious happened; part way in, she invited Stu and Martin up on stage together to play the old Delirious? worship hit Did You Feel The Mountains Tremble with her! She took the second verse, but it felt like old times, as though I was a 17 year old again at Alton Towers… I was struck by both the immediacy of the memories, and the power those words still hold.

Finally, we also found out that Stu was rounding off his time at the BCDO by showing a premier of his beatitudes film A View From The Hill… At 10:30pm, by candlelight, in the chapel!!! :O

I was so torn. I had sworn to myself and my friends that I wasn’t going to go near that chapel, leave last year’s memories where they were. Of course I wasn’t going to go there. But now… I really felt I should go, as support for Stu, and I felt God wanted me to, that somehow this had been deliberately set up…

So. I did.

I picked a flower to take with me on the way, giving a kick to the gate that had barred my way a year before, as we passed straight through this time. My first thought was that I was taking the flower for Jon, as a way to sort of say ‘I’m so sorry I wasn’t there for you. I’m here now.’

Then I thought it was like laying flowers at the site of a tragedy to remember and leave beauty in its place…

The chapel was beautiful. I laid the flower by a pillar when we arrived. Stu saw us come in and recognised us and gave us a huge smile!! The film was so deep and powerful. I loved it almost as much as 25in24 and the messages and atmosphere of both fit really well together. It’s gorgeously shot, and follows his journey of discovery with Jesus’ words as he met those living them out and experiencing God’s presence in places of suffering, marginalisation, stories of mercy, or as they sought to bring peace and justice or stand in solidarity with the struggling. Interspersed, it also showed the creative process he went through with a host of other artists (including Audrey Assad, Matt Maher, Martin Smith, Propaganda and Michael W Smith) to craft an album of songs inspired by each blessing.

It occurred to me – that flower was also a thank You gift for God!

Far from feeling like a place of pain, I felt so much peace and presence and healing there. It was such a redemptive experience being there with my next favourite artist, showing him support and being inspired. God was definitely in it.

Stu took questions at the end, and M asked him about his experiences of challenging consumerism in the church, ‘holy troublemaking’ with the messages of songs like Kingdom Of Comfort, when it so often seems like consumerism must never be questioned, even within the church where people seem as trapped by it as anywhere else, when Jesus calls us out of it and to speak truth to power. Afterwards I went over to Stu and thanked him for being there and all he’d done that day and over the years, told him how much I loved the film, and we were able to thank him for being the highlight of a wonderful day. And everything had come full circle. We walked back to the tent with storm clouds flashing dramatically on the horizon.

My heart was content and my mind buzzing. This day had been such an unexpected story of healing and redemption! I’d arrived missing Switchfoot, missing Delirious?, and carrying the pain from both the previous year’s trauma and my unresolved ending with band #2. Suddenly all was well, and God had brought me face to face with it all and met me right where it had hurt, and made something truly beautiful out of it the way God excels at doing best.

‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted’

The following day we saw even more great music, and enjoyed even more hot sunshine. The previous day we had met Marc from Verra Cruz after their set and I’d got to thank him and tell him that their album Emancipation Day was one of my all-time favourites too, and today a band new to us, Trinity, made the first move, coming to meet and greet their audience as we arrived for their set. They turned out to be great fun, interacting with the crowd to a Switchfoot extent, and showing themselves to have big hearts, so again we bought a CD and got to meet and thank them too.

Finally, the weekend was rounded off with a Mainstage set from Martin Smith. Accompanied by members of his band Army Of Bones and his daughter Elle Limebear, he opened with the refrain from Delirious?’s Our God Reigns. He got us all going with God’s Great Dancefloor, it seemed like everyone was jumping from the front to the back, and just when it seemed like it had finished, he decided to do it all again, pulling a group up on stage to dance, and from his grins it was clear he was having a great time with it, it was so much fun! Elle lent her beautiful lead vocals to Waiting Here For You, then Martin ditched his jacket and launched into Oh Praise The Name, spliced with Army Of Bones’ Love Song For A City and some powerful yelling. Oh how I’d missed those Martin yells! Then another special moment; Martin thanked the man whose dream had created BCDO in the first place – former Delirious? key player Tim Jupp, bringing him onstage to big applause and playing their very first song (and the song I had at my baptism), Thank You For Saving Me, together once more. Martin and Elle sang their latest single Jesus Only You together, which was stunning, before moving into a truly epic Come Holy Spirit. Finally, having given us Delirious?’s first song, Martin ended his set with their last song, My Soul Sings. Wow. Oh wow. Another from Kingdom Of Comfort, another I thought I’d never see live. And this song…

I tear up almost every time listening to Kingdom Of Comfort; I hear them signing out all the way through it in the lyrics and the music. It feels like a triumphant climax of an amazing career, finally embracing themselves for who they really were and telling it like it is, but also saying goodbye. And what a perfect ending that song is. If you don’t know it, give it a listen here so you can see where I’m coming from here; in my head, what happens in the music at the end of the song, and album, and band, is this: They are worshipping away, when the clouds part, and heaven opens and smiles down on them, and then they are lifted up into the sky, and for a while the whole sky resounds with the song of heaven… up and up, and eventually they are lost from our sight, and the clouds roll back in… and then we hear the heavenly portal close behind them. The End. Fanciful perhaps, but there’s closure in those closing bars, and it still gives me chills. And for this old Delirious? fan, there could be no better way to close out such a special weekend, reliving the journey, than this soaring worship epic. It moved me to tears.

I’d intended to stay for Matt Redman rounding out the festival, but that was enough. I felt like after all these years I’d finally got to see another Delirious? Concert. Sure I’d known that three of them would be there, it was even the main reason I’d been there, but I hadn’t anticipated anything like this. I totalled it up; we’d seen them play 9 different songs between the three of them over the course of the weekend, one song off each album bar my least favourite, and two from Kingdom Of Comfort. Deliberate..? Certainly healing. And it occurred to me; Delirious? the band are no more, and yet the music is still alive. I can trust God with it. I can trust God with Switchfoot, through all the current uncertainty. We headed off for some tea, hearing Matt’s set drifting over the site as we did, and then the sky was lit up both with celebratory fireworks, and God’s own fireworks from distant storms on the horizon once again. What a weekend!

No regrets. That was perfection.

I even wonder, did I enjoy it more without having to worry about bumping into Switchfoot, finding VIP check-ins or missing aftershows, or even having every performance after theirs feel like a beautiful letdown in comparison?! Maybe so…

So, my take-home message from my adventures in fandom? Artists matter, and God loves fan-love. Don’t take them for granted. Don’t allow yourself to fall so heavily into an obsession they obscure your view of God or get in the way of your personal relationships or the important work of your life, don’t become stalkerish (give them space, and stay out of all parts of their personal lives unless they themselves choose to share with you), don’t develop a reliance on them. But don’t run the other way. Enjoy what they do, go see them, support them, buy their music, their tickets, their merch, let them see your support, create a real, healthy artist-fan relationship; the blessings run both ways. Yes, I still make mistakes and probably always will. But I’m learning!

*Ok, somewhere in there I failed a PhD, got married, and discovered Verra Cruz and Jon Foreman’s Seasons, but even still, no excuse!

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Dreams

Dreams are very odd things. One week recently I had a whole series of particularly bizarre ones every single night, which I feel I need to share:

1 – The scene: some sort of stately home. A robber breaks in and demands money of everyone present. Being scared he might search us and get violent if he finds we’ve held any back, we search wallets and hand over £10 notes. But he is also… an entomologist. And he also wants any dead bees we happen to have on us. And we do happen to have a couple to hand. So we give them to him, along with the cash. And then we see him outside after he’s robbed us, looking round the garden for more. (?!?!) ‘Your money and your bees!’ 😀
2 – The scene: a beach somewhere. My husband is tasked with hosting a fundraising dinner. It is banana curry because it has to be Fairtrade. The bananas are whole and unpeeled, and for some reason we need to do a photo shoot of the whole bananas being poured out of something (a teapot..?!) onto this curry.
3 – I’m trying to navigate a city, which is supposed to be Birmingham but is full of imposing and awe-inspiring medieval buildings with tall walls all coloured in reds and blacks, including streets that begin in the open but become interiors as you go down them. I get lost because Birmingham doesn’t usually look like this (for reference, Birmingham is not a medieval city at all!), and end up having to wade through a water feature where objects placed in it eventually get turned to stone (it wasn’t dangerous, you’d have to stand in it for years…) including walking over the back of a crocodile sculpture…! 😀
4 – I’m in Birmingham again apparently!! But it’s not the medieval one this time, it looks more like the real thing. But we have to infiltrate some company HQ to sabotage… something. I’ve no idea what. And it involves going undercover via a Chinese restaurant. And awkwardly after we’ve succeeded in our mission, we end up eating out there and trying not to get recognised…

And then a dream in which we had to drive up a flight of steps in some seaside town, and another in which I met a very oversized cat, and yet another toilet-anxiety dream (I confess this is a recurring theme!) involving all-too-public and laughably non-functional loos… I began to wonder what I’d been eating!

But even with all this going on somewhere in the recesses of my brain, it’s the other sort of dream I’ve been thinking about more this year, the sort that keeps you awake at night instead.

It began in earnest on February 24th. Back in 2015, my hero Jon Foreman had fulfilled a bizarre dream of his own by playing 25 shows in 24 hours around his hometown, and in the process created something far greater than the sum of its parts that left me absolutely in awe, both of him as an artist and of the potential of art itself to change lives. That whole day was filmed, and the beautiful and moving finished film was finally premiered worldwide on that day in February. Watch the 30-second trailer here to get a flavour for it. In keeping with the spirit of ‘25 In 24’, the idea was that fans like me would host house parties (the more random the location the better!) during which we’d watch the film and be inspired to open up conversations about our own crazy dreams. I did. And we were.

We embraced it, going to the beach, bodyboarding, having coffee and tacos, and then watching the film. Although only an hour long (frustrating; what happened to the other 23?!), it is very beautiful. We see snapshots of the event itself, stunning locations, amazing performances, the wonder of a sort of community coming together around it, the tension when things didn’t go to plan, moments of both humour and great depth, insights into the dreaming that went into making it happen, and through it all, Jon musing on what it means to dream, including a moving realisation that we are God’s own dream. We were encouraged to think what our dreams might be.

It stirred up a lot of thoughts in all of us that for a time left us in silent contemplation. And then it sparked conversation. We went out to the park nearby and walked up the hills to think and talk and pray. We talked about dreams we’d forgotten, lost or buried over the years. We found them coming to life again as we talked about them, realising that maybe we’d begun to settle for something less than perhaps we should, and that the dreams were still there underneath, calling us to bigger things.

M and I found ourselves rediscovering our own big dream; one day we would love to buy some land and live there in community somehow in a way that might re-envision what society could look like, challenge the way things are, and reconnect us with the land itself. I’d been terrified of that dream, and had put it aside the past few years, not knowing what to do with it, seeing the enormity of it and our complete ignorance about how to go about it and who to work with. The gap between where we are and where we dreamed of being is just too big, too painful to face. It’s been easier to focus on just getting on with normal life now. And in a different way, so had he. But as a result, we’d grown apart a little, thinking maybe the other didn’t still share our dream, and we’d not made any real efforts towards it either. Talking about it, we realised the dream was indeed still there inside us both, and that was a beautiful, exciting and challenging discovery. We’ve begun to think and talk a little more about where we’re headed, and how on earth to get there from where we are in our normal and so very isolated life here.

And that same evening, we went to see a play that made me look again at my calling, the dream I’ve sensed God dreaming in me ever since I’d first explored the idea of what I was to do with my life, that I was made to ‘care for and work’ this earth. It got me excited again about the way I know God reveals Godself through the wonder of scientific exploration, and the potential for science, environmental science in my case, to work towards God’s coming kingdom. Yet it also confronted me with the pain of having a vocation outside of the Church taken less seriously and supported less than vocations to ministry within the Church.

Big dreams…

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All this comes at the point in the working year where we are having our annual appraisals, and having to set objectives and personal development plans for the coming year. Thinking about it, this is probably the main factor behind my mental health having taken a slight turn for the worst lately. I’ve been worried about it, knowing that though I’d met many of my objectives, there were some I’d barely touched, and finding the thought of having to make some sort of career plan with goals around how I might get there utterly paralysing.

But I decided to face up to it, look full at it, and try and figure out what was going on in me. I realised the objectives I’d avoided were ones that touched on my lack of self-belief, and that going forward I’d need more support to achieve those sorts of goals, and in doing so, carefully rebuild my self-belief. And I had to admit that whilst I have bigger aspirations than my current role, I’m not up to forming any specifics; right now, my goal is simply to stay put, get good at what I do, learn to believe in myself, and be a real asset to my team.

I told all this to my managers at my appraisal and objectives meetings, bared my soul as deeply and honestly as I could possibly stand, and they were brilliantly supportive (thank God I’ve found myself in an environment where this is possible!). It’s now looking like these seemingly short-term aims might well make up my objectives for the coming year, and instead of being forced to come up with a long-term plan, I might instead regain the headspace and confidence to be able to start dreaming again. And there’s a dream in itself…

I took all these things to my counsellor (well… maybe not the silly dreams!), and she thought about it and asked me had I been expected to have a dream and a plan as a child? Well… not particularly, although what child does not get asked regularly what they want to be when they grow up?* No. This fear is rooted in my experiences of having my dreams knocked out of me time and again I’ve run up against career dead-ends rather too many times after having thought I was finally on the road somewhere. Honestly, I could well be there again right now, career-wise, though I’m hoping keeping my hopes non-specific and focussing on doing well now will help if this doesn’t lead anywhere this time. We’ve a lot to work through to help me find a balance between the now and the dreams where I can begin to overcome the fear.

The truth is, I’m afraid to dream… To dream is to see a vision, believe in it, trust your soul to it and pursue it. I’m afraid of this – afraid that I might in visioning see a future too wonderful to attain; afraid of believing it only for it not to come about; afraid to believe in myself for fear I’ll let myself down; afraid to trust my soul to something that may again be snatched away and leave me wounded; afraid in case I find myself pursuing a mirage…

Yet where would we be without vision? I believe passionately in living in the now, and personally it’s where I have to be focussed just now to be able to relax about my future dreams. We also need to ground dreams in the present reality to be able to know how to get there, or they remain pie-in-the-sky. But we need the dreams too, or we stagnate! The thought I may just comfortably doze off into an easy life that goes nowhere is more terrifying than the thought of daring to dream but running into the recurring nightmare of failure. I want a sense of direction to show me which next steps would be a good idea. I don’t want to be unprepared for opportunities to do the amazing things I may one day be able to do. I don’t want to sleepwalk through my life and miss the chance of adventure and of really making a difference somewhere.

The ‘Godincidences’ around dreams just keep coming, so I know this is where God is at work in me just now. I’m truly thankful that this season of life is reawakening me to my dreams, reminding me that they are still there inside me, scary as they are, and I hope through it all that we’re able to start bringing them to life.


*I wanted to be a writer, and ‘do something with wildlife’. Here I am, living the dream, right?! To be honest, at 34 I’m still trying to figure out the answer to that question, as I suspect most of us are. I’d like to think if parenthood ever happens I’d ask my kids who they want to be instead, and help them see that that’s a different question to what career they might be interested in pursuing…

My place in the sunlight

I spent the whole of last Tuesday utterly convinced that the following day would be a Thursday. No matter how often I reminded myself it was Tuesday and that, typically, Tuesdays are followed by Wednesdays, I couldn’t persuade myself of this one. That week, I felt sure, deep down, did not contain a Wednesday, and was going to skip straight to Thursday. For context, I don’t work Wednesdays, so that I felt like instead of my tomorrow being a day off, I’d have to get up and go to work, and be going straight into an all-day meeting and evening social.

The next morning, I woke up to find it was indeed Wednesday. No all-day meeting.

What’s more, it was actually warm and sunny.

That too took me by surprise somehow – not that I hadn’t seen the forecast, I’d been looking out for it coming – but it felt like spring might never arrive this year. Maybe in the same way as the day before I’d been convinced somewhere inside that this week we’d be skipping straight past Wednesday to Thursday… yet there I was, living and breathing a Wednesday.

I don’t know why this year feels so dark and cold, to the point that somewhere inside I’d accepted it as a given that this year didn’t have a spring. But spring comes, relentless, regardless how awful a winter preceded it. However cold and wet the season, spring will come. Even a year with a rubbish spring and summer will pass, and spring will come again the following year. However cloudy, the light still expands. However wet, the birds still sing. However windy, the flowers still bloom.

How have I got stuck in winter? How have I lost that perspective? I’ve not lost hope; but I have needed my sight lifting.

So. On that wondrous Wednesday, I got a load of chores done successfully, ate well, and then cycled down to the sea to think and write. It was very windy, and I got totally sand-blasted, but the sky was completely blue, the weather warm, and I had my feet in the soft, soft sand. And that truly felt amazing!

Thinking about it, what’s true? Well – last year was fearfully, supernaturally wonderful and full of miracles (and I was still not entirely well), and this year will be different. But though I’ve been feeling overcast, things are good – and who knows the miracles that will unfold? God is moving me forward, that’s for sure, and though following takes me down difficult and sacrificial paths at times, there’s no greater adventure and God is good. God is love. There is a lot of love in my life. There will be miracles!

So far this year I’ve not felt as rubbish as I was feeling two years ago, but nonetheless the depression has returned, as though the sky has clouded over and will not shift. The pain itself has seemed harder to identify than before, more nebulous, though probably also rooted in the old fear of failure, of failing here socially and in terms of making progress towards my dreams. Yet… this past week, I’ve felt the sun on my skin again, for the first extended period since maybe January. It’s surprised me into realising I’d slipped under the clouds, and into the realisation that there may yet be a spring!

I need to seek the sunshine – physically and metaphorically; find where winter is passing, see that bigger picture, breathe the fresh air, notice and remember what’s good. Put the work in to look after myself in the moment, but also to keep looking for healing, wherever the hurt lies. This is a season for self care, to the max.

What’s inevitable, really?

Spring follows winter and seasons change. God’s kingdom will come, with or without my involvement. I can throw myself into that and embrace it, being all I can be each day, and that will remain.

I’m pretending I’m ok. That’s not inevitable. I can relearn honesty and openness and vulnerability. I can again find ways to be real about how cold this past few months has felt.

I feel alone with the pain this time. That’s not inevitable either. The truth is I’ve been creating distance from people by hiding my reality. In truth, if I make myself vulnerable, I may still find myself alone (that’s by definition what it means to be vulnerable), but… seasons change. At least we’d all know where we really stand. And it’s never the end of the story. More likely, I will again find solidarity and sympathy. It’s likely me that’s sick of my illness, rather than that my friends are sick of hearing about it.

Can I get back to a place where bad days come like passing clouds on a sunny day? Clouds will come. That’s inevitable. Some days, it really is cold and overcast and I just have to huddle up and wait it out. But there are other days when if I get on my bike, put in the effort and make it down to the coast I can find sunshine.


More on self-care and fighting depression with truth here 🙂

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 🙂

**This is what I missed: Aftershow vid

Read Part 1 here and part 3 here

Fighting depression with truth

Depression lies. Lately it has been making me feel like a failure, a reject, someone who breaks all she touches, that maybe I have much to offer but that the world isn’t interested. But it’s not the truth. The lies are powerful, but ultimately truth holds a greater power.

Since I last wrote on the subject I have been to my doctor, been diagnosed with mild depression and as a result been offered counselling, and referred to a self-help group for learning to manage anxiety and depression. I’ve also been reading a book with a friend, which has given me some really helpful insights and ways of dealing with my illness. I want to share what I’m learning as I figure the more information is out there for people, the more we can overcome this stuff. I hope I can help demystify the treatment process a bit, and share the things I’ve found helpful.*

Despite my really pretty low level symptoms, my doctor listened when I described them, took me seriously and told me that what I was saying sounded important. Low level as they are, the symptoms were still enough to be diagnosable and worth referring for treatment, and catching it at this early stage should stop it becoming worse. It’s SO worth knowing the symptoms of mental illness, so you know when to seek help; you don’t have to just accept these symptoms as normal and suffer in silence, there is help, and as with so many illnesses, treating it early gives the best prospects of recovery.

So. My self-help group is basically a training course, teaching a group of us a set of techniques called Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, which basically aim to break the vicious cycles of self-destructive thoughts and behaviours our illnesses can lead us into. This is the main recommended treatment for mild depression and anxiety, and one of the most effective too for mental illness in general. It is front-led, and somewhat death-by-powerpoint, but as a result, none of us have to share anything personal or talk about our illness or circumstances at all unless we want to. I’m currently almost half way through the CBT course, and am already seeing some things change.

One of the most significant changes is actually that I’ve seen a massive change in the confidence of other participants. The first session I found heart-breaking; we were a room full of beautiful, broken souls, and so many were evidently completely unaware that they were not alone. People were surprised to hear that mental illnesses like theirs affect a quarter of people at any one time, and stories emerged of feelings of isolation, worries that they were ‘crazy’ or would be seen that way, years spent trying to just cope with the way they were feeling, unaware that there was help available, or that ‘help’ did not necessarily mean scary drugs and certainly did not mean being locked up, and all sorts of feelings of guilt, weakness or inadequacy in coming to this group. I realised how incredibly, unusually blessed I am to be surrounded by so many friends, family and colleagues who are open about their health and help to raise awareness and share solidarity with each other; as a result, I have experienced none of this. Four weeks in, people are no longer trying to sneak into the clinic unseen; they are talking more freely about their experiences, they are beginning to see how normal and common their experiences are, to speak of their illnesses as illnesses and not weaknesses, and there’s a general sense of solidarity, strength and pride breaking through. It’s lovely! Openness makes such a difference! Breaking stigma is one of our greatest weapons against mental illness, so please do what you can to open up the conversation around you; it truly makes a difference.

Anyway; back to the content. We have so far been learning techniques to help us improve our sleep patterns, calm us down when anxious, break cycles of destructive thinking, and motivate ourselves into getting active again when depression tries to shut us down, paralyse us into inaction, stop us enjoying the things we used to, or to regain control of tasks that seem overwhelming.

Sleep – sleep problems can be a cause and symptom of depression and anxiety, and tackling them can help recovery. Caffeine, alcohol, sugar, smoking, eating too soon before bed, physical discomfort, exercising not enough and/or too soon before bed, lying awake, and using the bed for things other than sleep and sex, especially involving screens, are all detrimental to sleep. Apparently the amount of sleep we get is far less important than its quality, so it isn’t about going to bed or getting up at particular times so much as retraining ourselves to sleep well when we do sleep. We were advised to learn the difference between feeling fatigued and feeling sleepy – literally ready to fall asleep – and only go to bed when we are genuinely sleepy, and to get up and go somewhere away from the bedroom if we find ourselves lying awake, until we feel sleepy again. Keeping a sleep diary for a couple of weeks (no longer, don’t get too hung up on it) can help identify patterns.

Calming techniques – we were taught a breathing exercise to help us to calm down when feeling anxious. Instead of breathing quickly and shallow, it helps slow our breathing down and deepen it. Putting one hand on our chest and one on our belly we can feel the difference between breathing deeply and shallowly. When we are breathing deeply, from the diaphragm, our belly should move more than our chest, so focus on this. Count as you breathe in – maybe to four but whatever feels natural – hold the breath in for a second or two, then let the breath out slowly as you count a little longer – maybe to six, but again whatever feels natural. Focussing on breathing can help calm the mind in itself, but so does the deep breathing itself. We also learnt a relaxation technique where in your mind you think about each part of the body in turn, noticing how it feels, tensing the muscles there and then consciously relaxing them again, working down the body until we’ve noticed and relaxed all areas we’ve had tensed up.

Thought Challenging – healthy or unhealthy, we all have negative thoughts pass through our minds regularly. But when we are ill, they come at us more frequently, we lose resilience to them, and we can find ourselves in unhealthy thought spirals. Firstly, we learnt the difference between a thought and a feeling, which sounds obvious until you consider how often we might say ‘I feel…’ when describing something we actually think (for example ‘I feel stupid’). A thought you can rephrase into an ‘I think…’ statement (‘I think I am stupid’), and someone could call into question, whereas a physical or emotional feeling (‘I feel sad/hot/sick…’) no one can argue with. Secondly we learnt the different types of unhelpful thought patterns we might find ourselves in, so that we can learn to spot them. These include: Thinking in very black and white terms (that things can’t be partly good, only all good or all bad), Overgeneralising (thinking something is always the case), Taking things personally (eg thinking it must be your fault), Mind reading (thinking you know what someone else is thinking or coming up with reasons why something has happened), Fearing the worst, fixed ‘Shoulds’ that induce guilt, Focussing on the negative whilst ignoring the positive, or even Disqualifying the positive (eg putting down a compliment paid to you rather than accepting it), making Negative predictions that can be self-fulfilling (such as ‘I won’t enjoy myself’), and Mistaking feelings for facts. We were encouraged to keep a diary, noting down the negative thoughts we’d had as they come at us, to rate how bad they made us feel and how much we believed them, and through that, to identify the really problematic one that we’d most like to tackle. For me – ‘I think I’m a failure’. It should also help identify triggering situations. Finally, we challenge the thought. We were taught to put the thought on trial, to list the concrete, factual evidence for and against that thought really being true. Usually that will result in a list of points both for and against it. And from this, we can then work out a more rational statement to replace the original thought with; not an unrealistically positive statement, but a more true one, taking into account both sides of the facts. Identifying, analysing, challenging our thoughts and learning to believe the replacement thought more than the original negative thought will take practise, but I’m finding even beginning to practise is helping disrupt the unhelpful thought spirals that lead to my low moods.

Motivation – depression can easily demotivate us from doing anything; it feels like a weight pressing down on us, making even straightforward activity hard work, making us tired or overwhelmed, taking away enjoyment from things we used to enjoy doing, and adding anxiety to social situations that can make us avoid others. However, the truth is that withdrawing from activity is one of the very worst things to do; it perpetuates and deepens the illness in a vicious cycle and can lead to it becoming really serious. Breaking that cycle takes a lot of effort, but is vital to recovery. The first thing we were advised was that motivation doesn’t necessarily precede activity; activity itself is often what causes motivation to increase. The technique we were taught to regain motivation I have to admit caused me a lot of anxiety even thinking about it, as it sounds like the to-do list from hell – but I do think it makes sense in breaking the paralysing effects of depression, so I’m going to persevere with making it work:

We were taught to list all our routine tasks (everyday things like showering and cooking for example), our necessary tasks (like work, paying bills, and for me at present, freecycling all the junk that’s in our garden), and pleasurable activities (including things we used to enjoy doing but are currently finding difficult, such as social activities or hobbies). The next step is to rate them in terms of how easy or difficult we are currently finding each task, breaking down those we’ve rated hardest into the smallest chunks we can, and then re-rating those chunks for difficulty. Then we are to plan out our weeks, scheduling in the tasks for really specific times so we don’t put them off, making sure we plan in a good balance of routine, necessary and pleasurable activities, and crucially, starting small. They emphasised the need to not try to take on too much to start with, but concentrate on the tasks we’ve rated as easiest, and also not to get carried away if we achieve something and feel good, and be tempted to do too much more, overdo it, and then feel low on energy the following day. Finally, at the end of the week, we were advised to review the week’s plan before planning our next week; what worked, what didn’t, had we taken on too much, could we do a bit more..?

Discussing this in the group after we’d given it a go for a couple of weeks, we found that breaking down the tasks as much as possible, and celebrating and rewarding small victories rather than beating ourselves up for stuff we hadn’t managed to do were really important, and I confessed that I’d found it hard to do with a rather chaotic lifestyle; I’ve been trying to apply the principle to smaller blocks of time, maybe a day or half day at a time, planning my time so I don’t get stuck on the sofa feeling low and overwhelmed but making sure I deliberately planned in little tasks to all my time, and keeping a good balance between routine, necessary and pleasurable activities. I now have a book in which I’ve started noting down small victories, things I found difficult on the low days but did anyway, which is encouraging.

At the same time, I have been reading a book with a friend called ‘Loving God With All Your Mind’. This is a book written by Elizabeth George, a Christian who discovered a similar treatment for depression and anxiety via the Bible. Having struggled with depression and anxiety for many years, she suddenly made a breakthrough after reading the words of Phil 4:8; ‘…think about what is true and honourable, right and pure, beautiful and respected. If anything is good and worthy of praise, think about these things.’ She suddenly had a revelation that actually the way she was thinking did not match up to these criteria. The more she examined her thoughts, held them up against these virtues, and questioned ‘but is it true?’, the more she began to break her destructive thought patterns and head towards recovery.

Truth in particular is an important one; it is so easy to begin to believe or worry about untruths, about ourselves, about others, and certainly about God. Some of my own are that I am a failure, that others are better than me at everything, and feeling surplus to requirements, even to the extent of doubting whether God has a use and a plan for me. There’s a little truth behind some of this; but are these things really true..? Honestly, no.

The technique is remarkably similar to that recommended under CBT, and has helped many people overcome depression and anxiety. Learn to identify the negative thoughts underlying your low feelings, and ask yourself ‘but is it true?’. I’ve been doing this a lot over the last few weeks, and although it’s early days, I know it is already helping a little. I’m still getting into negative thought spirals that mean sometimes I just cannot lift myself out of a real low, but just beginning to ask the question, is it true, is already starting to interrupt the vicious cycle a little, and causing me to focus on what I do know to be true in fact, even if I don’t necessarily feel it at the time. Good stuff. I’m only part way into the book so I can’t say whether the whole book is helpful or not as yet, but certainly I recommend these first few chapters, and exploring how this Biblical advice could help you.

We so easily lose sight of what is actually, really, true. Bringing ourselves back into a true perspective is tough when we’re ill, and takes a lot of time and practise. But at the end of the day I do believe the truth will set us free.

(2nd half of this post here, featuring my notes on what we learnt about panic attacks and managing worry.)


 

*I figure it is in the interests of the NHS to have this shared widely to potentially help others on the way to recovery and thereby possibly help reduce pressure on the overstretched service – though please do still go to professionals for help. What you won’t get from online advice is the chance to ask questions and advice of professional therapists, share difficulties you find when using these techniques, tips for making them work for you, and the sense of solidarity from being part of a group and learning with others in the same position.

My mess, God’s grace

I’ve had an interesting few weeks lately. It began with me getting into a situation I shouldn’t have, and the result has been a crazy journey through temptation, failure, and God’s amazing grace. I feel like I’m at a point now where I’ve learnt a lot from the whole mess, so I’m writing about it now partly in the interests of honesty and partly so that I have it to return to next time I screw things up!

Let’s get it out there to start with; it’s slightly complicated but, having so far managed to avoid the obvious, I managed to find a whole new way to be unfaithful to my husband. Friends and family – we’re fine, I’ve been backtracking furiously ever since I realised what I was getting into, I think I’ve caught it before any real harm was done, and we’ve talked about it and although I’ve definitely crossed the line of what I think is ok, thankfully he doesn’t see it that way. We’re fine, and I’m an idiot. But it has been a shock to see what I’m actually capable of, that after almost 16 years as a Christian, just when I was beginning to see some progress in other areas I’ve struggled with, I’ve found a whole new way to sin that I hadn’t even anticipated being a problem. And it’s shaken me that I could let it get out of control.

However, I’m beginning to feel the whole experience has actually been good for me. It’s highlighted my weakness. I know myself better, and I also know God’s grace better, and my dependence on it. This last couple of weeks I’ve been working at a Christian festival, mostly on my own, so have had a lot of time to process this through with God, and it’s been a powerful experience of grace.

What I did was not ok, not good for me. Sin is a serious matter – Jesus went so far as to say if your eye causes you to sin, cut it out, and though He was exaggerating, He did it to make a point about how seriously we need to take it. I’m not cutting out the external cause, but I have to cut out the sin. I’ve found the aforementioned ‘siren’ was not the external source of temptation so much as my internal response to it. Sometimes the best response to temptation is to run from it, especially if the source of it is something unhealthy, which in this case it definitely isn’t, but this time I feel I need to stand up to it and face it down – otherwise I know it’ll only pop up elsewhere. The problem is what’s going on in me.

This new awareness of my weakness has caused heartbreak, contrition, repentance, and ultimately a little more salvation; it’s breaking a bit of me down, bringing more humility, saving me. The more I walk with, struggle with, this issue, the more the heartbreak and humility bring me closer to God.

Losing faith in myself is essential to faith. We can’t fully have faith in God whilst we still have faith in ourselves, and sometimes we don’t realise we do have faith in ourselves until something shakes us and causes us to lose it. We cannot know God’s undeserved love and how incredible that is until we’ve grasped how much we don’t deserve it, and sometimes that understanding can only come through our failures.

I’m rejecting giving in to guilt in all this. Guilt lies, and tells us we’re failures and should just give up. Shame on the other hand leads to the contrition and heartbreak that bring us back to grace; we find ourselves a wreck we have no faith in, and find God accepting and loving us even at our lowest point, giving us a second chance even when we feel we’ve just blown our 100th chance and have no hope of changing in our own strength.

The amazing truth is that as far as God is concerned, every single time we come back to God with our mess and ask God’s help, we have a totally new start. Our next mess up is effectively our first ever, it doesn’t add to the pile. We are not condemned. God’s mercy is new each morning. God is with us even whilst we are wading through things that would bring us death.

I find it so hard to get a right perspective on myself. I tend to think of myself as more innocent than I am, and then when I screw up, and God declares me forgiven and innocent, I carry on beating myself up! My challenge is to truly believe both that I am capable of terrible things, worse than I’ve yet fallen into, but simultaneously to believe that I am innocent in God’s eyes and that I genuinely have a new chance at getting it right every single moment, regardless of how many times I’ve in reality got it wrong in the past.

So I think this really has been good for me; I may not have gained any of this perspective or understanding without getting into a mess (though I wish I had!), and being honest about it with my friends, my husband, and most of all with God has actually strengthened my relationships and helped me get my priorities the right way up. Jesus definitely has ways of making good come of bad situations if we let him.

Finally I think I’ve found two ways to break temptation’s power; the first is to be open about it and bring it all out into the light. Keeping this stuff secret allows guilt to creep in and keeps me from being accountable to others, so that the mess can build up in secret until it takes hold. In the open it looks smaller, and others can help me through it. It really deepens relationships when we can be real with one another rather than pretending to have it all sorted. Plus it isn’t going to become a scandal that makes a hypocrite of me. Secondly, God’s total forgiveness and grace breaks temptation’s power like nothing else, we really do have a true clean start and do not have to feel a failure. All our past mistakes are gone; let them go and move on.