Tag Archives: Hope

Living with thorns

Last month I was invited to take part in a teaching series my church has been running on mental health. Each session had looked at a different aspect of mental health from the perspectives of scripture, a mental health professional, and a testimony from a church member. I was invited to be the testimony for the session on depression.

I was actually very excited to speak about this, as being open about my mental health is really important to me personally and in terms of creating a space for others to talk about it too. You can listen to the whole teaching slot here (search for ‘Living With Thorns’), featuring myself and a therapist from the congregation being interviewed by the preacher as part of the talk, but here is my testimony itself:

Interview:

In your darkest moments what is it like for you to live with depression?

I found this first question a bit difficult as I’ve had two experiences of depression, one severe in my teens and before I became a Christian (I was actually spontaneously healed when I fist met Jesus!), and more recently a spell of mild depression, mainly through 2016, though I’m still very much walking through recovery from that now, it can be a bit of a process. So the lows are all very much past tense, and day-to-day now it is pretty mundane. Maybe that’s helpful to note in itself?

Depression takes many forms. Back in my teens I had severe depression and it manifested in suicidal thoughts, hopelessness and emotional numbness. My recent, mild, illness has been more like a crushing lack of energy and motivation and a tendency to feel so overwhelmed it paralyses me, only occasionally spilling over into low mood. But it’s all the same illness, it presses down on you as a heavy weight. For me, recently, the bad days have felt like a spiral out of control; my thoughts assail me so heavily it feels like being beaten round the head and knocked down. Thoughts of failure, of not being enough, of inadequacy, and on top of that, of all the myriad things I ‘should’ be doing, and you can imagine how upsetting is would be to have someone have that sort of rant at you – it’s like that, I break down in tears and can’t easily separate out what really needs to be done now from all those ‘should’s under the weight of it all. So – I get stuck, end up lying on the sofa, having an uphill battle to even make myself drink a glass of water…

So that’s the worst of the current beast I live with! Most days now it just manifests as a lack of energy, a frustratingly low burn-out point, despite my hope and joy and love of life.

But the darkest I’ve known previously has felt like absolute hopelessness. It is dark and terrifying to be unable to see any hope or potential for change. Depression can lie so convincingly that there is no hope it feels like an objective fact that no-one else could ever possibly understand from outside. But having come out the other side I can tell you it is a lie, and that there absolutely is always hope, in God’s big picture that is bigger than us and our lives if nothing more, and as long as you are breathing you can live for that and be part of it.

We know you have faith in Jesus so could you tell us what it is like to follow Jesus through depression?

Positives and negatives; because my illness lies to me it can be harder to hang onto the truth, I easily find myself projecting my own insecurities onto God (ie in my case I first realised I wasn’t well when I noticed I was starting to wonder if God had a place for me or had just made me ‘for decoration’ without a real purpose in God’s plan… in truth, finding my place and purpose is not easy. I’m struggling with that myself. But that’s not God!). Faith is also potentially an area I can beat myself up over, for example when I want to read the Bible but don’t for whatever reason – it’s normal I think to feel bad about that, but when depression weighs in on it it can feel really bad (I can start telling myself I’m a bad Christian…).

On the other hand, I’m more aware of my need for God, even if God feels distant or silent sometimes. Sometimes God has felt extremely close in the silence. And there’s been something special and important about giving God some very raw prayers, rants, tears… Sometimes, when things have felt very dark and I’ve lost hope for myself, I’ve seen God’s light and the big-picture hope of God’s Kingdom coming shine so strongly in contrast to it that it takes my breath away! Without the dark I couldn’t see how strong and bright that hope is. That’s been very good for me. So too has seeing God using my experiences to help others – that’s been an incredible honour and I know God’s been using me there.

What were the best and worst parts of being part of church during times of depression?

It’s made me flaky (even in recovery!). I struggle to commit to things, have to take things one day at a time, pull out of things if I don’t feel up to it (I can easily get overwhelmed, I’ve less capacity, and things get on top of me easier), and can struggle with motivation (ie to go out, or to do certain things). All this makes it very hard to get more actively involved in church, and get to know people and become part of the community (it makes it very hard to arrange to see friends too…). That in itself can feed back into the illness as it doesn’t feel good. Church/homegroup is particularly hard if it feels like everyone else is doing fine and has their life in order! On the other hand church/homegroup can be a supportive and safe environment and somewhere I can get out the house and most importantly seek God and truth.

What helps you to cope?

Talking about it. Depression thrives on secrecy, but getting it out in the open lessens its grip, whilst also helping you to find help and support from others, solidarity with others also going through it that helps you feel less alone, and also helps you find others you can walk alongside too.

Prayer. Honesty before God. God is big enough to handle our rawest emotions, let it all out.

Self care. It’s not an easy ‘just do this and you won’t be depressed’, but it genuinely does help to be more intentional about things like exercise, healthy eating, socialising, doing things you enjoy(ed) of find/found relaxing.

Work. Having a job with a lot of structure and regular hours, and supportive colleagues and a good mental health and wellbeing culture, really, really helps.

Perspective. I need the big picture hope narrative of the Bible to pull me out of myself and keep reminding me that whatever happens in my lifetime, God’s Kingdom is coming and love wins.

Therapy. I’ve been to a CBT course, it felt frustratingly like being taught how to walk – but if I’d had a debilitating accident and lost the full use of my legs I would need just that, so why expect different of my injured mind? It’s been helpful. I’ve also been seeing a counsellor to try tackling my underlying issues.

Switchfoot! I’m only semi-joking; admittedly I am a megafan of theirs and was already before I got ill, however, the work of Christian artists who are grappling with this stuff can be a real help and support. Switchfoot is one such band and certainly do a lot for me, but there are other musicians and other forms of artists whose work explores depression and mental illness at times, and I recommend finding artists who can give words to what you’re experiencing and point you towards hope.

Here’s the vid of the interview that we recorded as a back-up in case I couldn’t speak in person on the day (featuring a feline cameo!).


If you’re struggling, or just not feeling quite right, please do try to get help – it isn’t always straightforward, but help, and hope, are out there. For a start, try this if you are in the UK, and this might be useful wherever you are.

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The INTJ

‘Sorry world.’

I used to tag the apology on whenever my personality type came up in the topic of conversation, as it will do amongst friends who’ve been exploring personality for themselves. But I’m not going to do that any more, and in this blog’s spirit of openness and vulnerability, this is why.

To be able to tell my story I’m going to need to give you a bit of background to the Myers-Briggs personality classification system, or MBTI (Myers-Briggs Type Indicator)*. This is a system for determining and understanding personality differences developed in the last century by Katharine Cook Briggs and her daughter Isabel Briggs Myers after Carl Jung’s work. MBTI is based around four pairs of personality traits, each represented by a letter (capitalised for each pair below), and sees everyone tending towards one side or another within each pair. The pairs are:

  •  Extravert/Introvert – this is about where you predominantly draw your energy from (interaction with others or time on your own) and whether your dominant ways of thinking express themselves outwardly for all to see or inwardly inside yourself;
  •  Sensing/iNtuition (do you tend to be a details person, or someone who sees the big picture?);
  •  Thinking/Feeling (do you tend to solve problems with your head or your heart first, do you tend to consider principles or people more when making decisions?);
  •  Judging/Perceiving, which is actually about how much you tend to need to have things planned out or value spontaneity, rather than anything to do with being judgemental or perceptive (I confess, not understanding where these terms come from, that I’ve come to refer to them as J for planning and P for jumping..!).

Both traits in each pair are neutral; neither is better, so it’s not a measure of how good you are at a certain thing or as a person (for example Ts are not more intelligent than Fs nor Fs necessarily better with relationships than Ts). Everyone can and probably does use all 8 of those traits (ie everyone thinks and has feelings that come into play when they make decisions), but has a preferred one for each pair, in the same way you can use both your right and left hand to write but have a dominant hand that’s easier, and can be more or less practised at using your less dominant hand.

It’s measured using responses to a long questionnaire** to try to tease out which side of each pairing you tend towards. This scores how strongly your answers point towards one side or other of a pair, however the score is more a measure of how certain you are about that tendency, rather than how strong that tendency is, and this is influenced both by how well you know yourself (the more self-aware you are, the more you will know the way you think and react, and the better you will be able to answer the questions about this), and how practised you are at using your non-preferences (for example you may naturally be a ‘P’, a person who craves freedom and spontaneity, but have spent all your life in a work environment that requires you to be very organised and plan everything through, meaning you answer the questions testing your need for planning in a more ambiguous way, or even in a way that suggests you prefer to have things planned!). The result gives you a 4-letter code for your personality type (E or I, S or N, T or F, J or P), and since there are four pairs, there are 16 possible combinations of traits and therefore 16 base personality types.

I like it because it doesn’t put people into boxes; it doesn’t tell you anything about what kind of person you are or how you are going to behave, but it explains people’s underlying tendencies and helps us understand how we work. You remain an individual, because although this is a way to identify the basis of the way you tick, the simplest building blocks of what makes you who you are and from which you build yourself, your actual personality is going to be made up of that plus all the other stuff of life.

I have taken this test more times now than I can keep track of, and probably did it for the first time around 15 years ago. I’ve come out as an INTJ every single time, regardless of how much I have changed as a person over those years, how much I think I have developed different aspects of myself, and how much I’ve pushed boundaries of interpretation when answering the questions! So what does that mean?

Firstly, I. I am an introvert. I can be loud and forceful. I love to be on stage, up front, lead a group or speak in public. If a decision is to be made, you will be left in no doubt what my views are! But my batteries are drained extremely rapidly if I spend too much time socialising, or in intense one-to-one conversation. I need time alone. I can spend many happy hours away from others, content to be with myself and my own inner world. I need people very much, but I’d far rather have a few close friends than many shallow acquaintances (which is a real struggle for me at present as I feel I’m in the latter situation here just now).

I am an N. This is the trait I’ve long been most unsure about, as I’ve not really understood what it means. As a scientist, I’ve always thought of myself as someone who bases her understanding of things more on facts and evidence than on gut feeling, so how can I be an ‘intuitive’ rather than a ‘senser’? However, I’ve never been assessed as an S, and when I’ve read about S types, none of them ring true for me. Last year I took part in a workshop with an experienced MBTI practitioner and got to explore it a bit more, and it seems this pair is more about how much we tend to focus on the detail or see the bigger picture. And that clicked! I am absolutely a big-picture person, and actually that’s probably the single most important way to understand me. It’s also been one of the most helpful concepts for me to grasp in terms of the differences between how different people think. It’s not that I disregard detail, or evidence, the tried and tested or the importance of ‘now’. But so much of what goes on inside me is big-picture stuff. I’m always in the wider context for whatever it is I’m dealing with at any particular time. Don’t try to appeal to me with individual case studies; explain to me the scale of the problem and I will be dreaming of solutions and how we might get from here to there.

And this ties into the next pair; I am a T. Anyone who knows me at all knows I have feelings!! They tend to explode on me at full force, and quite often you’ll see that explosion externally too, be it anger or love or grief or whatever. I care deeply about others, whether I know them or not, because people really matter to me. But I am so much more a head person than a heart person. I say that relates to the last point, because so much of my care for others actually stems from the idea, the knowledge, the theory that the other and their situation is important, rather than an emotional response. Going back to the case study versus the concept of the problem, if you tell me about a poor cocoa farmer who is struggling to feed her family because she isn’t being paid enough for her crops, I care because of the idea of the injustice of that situation and knowledge that there must be so many farmers out there, not just cocoa growers, in similar situations because world trade is set up to pay them as little as possible, rather than an emotional connection with her as a person. I still care. I can be quite reserved because I’m not great at knowing what to do with emotion, especially other people’s emotions, and that’s compounded by my introversion. And if a decision is to be made, it matters much more to me that that decision is correct in terms of it working, than it being correct in terms of it pleasing everyone.

Finally, I am a J. Spontaneity really stresses me out, which is great when you are married to someone who finds having everything planned out stressful! His idea of a perfect day out, and my nightmare, is to just wake up one day and decide to set out not knowing where you are going, and just wander. I want to have put that day aside for a day trip at least a few days in advance, and to have agreed where we’re going the night before at least, with a map and at least a rough idea of the route, and to know the weather forecast, where the loos are en route, what time the bus home goes and how long it will take to get to the stop! We’re both learning..! I need to have an idea what to expect and to be able to plan responses to scenarios in advance, and hate last minute changes of plan being foisted upon me.

So that is my type; the head-based, big-picture-thinking, introverted planner.

So why apologise? What’s wrong with that? Well. My type is the one that frequently gets typecast as the evil genius! You see it in all sorts of fictional villains, and alas there are real evil geniuses that fit too. It’s a combination of traits that easily lends itself to a person being quite detached and calculating, wanting their own way, and also being able to apply knowledge and understanding to achieve it. There are many very basic MBTI type summaries out there that give this sort of thing as the short and pithy description of what my type is like, portraying us as cold, reserved and scheming. Not great. Especially when you are neither particularly evil nor a genius! But there is more. Digging into my profile a bit more, you’ll see we’ve a tendency to ‘be right’. We know we are right, and we will say so! What is more, even if others disagree, or are trying to take time to come to a decision together, we are headstrong and independent enough to just go off and act on it ourselves regardless, without waiting for a go-ahead or a consensus. There’s a tendency to be inflexible, both to ideas and plans of action, and to the feelings of others. Argh! Now that does hit home! I have many a time made myself very unpopular in that sort of situation, both at work and in social scenarios. It’s an unattractive arrogance. I’ve been working hard to become more aware of that in myself and to learn better ways to handle situations and treat others, but it’s not easy.

My ‘sorry world!’ response was a little tongue-in-cheek, but in truth I was always a little embarrassed by my profile, and envied other types. The trait pairings are neutral, and so are the personality types; they do not dictate who you will be, or how you will react, or what you will be like as a person. But they do explain your underlying tendencies, and I can’t deny it, some types have much nicer starting points to work from! I read some profile descriptions and frankly they sound lovely. Mine is not that!! But you can start from a profile with tendencies to be big-hearted, creative, energetic lovers of harmony, and still act like a jerk. You can start with basic materials that tend you towards arrogant independence, and build a compassionate life upon them.

And this leads to where I am today; I am starting to love what I am. Yes, after 15 years working with it, starting, though I’ve loved who I am much longer. I’m beginning to recognise the beauty and wisdom of what God has made me out of. I’ve known in my head that all the types are needed to make the world work, but in practice have struggled to appreciate why such a potentially difficult character like myself might be necessary. But this is the good news isn’t it? All of us are full of potential, and none of us are sorted yet. We can all, particularly walking alongside the God who put us together and knows us, has a plan for us and gives us strength to be our best, build something amazing from the basic building blocks we’ve been given. I find the MBTI tool incredibly useful in understanding myself and my strengths and weaknesses, and in developing my character, and also in understanding the different perspectives those around me are coming from and so working better with them (particularly understanding that different styles of thinking are not wrong, just different perspectives as innate as my own). So there’s a fair bit in my make up that requires self-awareness just to behave decently. But we all have a bit of that, and I’m discovering that actually my type have some really beautiful characteristics waiting to be developed. I’m finding God has been at work in me, at least over this past year, helping me to uncover this, and I hope with God’s help I can grow into it in future.

So far in my journey with MBTI I’ve found it easier to see what I suspect others see of me; my tendency to put forth my ideas. What I have overlooked is what goes on inside me all the time; the vision. What is that inner world that I feel so at home in? It’s full of big ideas, concepts, dreams and an ache for justice, for the Kingdom of God, for restored relationships in all things and everything to be put right. That is where the INTJ mind can be a thing of beauty, and I’d never really grasped that before! In Switchfoot’s words, the tension is here, between who you are and who you could be, between how it is and how it should be… I see what things are like and where they’re headed, but I also see the potential. I may be short of the practical details on how to get from here to there but I am forever dreaming up vague roadmaps. The big picture drives me. As a scientist, activist and Christian, it makes sense. Somewhere inside I see before me the coming Kingdom of God, the world put right. I see the potential of humanity to not only turn around and overcome problems such as climate change, xenophobia and unjust trade, but actually be a creative force for good in the world, shaping it into something better than we started with (probably way outside my lifetime and even this era of history…). Big dreams! I think God can use that.

I recently wound up my latest round of counselling with an amazing session with my therapist*** in which she had me go over some of the damaging labels that had been put on me as a child (weirdo, daydreamer etc), and we worked through them (I won’t go into detail here, it would make a whole other blog post!) until I recognised I could replace those unhelpful labels with a better one: Visionary. I may have been a bit weird, and I was frequently off in my own world, elaborating in my own head ideas and stories based around what I’d been taught and read, which would have frustrated a teacher trying to keep me on track with the lesson. But there is the seed of the person I am now.

I may not be the person with the wild and original ideas, or the practical sense to make something work, or the patience to see a project through, and certainly not the people-person with the natural warmth and sensitivity to bring people together and look after others’ needs along the way, but there is a place for the ones with vision, especially vision grounded in the present reality, who can see the potential in the wild ideas and lift the collective expectation above the everyday. I have a way to go to work out what my place is in the world and how to harness a mind like this to make a useful contribution to the world. There’s definitely more for me to work on when it comes to working with others. But it’s exciting to see what’s always been in there!

So, no more apologies. I am an INTJ, I offer the world this perspective to work alongside yours, and I believe in us together. 🙂

 


*Disclaimer – I am not a psychologist, just someone who’s been using this to understand herself and how she relates to others for some time now, so apologies for what I’ve undoubtedly got wrong! This piece is really about my own journey.

**You can try a version here or here, these sites also give you a bit more background, plus you can read more about all the different personality types too

***Incidentally, the same tendency to see the big picture and resist inertia probably put me in therapy in the first place; if I wasn’t so bitten by failure, I’d be the sort of person who would much rather aim at the big vision and fail than to accept things as they are, and that is likely exactly what I’ve done with myself, to the point that I now have failure issues…

Wonder

Can you see the sparkles in the broken glass?

Can you see the stars through the streetlights?

Can you see the grass growing through the cracks?

Or the daisies on the wasteground?

Can you see the hurt child inside the hard man? Inside your enemy? Inside yourself..?

What innocence do your child’s eyes see in the broken places?

This is wonder;

Lifting your sights

Opening your eyes

Awakening you by surprise

Imagination calling you forwards

Where cynicism has no place

This is hope.

Will you follow its playful way?

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 🙂

Home…

And suddenly, just like that, they’re gone, as a wave sweeps clean away a sandcastle, leaving the beach a blank canvas for the next day’s adventure…

I was barely home from tour* myself when the wave first arrived, still processing all the memories in my mind, still figuring out the lessons I’d been learning on this journey. Switchfoot’s #home wave. They were not just home from the European tour; they were really home.

Jon himself first broke the news in an interview, that the teasing wave was a sign of a sea change; my band are taking a ‘hiatus’, at least from touring, and as for the future, simply ‘we’ll see’.

Ahhhh…. I knew about it already, after speaking with them and their crew during the tour and them telling us they were taking a year off from touring. So one one level, this is no surprise. On the other – it really hit hearing it from Jon. Moreover, rightly or wrongly, this seems to have developed from ‘a year out from touring’ to ‘an indefinite hiatus’. Here is the official announcement.

I am immensely proud of my Switchfam; everyone has taken it so well, the response overwhelmingly full of love, understanding and positivity, even though I know there’s also fear and sadness. We evidently care about them first as humans and not just as a band, and understand they need to do this.

For myself – honestly I feel everything. The day it came out, I had to take a long walk to disentangle my head and heart, name my feelings and get my thoughts in order. It’s all overwhelmingly positive; relief, joy, excitement, encouragement, happiness for them, certainty over my own plans, hope, trust, honour, deep gratitude… but also a lurking fear, and yes, grief. Light and heavy.

Emotionally, I am left carrying so much, and spending a few weeks off social media (and therefore away from friends who get what I’m experiencing) during Advent whilst this wave was breaking all around me has been very tough.

To call Switchfoot my favourite band would probably have been sufficient 15 years ago. But today they are so, so much more to me than that. It’s impossible to adequately explain, or to say just what they mean to me, but they’ve been part of my life for 18 years, given me so much support and guidance over that time, have become (in purely human terms) my greatest heroes and inspiration, and we’ve become extended family, again in a more real sense than is easily explained. I can’t claim at all to be personally friends with them, not even close, but there is still real relationship there.

This latest tour contained the very best shows I’ve ever experienced. The guys were mixing up the setlists a lot more, really on top of it, and it felt like they could do anything. I’ve now had moments of connection with each of them, moments when they let their guards down and let me in a little. I came away from it with a profound sense of grace, that it’s all enough. Jon has given me more than enough already and owes me absolutely nothing. At all. And God… so, so much more so. Everything, every breath, is a mercy gift, and to have been given so much more on top leaves me deeply humbled. I ended the tour by walking the labyrinth at Norwich Cathedral, meditating on the incredible journeys of grace that have marked the past 18 years, both with my band and with my God, in silent awe, and worship of the Grace-Giver.

It’s all deepened my understanding of this strange phenomenon that is fan-love. I’ve already learnt that it is more of a two-way process than I thought, that artists need to experience the personal support of their fans. But what is it that I want and need from Jon? Only that he continues to make music that reaches me, and that I can continue to find ways to communicate back to him my thanks and support, even from afar (and hopefully to learn to do this better!).

Like all love, it reaches for eternity; I don’t ever want this distant ‘conversation’ to end. The lovemiles I can live with. Even a temporary silence. But I want us to remain a part of each other’s lives, and if I’m honest, in moments like this when I see clearly its fragility, I fear to lose that. This break brings to the surface both the fear of losing Switchfoot altogether, but also a huge sense of relief, that they are clearly not going to plough on until they burn themselves out prematurely, but are thinking about sustaining themselves longterm.

I still ache after 8(?) years without Delirious?, who were never much more to me than a favourite band. The grief has softened with time, but I still feel it. I enjoy the music similarly in both cases, but Switchfoot… through the lyrics and the journey I’ve been on with them it’s become a lot, lot more; deeper, more personal, more influential on my journey, more connected with them and the fan family. And my God works in me through them. They matter immensely, musically, collectively and as individuals. And I don’t know how this will pan out. Neither do they. Everything is wide open just now. And the combination of gratitude and grief, and a myriad other things that I’m carrying is overwhelming.

This is my constant reality. I live always with the separation and the knowledge that I may never see them again. That is not new to me. Everything is grace upon grace, nothing taken for granted. I know very well, and have even said already, that I know it could have been the last time for me. But this new twist brings it all home. I feel it full on now, all the distance, the feeling of the bonds I’ve been building up all year tearing, the possibility it could all change. The unknown. The what-happens-when-the-end-comes. This isn’t it, but it makes me see with a raw freshness how finite everything is.

But I also know this is real love, love that can let go freely, knowing to do so is in the best interests of the other, and will not cling on. It is wonderful seeing them all so excited, feeling the love and enjoying the freedom of normal life. And I trust.

The strongest and most powerful emotion I’m experiencing just now is the thankfulness. These past 18 years, and this year more than anything, have been grace upon grace upon grace, to the point I’m moved to thankful tears whenever a fresh realisation hits. The songs, the shows, the sheer amount of time and music we’ve been blessed with, the aftershows and side projects and writings and laughs and life examples… I cannot ask for more! I’m even still riding the highs from this year’s shows. I am so, so happy and thankful!

And I know enough to truly believe they sincerely intend to be back again, and are even now only talking about ceasing one aspect, touring – which I myself have previously even encouraged them to think about! They work incredibly hard; it’s absolutely deserved.

I think they are playing for keeps – and so am I. There will be more sandcastles yet.


*The rest of my blog following Switchfoot’s second Looking for Europe tour starts here

Looking for Europe 12: Belfast – embracing the chaos

October 28th

Today may have started with two of the worst cups of tea I have ever consumed, but it certainly improved from there!

Although we were not looking forward to taking a rail replacement bus over to Belfast the journey was actually pretty good, and we saw lots of autumn colours on the way there. Belfast itself was a surprisingly beautiful city. I realised as soon as I saw it that I had no mental picture of how it would be, but it still surprised me with its art and architecture.

The hostel was just a short walk from the venue and the VIP event wasn’t due to start until 5 so we had plenty of time to chill out. We took our time getting ready for the show and playing Switchfoot, but eventually the pre-show angst began to get to me, and I decided I needed to take a bit of a break from Switchfoot until the show before it got too much, so I went out for a walk along the river, grabbing a silly photo of our mascot KittyJon with a striking statue before rushing back to the show.

When we arrived at venue we could already hear them soundchecking Lonely Nation! We stood and listened through the door. This time we didn’t have long to wait before they let us in.

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We wanted to hear Lonely Nation so much that they agreed to play it again for us inside,  after a lot of jamming. Jon’s yells right from the start were really overwhelming, especially to such a tiny audience!! I was almost knocked off my feet 🙂 They took more requests, and were going to play Afterlife, but something happened and they changed the plan to do Meet&Greet straight away. And then our friend from Dublin arrived, having made the snap decision to come up to Belfast for a second show!!

Jon came over as they were setting up and I told him his yelling was awesome! I was so tonguetied! He said he liked my t-shirt (Fiction Family) and I said ‘I like your band!’, which made him laugh. Chad came over and told us that following them on tour means a lot to them; he thanked us and said it was special arriving in a place they’ve never been before and seeing familiar faces.

During the Meet&Greet Jon was chatting to another fan, saying the transitions between songs were as important to them as the songs themselves so they put a lot of thought into the structure of the setlist so it flows with some rise and fall. Romey gave me a hug. It was a rather confusing VIP event this time as there was a lot of stopping and starting, the guys kept coming over and hanging out, and we were never quite sure where we were meant to be!

However we got our photos; Jude was plotting something again! After we got my picture Tim again thanked me for following the tour. Jon had disappeared but I told the rest of them they’d been my top band since about 2001 and it had taken me over a decade to see them first, and then I had thought ‘what am I playing at, I need to make the most of this’, so I was making up for lost time. I got to tell them I took up bodyboarding this summer too. I was a bit embarrassed to tell that to pro surfers as I’ve really no clue what I’m doing, just got really into it, and I told them that. Tim said ‘That’s awesome, my wife loves it too, keep it up!’

Jude’s picture was indeed funny; she had found some guitar-shaped comedy sunglasses for Drew and he looked hilarious in them! Then she got me in the next picture with Switchfoot temporary tattoos on. Drew asked me should he take the shades off, and just looking at him creased me up so I said ‘No keep them on – for the show! They suit you!’ 😀 He looked so perfect! 😀 And then Jon told me I’d been in the picture the day before in my absence!! Jude showed me later – she had printed out an embarrassing picture of me wet from the sea and had it in the photo! Oh dear 😀

Then Jude got permission from Chico to go in the pit with a photographer’s pass; she was so stoked!! It was still confusing where we were meant to be as the event sort of just drifted seamlessly into the gig set up and no-one showed us out. But eventually we went out to queue and fangirled outside the venue, and we were joined by someone from inside the venue who had seen Jon and rather liked the look of him, which was pretty funny!

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The venue was a brick built club, larger than Dublin’s and plastered in band posters. And it was cold again; I had to keep my scarf on until Switchfoot started. I got a front row spot again, this time in front of Drew.

The Alvarez Kings were delayed coming on; it turned out that there was a lift between the green room and stage, and they had got stuck in it! But the rest of the set was much looser and smoother, with no pranks or mishaps this time, and they looked really pro. I had the feeling even before they started that I was going to be the No Resolve mic stand tonight, and I was correct!

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Switchfoot opened with Afterlife, the request from soundcheck that wasn’t played, which was a nice touch. They sounded amazing!

Tonight I admit I put far too much attention into testing my theory that Jon has certain lines from certain songs he always finds me in the crowd to sing to – and yes, as predicted, when they sang Stars I was ‘partly cloudy’ once again!

They then played Oh! Gravity again. I love how much they have been playing this one! To begin with Jon was having some trouble with vocal effects on the pedal but it nonetheless sounded as epic as ever, and they rocked!

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Then they played YLIAS, and then Bull and LAIWTF, for which Jon was in crowd, coming up by me during LAIWTF, and I lifted him back up to the barrier. I just love watching him interact with people whilst singing in the crowd!

They played Needle (And Haystack Life) for the first time of the tour; that’s the song I’d previously noticed Jon singing a particular line to me in so I was keen to see if he’d stick with it – but no, he didn’t tell me not to let go 😀 Maybe he has a new target 😀 This one really got the crowd singing. Drew was all hair tonight, really going for it!

Although it wasn’t on the setlist, Jon decided to go into Only Hope, saying it felt right. Again he omitted the second verse.

And then he introduced IWLYG: ‘There’s a lot of stuff going on in the world. I look at twitter, I get depressed. I look at the news, I get depressed. There are a lot of reasons to give up; but I realised a while back it’s always going to be this way. I want to be aware of what’s going on, but I also want to be aware of the transcendent love of the Maker Himself. When I write songs I want to acknowledge the darkness in the world and within, but I don’t want to let that be the end of the story.’ This was a new perspective on this song; perhaps it is a bit political and not just personal? None of this (world) is in your control. It’s an amazing song even just taken as a song about God’s love for us, but this gives it a new layer of meaning. As they played, the guys all had their eyes closed, as if each were playing to an audience of one.

Suddenly the last thing anyone expected happens: Jon decides to embrace the chaos, asking ‘Any questions, comments or concerns?’ in the middle of the show, and it goes weird! It went something like this:

Person in crowd – ‘What’s your favourite colour?!’ Jon – ‘The blue of the Pacific, or Atlantic (crowd – ‘wooo!!’), ocean!’

Another person in the crowd – ‘When’s the next album out?’ Jude – ‘Soon!’ Jon – ‘Ahhhh… Soon!!’

Person 3 – ‘Wanna come to my house for dinner?!’ Jon – ‘What’s cooking?’ Person 3 – ‘Whatever you want, your choice!’ Jon – ‘Some sort of really traditional Irish meal??’  Person 3 – ‘Then you’ve got stew! We’re going surfing tomorrow too.’ Jon – ‘Got spare boards? More importantly got spare wetsuits..?!’ Me – ‘It’s warm!!’ Person 3’s friend – ‘Got 1 year olds too!’ Jon – ‘What else you got?!’ Jude – ‘Chocolate!!’ 😀 So much hilarity! ‘Questions, comments or concerns?’ is a tongue-in-cheek question he frequently asks at sound checks and aftershows, but I cannot believe he did that in the middle of the show, especially right after IWLYG 😀

Somehow he managed to bring it back and play Hello Hurricane around the fancy mic! He said ‘We’re family; we’re going to get stew and surfboards and 1 year olds and chocolate…’ 😀

They again played the Thin Lizzy cover they’d had so much fun playing the previous night, the gleeful grins on their faces were infectious and we could tell they were having a blast.

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Then I got my last chance to test my song line theory, as they played House Burns – and yup, same line again! Jon wasn’t even my side of the stage, but shot over to me at that line. It’s just a little weird!

As with previous evenings they closed out the main part of the show with Where I Belong and Meant To Live. And they stuck to the same encore routine, except that when it came to Float the disco ball was broken and chugged round super slowly, causing a lot of amusement! Live It Well Jon again invited us to imagine we’re at a California campfire, and he said to ‘person 3’ ‘You’re bringing the stew!’ There were lots of smiles, and they were really grooving with it.

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Then they finished with Dare You To Move. Suddenly poignant, Jon said ‘I never know how many more times I will be able to do this; I live each day like it’s my last. Thank you for a beautiful last night in Belfast.’ 😥 Lump in throat. Cannot even go there. He began the song with a yell and Tim filled in with lots of bass. And then it was over, Josh once again returning me my banner.

There was no aftershow; a halloween party was coming in and it was raining so we went away eventually and got chips. My fan love was going crazy. Jon is full of miracles. 🙂


October 29th

The next morning I realised I had made a crucial error: I forgot to air the Where I Belong banner. Oops. I could see the sweat on it last night!! 😛 😀

I couldn’t believe we were half way through! At the same time, tour life had begun to feel like normal life. Perhaps I could live like this..? A voice in the back of my head reminded me that that would be pure escapism however; I do this to keep me fuelled and inspired for facing the real world with all its trouble and pain and injustice. It would be a lie to run away…

Today was purely a travel day; we had a chilled morning, getting up late and having a good breakfast in a cafe together with our Dublin friend, including a decent cup of tea! We went to the station, taking pictures of the venue as we passed…

But then chaos descended again. We arrived at the station to find that the bus we had booked on helpfully did not exist. The next one was going to be later and only arrive at 1:30, which was the last check in for the ferry, and it wouldn’t go to the terminal. I sent out another emergency prayer request!! We almost got put in a taxi, but that too fell through. So, we got on the bus, and prayed.

Embrace the chaos. None of this is in your control…

We arrived back in Dublin just after 1pm and got straight into a taxi, arriving at the ferry terminal just before 1:30… and ha, no way, the ferry was 30 minutes later than I thought, and we were well on time!! 😀 Suddenly all the stress dissolved into hilarity and thankfulness! Oh my gosh 😀 Oh well 😀

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The ferry journey was fab for me, less so for Jude! She got sick, but I spent the voyage up on deck. It was a fast ship and woahhh when it got going was it fast!! It almost literally blew me away! 😀 I found myself stuck fast to the railing with all my layers on, and a big grin on my face, wind beating against me, spray lashing, and the boat pitching! The spray threw up rainbows as we powered along and dissolved Ireland into ‘salt hazy pearls’ to quote one of M’s songs, and the sky was beautifully dramatic with a sunbeam-filled sunset as we arrived back in Wales. I saw a pod of common dolphins race past, leaping out of the water, and also guillemots and a shearwater. It was incredible! We got back to land with me saltcrusted, frozen to the bone, and totally stoked 😀

After a long drive featuring much singing along to Switchfoot, we arrived back at Jude’s for a chilled evening, sleeeep, and a fairly relaxed morning at home before setting out again for more adventures.

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Chasing the wind?

I read the book of Ecclesiastes this summer. If you’re not familiar with it, it is the musings of an old ‘Philosopher’ on life; what satisfies, what is the point of it all? He tries to make sense of life, and what the purpose of both life itself and its pleasures are, given its brevity, the randomness of chance, and the fact that, taking the long view in his eyes, everything comes around again in an endless cycle in which nothing lasts. ‘Everything is meaningless, like chasing the wind’. He speaks with great wisdom, and yet I found myself debating with him as I read.

It occurred to me I’m thinking like the Philosopher, and not in a good way; in the long, slow recovery from the depression that has knocked back my energy for activism, if not my desire to see things change, I’m starting to succumb to the feeling that everything has happened before and will happen again, it all comes around again and nothing makes a difference. And then as I try to nurse myself, I find I am just trying to ‘feed’ myself, give myself the things I want, as if that could satisfy, and finding unsurprisingly that it doesn’t.

The Philosopher blows back and forth on this, on the one hand saying it’s useless as chasing the wind, on the other that enjoying what we have is all we can and should do.

But is that true?

I think adding Jesus to the equation changes everything. In Him there is a bigger narrative of hope and direction. There is eternity. Everything is headed somewhere. There will be justice – beyond the timeframes of our lives. Which side of that we choose to stand on now matters, not because we can change the endless cycles of rise and fall in this world in our lives, but because He sees it, and is honoured and assisted, or dishonoured and hindered, in His work by our actions and inactions in all things.

Recently at church the speaker preached on the whole book! Their conclusion was similar, that you need Jesus to complete the picture. The service was focussed on wisdom, rather than any other aspect of the book, but it took a similar course. The Philosopher points out that wisdom does not guarantee success, and asks what the point is, and yet concludes that it is still the best way to live and enjoy life. And yet wisdom is personified in Jesus; without Him, there is a hole in the logic. Why live wisely if it doesn’t bring us any benefits, except to know and please the one who is Wisdom?

The speakers made a big deal of how ‘depressing’ the book is to keep emphasising the reality of death. But isn’t this an important, and even life-giving, perspective, a wake-up call to remind us to actually remember to live whilst we have time? It is good and healthy to look at the material and remember how transient we are. But the conclusion of that should not be that we can only consume it in the time we have, but that we need to find contentment. And more than that, we can do far more than simply enjoy what we have; we can actually use it to help others thrive. We are blessed to bless, given to to give. In this way we build something bigger and more lasting than anything merely material we could build and invest in here for ourselves.

Everything may well come around. The justice, peace and progress we work for may well never be seen in our lifetimes, and may be undone in the generations to come. It is important to remember that I cannot fix the world. Even small acts of good that I do may be undone again afterwards. Does that mean it is worthless? No, it is worth it if I can help others now nonetheless. It is not my own legacy that I’m working for, but God’s, not my own kingdom but the eternal Kingdom of God. Never let fatalism become an excuse for apathy! It matters now!

What struck me most from the church sermon was when we were told the meaning of the word translated as ‘meaningless’ – ‘hevel’. It means vapour, breath, smoke.  Real, but intangible, transient, hard to grasp, hard to hold onto. Life is like this. It isn’t meaningless, but we cannot hold on to it, or anything in it. We can enjoy them. We can live in the now. But the only solid, lasting thing we can build is the Kingdom of God, and making life more enjoyable for others.

This is the perspective that I need right now. I cannot truly care for myself and nurse myself back into health by simply feeding my desires, though a certain amount of that is no bad thing. It won’t actually satisfy; but blessing others will. And whilst I cannot fix the world, I can always look for the opportunities before me in all situations and take the baby  steps towards bringing in God’s Kingdom that will get me walking again with some direction.

Don’t try to run from what’s uncomfortable; look for what opportunities you’ve been given to do good, and take them. That will satisfy in a way that feeding our comfort and material desires never could. It will outlast us all.