Tag Archives: Inspiration

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…

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Breaking the silence at Yarl’s Wood

On 24th March, M and I got on a 7am train to travel to Yarl’s Wood detention centre near Bedford. We went to join a solidarity demonstration, aiming to give support and encouragement to the (mostly) women inside the centre who were themselves protesting their treatment. 120 of the detainees had been on hunger strike for a month, and we felt so moved by that show of courage and desperation that we felt we had to show up to support them and do what we could to make their voices heard.

Yarl’s Wood is an immigration detention centre. People who do not yet have leave to remain in the UK can be raided and taken to these centres, and locked up there indefinitely. Sometimes they are released, sometimes they are deported, and often without notice. Those detained may be undocumented immigrants, or they may be detained during the process of claiming asylum. They may have had asylum claims rejected and are either in the process of appealing their rejection, or have been left destitute with no means of leaving the country (and in any case, nowhere to go to if they feel that ‘home’ is no longer safe for them). It is government policy that asylum seekers may neither work nor claim benefits, so that if their claim is rejected they are often left destitute, in theory to ‘persuade’ them to leave.

Claiming asylum is a right enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. If a person is in danger and has to flee their country, they may claim asylum on arrival in the first country they arrive in after escaping. If the receiving country finds their claims to be reasonable, they must accept the person and give them protection as a refugee. But countries such as the UK make it a very difficult process. As part of the policy of creating a ‘hostile environment’ towards immigration, targets are set for the number of deportations, which means officials are under pressure to reject as many claims as possible to keep numbers of accepted refugees small. As a result, asylum seekers are often lied to or given confusing and conflicted information on arrival about the proper process to making a claim, meaning they can easily be refused refugee status later when it is shown they didn’t follow procedure. If they do claim, they can be kept waiting long periods, refused arbitrarily and forced to go through long appeals processes, made to give concrete proof of their claims, or provide documentation they cannot obtain without putting themselves further at risk. Conversely, they may be ‘fast tracked’, giving them just days to make their case. And all the while, they may be detained and risk deportation.

We first became aware of what was happening a few years back, when a couple we knew were detained, mistreated and deported.

The husband was involved in a political party in his home country, but his political involvement attracted the attentions of a rival, more extreme political group that were known for ‘disappearing’ political opponents. Realising they were in danger, but not understanding their rights to asylum, the couple decided to escape to the UK where they could study towards their profession under student visas. When their studies and visas ended, they then tried to claim asylum, but were rejected as they hadn’t claimed on arrival. They appealed the decision; whilst in the UK, the situation back home had deteriorated. His brother had been hunted down and murdered by the extremists, and furthermore, the couple had become Christians here, which put them at additional risk of persecution back home (and was also how we had come to know them). They went through lengthy appeals; they had the documentation necessary to prove their identities, their political involvement, the activities of the rival group, their relation to the murdered man, his death and the facts surrounding it, and there was plenty of evidence for their new faith being genuine. At the end of the process, their claims were eventually thrown out on the grounds that, as corruption existed in their country, they could in theory have bribed multiple agencies to falsify all the documents. There was no evidence that they could provide that would be accepted in any circumstance, simply because of their country of origin. (That is particularly awful; I challenge you to find me a country in which corruption is completely absent.)

Now pregnant, the couple were detained, I believe in a sudden raid, and taken to Yarl’s Wood. Whilst there, we got word that the husband was being physically abused. The church attempted to gain access to him, to have his wounds investigated, and gain access to a legal investigation into how he had been hurt, but this was denied. The border agency then made a rushed, botched attempt to deport them. The private security firm guards contracted by the agency tried to force them to board a flight to their country of origin; when they struggled to resist this and screamed for help, they were both beaten, subjected to anti-Christian abuse, and handcuffed so tightly that their hands turned blue due to loss of blood circulation. Other passengers on the aircraft who expressed concern were told not to worry, and that the guards would keep them safe from the ‘illegals’ who were making such an unruly racket. The pilot then intervened, and upon seeing how the couple were being treated by the guards, ordered them all to leave the aircraft.

Eventually the agency managed to deport them by separating them, holding them in solitary confinement in different detention centres for a period, and then misinforming both of them that the other had been deported so that they finally consented to be taken. We heard from them shortly after their return that they had immediately fled the country again and were now in hiding over the border. Thankfully their baby survived.

What outrages me most about this process is that people fleeing danger in their own countries are treated with fewer rights than criminals, despite having done nothing wrong. I accept that our country’s resources and capacity to help are not infinite, and also that some bogus claimants will try to play the system, and that it is legitimate (though in my opinion not necessarily moral) to want to exclude such people and ensure that they use legal means of entering the country if they wish to do so. But I don’t accept that we should deny compassion and human rights to anyone, especially those who come to us claiming to be in grave danger and seeking a safe refuge.

Even the most dangerous serial killer is considered innocent until proven guilty (this is because it is easier to disprove a person’s claim to innocence by producing evidence of their culpability than it is to produce evidence that nothing happened, as well as to avoid the possibility of a miscarriage of justice). They must be given a fair trial. They have access to legal representation, medical care, and protection of their lives. Once they are found guilty, they are given a defined sentence. Once they are locked up, they lose their freedom for the duration of that sentence, but are still given adequate food, clothing and medical care, and allowed contact with their families unless deemed dangerous to them.

But an innocent person seeking sanctuary, who has committed no crime but may have escaped a war zone, or torture, or persecution due to their religious or political beliefs or sexuality, is considered guilty until proven innocent. They can be detained without warning, and without trial, denied access to legal representation and medical care. Their detention can be of any undefined duration. And whilst detained, they may not be given adequate nutrition or medical care and may be held in solitary confinement, without access to their families or other detainees. And all this is extremely damaging to a person’s physical and mental health.

Human rights abuses are occurring. In addition to taking away a person’s freedom, access to adequate care, dignity and rights to a fair trial and determined period of detention, there are allegations from former detainees of physical, sexual and emotional abuse taking place within the secretive confines of the detention centres, away from public scrutiny, so numerous that such treatment may be the norm.

When we heard the women of Yarl’s Wood were on hunger strike as a result, we felt we couldn’t stand by and do nothing to back them up.

When we arrived at Yarl’s Wood, we saw a large, long accommodation block, surrounded by a tall, green security fence and CCTV cameras. Outside the fence, stretching most of the length of it, was a crowd of fellow demonstrators, many of whom were themselves former detainees of Yarl’s Wood or other centres, with PA systems set up. Inside the fence, though the windows of the centre were only able to be opened a hand width, we saw the vague shapes of many women detainees in the windows, heard their voices calling for freedom, human dignity and closure of detention centres, and saw their waving hands. Many of them had put up placards in the windows with slogans such as ‘No human is illegal’, and some were waving bras(!) or beating the windows with plastic bottles. Placards on the outside of the fence held encouraging messages about other detention centres that had been closed down. The demonstrators had put up a phone number that detainees could call to be put through to speak to us over the PA, and between chanting (‘Yarl’s Wood – shut it down!’) and beating on the fence to make a noise that the detainees could hear to know we were there with them, we were addressed by speakers from both sides of the fence. It was incredibly powerful; the stories we heard and the courage evident in the detainees’ protest were moving and humbling.

We heard both current and former detainees tell their stories. Some had escaped torture. Several were in danger of persecution or of the death penalty for their sexuality (they told of the difficulty and humiliation of having to try to prove their sexuality). One was in danger because of her opposition to the government. Some could not speak of what they had escaped. They told how they were qualified in fields such as nursing and engineering. We heard from some how they longed for home, but could never return whilst the danger persisted, from others how frustrating it was to be unable to do the jobs they were qualified for here and realise their potential.

We heard story after story detailing demeaning treatment from officials, of dismissed evidence, of being detained without warning in dawn raids. We heard of lies they’d been told whilst in detention to repeatedly raise and dash hope, amounting to psychological abuse (the worst example was from one of the current detainees, telling us how another couple had suddenly been summoned early one morning, told they were being released and to pack because they would be leaving in a mere matter of hours, and being overjoyed – only to find it was a deportation attempt). Several reported that detainees were offered a paracetamol for any medical complaint, regardless what it was or how severe, so that detainees themselves sometimes had to call an ambulance to gain proper medical attention, and of suicide attempts being met with removal of possessions and humiliating denial of privacy as the suicidal person was put under constant watch. And we heard that they were offered ‘work’ such as cooking, decorating, cleaning and repairs at the centre – for £1 a day! Tantamount to slavery, and assisting in their own detention. Several former detainees had told how they had been detained and released multiple times.

We also heard stories of courageous resistance; of hunger strikers, of detainees standing up to the authorities, of those put to work in the centres deliberately being non-cooperative (for example, one man told how, made to work in the kitchen, he had emptied a pan onto the floor in front of the guard who was ordering him to work). Former detainees urged those inside to stay strong, to keep resisting, to make life difficult for their captors (one spoke of how he had been accepting and compliant during his first detention, believing what he was told about his release being sped up if he behaved well, but found that those who made the most trouble were released sooner, and had subsequently learned to fight back), and to believe that change is possible and that we were here supporting them. They told them the authorities were running scared, and encouraged them to keep up the pressure.

These people showed tremendous strength of character, enduring and resisting under conditions I don’t doubt for a moment would break me. I was profoundly humbled.

It was clear that the process was both inhumane and damaging for individuals, but also ineffective and costly to the state.

These detainees strike me as brave, educated people, wanting to contribute to society and with so much to offer; already brave in escaping such awful dangers, they are now speaking out for justice in a shamefully hostile environment here. I was humbled and inspired by their bravery and strength. I felt honoured to have the chance to meet some of them, to hear their stories, and I couldn’t help feel that these heroic individuals could only be of benefit to our society for their courage, compassion, wisdom and determination to see the world change for the better. The more I heard, the more I was inspired to keep speaking out with them.

Short-term, I want to see asylum seekers treated like (suspected) criminals – and it appals me that that would be an improvement on the current situation. I want to see the hunger strikers’ demands* met. I want to see asylum seekers informed properly of their status, rights and procedure, and what they can expect of their treatment from the outset. I want to see them given fair trials. I want them to be presumed innocent until proven guilty (ie, that their claims would be taken to be true with the onus on us to try to disprove what they were saying and produce contrary evidence, or else accepted). I want to see those detained given definite, fixed detention periods, and full access to food, clothing, contact, legal services, medical care, protection from abuse, and human dignity whilst detained. Medium-term, I hope one day we can see the end of detention all together, and a much fairer and more compassionate approach to asylum.

Long-term… I dream of a world that is safer and more equal, where people can move freely as they choose, where borders are reduced to a line of an address and an administrative convenience, and no longer deny anyone’s freedom. So long as some countries are relatively poor, dangerous or unstable there will naturally always be both a flow of refugees and a separate pressure of net migration away from them, but I believe the better response to this (though more difficult) is to work towards the prosperity, stability and safety of those places, rather than to close the borders of our country and our hearts against those trying to find a better life here.

Break the silence, cross every border that divides us, unite us…’

– Delirious?, Break The Silence

Below is a copy of a letter I’ve written to my MP; if you want, please feel free to use this as a template to write to your own MP, though I’d advise you to put it into your own words since I’ve written it from my own perspective as someone who attended the demonstration and heard these stories first-hand. You can send an email to your MP quickly and easily here, all you need to know is your own postcode as the site finds your MP’s name and contact details for you from that.

I recommend the Detained Voices blog for more stories from inside the detention centres, and Liberty for more on asylum and human rights.


Dear MP,

On 24th March, after hearing that 120 detainees had been on a month-long hunger strike in protest at their treatment, we went to attend a solidarity demonstration at Yarl’s Wood immigration detention centre. I want to tell you what we saw and heard there, and ask you to speak up on their behalf and mine as one of your concerned constituents.

(I here added much of what I’ve written above)

I believe human rights abuses are taking place in these detention centres and in the asylum system as a whole. It appals me that people who have committed no crime but are fleeing danger and horrors are given worse treatment and fewer rights than even the most dangerous criminals. I want to at the very least see asylum seekers treated like suspected criminals: I want to see them informed properly of their status, rights and procedure, and what they can expect of their treatment from the outset. I want to see them given fair trials. I want them to be presumed innocent until proven guilty (ie, that their claims would be taken to be true with the onus on us to try to disprove what they were saying and produce contrary evidence, or else accepted). I want to see those detained given definite, fixed detention periods, and full access to food, clothing, contact, legal services, medical care, protection from abuse, and human dignity whilst detained.

Please would you do all you can to put pressure on the government to:

Short-term:

  • Meet the demands of the hunger strikers (which are detailed below*, as written by them)

    Longer-term:

  • Close detention centres like Yarl’s Wood and move towards a fairer, more humane process
  • End the ‘hostile environment’ policy to immigration

Our country is not ‘full’, and I believe there is plenty of capacity, will and ability to help many more people seeking sanctuary than we are currently. Furthermore it is inhumane to set quotas on the numbers of people fleeing for their lives who we will help.

I want to see the government stand up to xenophobic rhetoric head on and assert the UK as a place of safety for those in genuine need of it, as far as we possibly can as a prosperous nation, whilst working towards a safer world, tackling the dangers that force people to flee their countries in the first place.

Thank you for your time.


*The demands of the Yarl’s Wood hunger strikers:

1. Shorter bail request periods
Legally it should 3-5 days, however it can take anywhere up to 21 days, or even a month before you get a bail hearing date

2. Amnesty for those who have lived in the UK 10 years and above

3. End indefinite detention
Detention periods shouldn’t be longer than 28 days

4. End Charter flights
Charter flights are inhumane because there are no prior notifications, or only an oral notification with no warning. They give no time to make arrangements with family.

5. No more re-detention
Redention should not be allowed – if you have been detained once, you should not be re-detained if you are complying with the laws they have applied. This is a contradiction, you are being punished for complying with the law; it ruins the whole purpose of expecting compliance

6. End systematic torture
Systematic torture takes place in detention – at any point an officer could turn up and take your room mate; you’re constantly on edge, not knowing what will happen next. Those who are suicidal now have their privacy taken away because they are being watched – you don’t know if an officer is coming to check on you or coming to take you away. Our rooms are searched at random and without warning; they just search first and explain later

7. Stop separating families
Separating families is inhumane – people in here are married or have British partners and have children outside, and they are denied their right to private life and right to privacy; their Article 8 rights

8. No detention of people who came to the UK as children
Young adults who came to the country as minors should not be detained, deported or punished for their parents’ immigration histories

9. The beds need to be changed
Some of us have been here for a year on the same bed; they’re the most uncomfortable beds

10. LGBT+ persons’ sexuality be believed
It should be understood that explaining your sexuality is difficult

11. Fit emergency alarms in every room in the detention centre
Only some rooms have them, and there have been a lot of cases of people being very ill in places where they can’t call for help

12. Give us access to proper healthcare

13. Give us proper food to look after our diets

14. Release people with outstanding applications

15. We want to speak to Alistair Burt MP for the constituency

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 16: Norwich – where I belong

November 2nd

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My 15th Switchfoot show in one year, and they’re finishing up at my former university, just five minutes from where I once lived ❤ This is some kind of strange and happy dream ❤

Before the show we had a little bit of time to explore Norwich, and it felt so good to be back ‘home’ I wondered again why I’d ever left. We looked round the ever-amazing market, buying fresh dates as I always have (is it the only place in the country that sells them?!) and delicious vegan wraps from one of the new street food stalls. Then we walked round the town a bit, taking in some of the lanes, the river and cathedral close before heading up to the B&B we were booked in to, and then on to the university.

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UEA was a parallel universe, so familiar and so utterly different! New buildings had popped up so navigating us in felt confusing. Once we found the carpark, memories flooded back; rabbits and buses and field trips and long-lost friends and late night student capers with talking car alarms… We headed onto the campus. It still felt, and smelt, exactly as it had before! We passed the notice board where I received my degree results, the cafe we used to hang out at in breaks, the chaplaincy centre, the square where I’d taken part in so many events and demonstrations. There’s a new fountain in it now. I wonder if anyone puts green bubblebath in it these days?

But it was another students’ union, and yet again we were faced with the same awkward situation of not knowing exactly where to go, made all the more awkward by the fact I in theory ought to know! However, although I could very much tell it was the same building, the whole inside had been completely revamped and nothing was quite how it had been rather too many years ago! We found the interior doors to the LCR without a problem (doors I’d gone through for numerous freshers’ fairs and poster sales!), but they were closed. We hung out there for a while with other lost VIPs, before hearing from our American friends that they were at the exterior door and we were meant to be out there! Oops 😀

We chatted to them whilst we waited to go in about British accents; apparently we sound very like Australians, and literally is literally the most British thing we say! It was very funny! M wasn’t coming to the show, so he brought his ukulele with him so he could hang out and work on songs whilst we were inside, and he played some songs for the VIP queue.

Eventually we were let in, and immediately discovered that the purple-painted LCR still has a sticky floor! I wonder if they’ve cleaned it at all since I left..?

We’d found confetti on the floor of every venue so far. To begin with it seemed UEA would buck that trend, but once we got to the barrier we discovered that there actually was some there on the other side of it. It was as if some other band with a confetti cannon had been touring the same venues a night ahead of us! 😀

For soundcheck Switchfoot played We Are One Tonight! That’s such a last night of tour song; they ended both my previous two tours with that one :’) I rocked out even though there were only about 15 of us there, tearing up. They took requests and decided on playing Thrive next. They were about to start when Jon asked ‘Do we need to test the fancy mic?’ to which one of the crew from the back (Travis?) shouted ‘You’re fancy!’ Jon laughed and said ‘That’s like the most demeaning word isn’t it. Fancy and little… ‘how’s that fancy little job of yours?” It was funny, and Thrive was beautiful and sung with a lot of feeling.

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Then it was Meet&Greet time. Tim asked me if I’d been bodyboarding! I laughed and replied there aren’t that many good waves in Norwich! 😀 Drew thanked me for sharing my story the previous day (he is so sweet and sensitive, always remembering the personal details) and the poster, and I said to him, Tim and Romey that they’d been such a big part of my journey the past 18 years, and that that’s a whole lot of inspiration over the years, and they really mean a lot to me. Then I told them this is my old university, and my favourite place I ever lived, and asked if they’d seen the city. Drew had, and the brothers had walked round the campus and said they loved the forest. Drew asked had I seen a lot of bands in this room? I said actually only one, and it was my second favourite band, Delirious? They told me Tim Jupp had been at the show last night, which was pretty cool! I told them I miss them, I used to see them a couple of times a year but I only ever waited for them to come to me, but I realised I had to make more of an effort for Switchfoot! I told them I was gutted I never saw them play together, I don’t know what I was playing at!

Some group photos were done, and I brought out the comedy chins for the last one! Each of us had already picked one (mine had a beard), and I asked each of them to pick one from the remaining stack.  They thought it was hilarious! After the group photo they swapped chins and did their own photo with them on, they looked absolutely brilliant :D! Tim said afterwards ‘Thanks, that was one of the funniest pranks of the tour!’ I asked him would he prefer to keep them or for me to take them, not wanting to presume either way, and he thought for a moment and decided on keeping them, so I gave him the box! Drew at the end said ‘Thanks for this; thanks for everything’. Tim said ‘We’ll see you next time.’ I replied ‘I’ve been very blessed to be able to do this, and I have no idea if I will ever have the chance again; I will if I possibly can but I never know’ and he said ‘Yeah, none of us know what the future holds, but it’s in God’s hands.’ ❤

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A very small queue had formed outside when we got back out, and it didn’t grow too much whilst we waited either. When we got in there was no rush, so I went Drew’s side of centre on the barrier. Even at the front we ended up with enough space to pile bags up next to us instead of having to keep them on our feet, penguin style, as usual!

Tonight Alvarez Kings played their intro song twice as they didn’t come on right away, and their mic was off for the very start of their set, but thankfully that was sorted promptly and they played a very energetic set, sweating! They were great but I couldn’t help noticing some fellow Switchfoot fans talking disparagingly about them, even during their performance, which I just found rude.

I was worried about that crowd; it seemed disappointingly small with the venue maybe only about half capacity, and I wasn’t sure they were that switched on either, with lots of drinking and chatting going on. It could be a difficult one… :/ Josh got loud cheers for testing the guitars during set up – was that a good or bad sign..? I couldn’t tell. A guy we’d met the previous night had a sidestage ticket tonight and he started leading the crowd! As it got towards the start of the show, everyone began chanting and clapping… What will Switchfoot make of this one?

The lights went down and there was much whooping. Then they came on to different intro track – the Needle intro from the Hello Hurricane tour featuring the voice of a child reading the song’s lyrics! Wow. I’d never heard that in person before! Switchfoot were full on right from the start, and caught that crowd up into their energy. It felt very meaningful to sing ‘It’s no accident we’re here tonight, we are once in a lifetime’ in that place, at the end of this amazing tour.

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Again they went into Stars next, and it was already pretty hot! No-one had pushed forward to join us on the barrier, and I found I had so much space in the sparse crowd I didn’t have to keep hold of the barrier at all so I just stepped back and rocked out! That was quite a novel experience!

They followed Stars with Dark Horses, this time with extra screaming! By this point I was enjoying having that extra space. Jon introduced the crew and hugged Josh, and then got Ryan’s name wrong, which was amusing.

 

Drew played a rich melodic solo during YLIAS tonight, and Jon’s harmonica playing was epic and seamlessly blended into a scream from Drew’s guitar. And oh those vocals..!

Bull and LAIWTF came next, and Jon disappeared off into the crowd, clearly connecting with a lot of people. I remember seeing Delirious? playing here, and Martin Smith popping up at the back there at one point, so it was extremely special seeing Jon now over where he had performed.

 

Back on stage, they brought the energy back down a little, playing IWLYG. I got a video of it tonight, which you can see here. I sang it back to them as a way of stating that I was sticking with them for the journey ahead.

Then Jon introduced House Burns, telling us he’d had ‘an authentic college experience, spilling some books in the hallway, burning the roof of my mouth on a slice of pizza (not that it affected his singing one jot! I was really into that voice tonight) and going for a walk in the woods’. He said the venue reminded him of his old college pub, and told us the story of how Chad had once been caught climbing on the glass roof there to watch a show inside! He dedicated the song to firefighters again. There was lots of windmilling tonight with the four guitars up front!

Then Jon told us he wanted to play a song they’d not played yet on this tour and wanted to bring Norwich something special; they played Mess Of Me, and woah! That yelling! I was rocking out completely; had we been more closely packed in and I’d been doing what I was doing it would definitely have been moshing, but here I had the space to go for it without jumping on anyone else – though I did fall over a couple of times! 😀 This show was getting very sweaty! I absolutely loved Jon’s solo where he sings and mirrors his singing on the guitar, it’s very creative and he does it so well.

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After that Jon said to us ‘Growing up, so many of our favourite bands were from this part of the world, so we’ve been playing a song on each stage of this tour from each city we’ve visited – but Norwich… we really put google to the test and came up with about 5 bands that came from Norwich, which didn’t leave us much choice! I think we can probably all agree that Led Zep is probably better than any of the 5 bands from Norwich!’ This got some cheers! And they played Ramble On again.

What. A. Voice. Oh my gosh..! 🙂

Then the ‘fancy mic’ came out again for Hello Hurricane; to begin with, Chad started a little too far away so Tim shifted him inwards whilst they played, and Jon accidentally hit Tim at one point, bringing some amused smiles! 😀

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And then Where I Belong. Once again I got my banner out, Jon asked for it, I threw it and he held it up before wearing it. Nothing new in one sense, but this time it took on so much meaning; not only the song, but here in this Switchfoot family, and here in Norwich, a place I’ve somehow always had a soul connection to. It all brought on the tears properly that had been prickling the back of my eyes since I arrived. In that moment, I was where I belong, and I soaked up every second. Forever, now.

Meant To Live blew me away, again feeling overwhelmed that there is more than this.

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Jon was still in awesome voice for the encore, adding an interlude where he got the band to play ‘a little bit softer now’, then ‘a little bit louder now’.

He began playing Live It Well, and then got Alvarez Kings up on stage to finish singing it along with them. They were so stoked! At the end, Simon picked Jon up and carried him round the stage; the drummer ruffled his hair, and there were lots of bear hugs and smiles between them!

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Finally, Dare You To Move. I got out the ‘Thank you Jon, you inspire me’ banner, and he repeated it back to us saying we inspire him; he has no idea how much I mean that though! He decided it felt right to go into the crowd with the mic stand and guitar to play it, right in the centre of the crowd. Tears, tears. Although he came back through the crowd a way from where I was, I went through the crowd to help him up as there weren’t enough people there to lift him. Today never happened before! :’) After the show ended I couldn’t move, still in tears; I just wanted to stay in it.

Eventually I faced up to it, and packed my things. I bought some merch and met up with M, somehow sneakily inside the venue! Drew was by the side of the stage signing stuff and thanking us, so I got my setlist signed and said thank yous and goodbyes. I told him this place was so full of happy memories for me already, but this was the best thing that ever happened here. Regardless of my doubts about that crowd, it had been an incredible show, and had felt really, really good.

We left.

A small group of us hung out by the bus in the increasing cold for about two hours, waiting to see if there might be an aftershow, and then at least just to say goodbye.

M fulfilled another long-held ambition by ‘hijacking the aftershow’, giving us an aftershow of his own by playing the uke and percussion jamming on his water bottle and cookie box!

Drew eventually came out again. Jude got to show him a letter she’d written and have a good chat with him, and I managed to say thanks and goodbye again; he said ‘See you next time’, and again I said ‘If I possibly can, I will’.

We waited some more and eventually Jon came out to the bus. He came over and gave me a high five. He said hi to everyone he knew then saw M and asked his name. I introduced him as my husband, and he said it was great seeing him at a few of his shows and said he always remembers the tall people, and thanks for the cookies! M said afterwards that Jon had spotted him in the crowd in Birmingham and pointed and smiled 🙂 Jon signed stuff for some of the others, and I thanked him. One of my American friends asked him about 25in24 and whether he had any plans for new solo material. He told us a bit about the movie (I told him I stayed up to watch the whole thing, and really loved being a part of it even via the internet!) And he said he still has about 20 Wonderlands songs saved, including some of his favourite songs he wrote for his daughter. He was so honoured we liked his music! But eventually we had to say goodbye and safe travels, and he got into the bus and was gone.

There were no tears till he’d gone. The taxi arrived almost immediately for the Americans, and we said goodbye, and then there were lots of tears. This is so, so hard!!

We eventually headed back to the B&B we were staying at. As we walked back across the campus, the rabbits were out in force just as they had been on many a late night back in my days there, and we passed the site of my old hall.

So many tears. But wow what a way to end!

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(And here is the next chapter in the story ❤ )

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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Liturgy in the waves

Whilst I’ve been quiet on the blog, I’ve got really into bodyboarding this warm sea season.

I’ve been having an occasional go for about five years now, but this is the first time it’s really got hold of me. My previous attempts were embarrassingly laughable. I’ve joked that I spent more time clinging to the underside of the board , thinking I’m sure this isn’t how it’s supposed to work and wondering what went wrong, than actually riding on top of it! And I was only half joking; upside-down boards happened far too frequently! I was scared of any waves approaching my own size or bigger. I couldn’t read the sea so waves would rear up and take me by surprise. My attempts at catching them were complete trial and error, launching at waves of any stage of formation and just hoping I didn’t fall off if I happened to time it right. And most of the times, I did fall off! But it was so much fun when I did catch one – even if at some point down the beach I did end up on the wrong side of the board.

This summer we had two consecutive weekends away in good surf spots with different sets of friends who wanted to spend time bodyboarding. Over those two weekends we had five whole days catching waves, and although I had boasted of my unfortunate talent for upside-down waveriding, I was surprised to find I was actually staying on top of the board. What’s more, over the five days, I found I was making a lot of discoveries and truly learning something each day. By the end of the first weekend I was reading the waves, knowing when to launch, and catching the majority of the waves I attempted… and pushing out further into the larger waves further out too. I learnt how to choose a good wave, how to steer, how to angle the board, and how the waves change in mood, power and difficulty from beach to beach, day to day, tide to tide. Of course I developed a new special talent for overshooting the board when launching out and sliding right over the top, and once or twice found myself barrelled head over heels under a massive breaker, momentarily wondering how I was going to escape, but on the whole it’s been going great.

I’ve been out boarding several times since to take advantage of the nice autumn sea temperatures and quieter beaches. I’ve officially got the bug!

So, is it play? Is it therapy? Or is it worship?

I think it’s definitely all three, but the mix varies depending on where the sea and I are at. It began as pure play, but it’s been healing at times too, and I’ve started to find it can be an act of worship.

A couple of Sundays ago I was in Wales with fiends. We spent the morning celebrating Harvest at St David’s Cathedral, and then went down to Whitesands Bay for the afternoon. Wowww!! I was already feeling celebratory and full of joy and thankfulness as a result of the Harvest service, but the place was so stunning and the waves so beautiful and glittery it all just overflowed. The worship on the beach felt like a seamless continuation of the worship in church.

First of all, it is nearly impossible not to bodyboard in a state of mindfulness. All the senses are involved, and you have to pay attention to what is immediately going on around you and be immersed completely in the moment, fully awake to where you are and what you are doing. You smell the sea air; your eyes feast on the colours, light, contrast, drama and movement of the sea and sky and wildlife and other beachgoers; there’s no avoiding the taste of saltwater; you hear the hiss, fizz, and roar of the waves, and your own laughter and whooping; and you feel all the textures of the sea, the sting of salt, and of cold water on hot skin, the feel of the board, soft sand, rough stones, the sometimes violent slap of waves, gentle rising and falling, warmth, wet… In the sea I am really in the now, and it is incredibly centring.

At risk of sounding clichéd, it is something like baptism with every wave or spray that breaks over me, reminding me of what is washed away and blessing me with new life.

It’s a humbling experience. In the sea I get the smallest glimpse of the size and power of its maker, and my contrasting insignificance. It’s amazing to be out in nature, surrounded by this huge unknown, unpredictable, power, tumbled about in it, but to be able to play in its edges and get to know it a little nonetheless.

I find myself full of thankfulness! It’s a grace experience, an undeserving land creature immersed in such beauty and laughter that’s completely not my own element, and seeing waves presented to me as perfect curls to play with. At its most beautiful I can never believe I’m experiencing it. Every good wave finishes in hallelujah, thank You, as it brings me to rest on the beach. More often than not I find I fetch up in a prayer posture, on my knees or face down at the edge of the surf, and thanking the sea and our God just flows, before I get up and run back in. It comes naturally, but I’ve also begun to make a conscious discipline of turning to say thank You for every good ride, as it develops in me a lasting attitude of thankfulness.

There are moments of quiet contemplative solitude…  and then there are moments of shared joy when catching the same wave, high fiving and cheering at each other’s good waves, and teaching one another skills.

At the end of a good beach day I come away full of joy, re-set, with a bigger, truer perspective on our size and significance compared to our beautiful world and the one it comes from. I am reminded so much how good the world can be, and that for all its problems, that is only ever part of the reality and there is still so much to enjoy and celebrate. We get immersed in the big news of the day, and forget that we are transient, and that some things are that much bigger and better and more lasting than we are. The sea brings me back to that truth.

I come home with waves in my mind, still feeling the rise and fall of the swell, the sea still alive before me every time I close my eyes.

Bodyboarding is no substitute for church. That day at Whitesands was made all the more meaningful following on from a service, and a service of thanksgiving in particular. But it can definitely be a powerful, playful worship experience, as the formal liturgy of church finds its way into the everyday world, and I hope I never lose that.