Tag Archives: Thankfulness

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

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Looking for Europe 13: Manchester – finding warmth on a cold day

October 30th

After a much-needed lie-in we eventually headed into Manchester and met up with SwitchFam friends from France and the USA for a late lunch and cocktails (‘Well it’s 5pm somewhere right?!’)!

It was not a particularly warm day, and though we were thankful it wasn’t giving us typical Manchester rain, we were so cold lining up for the VIP event! When we got let in I had on my very sensible, grownup, fox shaped mittens; they said hi so I waved to them wearing them, and when they noticed the silly foxes they laughed! Drew did a double, and triple, take! When they saw the American ‘fam were here they were amazed, especially seeing a hometown fan here, who got a joyful ‘What are you doing here?!’

The guys asked what they should play and the US fans all yelled ‘Awakening!’ There was a general agreement, so they went for it! Jon said it was quite a high one for ‘this time in the morning’ as it was for him back home. But they did it and it was awesome! I just rocked out 🙂 You can watch it here.

Then as a little boy was there, Jon asked what his favourite song was; it was Looking For America so he said the boy would have to do Lecrae’s part 🙂 Chad suggested playing Hope Is The Anthem, which went down extremely well with everyone, and they played with so much passion. Again, I filmed it so you can watch it here. Sometimes it really doesn’t matter how small the crowd is.

At Meet&Greet they asked me what we’d done the previous day. I told them about the ferry journey, and that I thought it was great but it wasn’t so for Jude (Chad kept apologising to her, as if it was his fault!!). I told them how I was up on deck watching the sky and the dolphins and how spectacular it was, and all the seaspray, and that I came away knowing how it feels to be a salted peanut! I got a hug from each of them.

I asked them to sign my setlist from Bristol; I said I don’t normally like asking them to sign lots of stuff but I felt they should put their names to this as they should be proud of it, it was so incredible and the best I’d ever seen them. Jon agreed it was special; he highlighted Teardrop as he spoke and said maybe they should release a cover of it, and I told him it was stunning, and they played it so well. Then I asked him if he had read his card; he said yes he had got it out the other night and gone through it and ‘unpacked it all’, he was really touched by it. I also passed on a request from one of the card’s contributors to play in her country and he said yes they’d love to.

Then I filmed Jude’s meeting for her; Chad saw me and photobombed it to say ‘Helloooo’ in a silly voice 😀

Then we headed back out to line up in the cold. We had some good chats to other chilly VIPs, it was great.

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The venue was a large club, with a black interior and a balcony running round that unfortunately was closed for this event. They were very strict about what you could take in, which was a bit annoying, especially for friends who wanted to use decent cameras. But with or without our bags we all made it in eventually.

The Alvarez Kings were back to their pranks tonight; in the process of stealing the drummer’s stick the singer again knocked the cymbals over, but less disastrously than in Dublin! Their drummer is amazing; he has such a loose style, twirling the sticks as he plays, and singing along with his eyes closed and a big smile, looking like he’s having the time of his life. We could hear more of the guitar tonight, and they put a solo on Somewhere Between.

Switchfoot opened with the full electric version of Hello Hurricane again, which got everyone jumping!

As on previous nights they followed up with Stars, Jon making eye contact but not for ‘partly cloudy’! Then he departed from the setlist to play Needle, before going into YLIAS and LAIWTF.

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Then they played IWLYG; Jon spotted a little girl in the crowd with ear protectors on, sat on her dad’s shoulders. He went over to her and asked if she was having a good time. He said to all of us he often gets asked how to write songs and that he has found it difficult to answer, but that he has figured it out now; ‘start in the darkness, and search for the light’. Going back to the child, he said this song feels like a father holding his daughter; ‘I look at you and have to try not to cry’, at which the whole crowd said ‘Awww!!!’ :’)

Next, Jon started Dark Horses with the slow, acoustic version of the chorus, before going into the usual rocked out version. It feels very moody, and was really awesome to see played this way.

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Then he went into the crowd for Bull, saying ‘Can we get the party started?’.

Back on stage, they started playing House Burns, and Jon started singing too late and caused a timing error, though he recovered it quickly, and the others were not thrown by it. Such professionals.

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Then they played 24 round the fancy mic!! Jon told the story about the skateboard incident and how he wrote it realising he wanted all the broken pieces of his soul to be whole. It was acoustic right to the very end when the others drifted back into their positions and seamlessly brought in the full band, gorgeous.

Then they played us one of their favourite covers, The Verve’s Lucky Man, for Manchester. I’ve seen them cover this one a few times on other fans’ videos, but never in person. Their version really does sound fantastic. I decided I’m a lucky fan! 🙂

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Again they ended on Where I Belong, Jon again wearing my banner, and then Meant To Live, and woah did they rock hard!!

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As Float began for the encore Jon came back on stage with a mouthful of water, and spat it out into the air like a fountain, which made us laugh! Tonight the disco ball was working, just a little slowly, but Jon crowd surfed and successfully floated this time!

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He got everyone swaying for Live It Well before finishing with a heartfelt Dare You To Move.

Afterwards we headed back out into the cold. There were doubts about an aftershow happening, but I was going nowhere, having done what I always tell others never to do the other night by leaving a show straight away when he tweeted that there wouldn’t be one. I at least wanted to see them again.

But I got the tweet; he retweeted another fan asking, to say ‘So, aftershow?’ 🙂 🙂 🙂 He got a whole lot of YES!! in response! I chatted to another friend who I’d met at a previous show. She had to get a taxi back to her friend’s house and was worried she’d miss it as he was late out (almost 12, having said 11:45!) But thankfully she caught the first couple of songs before having to dash.

He played right outside the venue just to the side of the bus to allow the other guys to get back on in peace (though Jude caught them!), and played Caroline, part of On Fire, Before Our Time (‘Whistle solo..? Anyone..? No..?!’ Clearly the London secret whistle chorus had not infiltrated this show!) and Inheritance, for a couple expecting a baby. He asked before he played it ‘Does anyone remember payphones?’ (‘There’s one right there!’) He told us how he used to have to get up at 3am on tour to call his wife, but that she had a huge family, so he’d spend forever dialling in the long code, mistyping etc, only to find the phone was engaged, again! 😦 🙂

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Afterwards he came back to the bus past me. People were just thanking him and he was shaking hands and just saying ‘Thanks, goodnight!’ to everyone. I thanked him too, and he turned to me and just said sweetly ‘See ya Helen’ before carrying on :’) I felt like he’s been so warm towards me today :’) I guess it means a lot to know the appreciation is getting through.

Then we had a lonnng drive on to Birmingham for the night, listening to Fiction Family Reunion in the car, accompanied inappropriately by comedy sound effects from Jude’s satnav!

It was a lot later than it felt as I was full of fan-love…

Looking for Europe 10: Bristol – cloud 99

October 26th

I may have questioned my own sanity at 6:30am that morning but Switchfoot well and truly proved to me once and for all that they were worth travelling for.

Despite delayed trains I successfully made it to Bristol ok, met Jude, and obtained super hot burritos for lunch (Mission accomplished)! We found the venue, and as in Glasgow it turned out to be a litle confusing again inside trying to find the correct room in an open students’ union building. The guys had posted an earlier Meet&Greet time than their original email, but we took this with a pinch of salt, knowing how Switchfoot time tends to operate; they actually overran by 1.5hrs! 😀

We hung out for ages with the other VIPs, chatting, during which time I spotted a tour poster on one of the notice boards, and one of the others claimed it to get signed as a souvenir! Although it ended up being a bit of a wait, at least we were indoors and on sofas, and whilst we were there we got to chat to Chad, Tim and Drew (with daughter in tow) a bit as they arrived, and also to Josh from their crew. Drew said again we were joint SwitchFam queens (I really do have to hand that to Jude!), ‘possibly of the EU or international ‘fam, possibly secret agents…’ 😀

After they had all gone inside, we were talking about how we became fans when finally we heard them start soundcheck – and they were playing Holy Water!! Ahhh let me in!! It sounded amazing, and is definitely one of the songs I most want to hear them play. They let us in after they finished that song and took requests, playing Gone, and then playing On Fire at Jude’s request. It sounded incredible!! I went right to the front again and wowwww! I was happyyy! 🙂

The Meet&Greet itself felt a bit awkward today, the guys were sweet as ever but we didn’t really know what to say to one another. I did request Healer Of Souls again since I knew a lot of my friends who were coming are really into that song (not to mention how much I still wanted to hear it after the sound hadn’t been great in Basel!).

By the time we came out it was close to showtime, and my husband and friends were arriving. We met up and got in the queue, and M sat on the floor making and eating sandwiches whilst we waited! We also found a stack of gig flyers, which we handed out to anyone who wanted one; a good sign..? The last time I had found flyers for a show was in Mannheim and that had been a very special night.

Everything was still running late but eventually we were let in. I was first, so with complete choice of where to stand I went Tim’s side of centre. Jude had a sidestage pass again! I hung out with M, our friends, and friends I’d met at the VIP event, it felt like lovely family gathering.

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Oh my was this show worth the wait!

They opened with House Burns tonight, and however unsure I’d previously been about this song as an opener, this time it was an absolutely awesome, flawless start, and the sound was pretty much perfect! 🙂 🙂 🙂 There is a certain line of this song that I remember Jon singing ‘to me’ a couple of times back in the spring; he did it again in Glasgow, and yet again tonight, which got me wondering if he does it deliberately! But even one song in he was already giving me a lot of eye contact at this show.

Then they played Stars, and with so much energy! Jon introduced Tim as his little brother, saying ‘This means this is a family event, we’re all family here tonight’; it certainly felt like it.

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The energy continued to ramp up as they went into Dark Horses. Funnily, for the ‘made my mistakes’ line Jon wasn’t at the mic like he almost forgot he needed it! 😀 But they rocked hard, even adding a bit of a solo.

They turned it up even more, playing Bull to the delight of my friends, Jon venturing into the crowd, balancing on a rail and sending everyone wild! By this point I was enjoying this show as much as I had any of my previous favourite shows. The sound, volume, setlist, crowd, Jon’s interaction, and the level of energy and quality of singing and playing from Switchfoot was combining into a perfect storm of happiness.

But it carried on getting better! I filmed YLIAS, which you can watch here; Drew’s solo was incredible as ever. That led into LAIWTF, which Jon introduced saying ‘I’m obsessed with the idea that love is the anti-entropy. In a world where everything’s falling apart, lose yourself with everything to gain.’ The crowd were really into it!

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And then they did indeed play Healer of Souls – AAAHHHH!!! I had my banner out on the rail and Jon looked over at me before starting to ask for it so I threw it him and he held it up, getting it the wrong way round twice (‘…one of those rubber sole moments…’) He asked the band what key it was in, but there was no question he knew how to play it. They were so good, all solos and yelling, and although I was filming (evidence here!) I rocked out with them.

And then Oh! Gravity. OH!!! The energy surely couldn’t get any higher?! I was totally losing it, my legs wanting to give way under me but so stoked I was jumping and yelling with total abandon!

Before I actually caught fire they changed pace a little, playing Hello Hurricane acoustic; they had brought with them a new ‘fancy’ mic for the purpose, better designed for picking up their acoustic performance than their usual vocal mics. They brought Chad to the front, which got a ‘wooo!’ from the crowd; as they set up Jon commented that ‘at this point in the show it’s traditional to ask a question to which the appropriate response is always ‘woo!’ Doesn’t matter what it is… how are you feeling? ‘Woo!’ How’s your mother? ‘Woo!” The new mic sounded great, a whole different sound quality that was really nice. And from there they went into IWLYG. Jon sounded so good, and Tim’s bass was shaking the floor!

And then something really special happened; Jon said that on this tour they wanted to honour the UK’s rich musical heritage by playing a song from each city they visited, and tonight they played Teardrop by Massive Attack! Oh my gosh these guys can so play!! Here is a video, which entirely doesn’t do it justice as the sound has distorted a little, but if I can take you there in your imagination, imagine you can feel the sound reverberating around the room and right through you, and those vocals arriving straight from heaven :’)

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Teardrop led right into Where I Belong; I was already gone but this did me in big time! 🙂 I threw Jon my banner again, but then I just let the music sweep me away. I found myself crying happy tears and shaking and pretty much kneeling in prayer on barrier giving thanks to God and the band. I expected this to be the end of the show, but no sooner had that almighty yell faded they suddenly went into Meant To Live! I was undone!! More happy tears! 😀

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That was the end, but of course there was an encore, and they came back on and again played Float. It was so much fun, I danced as crazily as ever, enjoying the bubble party, and there was some wonderful chaos when Jon attempted to crowd surf but disastrously picked the wrong part of the crowd and discovered that gravity did exist after all! He made it back onto the stage nonetheless, and I helped him back up. They incorporated a snatch of Hope Is The Anthem into Live It Well, and then finished me off with Dare You To Move, again rocking out in happy tears to stop my legs giving way and finishing up draped over the barrier, absolutely wowed!

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It was the best show I’ve ever seen. It’s something I’ve struggled to explain, but it was a synergy of all the right elements that made it an incredibly powerful experience that I will call a kind of holy ecstasy that just ramped up and up. Wowow! I had no idea music could transport me like that..! Afterwards I could barely speak, it was very, very special. :’) I’d had a small taste of that kind of feeling at Jon’s solo show a few months back, but I’d put some of that down to experiencing that voice of his like never before, but this was definitely the whole experience of the music; God was in it, and I soared even higher than I’d been before. I’ve never seen the guys play like this; I’d been to higher intensity shows, but that was constant high energy, and I just wasn’t coming down from the ceiling!

There was no aftershow, but a group of us hung out by the bus, ostensibly so that one of the fans could get his favourite album Nothing Is Sound (NIS) signed, but really we wanted to see them and I absolutely had to thank them. We got to speak to all of them eventually, though it was touch and go as they had to make a ferry and the timing was tight as they were meant to go at 12 but were still not on the bus. Thankfully it was not so cold as the previous night!

Chad arrived first. He gave me a high five, and was sweet but implied that we probably shouldn’t stay.

Then Drew came out to hang properly with us, and was absolutely lovely like he had all night. He chatted about NIS quite deeply, all the heartache that went into it and how meaningful it was, the lyrics, Shadow, Politicians, The Blues… Two friends after the show independently commented how ‘Jon is a very sweaty man!’ 😀 They joked about it with Drew too, and he agreed and was like ‘yeah he’s like it all the time!’ 😛 😀

Next Romey arrived. He was very touched at our appreciation but was also anxious about the ferry as he didn’t think they’d make it, and was worried they’d have to cancel their shows.

Then Jon came over. He was so chilled!! How?! We talked about the show, I told him how amazing I’d found it, and there were laughs about him being dropped in Float! We ended up talking about weather, how hot it was back home and that he liked Fall best, and I thought to ask him a geeky question about water temperatures as he’d joked about our sea being cold and I wasn’t sure how it compared against San Diego, being as we have a warm current and cool climate and they have a cold current and hot climate. He asked Celsius or Fahrenheit, I asked if he spoke Celsius as my Fahrenheit was nonexistent and he laughed and thought, and then failed to translate! I said it was about 16°C here and lovely, and he said their sea temperatures range from 60-70°F usually. Translating afterwards, I conclude they would indeed find our seas cold, even if to me 16°C is leave-the-wetsuit-at-home warm!

Finally we also saw Tim; we almost didn’t see him as he was online with his wife, but he did emerge and sign the CD, I think Jon had sent him. I congratulated him briefly and he talked a bit about bass with the guy whose CD it was.

My friend said to me at the end that I looked like I was on cloud 99, and I think that was pretty accurate. Ahhhhhhhh!!!!! :’) A perfect evening. 🙂 🙂 🙂

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.

Looking for Europe: Reflections on the tour

Some thoughts on how it’s been following Switchfoot’s tour, now I’m home

I’ve been back a week as I write this, and I’m still fatigued and struggling to sleep this trip off. I was only one hour out at most, but this ‘jetlag’ has been extreme! I put it down to the last two nights spent in airports with almost no sleep, but actually the whole two weeks were intense, with a lot of travelling, a lot of ups and downs, and generally not enough sleep or food, and too much coffee. No wonder there’s a lot to sleep off! It’s felt like I got the authentic Switchfoot tour experience, feeling the strain of having a show almost every day, every day having to travel and wake up somewhere new, not getting a lot of time to take proper care of myself or settle into a place… but having the best time rocking out and meeting wonderful people, which made it so, so worthwhile. I got a taste of what the band experience, and that’s pretty special.

I could talk politics; the sadness of human borders causing refugees to sleep on Paris streets, and keeping SwitchFam apart from one another and their band… I could talk about mental illness adding challenges and shadows… but this isn’t the place just now.

So; some of my highlights:

  • That solo show! There just are no words. I can’t stop thinking about it! I feel whole. 🙂
  • SwitchFam –  this is a world I was only just beginning to get connected into back in 2015, but this time, touring with a ‘SwitchSister’ and meeting so many other ‘fam has been amazing. I’ve loved meeting everyone; we come from all over the world, but are brought together here, it’s really, truly special.
  • The Paris show, for being so insanely rocked out.
  • Basel – such a gorgeous city, and my memories of the VIP event, queue(!) and sound check are so precious.
  • Amsterdam Meet ‘n’ Greet; that was just legendary!
  • Cologne and Budapest crowds – just so much love and energy!
  • A38 boat – what a venue! Floating whilst Floating was so much fun, and it was a spectacular location.
  • The latest songs – I don’t ever want them to stop playing any of these!! They’re on fire.

Compared to the Fading West tour in 2015, the whole thing felt less linear. Not just the way we were back and forth, in and out of the continent, but also in the sense that I felt a clear progression in 2015. This time felt a more complex journey, physically, spiritually and relationally. Last time it had been a definite pilgrimage, moving from a beginning weighed down with baggage and ending in a sense of absolution. This time… God’s been at work without a doubt, but I’m still processing the lessons and experiences I’ve received. There’s been a lot happening. I feel like I’ve grown up a lot as a fan in those two years. I also felt like I was very quickly back to somewhere similar, relationally, to where I left off two years ago, if not right away. Jon again seemed to be getting more relaxed around us each time we met – though after the solo show I was less relaxed around him again. And it still bowls me over completely to think I’ve had the chance to really meet him and tell him what he is to me! What an honour. In two years I’ve never managed to get used to that. He seemed to spend a little less time in or working the crowd than previously; but then, I think that was because he was actually on stage playing guitar more, and that’s definitely a good thing. And all the guys seemed to be having more fun each time, and getting more into it; most noticeably Drew’s soloing and Romey’s guitar playing.

So, the whole business of following the guys on tour; what’s it all about? Appreciation. I think I communicated that and helped them feel loved. I’m sure of that with Drew at the very least. Jon seems so hard to reach though…

And family. I felt a long way from being anything remotely like friends with the guys, there’s far too much of a fame and fandom barrier and I wouldn’t be comfortable with it. But they do make me feel like part of the extended tour family. They certainly know we are a family, and they make us feel that too. It’s not just a name. Switchfoot people are the best, the band, the crew, the fans. We are all so different, living such different lives in different places, with different interests and personalities, sometimes so diverse we’d never normally come together. However, Switchfoot give us a really deep, profound connection, which throws us together and binds us to one another. We didn’t choose it; it just is. And we understand each other. Like any family, we have tensions and feuds at times. But there’s something much bigger than us that pulls us together and means we belong nonetheless.  We are one!

Would I do it again? I have to be honest; yes and no. Yes, because OF COURSE, plus I’m already booked for 3 more shows in 3 days! No, because I’m not sure I could cope with that crazy a travel itinerary, at least not just yet. I’d prefer to do something like the 2015 trip and take it a bit slower with more time to see the places we visit.

Do I love Switchfoot more for having done this? My fan love in a sense feels maxed out already… but on the other hand… they still amaze me! The new music is incredible live; I knew it would be so I was prepared for that, but to experience it has been amazingly powerful. But Jon as a solo artist… wow. When I thought I was already the most in awe I could be, he takes it to another level. It’s difficult to find words for as I’m pretty sure I love both his solo music and Switchfoot to the same extent, but in such different ways it can’t really be compared. Either way, finally getting to experience both has convinced me more than ever that I am, musically, home, that I’m committed for the long run now wherever things go, and could never find another artist I could connect with on such a deep level or want to build up in the same way. This is once in a lifetime for real 🙂

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Looking for Europe 8: Budapest – Floating!

June 4th

Budapest! It was a beautiful day again, and the city is stunning!

After a somewhat inadequate amount of sleep we went for a breakfast wander. Very little was open; it turned out it was Pentecost, which I’d forgotten, but we found an incredible café, which blew my mind by serving my iced tea packed with forest fruits! It was already hot by then, we just wanted to jump in the fountains!

We wandered back to the hostel to pick up swim things, admiring all the beautiful buildings on the way, then headed to find a spa. Budapest is famously full of amazing thermal spas and grand bath houses, so it was something we both felt we had to try, especially since we were in need of a bit of relaxation. The first one we went in was too big and imposing for someone who’d had very little sleep, so we went to a smaller one; it didn’t look much from the outside but was perfect for us. It had a lovely little swimming pool so we chilled out, swam some lengths, then went to the gorgeous thermal pools. The main pool was octagonal, surrounded by pillars holding up a beautiful domed roof with coloured glass stars set into it, with the sun shining through them onto the water. We hung out in there, wowing, for a while, then tried the little corner pools, which turned out to be set to different temperatures, 28, 30, 33 and 42oC. I didn’t go in the cold one but went in the others. When I put my foot into the 42 oC pool I thought it was going to cook me! But I stepped back in… and eventually got in fully… and then decided I didn’t want to leave!! Cook me anytime, please! 😀 Eventually we went back to the main hot pool, and floated where the light shone through the stars… 😉 A quick last swim in the pool to get rid of the very slightly smelly mineral water, then we wandered back. On failing again to find a shop, we ended up eating at a Hungarian restaurant, where I was served a nice stew of peppers, and some mind-numbingly fiery fresh chillis, which I took as a challenge and was indeed victorious! It felt good. Then it was back once again to the hostel to get ready for the show, and back out.

It was all so beautiful! Amazing, elaborate architecture, beautiful hills including one with a church built into it, patterned roofs, and the Danube cutting right through the middle of the city. We could see the venue, a boat on the river, so it was very easy to find. A friend we’d met in Germany was there already, so we went in and had a drink on the deck with him and a guy from Ecuador but living in Spain, who had a Where I Belong banner with him. I told him I had one too but I’d make sure his got on stage this time.

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VIP was on time this time, but later in the day and very short. When we got in, the guys were just jamming together; it sounded incredible, very different to when they’re performing something, and they were all turned to face one another, so it was great seeing how they interacted. At one point, Jon looked like he was teaching Drew a riff… were they learning something new?? It was really fun to watch anyway and they were all showing a lot of skill and looking like they were enjoying themselves. Then they said hi, and played us Learning to Breathe, which was just lovely.

At Meet ‘n’ Greet the band got given a gingerbread artwork and a Hungarian football shirt. And Jude was all the giggles! She had her hair in Princess Leia buns and gave the guys a bunch of silly Star Wars themed gifts to go with a Star-Wars-punning poster she’d made to promote Bro Am…! She even brought some bubble wands that looked like light sabres. Legend. Drew used the bubble light sabre to make bubbles, and Chad rolled up the poster and used that as a light sabre, complete with sound effects, to pop them!

I had composed the guys another letter on the journey (written into a card I made at 5am in the hostel!) and I handed it to Chad; I had a job getting him to take it, I think he was surprised I was giving it to him but I had written a message to each of them this time, with only one (silly) line in it for Jon, so I was keen for one of the others to take it. I asked how they were as they all looked so tired, and thanked them for putting themselves through all this for us. My friend prayed with Jon at the end and encouraged him to keep writing. Jon said he couldn’t help it, he didn’t know how to stop, so I said ‘Please, don’t ever!!’ 😀 Music addict 🙂

The show – wow! I was shattered by this point and had trouble staying awake through the opening band, even though they were again really good, and extremely loud, and using a lot of strobe lighting. I literally was falling asleep. But then the crowd got really hyped up. There was a lot of chanting, silly selfies, sitting on the stage, Switchfoot puns…

Then they were on!

So many feels. As predicted, the awesome Romanian crowd was indeed there again; the room absolutely erupted when Jon asked who was from Romania! Again you could tell they were thinking they needed to play a show there, and they actually asked where they should try to play if they came (Cluj!) There were also fans there from India, Dubai, Nigeria, and of course us, and we all got a little shout out. Jon also remarked how amazing Budapest is, and that it isn’t a place they ever hear of in the USA, though he thought they should – we were quite surprised!

Jon took the mic stand into the crowd to sing When We Come Alive and Love Alone…, and got up on the bar to sing. Someone had a Love Alone… banner that he held up on stage. He came back right through the crowd to where I was stood, so I helped lift him back up onto the stage. Everyone started ‘Oreo’ing again after the song supposedly finished so Jon had to sing some more of it!

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Jon once again picked me out to sing ‘Don’t let go’ to in Needle, the same line he’d sung me at an earlier show. Deliberate? Probably not, but I wonder if he thought I might… But I got a lot more interaction in general. All four of them who could move were right up front a lot, leaning right out over us and easily within touching distance. Romey spent more time than ever up front with the guitar playing to the crowd, almost more than he was at the back with the keys!

They were having a lot of fun on stage that night, with each other and with the crowd. Drew soloed like crazy, totally original as ever. And he and Jon had some fun with Where The Light Shines Through (WTLST); there’s a section where they break it down and sort of play solo tennis, Jon playing a phrase and Drew playing a reply. This time Jon had a mischievous look in his eye; he gave Drew some really weird solo lines, and it seemed like they were messing with one another, trying to throw one another off by playing the unexpected, but they were both coming up with awesome ‘replies’ each time! That was very funny to watch! The ‘samba breaks’ were epic too!

Jon came over to me as he introduced WTLST, took my banner, and this time handed me it straight back saying ‘thank you, it’s beautiful!’ He came over as they began Where I Belong too, again as if to ask for the banner, but this time though I had it in my hand I didn’t hand it to him, and instead turned around to look for the other fan’s one. Sure enough it made its way to the front and Jon took that one and held it up instead. Then during the song I got mine out and a bunch of us held it up at the front for a bit… until Jon took it anyway to wear/ use as a towel!

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They stuck completely to the setlist this time, but got encored again twice, so they played Mess Of Me, We Are One/ Shadow Proves…, and then as they couldn’t finish with the crowd going so crazy and Jon having so much fun, he carried on and played 24, the others rejoining him at the end again. For the second encore, Jon came back on wearing the Hungarian football shirt – and turned round part way through the song to reveal that it had ‘Foreman 24’ written on the back! The crowd went wild!

Towards the end the crowd was giving them so much love and encoring so much the guys all had big teary smiles, Drew, Jon and Romey especially, which was so sweet to see. I can’t get enough of Drew smiling like that! I applauded them all a whole lot, and managed to mouth ‘thank you!’ to both Drew and Romey. And at the very end, Drew came over and emotionally clasped big handfuls of our hands in his saying ‘thank you, thank you’. It was the best feeling seeing them feeling the love. I managed to catch Josh and Chico packing down to say thank you too as well.

Afterwards we stayed on the boat as there was a rumour Jon wanted to play an aftershow on the deck; in any case, an aftershow seemed inevitable! The tweet eventually went out, aftershow on the boat in 15 minutes… but then the staff cleared the venue so we decamped to the gangway and waited there. And then after a while, a clean Jon emerged with a detuned guitar, ready to be packed away, and he led us down onto the steps of the Danube, playing there for us with the city lights reflecting on the water behind him. He joked that the river was ‘exactly like the Pacific Ocean.’! I got front row again, wearing the Where I Belong banner partly because it was wet again 😛 and needed to dry out, and partly because it had actually turned cool and windy by then, I think there had been a storm whilst we were inside.

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Thanks to Jude for capturing this shot!

He played Caroline, The Moon Is A Magnet (WOW! There was indeed a pretty moon, though it wasn’t full and kept hiding behind clouds. Very special!), Vice Verses (he asked did we want a sad song or an upbeat song, and started strumming Just Rob Me! But though I confess I voted for both, Vice Verses won; someone called out we’d had lots of upbeat at the show and it was time for a sad one), and Your Love Is Strong, with everyone singing.

At the end, he said to us that in his mind, the perfect way this would end would be for us all to leave as equals; ‘No elevation, no photos; we’re all one family here, we leave as equals…’ It was both very smart, and very sweet! I let him go; but I did stop him briefly as he passed me just to thank him sincerely for this tour, and I found myself clasping his hand again, just as in Mannheim. And then he was gone, with minimal mobbing. We waved him off and cheered as he returned to the boat down the gangway.

Jude was top of the world as while that was happening she’d met Drew again to hug and thank! We went back to the hostel; a whole group of us across the bridge, then four of us back to get a taxi from the hostel, then after some deep late night conversations with new friends we dropped the other guys off en route and headed to the airport.

We spent an uncomfortable night on the floor of the deserted airport, me wrapped in the banner to keep warm. At 4am the place began to fill up… and suddenly I spotted Josh amongst the crowds, pulling two huge cases of gear!! :O Sure enough, sooner or later we spotted most of the others, and witnessed them checking in the most enormous mountain of kit. That was quite a sight. They were on the flight after ours!! We stayed well out of their way and out of sight at the other end of the check-in hall, and went off to get ourselves some much needed coffee as soon as the café was opened, then checked in for our flight. We saw most of the guys eventually come through security and head to the lounge, looking beyond tired 😦 Love them so much! Their flight was announced just after ours was, their gate was in the same area as ours, and as we boarded, the last person we saw was Romey walking towards it. As our plane took off, we saw theirs pulling out from the terminal (tears!), and then we flew directly over the venue and aftershow spot (more tears!!) and away from them.

Oh the love miles!! Such pain of being pulled (temporarily!) away from these lovely guys, and so many wonderful new friends across the continent and world. I knew I was going to miss everyone so much. I just wanted to stay and hang out with everyone… oh my heart! It was all beautiful, and I cannot wait for more. ‘147 days!!’*

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Read Part 7 here

*I set up a countdown app on my phone when the first tour date was announced; as they announced more dates for the autumn whilst still with us, I reset the countdown on the last day of the tour to give myself something to look forward to when they were gone 🙂

Being thankful

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

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