Monday, 9 December 2013

On Why I Need Christ During Christmas

So the Atheists are back, and they have a new billboard (because all the best-spirited debate happens when billboards get involved) in Times Square. It's animated (because why should Jesus have all the tacky adverts?); it starts off by saying "Who needs Christ during Christmas?", and then there's a bit of CGI whizziness and it changes to "Nobody needs Christ during Xmas".

Now, first of all, I appreciate that there are plenty of atheists out there who are facepalming at this; the ones who mocked the atheist bus campaign, and who hide under cushions when Richard Dawkins goes off on one again. And secondly, if they have the money and want to buy screentime, who am I to stop them?

But mainly I want to discuss their key point, that nobody needs Christ at Christmas. Firstly, this is a stupid argument to make, because, as any student of logic will tell you, you can't prove that something doesn't exist, whether that something is God, or a blue elephant, or "a person who needs Christ at Christmas"*. I'm being pedantic here, but a certain brand of atheist would go nuts if this was the other way around, so I'm not going to feel bad about it.

* It's a bit more complex than this, but still.

But secondly, and this is my main point today, I'm going to disagree with them, put my hands up, and say "I do. I need Christ this Christmas". I can't prove it to you, or use logic to persuade you, because I don't have a logical, rational argument (mainly because my life insists on being illogical and irrational). And I know that for some, only the logical and rational will suffice, but for me, I need there to be something else.

I need Christ because Christmas fills me with dread. At the darkest, coldest, most difficult time of the year, I'm expected to be merry and bright; I'm expected to go to parties; when all I want is the safety of bed and quiet and warm, I have to organise, plan, attend, pretend to enjoy, and I need Christ because I need to hear "You're enough, as you are. You're loved and accepted on the bad, grumpy, teary days as much as you are on the happy, excited, joyful days. You don't need to do more or be more. You're enough, and you're loved".

I need Christ because I often don't like myself; I hear criticism where none is meant; I hear sarcasm and anger when I need gentle words and compassion; and every time the fear rises and the anxiety comes and I need Christ because, Oh God, I don't want to cut again, but I need to let the feelings out and I need to hear the still, small voice saying "I know. I understand", and I need to let the tears run hot without judgement.

I need Christ because I don't always love my husband as well as I could; because love is not a feeling, but a series of choices, and a lot of the time I need help to make the right one.

I need Christ because I've made mistakes this year. I've hurt, I've lied, I've let down, I've judged, I've condemned. My best efforts have missed the mark. I need Christ because I need to hear "You're forgiven. You will always be forgiven. And you will overcome."

I need Christ because I've been lied to, I've been let down, I've been betrayed and abandoned, and I need to hear "I am with you always".

I need Christ because my friends have been beaten, abused, raped, cheated, widowed; they've had miscarriages and cancer and depression; they've been hurt and belittled and seen their dreams ripped up and their stories trampled. I need Christ because I need to be able to say "There is healing; there is hope; there is peace and joy and love for those who cannot even dare to imagine it".

I need Christ because my friends have cheated, lied, stolen; they've had affairs, fought, and gossiped, and I need Christ because I need to be able to say "There is redemption and restoration, and there is forgiveness and there is reconciliation, and sin is never the most powerful thing".

I need Christ because all the willpower in the world can't make me less afraid or more patient or give me any hope of transformation. As Robbie Williams sang, "You can't manufacture a miracle", and yet, a miracle is exactly what I need to hope for, in my life, and in my friends' lives, and it would be nice to have a machine to churn out miracles on demand, but instead I can only hope and pray and hold on to the promises with the tiny grain of faith that keeps living when it should have died.

So I respect the atheists' opinion, but I respectfully exercise my right to disagree; I know that others will say they don't need Christ for any of this, but I can only say that I do, and why don't we all just get on with things that matter and not be twerps about it?

Friday, 15 November 2013

This Post Is A Bit Serious And Contains A Smattering Of Religion. I'm also not really sure why I'm telling you it, except that it's in my head and I want to get it out.

Well, over 2 people thought the "Here's-a-headline-and-I-wrote-a-better-article" thing was a good idea, so I'll be doing that forthwith.  In the meantime, I've been Thinking Thinks, and decided to share some of them, for no real reason except that sometimes Thinks make more sense when they're written down and you can have a good look at them.

Recently I was looking through old diaries and journals, and came upon some stuff from about 2000-2001, when I did a Thing called "Encounter" - a kind of discipleship / Sonship course, which involved about 20-25 Irish people and some Americans all meeting in a little village south of Dublin and Learning Stuff for a fortnight, before being sent to far-flung places like Galway to work with churches for a week (that was a whole other experience, which we'll save for a time when I have the emotional strength to dig it all up again).

Anyway, part of this was that you got stuck in a "discipleship group" with a few others, and you talked about your problems*.  So I was with 2 others, who we'll call Lorraine and Christine, since that's what they're actually called.  I like to describe the three of us as "The discipleship group from Hell", because, while we're all very nice people, in general, we all arrived on the Thing refusing to talk about ourselves or share experiences or generally do any of the things that make a discipleship group actually work and not just be really awkward.

*I'm not sure that that was really what we were meant to do, but it sounded more doom-laden when we put it that way, and we liked that.

I remember being asked things like "What are you struggling with at the moment?" and it wasn't just that I was being awkward (I mean, I WAS also being awkward, but even if I hadn't been, that wasn't even close to the main issue), it was more that I really honestly couldn't have told you what I struggled with, because I didn't like Thinking Of Such Things.  If you'd asked me whether I was happy with who I was, I'd immediately have laughed and said "no" (well, I might have said "yes", but that would have been to stop you asking any more awkward questions), but if you asked me for specifics, I'd have been at a total loss.

During that time, I was keeping a journal fairly regularly, and one of the Bible verses I wrote that week was "Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from you and give you a heart of flesh." (Ezekiel 36:26), and I remember feeling that I had a heart of stone because it didn't seem to really do "feelings" and stuff very well, so I prayed that God would soften it and put feelings in it and that, even though I had a notion that I might not like That Sort of Thing, but I figured I could always throw them back out if I had to.

The thing is, I'm not an especially good person.  This is not me-bashing.  I'm not an especially bad person either.  I'm just a regular person, and I have good points and bad points.  But I've always loved an excuse.  Like, when I read stuff about how I should love other people, I liked to be able to say "Ah, yes, but that command is for people who can do stuff like that.  Not for me.  I just exist to facilitate everyone else doing that."  In the great mosaic of life, where everyone adds their own little bit of colour, I liked to think of myself as the grouting.  I'm there, I show up, you can see me if you look, things wouldn't go well without me, but I don't actually add anything much.  I liked to think that stuff that happened in the past meant that I had a sort of free pass to skip bits of the Bible.  I didn't have the capacity to love other people, I told myself, so therefore I was exempt.  I didn't have a ton of people in my life who loved me or did stuff for me, so it was ok to not love people all that much.

Don't get me wrong; I was all for compassion and goodness and kindness and things like that happening, and if I was able to do the dishes afterwards then I could feel ok about myself, but I didn't like to think that I could actually DO anything to make myself more compassionate or loving or generous or whatever, because then I'd have to actually DO something involving feelings.

I liked to be liked, though.  We all do, I think.  I liked to be nice to people, and to help out where I could, and to listen to problems and be all sympathetic about them.  And I was aware that sometimes sympathy wasn't the best course of action, but if I tried to suggest that perhaps plotting to kill the person who'd annoyed you wasn't the best course of action*, then you might not like me, so I'd go back to sympathy.

* Dear Police, this never actually happened

But then stuff started to change.  Our little group started the fortnight by spending our hour (or whatever it was) of discipleship group time studying the daisies and making jokes to break the tension, and ended it by actually talking about stuff.  Like, not major stuff.  But stuff.  At some point someone even cried a little. Then we went to Galway and we all came back exhausted and ill, and suddenly all the feelings inside me exploded all over the place one night.  The leader of the Thing was summonsed, and I sobbed on her shoulder for about half an hour, howling out the most random sentences known to mankind before or since, and she very patiently held me tight and then pointed out that maybe I was a self-centered, people-pleasing ball of anger and confusion who used excuses to stop having to move on or let God work* and suddenly I realised that maybe that was true, and maybe I couldn't just excuse it away, and maybe it might be ok to deal with it.

* I think she said it nicer than that, though.  But I wouldn't swear to it.

So suddenly the heart of stone started to crack a little, and let stuff happen.  Not much stuff, and not very fast, but I could stop blaming myself and my past and my fundamentally flawed personality for not being able to say hello to a new person who'd just come into the room, and I'd start going over to chat.  Awkwardly, of course.  It is a merciful thing that I don't remember my early attempts at being a Normal Sociable Person.  But I started to discover that people weren't really looking at me and thinking "Why is this girl with the weird facial expressions and weird voice who looks all weird having a weird conversation with me?", but really they were thinking "Does she think I'm weird? At least she's talking to me so I don't have to stand here like a weird freak on my own.", because really, I'm not the centre of everyone else's universe, and that's probably ok.

And then after a little while I could open myself up to being generous and taking little risks like giving people stuff and risking that they might give me something back and then I'd be stuck in some sort of viscious cycle of gift-giving, or else I'd look bad for not saying Thank You loudly enough, or else they wouldn't like what I gave them or they'd just think it was weird.  And I started to stop giving things just to make people like me, and started giving them just because I thought they might make the other person happy.  And I stopped really noticing whether the things I did for people made them like me or not, and I just went on doing things because there was joy in it.

And after a while that got to be ok, and, to cut a long story short, I started to open myself up to the idea that maybe I could try to love people properly, and focus on them instead of on myself, but in an encouraging way and not in a comparing myself to them way.  And maybe I could be honest and say "I know you want to kill that person, but maybe you shouldn't" and maybe they'd reject me and not talk to me again, but maybe that wasn't the end of the world, and maybe it was even better than just encouraging them to kill the person so I didn't look like a party pooper.  And maybe I could let them love me too, and I could be vulnerable sometimes, and accept help and allow other people to give it and not have to immediately make it up to them, and not be obssessed with what it would make them think of me.

And after another while, I realised that it was actually ok to obey what God said and to love other people, because it's not about me anyway, and if I screw it up, I have a couple of friends who were in that discipleship staring at daisies who have seen the bad and the good and who love me anyway, and then I thought that maybe that's a bit like what God is like, only he's even better, and then I started to get more friends like that, and then I think maybe I started to be that kind of friend for other people sometimes too.  And it turned out that other people actually thought that being secure in Christ as a child of God was more important than being good and right all the time, and that I could drop the pretence and not have to be perfect, and actually that was much better and safer and more exciting than always trying to be good and right and then having to run away and hide and never speak to people again when I messed up or gave in to temptation or couldn't be bothered or decided to have fun doing things my way.

So I'm thinking that somewhere along the way, quite a lot of what was stony and scared has been replaced with flesh and confidence, and even though that sometimes means that I care too much and probably annoy the feck out of people (especially the people who just want to block things out and stare at daisies), and even though there are still a lot of stony bits that I probably don't even know about, and a lot of the good bits are messed up in some ways, and there could be a lot more good bits and a lot less bad bits, I think I find much more joy and freedom in being this way, and overall, I think I would recommend it.

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

On Winter

The ole winter blues have arrived early this year. Whether it's that it's a lot colder outside, or because I've had a stressful few months with one thing and another (though, surprisingly, not with being married, which has so far been, y'know, ok), or a combination of things, the urge to hibernate has kicked in, and we're not even into December (ah, Christmas stress!).

So I've decided that this year, I'll try to go easy on myself. I'm not going to force myself to go to everything I'm invited to. I'll take the breaks where they're offered. I'll be gentle with myself as much as I can. And if all else fails, I'll try to focus on keeping breathing, and putting one foot in front of the other, and enjoying the little things that bring me happy.

We'll see how it goes.

Monday, 11 November 2013

A New Idea I've Been Thinking About

So I've had this new idea, and it stems from the fact that I keep seeing articles with really interesting titles which are not anywhere near as interesting when I actually click on them.  So I'm thinking of writing blog posts which contain what I wanted the articles to say.

This may or may not be interesting.  We'll see.

The 10 Day You Challenge. Day 10: 1 Photo

Sorry.  Forgot all about this.  Here's me on my first bike, as previously mentioned:

The bike was called "Pritter", apparently.  I think I was trying to say "Critter", although where I got that from, I'm not sure.  Probably an encyclopedia or something.

Friday, 18 October 2013

The 10 Day You Challenge. Day 9: 2 Songs

Right, this is getting hard, because I'm not that into music. Or at least, not songs. So here goes, 2 songs plucked randomly from my head:
1. Amazing Grace - nice words, nice tune, dead meaningful. This reminds me of when I were a lass at school, and went to Scripture Union, and sometimes the teachers would get us kids to chose the songs and introduce them, and basically every time we said "Now we're going to sing X, and... Just really think about the words".
2. At My Most Beautiful (REM) - this is my and Mr Smile's 'our song', not really for any romantic reasons, but we both liked it, so one day we were trying to decide what our song would be, and we went through some options and then went 'feck it, that REM one will do' and that was that. They do a nice version with sleigh bells.

Monday, 7 October 2013

The 10 Day You Challenge. Day 8: 3 Films

To be honest, I don't really like films that much.  They're ok.  I've probably seen, like, 3 of them in my life.  So:

1. Shrek
I loved Shrek.  A back-to-front fairy tale where the ugly people win and there's a talking donkey.  Total win.

2. Toy Story
All my childhood dreams personified.  Also total win.

3. The Shawshank Redemption
Because it has allowed me to act like I watch grown-up films from time to time, and it was good, even though it wasn't a cartoon.

Saturday, 5 October 2013

The 10 Day You Challenge. Day 7: 4 Books

Sorry for the delay in transmission. Been busy and all. But I'm back now, and they seriously expect me to narrow it down to four books? FOUR?! Are you freaking kidding me?

So, here we go:

1. Encyclopaedia Britannica.
In my primary school, we had a library. We were never allowed to go into the library, but it was there, at the end of the corridor, opposite the P7 classroom. It had glass panels in the door, so I could see in and peek at all the goodness I was missing, and I can remember spying the Encyclopaedia Britannica (possibly the children's edition) sitting there on one of the shelves, all in alphabetical order and matching.

I'm not sure why we weren't allowed in the library, incidentally; each classroom had its own little library, so possibly the big library was just where they stored duplicate copies of those books, or maybe they kept different ones in there and then swapped them round to update the class libraries from time to time. I don't know.

But I remember thinking the encyclopaedias looked brilliant, from what I could see of them, and I longed for the day when I would be allowed to spend time in the library, undisturbed, and start reading from A right through to Z. All I needed was one break time when I could go in there and get started, instead of having to go outside and talk to other children, and play their weird games and stuff.

Finally, in P7, I had my chance: the rest of the class went on a school trip for a week without me. Nowadays I'd have been either sent to join P6 for the week, or referred to a child psychiatrist to establish why I had absolute hysterics when they tried to ship me off to an activity centre to have fun with my friends for a week (and in fairness, it mightn't have been a bad idea for someone to have at least made enquiries about that), but in those less enlightened times, I was sent to spend the week on my own in the library, completely unsupervised, to do a project on water.

Utter bliss. I didn't manage to read much of the encyclopaedias, but damn it, I tried, and to this day I cannot look at the Encyclopaedia Britannica without remembering the sheer joy of having the whole primary school library all to myself.

2. From Fear To Freedom, by Rose Marie Millar
A book I was recommended when I was about 22, which changed my entire outlook on life. I finally began to believe that I wasn't just a weird, hopeless failure with no hope of improvement, but that I was a child of God, a sinner saved by grace, and with all the power of Christ available to me to bring restoration and radical change. So that was good.

3. Treasures Of The Snow, by Patricia St John
Another book from childhood, this was probably the first novel I really loved. It's about a little girl (Annette) growing up in the mountains, who swears revenge on a boy who has hurt her little brother. Through a series of events that I don't quite remember, she ends up learning about forgiveness and grace. There's quite a lot of stuff in this, for a children's book, and I loved it.

4. East of Eden, by John Steinbeck
I haven't actually read this one in full yet (I'm currently about 20% in), but Mr Smile lent it to me one time before he was even Boyfriend Smile, and I felt all special because he doesn't lend books to many people in case they break them. I never even gave it back to him; I just kept it for, like, 3 years, and then decided it was half mine because we got married.

Next time: 3 films

Monday, 30 September 2013

So, to summarize today's hair...

Had to get a new driving licence photo taken today. So here's now today went...

The 10 Day You Challenge. Day 6: Five Foods

Ok, five foods.  I have a love-hate relationship with food; I appreciate that it's essential for survival, but it's the first thing I cut out if I'm in any way stressed or upset.  I have all manner of rules around when and where I can eat; for instance, I don't like eating anywhere apart from my own house or my parents' house.  I can cope with a church lunch or something like that, but otherwise, I'm not a big one for eating out.

So, anyway, 5 foods... here goes:

1. Chocolate
I love chocolate.  Any kind, really, but I consider things like Fruit & Nut to be slightly sacrilegious - who needs any of the contents of the chocolate wrapper to be used up with things like raisins?  My favourite chocolate is Dairy Milk, but really anything by Cadbury's will do.

I eat way more chocolate than I should, even though I'm trying to cut back a bit for the sake of my mental state.  This is not helped by the fact that I have a metabolism which can cope with an entire big bar of Dairy Milk (the ones that are sometimes on offer for £1 in Tesco) eaten in one sitting, without putting on any weight at all.

2. Roast beef
Roast beef will always mean Sunday lunch at Mum's.  My mum does the finest roast beef in the land, and I haven't had it for ages.  Mr Smile doesn't like beef, so it's not something I'm ever really likely to cook at home; furthermore, Mama Smile won't cook it when he's there (my mother is (sensibly, in my opinion) one of those people who refuses to cook more than one thing for dinner - if you eat at Mama Smile's, you'll eat exactly the same as everyone else), so I think I'll have to go and stay there on my own or something in order to ever taste it again.

3. Tea
I love a cup of tea.

4. Weetabix
To me, Weetabix is the ultimate comfort food.  I can eat it any time, any place.  I would happily eat only Weetabix for the rest of my life.  When I was in primary school, I wouldn't eat at all outside of home, so for breakfast I would eat 6 Weetabix to keep me going for the day.

5. Anything made by my husband
One of my weird food issues is to do with cooking for other people, which I find hideously stressful.  And of course, once I get stressed, I can't eat.  So cooking anything for dinner is basically a no-go, and hence Mr Smile does all the cooking in our house (well, mostly... 4 nights a week he's at his mum's, and I have started making the odd meal sometimes). So I like food made by Mr Smile because it's, like, symbolic of something.

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

The 10 Day You Challenge. Day 5: Six Places

Ok, we're half way there with today's post.  More, if you consider that there were lots more things on day 1 than on day 10.  But narrowing it down isn't necessarily easier, so, you know...

Six places.

1. Ballywalter
Where I grew up, and where my parents and most of my family still live.  I loved growing up there, and I still love going back.  It's a fairly small village, but the coastline is lovely, the beach is fabulous, and on a summer's day there's nowhere better for kayaking in the bay.

2. Greystones
Another seaside village, this one south of Dublin.  I have lots of happy memories from Greystones, and it's a beautiful place.  For a couple of summers I spent a fortnight there, and those were wonderful weeks of playing frisbee, enjoying the local coffee shop, walking to Bray along the spectacular coast, and lying about with good, trusted friends and having big conversations.

3. The Dock Cafe
If you're friends with me on Facebook, you'll know that I'm forever in The Dock Cafe.  The Dock is an honesty box cafe - you just put in however much you think your food was worth.  It's an eclectic mix of furniture, with not-really-matching-but-very-comfy cushions and throws, random donated mugs, a cupboard full of board games, and a few bookcases.  There are guitars you can just pick up and play (if you know how), and there's usually some kind of book discussion, knitting group or random meeting happening.  The walls are covered in local artwork and Titanic memorabilia (it's in the Titanic Quarter).

Even better, it's at the other end of a nice cycle from my house into the City Centre.

4. Slovakia
Ah, Slovakia (apologies for the terrible picture, which is a photo of a photo sitting on my knee).  Having spent 3 summers teaching English here, I came to love the place.  Fabulous scenery, lovely people and terrible food.

One of my favourite bits was the night train, which always felt like you were taking your life in your hands, but also had an aura of Orient Express (a fairly faint odour, like).

5. Queen's University / School
Part of me thinks I was made for academia.  I loved school and I loved university.  I can go back to Queen's any time, and straight away feel like I'm home.  I loved going to university, being at university, and hanging around at university for years after I really should have left.  Good times.

6. Belfast
I love Belfast.  It's a wonderful city - lots of history, culture, sights, and changes.  Belfast is pretty small (you can get from any point to any other point in about an hour on foot), but there's loads of stuff packed in.  For a while we were all about the bombs and riots (although I can honestly say I've never heard a bomb go off, or seen a riot happen, despite having lived here for 17 years).  When I moved to Belfast at first, you didn't go out at night, partly for safety, and partly because there was nothing much to do.

But it's a city that's moving on, and now you can hardly move for culture nights and arts festivals and cycle lanes.

We still have the odd freak-out about flags and stuff, but still.  Nice place.

The 10 Day You Challenge. Day 1: Ten Secrets

So, over at Living Gently, she's doing this thing called The 10 Day You Challenge. So I'm doing it too, because REASONS. Here's how it works:

So Day 1 is 10 secrets, Day 2 is 9 loves, etc. I might not do it on 10 Consecutive Days, mind.  Or I might go nuts and do a couple in one day. SO SUE ME.

So, yes, 10 Secrets.

I don't know if I have 10 secrets (not about me, anyways - if I was allowed to tell you other people's secrets, we would be having a field day about now). And some secrets aren't really going to work as blog fodder, because let's face it, I don't know you all that well, Internet, and also, Boundaries. And I'm too honest and not interesting enough to have much that I won't stick on Facebook.  But we'll keep it light and see how we go.

1. One time in primary school, one of the girls stole money from the tuck shop, and I told on her.  Another time, the rest of the class looked up the answers to a maths exercise in the answer book when the teacher went out to take a phone call, and I told on them too.  I was also so outraged that anyone would look up the answers rather than trying to work it out that I went home in a fit of indignant rage, according to my mother.  Despite all this, I was surprisingly popular, although mainly when people needed some maths homework done.

2. I sometimes wonder whether I'm on The Truman Show, and when I'm alone I do weird things to freak out the audience. Sometimes I'm on my own and I do weird things anyway though, without the Truman Show thing.

3. Sometimes I worry that I'll never again be as happy as I was when I was a student.

4. As I child, I had a major problem with telling the truth, namely, I didn't like doing it.  Part of this was a defense mechanism because I also had trust issues.  And anxiety.  And I probably didn't help myself by dobbing in the other members of the class when they tried to get Up To Something.

5. When I was about 6, I came up with a version of the multiverse theory while sitting on the toilet. I honestly don't think I had read about it anywhere before that point. I dismissed it as needing too much space, and never mentioned it to anyone.

6. When I was about 12, I decided I wanted to be left-handed, so I started practicing every evening for 20 minutes. I had a special notebook for it and everything.  The notebook is probably still in my parents' house.

7. I still think that anything with eyes is real.  Also that anything that has things that look like eyes is real.  Like my car, for instance, who has eyes in her headlights (her wing mirrors are her ears).  I'm honestly not sure how I'll cope when I have to get rid of my car, but I've a feeling I may be finding out fairly soon.  I still talk to my teddies and feel bad if they fall out of bed during the night.  Sometimes I get them to gang up on Mr Smile in an argument, so we can out-vote him.  Sometimes he accepts this as a valid argument.  Or he's too tired to argue.  Hard to say.

8. I'd love to be a really good violinist.  Or, failing that, really good at some musical instrument.  Or just have some basic musical ability.  I'd also like to have the confidence to sing in public, but I don't because one time someone told me I couldn't sing.  So if I sing in front of you, you should take it as a major sign of trust, and not make fun of me, otherwise I will consider you to have betrayed me slightly.

9. One time when I was at university, someone bribed me 5p to vote for them in the student election.  I took the 5p and voted for someone else.

10. I worry that I'm too sensitive and weird and off-the-wall for people to really like me.  I try to be funny to cover it up, but I worry that no one is really fooled.  Then I worry that I really shouldn't be this obsessed with what people think of me.  On the sensitive thing, by the way, there are a surprising number of things which I consider to be betrayals of the highest order.  We have already mentioned laughing at my singing.  Also:
  • Generally laughing at me at all
  • Acting like you don't believe something I'm saying when I know it's true
  • Saying I'm untidy or messy, when in fact I've just been feeling down and not tidying up is one of the first signs of that
  • Racism.  Because not everything is about me.
Tomorrow: 9 loves.

The 10 Day You Challenge. Day 4: Seven Wants

So, 7 things I want.  And I'm not going to write stupid stuff like 'World Peace', for the same reason that the 9 loves wasn't all 'Jesus'.

1. More time
Really, my life could use a few more hours in the day, or a couple more days in the week.  Given that I thrive when I have at least a couple of hours of silence each day, and then I have to sleep and eat and wash and crochet and knit and read and get dressed and do church stuff and do housework and read more and listen to music and talk to people and work and read and ride my bike and pray and meet friends and read and bake and cook and DO ALL THE THINGS every day, I could use more time.

Or possibly, I could do with slowing down a bit and not trying to do All The Things every day.

2. Restored relationships
I hate when people fall out, or shun each other, or argue endlessly, or stop speaking.  To me, disagreement, hurt, and betrayal are part of relationships, but they are balanced out by love, forgiveness, fun, joy, encouragement, hope, sharing, listening, being together and enjoying each other.

As a friend, you don't lose me easily.  I'm generally not bad at forgiving, and hanging in there, and not walking off in a huff if you upset me.  You could probably try to murder me, and I'd be like "So, what say we have a cup of tea and try to talk through why you might want me dead?".  So it upsets me when other people fall out, especially over stupid stuff, and I particularly hate being dragged into it.

So if you could all just get along, that'd be great.

3. To be able to travel again
I've always loved to travel.  I love seeing new cultures and places and hearing new languages and seeing things that are different.  But in the past few years I've not been able to do that, for Medical Reasons (namely, that if I go more than 20 miles from home, I get hysterical and need medical intervention).

Mr Smile has never been to Amsterdam, and I'd like to take him.  I'd love to see a cheap holiday to somewhere new and just book it.  I want my children to experience foreign cultures and learn that the world doesn't revolve around them and that their point of view is not the only one.

4. Children
I've always wanted children.  I used to think it'd be nice to have a whole football team of them, but now I've lowered my limit to maybe just a couple.  I love working with children, seeing how they look at the world, enjoying their weird random ideas and thoughts, and learning to trust and love and learn through their eyes.

5. Northern Ireland to sort itself out
Ok, this is maybe a bit too close to 'World Peace', but I'd really like Northern Ireland to stop fighting.  I love our country - the hills, the mountains, the fields, the rivers, the cities.  I love the people, the banter, the craic, the music, the culture. I love the way we do things and the way we welcome visitors.

I just think we need to stop fighting over stuff that might or might not have happened up to 300 years ago, which we're generally not that clued up on anyway.  We need to get over the 'my side is better than your side' thing, and the stupid flags and parades and naming play parks after terrorists, and murals and riots.  We need to stop throwing a hissy fit every time things don't go how we would like them to.

6. A reduced amount of stuff, but not of craft stuff
Recently I've become more and more attracted to the idea of minimalism, of not having more than you need, of clearing the clutter and releasing myself from the hold of stuff.  I'm kind of a hoarder (though I've improved a fair bit in the past few years), and I can always look at something and see how it might be useful some day.  The number of things I have filed away in case I ever need somewhere to plant stuff is becoming insane.

I've never been a big one for buying lots of stuff in any case.  My phone, car, tv etc are all pretty old (well, I now have a newer tv, which belongs to Mr Smile), and I'm happy with that.  I'm not constantly worried about what will happen if they get lost or damaged; nor do I have any interest in upgrading to the latest and best, because I'm quite content as long as they perform their intended function.  I try not to spend money unless I need to - not out of trying to save it all up, but simply because I'd rather be able to use my money for good stuff than to waste it on stuff that's just going to get chucked out in a few months or years.

I'd love to be able to be more generous; to give more stuff away.  When a friend needs cash in an emergency, I like to know I can help out.  I prefer stuff to be communal rather than private.  I like being able to lend stuff and borrow stuff, rather than having to own it, and then own a space to store it.

But I do like craft stuff, and I keep a ton of it on the basis that I might need it for a project some day.

7. To really enjoy food
I have a love-hate relationship with food.  I quite enjoy cooking, and I like to experiment, but I also have weird hang-ups with food which mean that sometimes I can't stand to be in the same room as it.  I'd love to be able to say "Yes, I'll go for dinner with you to try that new restaurant", without getting there and panicking because it's all food and food sometimes makes me cry.

So I'd love to be able to really enjoy the sight, smell and taste of food.

The 10 Day You Challenge. Day 3: Eight Fears

Ok, so fears.  More or less everything, really, as those of you who know me will understand.  But I'll try to at least get them into categories.

1. Vomiting
For as long as I can remember, I've been terrified of vomiting - either doing it myself, or someone else doing it near me.  If someone throws up, I have to leave the room.  They say that when you have children, you learn to cope with this sort of thing, and that had better be true, or my kids are on their own.

2. Fear Itself
They say there's nothing to fear but fear itself, but fear is pretty freakin' scary, so I think I'm justified with this one.  I have a kind of panic disorder, which means that I can randomly start freaking out at any moment.  This tends to liven up parties for other people, but not so much for me.

3. Losing My Friends
I'm not sure what I'd do if all my friends somehow disappeared.  But probably not Good Things.

4. Seeing Friends Trapped By Bad Choices
Sometimes my friends do crazy things.  And then I get scared that they won't get back because they'll be too ashamed or something.  And then I work myself into a frenzy, and that doesn't help anyone.

5. That I'll Never Be Free From Fear
Medication helps keep the bogey man away, but they haven't get discovered a drug that can work well in the long term without developing side effects after a while.  It would be nice if they did, or if I just stopped being anxious all the time.

6. That I'll Mess Up My Children's Lives
Not that I have children.  But if I do, at some point in the future, then I'd like to think that I could help them to navigate to adulthood without any major traumas.

7. That My Children Will Be A Bit Dull
I still don't have children, but if I do, I want them to be interesting people, who are fascinated by everything and can find good in everything they come across.  I want them to live and love and be creative and positive and to generally make the world a better place.

8. Going Blind
I've always had a fear of darkness in general, and blindness in particular.  I'm quite fussy about my eyes, and getting them tested and stuff, just in case.

The 10 Day You Challenge. Day 2: Nine Loves

So, 9 loves.  This is easier than 10 secrets.  Incidentally, I decided to leave out things like 'Jesus' and 'World Peace' and 'My Husband' and stuff, because otherwise this would just be the same as all the other lists, and I want this list to be all whimsical.  As you know well, I am all about the whimsy.  Although I might write about Mr Smile some time, like on our anniversary or something, because sometimes I think he gets a bad deal on here.  On the other hand, get your own blog, Mr Smile.

Anyway, loves. Here we go:

1. Reading, and Books
I love reading, and I love books.  I love books even when I'm not reading them.  I love new books, and the anticipation of new worlds and new stories.  I love already-read books, and seeing them on the shelf, and seeing my favourite ones and stroking their spines and from time to time taking them down and hugging them.  I love bookshops, and looking at other people's bookshelves.  I love finding books I love and finding books I hate, and arguing about their relative merits with people who thought the exact opposite.

Oddly, I do not like discussing books a la Book Groups.

I quite like E-books, for convenience and portability, but I'll usually still buy a hard copy to keep on my bookshelf.

2. Cycling
I LOVE to ride my bicycle.  There's a photo of me in my parents' garden aged about 2, on my little tricycle, looking like all my birthdays had come at once.  For the next 12 years, on a succession of handed-down, patched-up bikes, my sister, my cousin and I explored our world, transported the raw materials for tree houses, cycled off drops that were a bit bigger than they looked, and generally narrowly avoided death.

Aged 14, my uncle bought my sister and I our first brand new bikes, and I spent my summers exploring the narrow roads which wound through the countryside of the Ards Peninsula.  Without money, helmet, mobile phone, or puncture repair kit, and certainly without any accompanying adult, I became something of an expert in the geography of the drumlins, inlets, towns and villages in a 10-mile radius.

Eventually, the bike was brought to Belfast, and during my year out it took me from student house to coffee shop, to office, to Bible study and then home.  At about that time, I discovered the newly-emerging cycle network of Belfast and the surrounding area, and racked up plenty of miles exploring my options.

That bike was stolen from my garden, which was sad, but paved the way for the current bike, a fabulous ice-blue steed which has travelled many miles already.  I'm passionate about making the streets safer to cycle on, and I've loved seeing more and more people get involved with making that happen.

For me, nothing compares to cycling along a wide path by a river, on a sunny day, knowing that you've nowhere to go and all the time you want to get there, with a picnic stowed safely in the panniers.

3. Craft
I've always loved making things, in any possible manner.  I learned to knit when I was about 6, and then taught myself crochet and sewing later on.  Any time I need to relax, I'll sit down with the knitting or quilting and I'm happy.

I love looking at craft, figuring out how things go together, and exploring different materials.

4. Solitude
I love being by myself (unless it's at, like, a social event or something, where I just look like a loser and pick up weirdos).  I love the feeling of having no responsibility for anyone else for a little while, being able to do exactly what I want, processing the thoughts that have been lurking in the background, and not having to make conversation.

5. Friends
I love my friends.  As an introvert, I tend to have a very few, very close friends, and, as I think they generally know, I'll do pretty much anything within my capability for them.  I love the idea of friendship; of having those few people who are really special to you, who can be relied on and can annoy you and delight you and disappoint you and forgive you and hurt you and be forgiven and encourage you and delight in you and push you to be better than you would be if they weren't in your life.

6. Words
I love words, and playing with words, and learning new words.  I love language, and learning to speak foreign, and hearing other languages.  I love learning how words were formed, and how they evolved over time.

I can't stand puns, though.

7. Mountains
I love mountains.  They're like a giant landscapey hug.  I love being on top of them and in between them.

8. Gospel freedom
I said I wouldn't make this list all "Jesus, Bible, World Peace", but Gospel Freedom is something that's maybe not on everyone's list, and it's something which I've experienced and which has released me from the past in a way that nothing else could.  The understanding that I am forgiven, and therefore I can forgive others, is something which cannot be described, but has to be plunged into.

I love talking about it, and I love seeing it become real in other people's lives as well.

9. Ideas
I love new ideas, creativity and resourcefulness.  I love seeing obstacles overcome by imaginative thinking.  I love new ways of thinking about things, and unexpected ways of viewing situations.  I love things that are a little bit different.  I love creative, resourceful people, who can look at a problem and see a ton of solutions, and then get on with doing them.

Tomorrow: 8 fears.

Monday, 23 September 2013

Wide Awake

So I'm currently going through a phase of insomnia, due, as far as I can tell, to a change of medication. I very rarely have trouble sleeping, and this is only night 4, so it's still something of a novelty (“I'm awake at 3am! Yay!”), but I can see how it's going to get old pretty fast.

The thing is, there's not much to do at night. Or at least, not in my world. My friend Sean once looked out of his window in the middle of the night and saw two blokes walking past carrying a toilet. That's the sort of thing I'm after. But I looked out, and nothing.

So now I'm trying to think up ways to entertain myself without moving or making any noise (so I don't wake Mr Smile), and all I've come up with is "Think up an adjective and noun for every letter of the alphabet", like 'awesome alligator, blue bus, cute car' etc, which is what I use to calm myself down if I'm having a panic attack, and let's face it, it sucks.

I'm open to suggestions.

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

In which we see that Mr Smile is fighting a losing battle

So Mr Smile just showed me this thing that one of his friends had shared on Facebook. Now, for a kick-off, it was from a page called "The Romantic Box", which should have given him adequate warning that this wasn't something I was going to fall for, but against his better judgement, he showed it to me anyway.

I can't find it to share it here, but basically it was a photo of a dress, on a bed, with a label attached saying something like "Dinner at 7. Put this on. Be ready at 6.30. I love you." So I stared at for a good 30 seconds, and then I was all like "I don't get it".

So Mr Smile explained that this guy had bought the dress for his wife, and was telling her to wear it when they went to dinner.

Apparently this is the most romantic thing ever, according to Mr Smile, and I was all like "Never ever do this". Apart from the fact that I don't eat out, there are several problems: what if the dress doesn't fit? What if the colour doesn't suit me? What if I don't have shoes or a bag to go with it? What if I already have plans for 6.30? What if I only get home at 6.25 and I haven't shaved my legs and stuff? What if I got peckish in work at 5 and scoffed 8 bars of Dairy Milk and now I'm not that hungry?

But Mr Smile won't believe me that this is the worst idea ever, although I have warned him that if he ever takes it into his head to buy me a dress and take me out for dinner, I'd really more appreciate it if he just gave me the cash.

So we're putting it out to a vote: is this the best or the worst idea in the world ever?

Friday, 6 September 2013

A Series Of Things

So I've had a lot of thoughts going on in my head this past while, and I haven't quite distilled them to the point where I'm ready to write about them, but I thought I'd list them so that you can all keep asking me for my deep and incisive thoughts on them.  Otherwise, my vast pool of wisdom could end up being lost to the internet for ever, and that would Not Do At All.

Topic 1: Marriage
So remember I said I was reading a book about marriage and it was making me feel a bit sarcastic?  Well, Mr Smile asked me for my reasons, and at the time I'm not sure I had them properly established.  However, since then I've had coffee with my friend Emma, and she recommended a book, and I looked it up on Amazon, and it's subtitle was "What if God designed marriage to make us holy more than to make us happy?" and I was all "YES!!!  THAT'S what I want to read about!".  So I think the problem with the current marriage book is that it's all a bit "making your marriage work" and I don't really want to read about that, not because it's not important, but because it's not very exciting, and I want exciting.

(In case you're wondering why I'm reading all these books about marriage, it's not that I'm having a marriage crisis; it's more that because we got married fairly quickly after getting engaged, we didn't have time to go to any marriage preparation classes, and in any case we probably would have been thrown out because we would only have sniggered at the sex bits, so I'm reading some books in case there's some vast wisdom out there that I've missed out on.  I still snigger at the sex bits, because I am Not Very Mature. It's also because some people bought us books on marriage for engagement/wedding presents, so it would be rude not to read them).

Topic 2: Loving People
I came across an article on 'tinternet the other day, all about how to love people who annoy you, and it was fine as far as it went, but then I got in a discussion on The Facebook, which lead me to think "Really the command is not to get along with people, it's to love them.  And really it's not about people who annoy you, it's about actual enemies and that". So I have some Thoughts On That, which I'm preparing to dispense.

Topic 3: Friendship and being nice
A third ongoing issue is that of how to be a good friend, especially to someone who has let you down or who is doing crazy stuff that hurts you a lot, or, you know, that kind of thing.  And it has seemed to me that it is not important to be nice, but it is important to be all manner of other things which are much more difficult and scary and possibly unpleasant and risky but which are also (as far as you can ascertain) loving and helpful and therefore you have to do them because the person is your friend and you care about them.  But also you don't want to completely just feck the person off by being an utter twat (incidentally, Mr Smile and I are currently involved in an ongoing argument as to whether 'twat' is a really bad swear word, or just a funnier version of 'twit'... please feel free to get involved), plus they're an adult, and frankly, when they want your opinion they can ask for it, and anyway you might not be as Right as you think, and anyway also you should probably sometimes just shut up and listen.

This reminded me of my second form chemistry teacher, who once said during a lesson (I've no idea why, but this may explain why I have only a very basic grasp of chemistry) that he would never want to be described as 'nice', and this shocked me because I was a 12-year-old girl and being thought of as 'nice' was the only ambition I had at that point.  But now I think I agree entirely with him, because, as they say, no one ever changed the world by being nice, and also because we're supposed to be like Jesus, and I don't know that He was really all that nice, when it came to it.

Topic 4: The Inanity Of Following Your Heart
This was prompted entirely by this article, and I like it because I've never been comfortable with following my heart, but people seem to tell me to do it sometimes, and therefore they are Wrong and I am Right, and I like when that happens.

Also, it gave the opportunity for her over at Living Gently to share the following quote on Facebook, and is worth a lot for that reason alone:

 "Should I bolt every time I get that feeling in my gut when I meet someone new? Well, I've been listening to my gut since I was 14 years old, and frankly speaking, I've come to the conclusion that my guts have shit for brains."
Rob (John Cusack) in High Fidelity

So these are all grand, and I hope to come back to them, but I think we also need some light entertainment, and so I present some of it here:

1. This is the work of a genius.  An evil genius.

2. Daily Odd Compliments are hysterical.

3. Very British Problems will hit home.

4. Pins which amused me this week were this, this and this.

You're Welcome.

Thursday, 5 September 2013

In Which We See That I Never Learn

Remember this from a few years ago? Well, turns out I've signed up again, only this time it's at the Titanic slipway, which we can only hope is warmer than it sounds. Anyway, in glad I made the list, because Saturday's forecast is for a monsoon, basically. So a list will help.

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Holiday Bible Club: All The Other Days, and Some Things That Have Happened Since Then

So, we did the salt dough, and we survived the salt dough, but naturally enough it went hideously wrong.  I'd made it all nicely the Saturday before; clearly I had, in the meantime, summoned some demons from the very depths of hell, because they turned it into slime at the moment it touched the children's hands.  Obviously, the first group we tried it with was the four-year-olds, who are the least capable of transforming a mess into a tidy, and it was only by tipping more or less a full bag of flour onto the table (and then letting them spread THAT around too) that we were able to salvage anything from the experience.

The main thing I learned during the course of the week was that The Book contains only bad ideas; between the Moses baskets, the salt dough and a reading for the Sunday service which involved the deaths of a LOT of horses, I think we can safely say that next time round we'll explore alternative sources.

Anyway, we had upwards of 25 children* during the week, and they all seemed to have fun, so that was good.
* Yes, that means we had 26 children.

Now, that whole thing took a while to recover from, and the following week was a blur of meeting people for coffee and being very tired.

Then on Saturday there, I was leading a cycle ride which involved Wendy Houvenaghel off the Olympics, and that was good.  Of course, the official line was that I followed her entire career and did not in way slag her off for complaining that she didn't get picked to actually cycle in London 2012, and then after I actually met her I discovered that she's really very lovely and I felt a bit bad about slagging her off for complaining.

Now I'm exhausted, possibly because my doctor is reducing the medication that I'm on, and although the medication usually makes me drowsy, it seems that removing the medication is also making me drowsy, which may suggest that I'm some kind of medical marvel.

I'm also reading a book about marriage which Mr Smile's work colleague gave us as an engagement present, and I'm trying not to be prejudiced against it, but every now and then it makes me go all sarcastic.  I might tell you more about that in due course, but for now I'm going to have a small nap.

Night night.

Monday, 19 August 2013

Holiday Bible Club Update: Day One

Well, we had our first craft fail of Holiday Bible Club. Basket weaving. With 4-year-olds. The Book assured me that it was all quite simple, and you just had to weave strips of paper together, perhaps 'dabbing a bit of glue on here and there to hold the strips in place while you weave'. Lies. Turned out you had to staple the thing to within an inch of its life to stop it unraveling all over the floor, and when you only have one stapler with a decent supply of staples, and you have 13 children, this is Not Good. Two of the children gave up entirely half way through, and just wrapped the strips of paper round their necks to make necklaces. They are my new favourite people in the world.

So tomorrow we're scaling things back a bit on the craft front, and just doing salt dough. I've still had no feedback from anyone who actually knows how this works, but I figure that it'll just be like cutting out cookies until the point where we have to bake it, and I'm not doing the baking bit, so *meh*.

On the plus side, they all enjoyed the story of Moses, and the two boys who had to act the part of bulrushes (because I forgot to make bulrushes, because REASONS) did very well.

Friday, 16 August 2013

I Know What I Did This Summer. Mostly.

So it's the end of a long, hot, wearying rollercoaster of a summer. We may only be in mid-August (I say 'may'; I really haven't the faintest clue what day it is), but the evenings are that bit shorter and there's a definite smell of Autumn in the air. I say rollercoaster; I won't go into the details, but it's been one of those summers I won't forget for a while. I'm mentally, emotionally and physically tired today, and although it's nothing a good weekend of taking it easy won't cure, it feels like I'm ready for term time to bring on its routines. Still, we have Holiday Bible Club next week in church, so that'll be a good opportunity for a bit of rest and recuperation... Small children are always restful *.

(*small children are almost never restful)

First, we had the arrival of Nephew Smile. This caused great excitement in the Smile household, particularly for Papa Smile, a man not generally renowned for his love of small children, but who has been seen lying in the summerhouse with Nephew Smile on his chest, chatting away and telling him stories. Also, Mama and Papa Smile got a summerhouse. Like, a shed thing in the garden, not a whole separate house that they go to in the summer. That's crazy talk.

Also good this summer was the firm re-establishment of an old friendship - not that it had lapsed, it just hasn't been firing on all cylinders for a few years, for various reasons. Anyway, this is one of those friendships where all we need is to look at each other and we descend into the most irritating (and yet weirdly catching) giggles. Which is probably kind of annoying for other people, because it tends to interrupt the flow of proper grown-up conversations if two of the participants go into hysterics if someone says one of their trigger words. But I've always felt that grown-up conversation is vastly over-rated. Also, CHICKENS!! *collapses to the floor giggling with friend*

<warning: religious bit>

It's also been a summer when I've had to do a lot of thinking about what it looks like for broken relationships to be restored, and how to help in a very broken, messy situation. I've done a lot of reading, and praying, and thinking about God's grace and mercy, and what that looks like in terms of human friendships, and how to bring about restoration. I've been hurt and been let down, and probably hurt other people and let them down; I've forgiven and been forgiven; I've had to trust that God will work in miraculous ways. I've been reminded that God does indeed work in miraculous ways, and that through Christ we have victory over the power of sin. I'm learning that I need to be patient and wait for that victory to be worked out, when I want it all now. I've resisted the urge to shove all my solutions onto a friend going through a bad time, and I've failed to resist that urge. I've tried to figure out what it really means to be a good friend.

I revisited my favourite book (From Fear To Freedom), and have started a crusade to make everyone read it. When I mentioned it on Facebook, Transfarmer requested that I wrote a summary of it here, because she's too lazy to re-read it herself (or she had a baby or something). So I might do that. Then I wrote to the author of the book to say how much I loved it, and she wrote back and said she'll send me a copy of her new book. So that's exciting, and I'll tell you all about it once I've read it.

<end of religious bit, mostly>

So that basically summarises my summer of 2013. I may be back shortly with the WhyNotSmile Guide To Running A Holiday Bible Club (tips: don't end up in charge, and don't be vastly over-ambitious with your craft), depending on how it goes. If you're the praying type, you could say a few words for the week. If you're the type who thinks it's all about brainwashing children into superstition, calm down. I don't have the energy for that sort of thing.

Also, if anyone out there knows how to make and bake salt dough, please get in touch. All the helpers for next week are Supportive Of The General Concept, but none of us have actually ever done salt dough before. I'm currently thinking that the best-case scenario is that we at least get a good laugh out of it, but you never know: it might work. I'll keep you posted.

Saturday, 29 June 2013

What I Have Been Up To

Reader, I married him.

Mr Smile and I got married on 18th May, and I must say, we did quite a good job of it. We looked quite nice, and as far as we could tell, everyone had a rather pleasant time.

It turns out that organising a wedding is quite a lot of work, particularly if you involve your mother, who transforms from someone who is vaguely pleased you're dating someone Not Too Bad, into someone who appears to have spent the days since you were born thinking up ideas for things without which your wedding will not be complete.

Anyway, we're all married now, and so far all is going reasonably well. I say 'reasonably'; there are ongoing discussions about how many teddies are allowed in the bed (I have lived my entire life being unable to have any less than 'all of them', in case the left-out ones get lonely and sad; whereas Mr Smile is happy to let them live lives of quiet despair, apparently), and this may not be resolved for a while.

On the other hand, we made a good job of merging our libraries. Between us, Mr Smile and I own all the books, so what we needed was a System. We devised the following:
We started with 5 bookcases, plus the shelves in the study. The study has traditionally been home to my Enid Blyton collection, all my Christian books, and reference manuals, so it made sense to leave them there. One bookcase was filled with DVDs, Wii games etc, so we left that as it was as well. This left 4 bookcases, which have been designated thus:

1. The one in the hall for books neither of us has read
2. The one that used to be in my bedroom but is now in the living room for books which I have read and Mr Smile has not
3. The one that used to be in Mr Smile's house but is now in the living room for books which Mr Smile has read and I have not
4. The one that was always in the living room for books we have both read

Obviously, within each bookcase, books are arranged according to the standard Dewey Decimal System, in alphabetical order of author. An initial problem has been that Bookshelves 1 & 3 are full to capacity, so Mr Smile is only allowed to read books from Bookshelf 3, and I am reading from Bookshelf 1. Also, books are joining Bookshelf 1 at a rate far beyond that at which they are leaving, and we've already had to build an annex on the top.

In other news, I got sent to Methodist Conference for a week. This is the kind of thing that has potential to be incredibly dull, of course, but in this particular instance was really Rather Good, and I came back all inspired. Then I gave a talk about it in church, which now seems to have gone viral (in Irish Methodist circles, at least). So I may become famous as someone who had a good time at Methodist Conference, which would be Quite Something.

So that's you all up to date, and I'll let you know if anything else happens.

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

On having faith in the church instead of in God

Some time ago, over at Living Gently, she said this (well, technically, she said someone else had said this. She didn't say who though, so I don't know and can't attribute it. Meh, so sue me):
"…people generally have little or no faith in God: their faith is in the church. Then, when the church fails (inevitable), they lose their faith."
I thought this was epic, and promised to blog on it. Then I did precisely nothing about it, because I'm lazy. I let you all down. This is why you shouldn't put your faith in me. Still, I'm getting round to it now, so you know, would it kill you to be grateful?

First a warning: this post is all about church and God and stuff, so if you're only here for the Comedy Guides to Childcare and so on, I'd save yourself the next 5 minutes and leave now. Come back soon, though. We'll miss you.  And I might have one on Wedding Planning soon, because I seem to be doing Quite Well at that.

So, yes, on having faith in the church rather than in God. A lot of people do this. I probably do this. But we shouldn't do it, because it is Not The Best Way To Do Things.

Unfortunately, it appears to be the default setting for lots of my generation at least. We talk about finding "a good church", and finding "a place that will help me grow" (or, even worse "a church that grows me") and finding "somewhere that really connects me to God" (please note, if you use that last phrase around me, it makes me feel stabby towards you). As if the purpose of church is to do all these things for us.

While pondering all this, I came across this quote from East Belfast Mission's Twitter feed:
@ebelfastmission: "We can not wait for great vision from great people because they are in short supply. We must light our own small fires in the darkness"
See, this is the thing.  It seems to me that we spend a lot of time waiting for other people to inspire us to do things.  We think that we'd do awesome stuff if only we had a good leader or more people to help us or a bit more cash to spend.  We'd love to understand the Bible, but we need someone to explain it to us.  We love to really be led into worshipping God.  And so on, and so forth.  But, then, when it doesn't happen, we ditch those people, and move on to new people, and then they don't really help much, and then eventually we run out of people, so we try to go it alone for a while, and then we give up on the enterprise entirely.

As I've said before, I believe that the local church is the hope of the world.  I think God more or less says this in the Bible.  Not those exact words, but the general sentiment.  But we seem to be sitting around waiting for the church to look a bit more like something that might be the hope of the world, because we're putting our faith in the church.  What we should be doing is putting our faith in God and thereby, as the church, becoming the hope of the world.

This means that we don't get discouraged when we look around church and don't like what we see.  Instead, we look for the good, and we celebrate that, and we wonder what on earth it is that God's going to do through this group of wasters, and we get excited about that and get stuck in, and be thankful that there are other people turning up at all, because when things get rough, chances are it's going to be one of those people that God works through to help us out.  And also because, if God works through all these other wasters, then He might also work through me, and it would be nice to be around for when it happens.  We remind ourselves that the disciples weren't the most inspiring bunch of people, and that they did All Right In The End, what with the Holy Spirit to stop them completely fecking it all up and all.

It means that we don't sit around waiting for the worship to inspire us.  Instead, we turn up with an attitude of worship, because we recognise that worship is what we do all the time, every day, and if we're not "feeling it" during the service, it may be because we didn't bring it with us, so maybe we should pray a bit about that, or at least accept that it happens sometimes and not get too hung up about it.  We express our thanks to the people who take time to prepare the music, and, if necessary, we remind ourselves of CS Lewis' little anecdote from when he first showed up at church:
"I disliked very much their hymns, which I considered fifth rate poetry set to sixth rate music. But as I went on I saw the great merit of it. I came up against different people of quite different outlooks and different education, and then gradually my conceit just began peeling off. I realized that the hymns (which were just sixth rate music) were, nevertheless, being sung with devotion and benefit by an old saint in elastic side boots in the opposite pew, and then you realize that you aren't fit to clean those boots."
It means that we don't go home and complain that the minister didn't explain the Bible passage well enough; instead, we appreciate that we were pointed to the Bible at all, and we pray about not understanding it, and we read it a bit ourselves, and we see what we think, and maybe we ask some other people or take a look online and see if we can figure it out a bit better, and then maybe we find we're actually capable of figuring it out for ourselves and maybe that's a good thing.

It means that we don't complain that no one ever helps us with the things we do in church, but instead we take time to invest in people, help them figure out their talents, and then be prepared to stand back and watch them fly.

It means that when we face opposition or complaining about stuff that we're doing, instead of being all huffy and offended and upset and giving up, we turn to God in prayer, and ask if what we're doing is what He really wants, and if it's not then we give it up and try something else, and if it is then we carry on and don't listen to the condemning voices of the people around us, because those are not ultimately the voices that matter.

In short, it means we stop sitting around waiting for things to be better, and for people to inspire us, and for our church to catch a grip and start doing things in The Proper Christian Way, and we start looking for ways in which we can make things better, and we honestly ask God what He thinks, and then we trust that God will be the one we listen to, and then we realise that there is no Proper Christian Way, but there is only God's grace and the power of the Holy Spirit, because otherwise it would be all about us, and, well, that would suck.

Of course, it's possible that I'm entirely wrong, but that's fine, because by this point you will have realised that you shouldn't have too much faith in me and that probably the best thing that could happen now is that I stop talking and you listen to God instead.

Of course, if you're not really into God and church and stuff, and were really only here for the Comedy Guides, well, you've probably just waste 5 minutes of your life, but, frankly, I warned you, and it turns out you should have had faith in me after all.  Heh.  Ironic.

Sunday, 24 February 2013

The WhyNotSmile Guide To Childcare

So one of the UK government's recent crazy plans is that people who look after children should be allowed to look after more children.  Specifically, one person should be allowed to look after 4 babies, or 6 2-year-olds.  Now, if this sounds like quite a lot of small people for one person to handle, that's because it is, and one can only assume that it was dreamt up by someone who wandered into a room with 10 sleeping babies and wondered what all the fuss was about.

However, the fact that a policy is insane does not, as we have seen, prevent the current government from implementing it, and thankfully I have some experience in this field, since (due to what I'm sure will turn out to be some sort of clerical error) I am left in charge of a group small children at least once a week.  Not in sole charge, mind, but still, I like to think I have an air of authority.

So it is without further ado that I present

The WhyNotSmile Guide To Childcare

Now, the first thing to appreciate is that childcare is not like a regular job, where the first fortnight is considered a roaring success if you spend less than 78% of your time sobbing in the toilets.  With childcare, you have to be On The Ball right from day 1, and if you end up crying, no one really cares.  So, before looking after small children, you need to master the basics:

The Basics

1. Your main aim is always to hand the children back alive.  No matter what else you do, no matter how much fun they had, and no matter how healthy the snacks you provided were, you have to make sure that you keep your charges alive and kicking for the duration of their stay with you.

2. You have to hand the children back with all essential parts still connected.  It's all fun and games till someone loses an eye.  Or an arm, or a leg.  Even a small appendage, like a finger or toe, cannot be accidentally removed if you want to seem competent.  Now, the key here is to determine the meaning of 'essential'.  If they break a nail, it's ok (in fact, probably a good idea) to snip off the little loose bit so they don't injure themselves, or (more likely) pull it off themselves and eat it.  You can also get away with giving hair a slight trim if it gets Play-Doh or something stuck in it, although you should try not to remove large chunks.

3. You need to end up with the same children you started with.  You might think that, in the early days, it is sufficient to ensure that each parent who left a child with you gets a child back in return, but this is not the case.  At this point it is helpful to introduce some form of System, ideally one which prevents any child from leaving or entering the room.  This will help you greatly.

So, to summarise, you need to make sure that the children are kept in a locked room from which they cannot escape, preferably with padded walls and nothing they can climb on.  You should probably also not have a lot of sharp or pointy objects around.  However, children are notorious for creating sharp, pointy objects out of fixtures, fittings and soft furnishings, so it's best to keep an eye on them regardless.

Intermediate Level

The basics are all well and good, but once you get a bit skilled, you'll naturally want to up your game a bit.

**Proceed with caution**

Here are some tips for this difficult transition phase:

1. Try to get as many of them as possible to go to sleep.  You'll find that the parents aren't always entirely keen on this, as they like you to have to take some of the grief that comes with having wide-awake children, but at this level it is acceptable.  It is handy because while asleep, most children can't injure themselves, shout, or spill things.  Remember, however, that if you have one awake child, you might as well have two, since they can entertain each other, so time the sleeps carefully.

2. Understand that small children fall over a lot.  There is no shame in them having the odd small bump.  The important thing is to minimize the risk, and to make sure that you report all bumps which happen to the parents.  If their child falls off a chair, they'll find out anyway when the bump comes up, so you might as well look like you at least noticed.

Larger bumps are more serious, as is anything which leads to actual blood.  Small children are quite bouncy, but if they bump their heads, then it might be worth Getting Help of some kind.  Likewise, if they fall and their arm suddenly has a 90 degree bend, or if there is blood gushing from anywhere (exceptions to this are mouth injuries, which will bleed like mad from the tiniest cut you can imagine, and nosebleeds, which are sometimes serious but sometimes happen for no reason whatever), then you'll want at least a second opinion.

3. At the intermediate level, you're hopefully starting to introduce some element of fun to proceedings (though don't go too mad - you're still new to this, and things can still spiral out of control very quickly).  The first thing to understand is that things that you think will be fun for children invariably aren't.  Get over it.  I have made you a helpful chart:


Amount of Fun



Colouring in
> Children may eat crayons
> Children may stab themselves with pencils
> Children may start fighting over who gets to colour in which picture
> Crayons will fall on the floor and you may either kneel on them or slip on them
> Paper will end up on the floor and you may slip on it
> Everyone always wants the same colour of crayon.  In the event that you have several crayons the same colour, everyone will want exactly the same crayon

Possibly worth it, in a confined space
> Screams of 'he got a bigger bit than me'
> Food will end up all over the place, so choose your menu carefully
> Don't expect to get to eat anything yourself, other than the squished up soggy crusts which are handed to you as children tire of them

Quite good for a while; be cautious about giving them sugary food unless they're about to go home anyway, in which case it's someone else's problem and you might as well go for it if it keeps them happy
Play Doh
Lots of fun for you; less fun for children
> Try not to let them eat the stuff (if they do, it's not the end of the world, since it is technically edible, but make sure you mention it to the parents, as it will get pooed out eventually and then you'll have to fess up)
> The stuff gets everywhere and is really hard to clean off cushions and stuff

Depends on the book
> Children may throw books at each other; books are easy to get a good swing with
> Children may stab each other with the book corners
> If there are flaps to lift, they'll all fight over them; if there are no flaps, they'll create them by ripping the pages
> Even agreeing which book to read can be fraught with danger and strife

Good for a while
Toilet Trips
Epic; can provide 45 minutes of entertainment, particularly when hand washing, giving out the soap, and throwing the paper towels in the bin is involved
> Technically, you probably shouldn't be spending 45 minutes in the toilets with children, so there's potential for it to look bad
Definitely a good idea, but try to make sure you have a pedal bin for the fullest form of happiness

Advanced Level

Once you've mastered all of that, it's time to move on to Advanced Childcare.  The aim of this is to reach a state in which you and the children are all safe and happy; in the hands of a true expert, such a state can be maintained for up to 24 seconds at a time.

To maximise your chances:

1. Never consider any disaster impossible.  Do not allow yourself to say things like "I'll put that up there where she can't reach it".  If she wants it, she will reach it.  Likewise, "Those two can play quite happily together in that quiet corner" is simply Asking For It.

2. Never be fooled into thinking they're on your side.  Small children look out for no one but themselves.  They lull you in with their big eyes and their cute smiles; the sneakiest among them will do things like learn to say your name.  Do not think that this means you're home and dry.  Right at the point when you think they're happily sitting on your knee, ready to go to sleep, they'll barf into your top, and then laugh their heads off.

3. Make sure they all go home. A rookie mistake in childcare is to say things like "Oh, don't worry about being on time to pick her up, I can hold on to her for 5 minutes".  Next thing you know, you're there for an extra hour.  Remember: in Parent and Toddlers, the people on the door are not there to stop children leaving without their parents; they are to stop the parents leaving without their children.

I trust this helps.

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

A Good Thing I Read About The Importance of Mercy and Compassion and Stuff

You could probably guess that I'm not a big fan of celebrity Christians.  I don't mean like Milton Jones and Frank Skinner; I mean the 'big names' like Mark Driscoll, Rick Warren, Bill Hybels and themuns.  It's nothing personal, and it's not that I dislike them (ok, some of them I dislike) or their teaching (ibid), it's just that I don't feel all that inclined to follow them on Twitter and hang on their every word.  If they write some good stuff or make a decent Bible study series or something, that's great and I'm all for it.  But, you know, that's where my fandom begins and ends.

And sometimes it worries me when I see teenaged Christians who are big fans of the latest leader or singer or band in the Christian world, because then they often aspire to be like that, and to be honest, that's not really what we need our young people to aspire to be.  Now, I've been promising you a post on my views on Youth Work (sorry, Transfarmer, it will happen, I promise), and this is sort of vaguely related, in that it often makes me uncomfortable to look at the kinds of people we think our young people should be influenced by, because I came across this post (thanks, Soapbox) and she said a lot of things that I wanted to say, and said it better than I would have, so I thought I'd just link to it for now (it's directed at all of us, not just young people, so it's ok to read it even if you're a bit scared of the young people in church because they're all cool and stuff).

Go and read it.

I'll wait.

Back?  Good.  Now, wouldn't it be nice if we lived in ways which showed our young people that THAT's the kind of thing that matters, and not the Big Names and the People With Fans and the Famous?  You know, so they see that they 'worship' just as much on a Sunday morning when they take time to chat with an older person as when they're singing with their arms in the air?  That they serve God as much by picking up a half-eaten biscuit that one of the creche abandoned and throwing it in the bin as the guy at the front does when he preaches his sermon or plays his guitar or looks all relevant?  That it is as important to hold back from sarcasm as it is to be on the prayer ministry team at the cool conference?  And that when they start with the small stuff, they can build the big stuff on, because we're all going to be there supporting them in it?

Because I think that would be nice.

Monday, 11 February 2013

What to talk to me about

Now I've never been a big one for the conversation, but of late I've been feeling that the quality of the offerings has dipped a bit.  So I decided to make a graph, so you know what to talk to me about:

This shows the things people have been trying to talk to me about of late, and things I would like to talk about, and the varying levels of interest in each.

Ideally, all conversation would be on the middle line there, with both myself and everyone else being interested in the same things.  But alas, for most conversation seems to be in the top left, and these are things I'm not so fussed on discussing.

I have not at any stage had an interest in the horse meat thing, for instance.  I just don't really care that much. Maybe it's because I've always suspected that 90% of what's in processed food is pretty iffy.  Maybe it's the bad horse puns.  Nevertheless, I can't get myself excited.

Likewise, I'm not that interested in discussing my wedding; partly because it makes me stressed, and partly because I've never really found wedding details intrinsically interesting.  People always assured me that I'd feel differently about my own wedding; it has come as no surprise to me to find that I don't.  If I was interested in something when it happened to me, I would also be interested when it happened to my friends, because that's how friends work.

On the other hand, I am always pleased to have conversation about the Six Nations, or about what we're planning for church this half term and Easter, because those are Quite Interesting.

And, as of about an hour ago, I have become obsessed with the Pope resigning, so you'll probably find that you won't hear the end of THAT for Quite Some Time.

Saturday, 2 February 2013

The WhyNotSmile Guide to Helping a Depressed Person

A few days ago I read a thing entitled something like "How To Help a Depressed Person", which had some ok advice.  Then I searched for it again, and couldn't find it, but found all manner of other crappiness instead, and decided that the internet needs to be Taken In Hand.  And hence I present the WhyNotSmile Guide to Helping a Depressed Person.

Please note that I have no medical training, so there's a fair chance that most of this is pure guff.  I wouldn't go trying it out on actually depressed people - at least, not without adult supervision.

The WhyNotSmile Guide to Helping a Depressed Person

1. Appreciate that you cannot, in fact, help in any real way at all.  I'm sorry about this, because I know you mean well.  But in reality, there is nothing you can do or say which will do anything more than make the other person Feel Better.  Now this is nice in itself, of course, because we all like to feel better than we did 10 minutes ago, but the point is that if you say nice things and I feel better, there is nothing to say that once you leave the room I won't go back to feeling worse again.  You should still feel free to tell me I'm awesome, though (except you'll have to be more specific, or I will assume you just read this and then decided to be lazy and not actually think about the ways in which I am awesome).

2. Crying is not the end of the world.  Some of us like to cry.  Not in a miserable crying-is-more-fun-than-laughing sort of way, but if you want to cry, you want to cry, and sometimes the easiest thing is just to get the feck on with it.  After agreeing to marry Boyfriend Smile, I cried for 3 days.  When I said that out loud, some other people said that they did too (when they got engaged, I mean, not when I did, because that would be weird), but people tend not to tell you things like that, so then you feel bad for crying and having to send Boyfriend Smile home so you could calm down, even though other people do Things Like That as well and everything turns out more or less fine.

3. All attempts at 'Cheering Up' will be met with the contempt they deserve.  Remember, sad is happy for deep people.  And I don't really care that there are other people who are worse off than me, unless they are standing right in front of me, in which case I will do what I can to help and then go back to bed feeling pretty much how I do right now.

4. Remember that depressed people are not necessarily useless.  Some are, but this is generally an inbuilt characteristic, rather than something that the depression caused to happen.  In much the same way, some depressed people are lazy fecks, some have blue eyes, and some like yogurt.  Much like not-depressed people, in fact.  The fact that we may not have the energy to do anything but stare out the window for an afternoon is not an indication that we are incapable of doing anything, ever.  It's more that sometimes what's happening out the window is more interesting than you are, with your insistence on conversation and your questions and your complex expectations that I'll be able to formulate a reply.  Especially if what's happening out the window is 'nothing'.

Tomorrow you might hold more fascination. Or you might not.  It's hard to say.

Also remember that your parties, gatherings, and social events are not endlessly fascinating.  But I'd still like to be invited to all of them, even though I probably won't go.  From time to time you could suggest we do coffee or I get out of bed or something, as this may be more achievable.

5. Not all depressed people think in exactly the same way.  It might be helpful to make an analogy with not-depressed people here.  In fact, it may help to think of depressed people as if they are regular people.

6. If someone says they are depressed, don't say "Again?  You're always depressed".  I speak from experience when I say that this tends to be discouraging.

7. Also discouraging is when you say you were depressed that time your dog died.  You weren't.  You were sad because your dog died.  And you might remind me about the time my dog died, and then I'll be sad too.  So you're being discouraging and insensitive, and that's just mean.

8. With all this in mind, it should be apparent that perhaps one of the best things one can do if someone is depressed is to help them to help themselves.  This may mean allowing them to be sad when they are sad.  Or allowing them to cry when they want to cry.  Or generally just demonstrating that being depressed does not make them a worse person.  In other words, allowing them to realise that they are regular people who are not in the wrong for being sad.  And that it is ok to say that.  And that they can talk about being depressed without it being odd, or people thinking they're a bit dodgy or selfish.  And that they can even go and tell a doctor that they are depressed, and that the doctor might be able to help.

Remember that depression is a lying fecker.  It gets into your head, and then it's all like "Oh, you're useless and no one likes you", even though you are not really useless, and some people think you are Quite Nice.  Sometimes it is helpful to point this out.  Sometimes it's just annoying.  You may have to experiment.  It may be useful to be able to help the person to recognise that their brain is lying to them.  Although, it may just freak them out, so you should probably try to say it tactfully.

It is always fine to tell me you think I'm Quite Nice (but again, you'll have to be more specific, or I will assume you just read this and then decided to be lazy and not actually think about the ways in which I am Quite Nice).

You should probably also read something written by actual medical people, who have some idea what they're talking about, rather than listening to me.