Sunday, 24 December 2017

Our 2017 (A year-end letter)

Dear friends,

it's been an eventful year.

Goodbye, boat life!
Somehow it's only been 6 years since Mr and I even met, and since then there's never been a dull year. Long may this continue!

We started 2017 with a move - no, two moves. We had sold our boat and needed to be out by 6th January, but hadn't exchanged on the house by then. As a solution it just so happened that a colleague of Mr had a basement flat we could move into for three weeks! Amazing provision, a great place, although moving twice in one month isn't something I'd recommend with two under 3's.

At the end of January, though, our new house was ours and we moved. On moving day we were joined by what seemed like the entire body of Lawrence Weston Community Church, everyone showing up to help: so the challenge became less one of physical hard work for us and more one of coordination of the many willing helpers! Midway through the morning, an elderly lady from the church showed up at our doorstep with the words: "Sorry I'm late! How can I help?" - and spent the rest of the morning polishing windowsills (there was dust everywhere after having the house rewired).

Having been welcomed to our new home and community like this was an amazing start. One of my main worries in moving away from the boat was the loss of the brilliant boating community where everyone knew each other and was willing to help at the drop of a hat. Yet this was provided so beautifully, not just by the church but also our neighbours. We found community.

Yay, we've got our house now!
Getting the house habitable took a while. We spent a couple of months living downstairs only - an advantage of moving from a boat where all the furniture was built-in was that the only furniture we owned was a sofa, meaning that we didn't need the extra space upstairs immediately and in terms of living space we had pretty much the same amount in the house as we'd had aboard. Mr hand-built a wall / wardrobe to divide the two main bedrooms, which had been divided by asbestos; after that, we had carpets laid and moved upstairs.

Much of 2017 was dominated by the house and getting it sorted - and it's far from there, in fact, major building works have yet to happen (an extension and kitchen) - but we also had fun. The cheapest and kid-friendliest way to get a holiday turns out to be camping, which we're perfectly prepared for with our Bongo "Mr Bubbles" and we went on several camping trips this year. But there was also opportunity for a week's holiday in the sun with grandma and grandad, in Menorca, out of season in a villa; it was peaceful and still warm enough.

At the end of a year in our new home, we really feel like we've found our groove. The kids and I attend the same groups each weekday, getting to know other mums and kids, and it was wonderful at Christmas to attend a carol singing event and know so many people in the crowd. Community. We're active at our church and love having our new friends visiting, or visiting theirs, sharing life together: community.

And that, friends, is perhaps my word for 2017. Community. It's a wonderful thing.

Every blessing for the new year to you all.

Friday, 8 December 2017

"So what difference does being a Christian make in your life?"

I was driving today and had the radio on, listening to an interview where this question was asked. The interviewee was a bit at a loss to explain - and I totally understood why, such an all-encompassing and foundational change as becoming a Christian... how would I explain, concisely and simply, the difference it's made for me?

Any answer I came up with seemed trite, worn, cliched. What difference?

I could talk about how I'm simply not the same person I was... but how can anyone really appreciate how radical a change it is to go from dead inside without even knowing it, to alive?

Or how much knowing and leaning on Jesus has helped me in the bad times? Oh no, I'd never bring this as an argument because I went through much worse before I was a Christian than anything life has thrown at me after... and I survived, even without knowing him.

I think the best way for me to explain the difference inside is to say: I care now.

I never used to care about others. Not since my mother died when I was 15 - I loved no one after that. Even after becoming a Christian, restoring my ability to love and care was a process that took about a decade!

I never used to care about myself. That's not to say I wasn't selfish, because I was, but frankly the only reason I lived long enough to become a Christian at 21 was that I hadn't found a way to stop being alive that would definitely work (I knew I wouldn't get a second chance if I attempted suicide and failed) and was within reach. I had stockpiled my mother's Rohypnol while she was sick - I'd give her one and put one in my stash, to use in case she didn't make it; but because she died in hospital and I wasn't able to get back home for about a week after, it must have been found. No one ever mentioned it but my stash was gone and in the years I lived at my aunt's I was never, ever left on my own. So... lack of opportunity really. I didn't always have an active death wish but if the opportunity had presented itself I'd probably have taken it. Nothing to live for.

That's what's changed. You could argue that I now have a family to live for, and that is true, but before God gave me the ability to care they wouldn't have made an ounce of difference. I do care for them and I would  absolutely die for them, but not because I don't care about my own life.

I have been given the ability to care, or in Christian jargon, my heart has come to life. That's the difference.