Wednesday, 29 April 2009

to the pub, via Samaria

So today I've been pretty brain fogged and muddling up alsorts of things, to varying degrees of embarrassment. Front runners have to be confusing the amount discounted with the amount the yarn cost in a yarn store (thankfully online and via email - the wonderful Loop for those interested) and going to meet my friends at the wrong pub. Thankfully the correct pub was only a short walk away and Victoria helped sort me out. Time for more omega-3 oil!

Pub was a bit of a strain, it was noisy and cramped with chairs that made my legs ache horribly. Sitting on a chair shouldn't hurt, it just shouldn't. Hmm I should quit moaning really, it could be worse. But also talking to people I haven't seen in a while, well that's always difficult, especially when 'stuff' has happened. You just can't explain how you truly are in a noisy pub and I couldn't bring myself to talk about Amy there, it was just too much. Even in a quiet suitable environment the problems are twofold.

Firstly there is getting across how you are, finding words adequate to explain: trying to sort out the quagmire of confusion in your brain and make it into words and sentences. Then secondly there is the problem of their reaction, of going too far and producing profound shock. If you consistently downplay how bad things are, which I do, a lot, because it is simply easier, then when someone learns how things actually are they can react badly and find it hard to deal with. Another frustration is going through the painful process of finding words and bareing your soul, only for the person or people who have asked and pressed to know, to do nothing. To murmur things, make the odd unhelpful suggestion, pray some no doubt well intentioned prayer and then do nothing. The conversation or meeting or group or service will end, we'll all go home and nothing changes, the concern apparently melts away.

What's the point of asking someone how they are, and pressing them to tell you, learning that they are in pain (physically/emotionally/spiritually) and then walking away and doing nothing? Not even sending a text message or email or popping in to say hello or meeting up for twenty minutes, just maintaining radio silence until the next time. It's like going up to the man beaten on the road to Samaria and asking him how he feels, which bits hurt, how what has happened to him has made him feel, looking concerned, then crossing over to the other side and walking on. Masqueraded concern.

I know the church finds people like me hard to deal with, not healed, not getting better, not walking in triumphant victory, struggling this month and last month and this time last year. And if you find it boring, think how I feel?! I also know that this whole issue makes me very angry and that some of that is bad, nasty, bitter anger at how I am treated (or feel I am treated - I am aware that sometimes I don't see things quite right, depression does that unfortunately), it's not the good, powerful, righteous anger, like Jesus in the temple, that can be a power for enormous good. That's something I know I need to sort out, I talk to God about it, I repent, I'm repenting again now. Therefore I'm aware that some or maybe a lot of that anger is most likely coming through in this post and this blog and that I'm saying some hard things and that it might seem quite, I don't know, offensive? But I'm hurting so, so much, pain builds up on pain, life seems so black, I feel so alone and Jesus the only light left.

Relying on God is great, it is what I should be doing, I am doing my best. But as I've said before, we all need one another, Adam alone was not good, the Bible says it, go look at the beginning of Genesis. Even though he had perfect communion with God. So for we who have less than perfect communion with God helping one another becomes even more important.

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

The second epistle to my friend

Dear Amy,

Hello again. I'm listening to "We must go/God of Justice" again. I never told you, but when I first heard this song at church one Sunday evening in Durham I loved it so much that I got up ridiculously early the next day and rushed to the cathedral shop to buy the cd before a doctor's appointment I had that morning. It was way out of my way, up a steep hill, but I had to have that song and it obviously wasn't on itunes music store or I didn't think of that. I must have been their first customer of the day and the sense of triumph when I found they had the cd. It was quite controversial in Durham, some people didn't like it, but revolutionary perhaps? I suppose Jesus always has been a revolutionary.

I saw your mum and dad (and Holly) yesterday, it was nice to see them. I'm now working on your red hoodie for you, finishing it. I couldn't bear the thought of it never being finished, after all that painstaking work you put into it, despite my pledge never to go near a boucle yarn! It is at once mindless and mindful knitting, each stitch needs a little attention and once I thought I'd dropped a stitch but it turned out just to be a spare squiggle from the row below. I remember all the times that happened to you, all the anxious stitch counting, the silence and the breath holding until we had ascertained whether it was a stitch or not. The yarn is so, so soft. Today I finished the sleeve increases, now I've got about 10 cm to do to get it to the length you wanted. Thank you for being so methodical, everything is written down, it's amazing.

My own projects aren't quite so brilliant. Well, the green jumper is finished, though I'm not convinced I'm that happy with it. Maybe it will grow on me? But the scarf I was making your mum, I can't decide if the yarn fits the pattern or not, and I can't find a pattern it does seem to fit or a gauge. It's all going wrong and feels wrong, I think it probably needs "time out" while I decide what to do. That marriage of the right yarn and the right pattern can be very tricky can't it?

On a totally other topic, not knitting related (yes, I can talk about other things!) I don't want you to be remembered as someone tragic or sad, because you really weren't, no, aren't (because the most important part of you still is, with Jesus). You were triumphant in your life here on earth, not I suspect in a way that many of those who go on about triumph and victory in the Christian life would recognise and understand, but in the true, real sense. You never gave in, never behaved like a victim, always tried to be as normal as possible and to make the most of everything. I know you hated it when people said how "brave" you were and all that, but it was true. You had true courage while you were here.

I miss you, not as much as the people who knew you longer I suspect, but no one else is ever going to replace you. For now our friendship is postponed, put on hold, and that hurts, but I'm glad that one day we'll both be friends again in the better place where we'll both be well. Then I'll challenge you to a race round and round the throne, in and out of the river of life, up and down the main street where all those trees are, the ones with the healing for the nations. I'm homesick and Amysick. When will my exile be over?

Monday, 27 April 2009

quarter to 1am

Yet again I'm up late unable to sleep, yet again my brain won't stop thinking alsorts of sad and nasty thoughts that I've carefully stopped myself from thinking about all day. Like how Amy is dead, I had forgotten again and then had to remember all over again, is that normal? How long will this keep happening?

Worries turn up late at night too, while you're trying to fall asleep. I've started thinking about how much worse I feel all the time, or seem to. Whenever I mention this to anyone, whether doctor or non-doctor, I get a fairly similar response along the lines that I am a neurotic hypochondriac (expressed in various different degrees of politeness and directness). But that is how I feel. Eighteen months ago I could do more than I can do now, it's fairly incontrovertable fact, I've looked through my diaries, seen what an average day and an average week was eighteen or so months ago. Back then I was cooking dinner on a regular, almost daily basis for the family, attending church at least every two weeks, going to life group and meeting up with friends at least once a week. I spent less time in bed, less time resting, I could routinely be out for two hours without exceptional payback.

Now I haven't been to church in a year, haven't made it to life group (church small/cell group) since January, can just about heat something ready made up and prepare a couple of vegetables on an occasional basis and I might make it to meet a friend once a week. If I am out for two hours I limp home and feel appalling afterwards, need a lie down or a nap at least three or four times a week just to make it through the day. I am spending far less time using a computer and far more on the sofa.

When's it going to stop? And how can I stop the tide from turning? How can I do anything when no doctor, or even friend, will listen to me? It's not in my head, honestly, despite what the DWP may say.

In terms of mental health I'm probably doing better than eighteen months ago, I still struggle but am better at coping with the struggles. That said I still get very black, very low, hopeless moods.

One of my greatest fears is the ME just getting worse and worse and worse and ending up first house bound, then bed bound and gradually continuing to worsen. I don't fear death even a tiny fraction as much as this, I would rather die than live in a living death and I would hate the burden it would place on my family.

It's bad enough that they're already having to support me right now, 24 and living at home, asking your parents to buy you shampoo, lovely. I also can't bear the thought of a future spent wrestling with the Jobcentre and DWP, constantly being harrassed with forms, interviews, pointless schemes, stress and endless bureaucratic proceedures in a huge faceless system. It becomes the anvil that breaks the camel's back. The way the disabled are treated by these systems is beyond appalling, it is the equivalent of beating people savagely because they have the temerity to become ill or disabled.

Then there's all the smashed, crushed dreams, the pain of seeing contemporaries succeed and enjoy life and being unable to join in, even from the sidelines. We could add to this loneliness, feeling like a paraiah, like you don't belong - especially in the church, where everyone is supposed to be perfect and happy. I feel invisible. When people do see me it is often in the same way that we all feel a morbid curiosity about a road accident and simply have to stare, to see bad things happen to other people and watch vicariously. There's nothing Christians like more than hearing "everything's terrible but the Lord is great" stories; it's often true, it's not God's goodness in bad times I'm casting doubt on, if only we could grasp how much we can be Jesus to one another. We do need one another, just telling someone to rely on God, then walking away, is not a solution.

It's now five past one in the morning and I do feel a bit better for having got these worries out of me and onto the page. Sorry if you're offended by anything I've said, sorry for the self-pity of this post, I'm afraid sometimes you end up in a mood where you can only say how you truly feel, not just be polite and British like usual. Sorry I'm not being as positive as you would like me to be, sometimes I feel like people want me to be positive more for their comfort than for mine. Sometimes the freedom to admit that things are pretty terrible helps a lot, the trick is not to wallow (disclaimer: I have not wallowing 'L-plates' on).

Saturday, 25 April 2009


I can't sleep, my mind is too full of sad thoughts, quiet but insistent, for sleep. Inside I feel very small and sad. I don't quite know quite what else to say.

Just read Psalm 3, I like where it says "the LORD sustains me", not least because I know it is true and so is very comforting.

Thursday, 23 April 2009

The News

Tonight I briefly had the news on while I got a piece of knitting to a good stage to put it down for the night. Following yesterday's budget the discussion was largely about the impact the government's spending plans would have on public services. Quite frankly, as someone who is a user of quite a few NHS services, I found it terrifying. We have been used to twelve years of New Labour lavishing money on the public services; indeed I have grown up with little else. I am painfully aware that any services helping those with chronic or non-emergency conditions are likely to be hit, such as mental health services, which are already struggling.

I was this panicked after about two minutes of the news. However, then I remembered God, remembered that as the song goes, "He's got the whole world in His hands". Our Father owns "the cattle on a thousand hillsides" Psalm 50 and is more than able to look after His children. It is so good to be able to remember this, breathe a deep sigh of relief and thank God.

Of course this does not mean that we will automatically have worldly 'prosperity', or even enough to eat, but it does mean that we will have enough grace for everything that happens. It means that everything will be ok in the end, so I can stop panicking.

"Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? 26Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?

"And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31So do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' 32For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own." Matthew 6

Wednesday, 22 April 2009


Why am I so very awful in the mornings? Last night I went to bed rejoicing in God and His goodness: I woke up feeling like a grumpy half-dead slug. I felt profoundly depressed, thoroughly ill and awful. Mornings are horrible things, took me til 1pm to feel more alive. I suppose only dull people are brilliant at breakfast.

On the plus side today was the first day in ages that I got to after lunchtime and didn't feel so dead I simply had to go to bed for a nap. That's something.

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Kids' books

Last week I popped into Wesley Owen to see if there were any good childrens' books for a certain young man's first birthday present and although I didn't buy anything for him I did get myself something. A children's book entitled "What happens when we die?" (I think they got the decimal point in the wrong place on their website because I paid £1.50! It's also on amazon ). I'd looked in the adult section for stuff on grief but what they had didn't seem relevant. I'm not up for a long winded treatise, my purchase fitted the bill perfectly.

Although aimed at small children this book explained things gently and truthfully, about why we die, why Jesus came and the difference He has made to death and how we will all live again if we trust in Him. It wasn't wishy-washy stuff, the sort of false rubbish people will often say after someone's died; it was all based on the Bible, explaining what the Bible has to say and gives references to where it says it.

There is a lot of, well let's call a spade a spade, rubbish talked after someone dies. Lots of euphemisms - some people won't even say "die", which I suppose I can understand, but I don't find it helpful. As Dumbledore says in one of the Harry Potter novels (the first? afficiandos can fill me in I'm sure), "fear of the name only increases fear of the thing itself". Death for anyone who puts their trust in Jesus is going home, it's going somewhere better than where we are now. There's a lot of unknown about it and the unknown can be very scary, but I know Jesus knows me better than I do and if He says I'll be happy and at home there, then I'll take His word for that, or try to.

God's made some awesome promises about when we're with Him, take this one from Psalm 16:
"You have made known to me the path of life;
you will fill me with joy in your presence,
with eternal pleasures at your right hand."
Filled with joy... in God's presence... eternal pleasures... at His right hand - so right next to God, in the place of honour, me, but not because of what I have done, rather what Jesus has done. (Also check out Psalm 84, it's amazing, "Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere" and yet we get to spend eternity in God's courts, in His house, in the best place there is.) The Bible's promises are staggering... beyond what we can understand.

Psalm 84 has also reminded me that we are just pilgrims here:
"Blessed are those who dwell in your house;
they are ever praising you.

5 Blessed are those whose strength is in you,
who have set their hearts on pilgrimage.

6 As they pass through the Valley of Baca,
they make it a place of springs;
the autumn rains also cover it with pools.

7 They go from strength to strength,
till each appears before God in Zion."

Those who are in God's house are the first blessed, those who are already home. Then those who are still on the journey through the valley, going "from strength to strength", our destination appearing "before God in Zion". Whatever happens Jesus will make it ok and more than ok, Father help me to take heart and to remember your promises.

Thursday, 16 April 2009

Life to the full?

Jesus said, "I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full" (John 10.10)

It's a statement I have struggled with, at times even got angry and bitter about it, what do you mean "life... to the full"? Are you serious Jesus? It makes no sense? How can my life be "life... to the full"? I'm so frustrated, so bored, my life lacks any kind of excitement - the nearest it gets is old 'Flintstones' cartoons being on BBC2 in the mornings.

What does "life... to the full" mean to you? To me it has conjured up images of the lives I see many of my contemporaries leading - the life I expected, with a career, friends, a nice place to live, independence, energy, fun, parties, holidays, success. And yes, I get jealous when I see contemporaries and others enjoying these things; I'm only human after all.

The vicar quoted this verse at Amy's funeral and it got me thinking about it again and I realised that Amy lived life to the full. Anyone who knew her would say that, the amount of love present at her funeral spoke volumes about it. Yet she had lost many of the same things as I have, pretty much all of them and she lived life to the full.

So what does it mean to "have life, and have it to the full"? I was in serious error when I equated this to material and temporary things like success, parties, careers and holidays. Jesus completely overturns what is important and what isn't, through everything He did in His life and most especially in His death and resurrection. Where we spend eternity is far more important than what we do now, lovely as worldly success is (and I'm not saying that it is a bad thing in any way), it doesn't ultimately matter. Having life to the full is about Jesus first and foremost and about walking with Him. In this passage Jesus is talking about which gate we go through and whether we go with the 'good shepherd' (i.e. him) or the robber: whether we choose Jesus or the world. So far as I can understand at present having "life... to the full" is about living with Jesus and our relationship with Him and the future glory that awaits us, whether that includes suffering or not.

One thing I have only now noticed is that it is "have life... to the full", not "live life... to the full", I certainly cannot say that I live life to the full, but I can say that Jesus has given me (and therefore I have) "life... to the full". This is a great comfort to me because a lot of the time my life feels very empty and pointless, like I'm going nowhere and have little hope. That's why I am so glad of Jesus and the hope He brings and the future He promises, for me and Amy and all those who put their trust in Him.

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Yarn wishlist

Been daydreaming about yarn I'd love to knit with... I've heard good things about Manos del Uruguay the colours and textures look amazing
I love Colinette yarns especially Jitterbug - I'm currently making socks out of the Mardi Gras colourway, but I'd love to use more of the colourways, particularly fond of "Salty Dog". Colinette's website is one I visit to cheer myself up and feast my eyes on colour. There are at least a dozen different shades I would love to use, probably for socks because Jitterbug just feels so divine.
Fyberspates yarn is incredible too, would love to use the Blue Faced Leicester (breed of sheep) dk or aran weight in teal for a jumper, just need a suitable pattern. I'm not feeling particularly inspired by any I'm seeing right now.
Socktopus sell Dream in Color Smooshy and lots of other gorgeous, gorgeous sock yarns, well worth having a good look around. They also sell Cariad yarns (related to Posh yarn - very gorgeous if you're fast enough to buy any and your budget can cope) which are gorgeous too, again the use of colour is stunning.

Will continue this later...

Sunday, 12 April 2009

Dear Amy,

I know you can't actually read this, but I'm writing anyway because there's so much stuff I'm longing to say to you but can't. It's been what, nearly 3 weeks? That's a record in non-communication in the admittedly short time we've known one another, you went to Spain last year for about 10 days and I remember counting the days down. I'm missing you, hardly surprising really, all those silly little everyday communications, like how the heel flap on my Jitterbug socks has striped in this amazing way so that every second stripe is red. It looks like it's going to be enough for a complete pair of socks too, I know you were worried for your pink socks. So I could have given you the other skein I've got, did I ever say that to you? I was planning to, that if I hadn't touched it you could have it to make yourself some socks because you loved the colours so much. I remember you sitting in Nero mesmerised by the colours as I knitted.

It was funny but there came a point during your funeral, when the vicar talked about Lazarus rising again from the tomb, where I expected you to come back. For that instant it seemed the next logical thing, there you'd be, in your brown coat, smiling, saying that no, you were back and that the nightmare wasn't real. And we'd all celebrate and go to the pub and everything would be back to how it was. But then I realised it was all for real, that you were gone, that Lazarus rose again, but you weren't going to. The nightmare is reality, not a dream.

Overall I think you would have liked your funeral, it was a very warm occasion. Afraid I didn't sing much during the songs, too choked up, except during "Be thou my vision", that one always makes me feel encouraged and hopeful. You would have been proud of your dad and brothers, what they said was just right, and Jenny, so brave, managed to talk without crying. She was wearing a gorgeous dress, not a klingon outfit I'm afraid. For the record I never disliked your clunky shoes, they were part of you and I'm sure I won't stop looking for a new pair for you everytime I go near a shoe shop for quite a while to come.

I'm sorry we only had one of your birthdays but two of mine in the time I knew you, feels like I cheated, also emphasises how little time we knew one another, but I guess it's quality not quantity right? I had some yarn waiting for your birthday, from Fyberspates (in the sale I'm afraid, but I always feel that means I can give more for my money). It was a tough decision between the plums and red colourway and the pinks and purples colourway, I went for the latter in the end, because it had less blue in it. At least that's not a problem for you anymore? Now I think I'll make your mum something with it as a present, either the Forest Canopy Shawl (I'm making one and I think you were considering it at some point this year) or the Branching out scarf, I'll swatch and see which looks best in the yarn.

Actually that yarn was about the second or third thing I thought of in the first shocked moments after I spoke to your mum, silly really, but I don't suppose any of us are that rational at such a time. At first I couldn't believe it, it sounded like news from another world, but I had a strange sense that it was something I had already heard, in another time and place, all at the same time. Well you always knew I was odd! Then I thought about how when I died you'd be there to meet me and how much I was looking forward to seeing you again, I still am.

In the meantime I miss you, still not entirely convinced it's all sunk in, that you are truly gone and not coming back. Everyone keeps saying it will get better in time (heck I've said it to other people too... groan I do give crap counsel), but that doesn't really help now. I hope you're happy with Jesus, I can't see how you wouldn't be, and enjoying all those wonderful promises.

""Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away." Revelation 21

"And I—in righteousness I will see your face;
when I awake, I will be satisfied with seeing your likeness." Psalm 17

They're more to remind me than you, because you can see His face now, must be amazing. Awful though my memory is I pray I never forget you and what you have taught me (and are still teaching me) about life and Jesus.

lots of love, your friend


Croydon Advertiser

The Croydon Advertiser had a piece about Amy

Tuesday, 7 April 2009


Amy's funeral was today: both a wonderful and a terrible occasion. I cried buckets, wasn't meaning to fuss, just couldn't help myself. It's a terrible thing to see your best friend's coffin. On the whole I liked the send off for Amy, the speakers captured Amy. However, it wasn't a terribly hopeful occasion and really, for any of the Christians certainly, it should have been. Amy isn't gone forever, she's alive forever. She's not dead, she is asleep with Christ, Paul rates what has happened to Amy as far better than being 'alive', here on earth, though not as good as being alive at the second coming (2 Corinthians 5). We'll meet again, when Amy is well, when I am well and we'll see Jesus face to face and be home at last.

I'm trying to keep some hope, at least that one day I'll be home. Meanwhile I continue to walk "through the wilderness of this world" (Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan) and the grief is terrible, it comes in great engulfing waves, threatening to smash everything in its path. The wilderness looks a lot more wild without Amy, but Jesus is still here. Just got to go on trying to trust I suppose.

Someone today said that Amy's life really was "life to the full" like Jesus had promised, made me realise I hadn't understood what Jesus was on about. Living life to the full is evidently a hard road, what in this being a Christian lark isn't? How didn't I twig that one?

To be utterly open, on an online blog that no one reads (great place for me to choose? I'm no good at talking), I'm feeling fairly ready to give up now: so tired, so smashed to pieces, bashed about by life, worn and ground down. It feels like everyone expects me to keep plodding on and on but I just don't feel like I have it in me anymore. Sometimes being seen as 'strong' is a right nuisance, you never get a break. I've got distant hope, but how to hope now? How do I keep going from here?

footnote: have found John Piper's sermons on "What happens when we die" helpful (though I admit I've only read the first couple)

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

Stephanie is...

like on facebook or twitter updates. I have had so many thoughts/feelings going through my head and just want to get them down onto 'paper'.

Stephanie is...
pleased to have finished the first of the brightly coloured socks
feeling slightly sick
missing her friend
glad none of the plants have died yet (touch wood)
hoping she manages to do the finishing on her jumper nicely
feeling lonely
feeling a bit tight chested and wheezy
rather fed up
loving Charlie and Lola
wondering how much longer things get worse and worse for...
trying not to feel sorry for herself
knitting madly to try to survive