RIP Rachel Held Evans


The best-selling author Rachel Held Evans, died tragically young this weekend. She “gave voice to a generation of wandering evangelicals wrestling with their faith,” [1] and in her 37 years had “done more to preach the wildly expansive love of God than most will do in a lifetime.”[2]

Several years ago, her first book gave voice to my own experience as I explored some of the conservative beliefs of my upbringing which had begun to seem untenable. She also led me to other online voices who have supported my journey into the broader theological place in which I now stand.

But theological opinion was not really what Rachel was most concerned about.

“Faith in Jesus has been recast as a position in a debate, not a way of life. People … argued about why Christians aren’t doing more to alleviate human suffering (and) support the poor… Most weren’t looking for a faith that provided all the answers; they were looking for one in which they were free to ask questions.”[3]

I’d already been reflecting on grief this week, having attended a training course about childhood bereavement.  The training is now illuminated by the reality of Rachel’s children grieving for a mother whose name one of them is barely old enough to be able to say. I mean WTF God?! Why?! Why all that talent suddenly snatched away? Surely there was so much more for her to say and so much more for us to learn! As one of Rachel’s contemporaries said, “I’m giving God the cold shoulder” about Rachel’s death right now.

You can object to my dubious abbreviated language, but as thetraining reminded me, it is vital that we are allowed to grieve honestly. Healthy grieving is rarely a linear journey towards ‘feeling better’: more a frequent movement between grieving loss on the one hand and engaging in restoration of a new way of being on the other.

I don’t think we’re always very good at sitting with people in their loss. It’s human nature to want to drag people into restoration and try to keep them there; it’s much more comfortable to watch. We’re not very good at lament but we must learn to be. Even Jesus wept at the loss of his friend, despite surely knowing He would raise Lazarus back to life soon after.

At many funerals now, a private burial or cremation ceremony comes first with a public memorial service afterwards (without the body present), focusing on celebrating the deceased’s life. I wonder if not having the opportunity for a reminder of the reality of death placed in front of us helps us grieve as well as we could. (Don’t get me wrong, if you or your loved ones made this choice, I respect your decision. As with many of my opinions now, I don’t think there’s one ‘right’ way. I recognise this order may be helpful for some people’s grieving process.)

One belief I have chosen to revise in recent years is that earth is our waiting room before transportation to another place. I think this view could tempt us to urge the grieving not to be sad because their loved one is in heaven and therefore risks inadvertently encouraging avoidance of the healthy expression of loss.

So I grieve and question the loss of Rachel; someone I identified with and aspired to in many ways. Just like Rachel did, I am currently finding my way back into Sunday worship via the peace and predictability of Anglican liturgy. I suspect her second book ‘Searching for Sunday” will also give voice to my experience as I read it.

So, this one is for you Rachel. Thank you for your inspiration in life and now in death (I know it’s been far too long since I exercised this writing gift we shared.)

Goodnight, Eshet Chayil. May I be even half the woman of valour you were.




[3] Rachel Held Evans, Evolving in Monkey Town, (Grand Rapids, MI:  Zondervan, 2010), p222, p204.

Swallowing the Hairdryer


It’s not often a book makes me laugh out loud, but Rob Bell’s What is the Bible? managed it at,

“When you come across something that religious people have been debating and discussing for years, always ask yourself, What would happen if I actually had concrete answers to the questions? and more importantly, How would that ever make your life better? Some things that religious people make a big deal of are rather pointless. Avoid the insanity. How often do you ask, What would it feel like to swallow a hairdryer while it was turned on? No you don’t because it’s not interesting. And what would you gain?”

In the book, Rob explores some of the big questions about the Bible, a book that is thought to have been written by about forty different people, over 1500 years on three continents. Questions like:

  • Why are there all those genealogies?
  • Why so many laws and sacrifices?
  • What about all that wrath and violence?
  • Did God have to kill someone to be “happy” about humanity?
  • Is the Bible really the word of God? Is it inerrant? What about the contradictions?

He deals with these questions head on; unapologetically. (Another sentence that had me laughing out loud was, “Some atheists say lots of things that are true, and some Christians are full of shit.”) Rob has an ear and a voice to our current times that is so refreshing; his writing makes a lot of sense and it’s full of life and hope.

Take the question of violence for example, I’ve never known what to do with those Bible passages that appear to say God killed someone for not doing the right thing – where’s the grace and mercy in that? What about those bits where it seems God is on the side of the Israelite army as they slaughter thousands of innocent people. This is not a God I want to know!

But Rob Bell asks, What if the cycles of violence were included in the Old Testament to demonstrate how futile that way of living is? After all, Jesus refused to perpetuate endless cycles of violence and he never mentions the most violent passages of the Old Testament in his teachings. Instead, He goes to a violent death without retaliating.

Throughout the book, Rob Bell continually encourages us to rise above the sentence or paragraph of a Bible story; instead, he encourages altitude. We don’t have to edit out the earlier, more difficult bits or pretend they’re not there. Instead, we can read the stories in the light of where the whole narrative of the Bible is heading.

As you look more deeply into the whole story of the Bible, you can see how people’s perception of God is challenged and changes. Take Abraham; God spends a lot of time insisting that he’s going to do something amazing for Abraham – that was radical thinking in its day! Other gods of the time were angry and needed appeasing; you did whatever you could to keep in their good books. But this God promises to do something for Abraham. As Rob says, “We don’t really have categories for how unheard of this sort of thinking would have been for its day.”

Then take Noah; what if the point isn’t whether the flood actually happened or not? What if what really matters is the story’s focus on people’s relationship with God? The Noah story ends with a covenant relationship between God and the people. This was not how other flood stories of the time finished; there were lots of those and they all ended in pointless destruction with people dying to appease their god’s anger. That makes this story, with its new view of God, radical for its day.

So, in the midst of what can seem to us strange stories and potentially flawed, frustrating ‘historical’ accounts, what we’re actually seeing is growth and expanding perspectives. Turns out the Bible is progressive!

Who knew?!

But what’s all that got to do with me and you, here and now today? Well for a start, the stories in the Bible are still the kinds of stories we find ourselves in today. We’re still wrestling with injustice, with people in power with no moral compass, with worry, with forgiving someone who has wronged us; the list goes on. The Bible has endured because it speaks to our human experience; we can relate to these stories. “They fearlessly speak truth to power. They call out the injustice and oppression of the system gone wrong.” They invite us to come home from all our wanderings, “looking for our worth and value in all sorts of things and people when we’ve been a child of a loving father the whole time.”

Spotting the movement and progression in the Bible can help us spot possibility and progression in our own lives and the world we live in. Rob Bell says this movement “beneath, within and above everything” is Christ himself and that the Bible stories of development and change show that “we don’t have to settle, that tomorrow doesn’t have to be a repeat of today, that we don’t have to be enslaved to fear or despair – that we can change, move, heal and we can leave behind whatever needs to be left behind so that we can step into a better future.”

Sounds good to me!

I cannot adequately explain the effect that reading this book has had on me; it has changed me. It’s taken some of my quiet, niggling, background doubts and worries that this God I follow might turn out to be a monster and turned them on their head. As Rob points out, one of the reasons the Bible authors wrote these things down was that they wanted to communicate their positive, radical, life changing, hope bringing, peace giving experience of God and share that with us. They had found that being in relationship with God was GOOD.

So, coming back to swallowing the hairdryer, my questions about the Bible have been pointless, way too small and suspicious of a God who is actually generous, radical, progressive, forward thinking, kind and GOOD.

“What we have (in the Bible) is a fascinating, messy, unpredictable, sometimes breathtakingly beautiful, other times viscerally repulsive collection of stories and poems and letters and accounts and Gospels that reflect the growing conviction that we matter, that everything is connected, and that human history is headed somewhere.



One Love, Manchester: A challenge to the ‘church.’

A BBC News report on Monday, described the One Love Manchester concert as “a night of unity, healing and joy.”

One Love Manchester

It certainly felt like a deeply spiritual experience as we watched the television coverage at home. There were so many Godly characteristics and truths on display. What struck me most as I watched, was that 50,000 people would so willingly take part in and agree with what in so many ways were deeply Christian principles. The feeling of being in God’s presence evoked in me as I watched, was so like experiences I have had in church worship services. I couldn’t help wondering if this concert was a great expression of faith in the God I know, without many of the people there realising that the God they think they don’t believe in, stood with them. And it reminded me of the pioneer’s challenge to speak God into places where He has yet to be named.

Krish Kandiah has beaten me to it in terms of publishing his thoughts about the spiritual content of the concert. You can read his article here but there are other observations I would like to make and questions I would like to raise.


Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfil the law of Christ.” Galatians 6:2 NIV

The sense of love, unity and equality at the One Love concert was palpable. Policemen and security guards were seen dancing and jumping with children as people of different ages, sexualities and backgrounds united in their shared grief and defiance against evil and celebration of love.

BBC news reported a couple of the survivors of the Manchester bombing who were at the concert saying,

“Everyone was so close, even if they didn’t know each other…It felt like everybody at the show had come together as a family.”

When Ariana Grande, held schoolgirl soloist Natasha Seth’s hand and hugged her tight as the emotion of the evening overtook, all I could see in my mind was my 14-year-old daughter, Hannah, and another young lady (like Ariana, also in her early 20s) who looks out for my daughter and helps her when she’s sad or anxious about life.

I wonder why we probably wouldn’t quickly call the first picture church, but the second picture, taken in a Methodist chapel not a sports stadium, would easily be classed as a strong image of what a church youth group should stand for? Are these not both pictures of God’s love at work in people’s hearts? Are these not both pictures of people carrying each other’s burdens and in this way fulfilling the law of Christ?

Belonging and Brokenness

“You’ve kept track of my every toss and turn through the sleepless nights, Each tear entered in your ledger, each ache written in your book.” Psalm 56:8 MSG

One Love Manchester gave people the opportunity to sit in the brokenness together, in a safe and loving atmosphere without any pressure to ‘fix it.’ There was so much honesty on display. Visible emotion and expressions of pain were allowed and respected. You didn’t have to have it altogether or pretend that the concert was making everything fine. There was very little stiff upper lip here.

There was solidarity and empathy and love amid the grief. Why haven’t I seen as much of that in church as I would have liked to? Why do people so often feel they should leave the worship space if they cry? Why don’t we know what to say to each other when that happens?

Why have I often felt the obligation in church to ‘stick a geranium in my hat and be happy!’ How we deal with mental health in church environments is a whole other topic, but at One Love Manchester, those at risk of post-traumatic stress symptoms were given a healthy outlet. And God was at work.

Awareness of Mortality and Belief in an Afterlife

 “But though God has planted eternity in the hearts of men, even so, many cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end.”  Ecclesiastes 3:11 Living Bible

The people at the concert were surely keenly aware of the vulnerability and brevity of life. For those who had attended the previous concert at Manchester Arena thoughts that it could so easily have been themselves that were killed must have been high in their minds.

People in the audience held up cards saying, “For our Angels” referring to the 22 individuals who died in the bombing. These placards, Robbie William’s choice to sing his hit song, “Angels” and Ariana’s emotional rendition of her closing song of the night, “Somewhere over the Rainbow” were just some of the demonstrations of a corporate belief that loved ones live on somewhere else after death.


 “But I will restore you to health and heal your wounds,’ declares the Lord…”    Jeremiah 30:17 NIV

One of my daughter Hannah’s friends and her mum were at the bombing but thankfully escaped unscathed. As I watched One Love Manchester at home, I wondered how they were feeling as they faced the challenge of being at a concert amongst so many people again so soon. But as I watched, I saw how the positive and loving atmosphere was imprinting a positive, more recent memory to help heal their previous memory of an ominous loud bang at the end of a performance.


Hannah’s friend and her mum leaving the refuge centre the morning after the bombing. (This photo was used widely in the national press at the time.)



  Hannah’s friend and her mum at One Love Manchester.

As the penultimate song at One Love Manchester, Ariana sang her hit “One Last Time”; a song she had sung as her encore just before the bomb went off at Manchester Arena. I’m sure that the sound of that song would have brought back difficult memories for many but to sing it again in a hopeful, loving context must have taken some of the power out of it. This is no easy fix. The work of grieving will go on. But the restoration and healing power of God was at work. This was beauty coming out of brokenness. This was redemption in action in public and plain sight.

The Rituals

Justin Bieber took on the sermon saying, “God is good in the midst of darkness. God is good in the midst of the evil. God is in the midst no matter what is happening in the world. God is in the midst and he loves you and he’s here for you.”

 We may hold hands or hug other people in church as we say ‘the grace’ or in the Anglican tradition, share ‘the peace’. At the concert, Katy Perry asked the crowd to reach out and touch the person next to them and said, “Love conquers fear and love conquers hate. And this love that you choose will give you strength, and it’s our greatest power.”

Intercessory prayer was led by the Black-Eyed Peas performing their hit song ‘Where is the love?’

“People killing, people dying, children hurt and you hear them crying Can you practice what you preach? Or would you turn the other cheek? Father, Father, Father help us, send some guidance from above. These people got me, got me questioning, where is the love?”

Doubt and Questioning

Steve Aisthorpe notes that many Christians who have left the local church speak of “their frustration or disappointment with churches which neither encouraged or facilitated their doubts and questions” (p66 The Invisible Church, Steve Aisthorpe.)

But doubt and questioning stood alongside faith and hope at One Love Manchester. While Miley Cyrus sang, “How can we escape, all the fear, all the hate? Is anyone watching us down here?” there were people in the crowd wearing t-shirts declaring that good conquers evil, love is greater than hate. They were comfortable with the questioning and the paradox.


A popular church worship song by Rend Collective, includes the lyrics:

“Set your church on fire, win this nation back, change the atmosphere, build your kingdom here… We are Your church; we are the hope on earth”

And with my sometimes, I confess, cynical heart I wonder if what we’re really asking God to do when we sing “change the atmosphere” is ‘make everyone else come and join our version of church please’.

I was brought up in a conservative evangelical environment and the implication always seemed to be, that people who had prayed ‘the prayer of salvation’ had the monopoly on doing good. It bothers me that when we sing that “we are the church, we are the hope on earth” we’re not recognising God at work in those who do not believe the same things as us or practice their faith in the same way as us. One of the reasons I have left much of my conservative theological position behind is because, over time, I have seen a surprising amount of good, loving and godly actions coming out of people who rarely go to church or have a language for their beliefs and practices. At the same time I have also seen a devastating amount of pain caused by the actions of those who would class themselves ‘saved’ or ‘church members’.

An atmosphere of fear and violence in Manchester was certainly changed to one of hope and love at the concert. It was evident that the God of hope was filling that crowd with joy and peace, and that by the power of the Holy Spirit they were beginning to abound in hope.

And so my key question remains, why were 50000 people more than willing to stand and align themselves with clearly Christian values and beliefs so comfortably in this context and yet church attendance continues to decline? One Love Manchester shows me that the world wants what the church says we have to offer but they either don’t know we’re there; or we’re not actually offering what we say we are; or we are not reaching people in a way that feels relevant to them.

To badly quote Rend Collective, on Sunday 4th June 2017, the church was not the hope on earth, One Love Manchester was.One Love Manchester

The Proverbial Just Hit The Fan

manure fan

Do you know what? Life can be shit sometimes. Yep I said it. You can take me up on my language if you really want to, but in doing so, you’ll totally miss the point. Something really, really horrible happened the other day. But I’m learning (slowly!) that God is not in the shit. I think He’s in what you see behind it and through it.

I used to foolishly think that being a ‘good’ Christian was an insurance policy against life’s manmade disasters so when something particularly bad happened a few years ago, I sobbed my guts out to this God I’d strived to follow, “What the hell are you doing?! I’ve always tried to do whatever it was that you asked of me so how come I’m in so much pain? I’ve always tried to do my best, so why wasn’t that good enough?”

(Oh, and therein lies a massive lie, infected into me throughout my life to make me believe that I will never be good enough.)

As Heather Caliri recently put it, “I have spent so much effort in my life trying to be good. A good daughter. A good Christian…But sometimes approval is not particularly helpful or even healthy…Gaining “goodness” in the eyes of other people is a terrible goal…Let’s get real: we are not good… The most we can say about ourselves is that we’re choosing to face our demons—or not.”


Heather writes that Jesus said there is only one person who is good, God alone. But trusting that God is good is a really difficult thing especially when you’re in pain.

I’m reading Sarah Bessey’s book ‘Out of Sorts’ at the moment – if you’ve not read this, order it now! She refers to two ways of seeing the Jesus story: either as the Gospel of Atonement (‘sin management’, full of definitions and boundaries, a movement to make people with better morals) or the Gospel of the Kingdom (a life-giving transformation into the likeness of Jesus.) If there’s one thing I’ve learnt these last few years, it’s that there’s so much more to the love of God than a set of rules.

Sarah writes about how pain can illuminate the background brightness of God’s kingdom here and now, a kingdom that “…purifies, and sets everything aglow with peace, joy, boldness, and extravagant, furious love.” (p128)

I found that a faith based on a set of rules just can’t cut it when we’re in pain, but the Kingdom can. Here’s a list of signs of God’s kingdom that Sarah gives us to look out for here and now: beauty, redemption, miracles, wholeness, healing, renewal, friendship, conversation, prayer, worship, work, music, art, justice, jubilee, mercy, love, sex, aging. Whenever you see the goodness of these things, you’re seeing God.

I could bore you with lots of examples, but here are the ones that stood out for me yesterday:

Friendship and conversation: God has given me AMAZING people who love me, talk with me, cry with me and step up to be exactly who I need when I need them most. (Thank you guys, I love you!)

Love: Holding and being held is a really precious expression of God’s love for me. (Holding small babies at our toddler group was awesome therapy!)

Music: Waking up with “What the world needs now” running round my head was God’s way of saying He knew what I needed yesterday and reassuring me of His unconditional ‘love, sweet love’. He was not demanding I tackle another mountain in my own strength.

Art: Hot on the heels of the proverbial hitting the fan, came Heather’s blog post which when reading 20 minutes into emotional shock was frankly like having Jesus sat next to me saying, “This is what I think about it. It’s ok. I’ve got you.”

Wholeness: Without the challenge of yesterday I wouldn’t be continuing to move on, wouldn’t have deepened relationships old and new that sustain me, wouldn’t be continuing to find and enjoy my God-given identity.

I am SO not ready to say I believe that God allows/sends us pain. I just don’t know if I can (or need to) sign up to that one. But I am more and more able to see the background brightness of God’s kingdom that the darkness illuminates. This is where I find God – not in a set of rules masqueraded as an insurance policy against the shit hitting the fan but in the redemption and the healing that surrounds the pain. The pain is not beautiful. It’s awful. I don’t want it. I don’t like it and the beauty it illuminates does not discount it. But sometimes I see a glimmer of hope in the background. Sometimes I see the Kingdom breaking through. Not just the hope of heaven after this life, but a little bit of the Kingdom here and now. And I’m thankful for that, I really am.

Thoughts from the woman in the third pew on the left…

view from the pew

Oh no! It’s that time of the Methodist year: the covenant prayer; the ultimate self assessment on the personal Godometer scale. I’m so not up to this. I’ve too many questions at the moment; too many doubts; too many wonderings; too many things I thought I knew turned upside down. Who am I covenanting to? The narrow, conservative God of my youth (I can’t do that anymore) or this newly found wide open space inclusive accepting all loving one? Is She too good to be true?

Lord, I am no longer my own but yours…

But what if that means you can let whatever you want happen to me – that didn’t work out too well for Job for a while did it? What if I’ve spent so long bowing to everybody elses wants and what I really need at the moment is a bit of confidence in my own decisions?
Do you want good things for me? Do I really believe you are good Lord?

Your will, not mine be done in all things…

Except, what if your will is to make me suffer? I can’t say I want that Lord.
Do I really believe that you are good Lord?

Wherever you may place me…

This one’s easier Lord. Whatever the scenery around you’ve always placed me near to good people; sent me good friends and substitute parents. In the driven angst of Essex, the hills of Sheffield, the wealth of Surrey, the sea air of Southend, even when I was thrown into exile, you lifted me out and placed me here. Please don’t take me out of this wide open space.

In all that I do and in all that I may endure…

Think I might have mentioned this already Lord, but I’m not keen on this ‘enduring’ business. I’m frightened of what might come next.

When there is work for me and when there is none…

Well there’s a description of my work Lord if ever I heard one: one minute a massively intense conversation about deeply personal important things; the next, looking out the window wondering what to fill my hours with. Are you in all of that? Work out your will in it Lord, even the bits that feel like nothing to me.

When I am troubled and when I am at peace…

Troubled…there’s a few people who’d say that’s my middle name. Always troubled by imperfection. Always striving for the best – is that so bad? At peace? Need more of that – definitely!

Your will be done when I am valued and when I am disregarded…

Oh this one matters more than I’d like it to. Plenty of experiences of both sides of this coin. People who could have known me best didn’t always seem to see much good in who I really am. And sometimes I am SO misunderstood Lord.
What do you think of me Lord? Am I good enough for you? I know the ‘right’ answer to that in my head. Move it to my heart please.

When I find fulfilment and when it is lacking…

Fulfilment…is that what heaven’s like? I suspect so: life and life in all its fullness. I reckon you desire fulfilment for all of us Lord. I think you made us a certain way for a certain reason to fulfil specific purposes. Denying that is gonna lead to pain I reckon. I can’t help but feel strongly about this one Lord.

When I have all things and when I have nothing…

Seen this one a bit already Lord if you’re talking about money. It turned out it wasn’t the end of the world. Not pleasant. Don’t fancy wearing the t-shirt again but I suppose I’d live. I think I’m pretty sure you’ve got it sorted whatever my bank statement seems to suggest.

I willingly offer all I have and am to serve you, as and where you choose…

Er…please see above Lord?

Glorious and blessed God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit…

Ooh er big words: doctrine, theology, penal subsititutionary atonement, is that what it was?…I digress!

You are mine and I am yours…may it be so for ever…
Whoever you are, however much I understand or don’t, You are mine and I am yours…

Be my duvet; wrap me in the warmth of love….forever…forever…

Be my hot bath; soak away the stress and the clamour of my days.

Be my big armchair into which I sink; take all the weight of my thoughts…forever.

Let this covenant now made on earth be fulfilled in heaven. Amen.

Matthew 11:28-30The Message (MSG)
28-30 “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

Cutting some slack

My one word for 2015 is ‘slack.‘

S-L-A-CK! (I can just hear Miranda Hart saying, “It’s a lovely word – slack!”)

The other day, I was ruminating about some tough stuff going on for me at the time and the friend listening unexpectedly said,

“What about not being so hard on yourself? I don’t hear much of that!”

Closely followed by,

“You’re doing a great job… … I don’t see any nodding.”

“At what point was anything you said just now, your fault?” she continued,
“Well, I’m the common factor in it all” I sniveled.
“Yes but that’s only because it’s your life!” she replied.

As you can see, I’m not good at being kind to myself but I’m very good at thinking I am responsible for the world, its wife and its feelings. I am quite good at giving other people the benefit of the doubt but terrible at doing it for myself.

I’ve been through some traumatic times and coupled with the resulting physical weakness and lack of energy, in moments of clarity I wonder why the hell I feel guilty and push myself on the infrequent days when it still feels too much of a struggle?

I really need to remember I’m a survivor and survivors need to cut themselves some slack sometimes.

Immediately, choosing this word makes me feel guilty and indulgent. I worry that ‘slack’ is an easy option but then there’s a difference between ‘cutting myself some slack’ and ‘slacking off.’ I want ‘cutting myself some slack’ to look like loving myself; honouring my needs; recovering; letting life happen; surrendering to joy and not thinking that I am answerable for more than I am. An easy option? It may just be the hardest thing I’ll ever do!

I want to focus on being grateful for where I am, who I have in my life and what I have learned through the tough stuff.

I want to listen to (and believe!) the positives that the people who know me well and can see me much more objectively than I can say to me. I want to celebrate and own my successes and strengths without feeling at fault or indulgent for doing it.

I’m not going to beat myself up for having a bad day and needing to hide from the world for a while. It will pass. I’m going to try to listen to what my body’s telling me; if the energy isn’t there, I’ll take a rest or do something different.

So yep, I’m gonna spend a year cutting myself some slack. After years of being tied up in unspoken restrictions and covert control, I reckon it’s time to cut myself a bit of breathing space.

And if it all goes horribly wrong and I’m terrible at it…guess what? That’s not going to matter either. At least I tried.

Matthew 11:28-30The Message (MSG)
28-30 “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

Lleyn – Good Friday Evening 2014


The daffodils bow their heads;

Perhaps to pray, perhaps to sleep, perhaps to die;

Their time for now coming to a coda;

Performance over for another year.


The birds sing their evening song,

The sun’s shape cannot be seen,

But still its light carries on

Enough to see, to write, to dream, to think, to ponder.


Our time here is nearly done,

Like the daffodils; just for a season.

We will return here in body, in mind, in spirit;

To this our sacred place.


Teach me to dream for a new season

And yet remain

In the contentment of this moment.


That I too like the Sun and the Son

May move with the seasons.

And like the daffodils may shout,

“God is amazing!”

Again and again and again.


Images Copyright Hannah Thompson

Words Copyright Caroline Middleton

Rev Returns


‘Rev’ is back on TV and in our house we’re busy playing catch up. My husband’s not seen it before, so hot on the heels of ‘Gavin & Stacey’ we’re going through the box set of ‘Rev’ before we watch series 3. 

When ‘Rev’ first appeared in 2010, I was in my wilderness years, a ‘single mum divorced from a Rev.’ I watched it with amusement noticing my experiences as minister’s wife and laughing hysterically when Rev’s wife referred to the vicar’s wives meeting saying, “I think I’ll just cut my head off with boredom now!” I was out of my chair when ‘Rev’ won a BAFTA and their acceptance speech began, “Thank you to the vicars!” 

Rev’s main character is Adam, whose joys and struggles as vicar are played out through the series. I know Rev has come in for criticism from some church people and I have to admit my frustration at this.I love ‘Rev’ because Adam is often heard praying honestly. He takes seriously the call to love and serve his community and is open about his frustration with ‘the system.’ His heart for a God who loves us in the middle of our confusion always seems to shine through.

Last night we reached the episode where Adam is in crisis, questioning the point of his vocation. During this time, he demonstrates some behaviour that we Christians love to inaccurately label as ‘sin of the worst kind’. Watching it in 2010, I remember walking past people smoking that morning and breathing in deeply wondering if nicotine might make me feel better. There were some nights out where I had drunk too much because I just didn’t care anymore about what happened to me and I had tried so many times to lose myself in trashy TV to numb the pain. Yes I could see a lot of my pain and confusion in Adam’s eyes.

At one point, Adam’s wife says, 

“He believes in God, he’s just not sure that God believes in him.”

 And that was when the tears of 2010’s shame and disappointment started going down my face.

Later in the episode, Adam is called to give a dying woman the last rites. I cried even more as he debated whether he could be “vicar” to her. In the stairwell of the block of flats he quietly recites a verse used at his ordination service :

 Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying,

“Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?”

And I said, “Here am I. Send me!’     Isaiah 6v8

 In 2010, I cried because I had no answers to the huge sense of injustice that riddled my life and made me want to shout, scream and throw things round the room. Yesterday, my eyes welled up as I recognised I have now accepted that  often there aren’t answers to the questions that rage to our heart’s surface when tragedy strikes or our confidence is dented once again. 

Recently, I asked a new friend who is older and wiser than me how her experience of being an ex vicar’s wife has affected her faith. Her reply will stay with me for a long time.

“I have learnt that I know nothing now for sure except that I am loved by God.

I don’t know who is going to heaven or if there is a hell. I don’t know why we suffer.

I don’t know for sure who wrote what bit of the Bible when, why and to who.

But I do know this: I am really loved by God.”

 I agree. Despite all my questions, then and now, just like Adam and my friend, I just can’t not believe that I am loved by God. And when He calls, I pray you and I will have a deep reassurance of His love to underpin us and the courage in our guts to say,

“Yes Lord, with all my questions, here I am, …send me.”

Encountering God Part 2


As we came out of chapel, I felt drunk! As we walked, (well, it felt like I staggered) to the car I managed to say/slur, “Rachel, I need to talk to you. I don’t know what happened in there but something happened to me.” I was unable to speak much in the car on the way home; I felt far too loved up on God for words. So we did what this girl is likely to forever do at pivotal moments…we went for hot chocolate! And in that hour, I became more and more convinced something had changed and was continuing to change within me. A new hope, a sense of calling and purpose for the future, a feeling of contentment I’d been dreaming about my whole life seemed suddenly very present. Positivity and peace weren’t confined to the movies or novels anymore – they were there reverberating around my heart. 

Over the last couple of weeks I’ve noticed my energy levels have changed. Sometimes I feel tired but it’s a different kind of tired; a healthy feeling, not as oppressive as it used to be. Night times are very different. When I wake I’m not anxious like I used to be. Over the first couple of nights it felt like a deep sense of peace and pleasurable wellbeing almost rocked me quietly back off to sleep.

Things I suspect I used to numb some of the pain e.g. Facebook, TV, shopping, now feel renewed; not banned as evil, just here to be enjoyed without a need to rely on them. Here’s the real shocker – I’ve changed the way I think about chocolate; I don’t seem to want it so much. Don’t panic! This girl ain’t changing that much – I will always want it; I just don’t feel like I need it so much now!

I am starting to enjoy looking after myself. Eating has begun to seem less of a chore. I wear makeup more often and when I look at what I want to wear it’s with a much stronger sense of myself and enjoyment of the creativity.

My mind is a whole lot quieter than it was!  Of course I still fret sometimes, I’m only human, but I seem to hear the prompt to surrender things to God quicker than I used to. I don’t seem to need to work out solutions for the world and its wife’s problems so much and I feel more able to accept life in the moment as it is.

I am trusting my instincts and am not as much of a slave to what I think I ‘should’ do.  I’ve even started wanting to do the washing up (I know – second shocking statement!!) instead of wondering whether I have the energy to make myself do what I feel I ought.

I’m reading a lot more – to the point of parking up to read under a light in Asda car park on a cold February evening whilst waiting for Hannah to come out of rehearsals! I am really hungry to know more of God’s love for me.

There seems more peace and love in the Bible as I read it.  I’m much quicker to notice God’s desire for personal relationships and the joy and freedom He brings. And I have a renewed desire to worship, playing the piano with new expression that I’d only had a glimpse of before. It’s been an absolute joy to play the church songs of my childhood with fresh eyes on the lyrics and a new understanding of God’s sheltering hand throughout my life.

As Rachel was praying for me a few days later, she asked God to reconnect the synapses in my nervous system. And that’s the best summary I can think of to describe what it feels like. Old negative pathways of thinking, that I used to go down so easily, seem to be travelled less often. I definitely feel lighter in my spirit about lots of things and other people have noticed ‘a new lightness’ in me.

This road to recovery has not been a divine quick fix. The work I have put in towards my mental recovery and the physical rest and medication I needed were and continue to be vital. But this latest assurance that God loves me person to person feels like a spiritual seal on the physical and mental recovery. Like a piece of shabby chic furniture the old ‘me’ had to be sanded down by crisis, primed with medication and rest, repainted in new shades of thinking and then sealed with the varnish of a personal experience of God’s love.

That’s not to say I won’t suffer the occasional knock that cuts through to the bare wood again. Of course there will be times when I feel less than joyful. Like Peter, I’d love to build a tent and stay up the mountain but life isn’t like that. Some days will be easier than others but the lightness in my spirit has remained thus far. Not through my own effort – in fact every time I ‘try’ I take a step further away from the joy. The joy is in the resting and the letting be (something I used to be desperate to know how to do.)


“Live full lives, full in the fullness of God. God can do anything, you know—far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams! He does it not by pushing us around but by working within us, his Spirit deeply and gently within us.”

Ephesians 3:19b-20 The Message

Encountering God: Part One


I nearly didn’t stay to chapel at college last Saturday. I didn’t really want to but something inside me said, “Come on– a bit of personal worship will do you good.” So we went in and sat on the back row: where I didn’t feel looked at and could opt out if I wanted to.

The day before I had written:

“The other day, for a moment, I grasped it. I saw what has always been there…freedom. What did it feel like?  No condemnation and no subtitles; a place where I make goals as an affirmation that I am fully interested in living life to the full; somewhere I’m not scared to fail; a place where I have changed my beliefs about how I deserve to be treated. It’s getting clearer. I’m not quite sure what it feels like to stand firm on it yet but I can see it! I’ve caught a glimpse. And one day I’m going to stand on it and in it and the ground beneath my feet will feel a whole lot firmer. It’s no longer fantasy or wishful thinking. I can see it.”

That day as I was writing, I realised that much of my mental recovery from all I have experienced was coming to a natural conclusion (perhaps a pause?) Faithful companions on the journey (dare I say prophets?) had started to say, “Caroline, look at your present. It’s so full of hope. God has redeemed so much for you. When your future is this bright, why look at the past?”

Oh I wanted to, believe me I did, and I had done everything in my power to get me there. And that’s probably the point. The last leap wasn’t really down to me. It wasn’t something I could study for or go through a twelve step plan for (although those sorts of things had massively helped me get to where I was.) This was different.  It was something I needed to grasp and accept into my heart but I just didn’t seem able to. It was like having a pair of sunglasses on: I knew there was hope ahead but I couldn’t see it quite as clearly as they all did…until that moment in chapel.

And when it happened, it came out of the blue; totally unexpected.  Something happened in that worship time; something mysterious and beyond my capability to manufacture.

A song I had learnt in the depths of my depressive teenage years and had continued to sing at church through the ups and downs of the years since, suddenly took on a new meaning. Oh I knew those words so well; but never had they opened up to such depth of meaning as they did that day. Suddenly I understood what it felt like to know this stuff in the depth of my being not just my head. The dark glasses were lifted off. Something like scales fell from the eyes of my heart, and I could see!

We were there, maybe half an hour, singing, listening to readings and joining in prayers. And I revelled in it! Ephesians 3 was one of the readings that day and it sums up my time in chapel really well:

My response is to get down on my knees before the Father, this magnificent Father who parcels out all heaven and earth. I ask him to strengthen you by his Spirit—not a brute strength but a glorious inner strength—that Christ will live in you as you open the door and invite him in. And I ask him that with both feet planted firmly on love, you’ll be able to take in with all followers of Jesus the extravagant dimensions of Christ’s love. Reach out and experience the breadth! Test its length! Plumb the depths! Rise to the heights!”              (Ephesians 3:14-19 The Message)

God was no longer someone I admired, quoted or followed, He was someone I’d encountered!