Not all beer and skittles.

This is just going to be a ramble because I have no one to talk to so you’ll do. I didn’t mean that to sound quite so rude. You’ll more than do. You’re perfect.

This morning I found myself singing a daft little song to the dogs as we walked on the beach, and one of my fellow dog-walkers turned, hearing me, and spread her arms wide to the sky, a gesture of happiness. No words were needed, we shared that magic moment and it was great. Where did that unexpected dollop of unalloyed joy come from? My life at the moment doesn’t look, from the outside, like it’s all beer and skittles, so what’s going on? I’ll tell you what’s going on – I’m struggling. Occasionally really struggling. And then I’m soaring, really soaring. I’m two different people just now; happy and expectant as I step into my next adventure, not knowing what it will be, where I will go, how I will live. That’s the me who knows peace and certainty that God is working all things to the good. Then comes another me, and this me doesn’t want to leave my lovely beach, my good and loving friends, this funny house with its high ceilings and good neighbours. Sometimes I think I’m praying but then I realise that I’ve been distracted for a while, slipping away from prayer into fear about going into an unknown future alone, starting all over again, walking into a town I don’t know, friendless. That’s when my prayer turns to a sort of strangulated “What the hell am I doing?”

This is a huge moment of change; not only am I moving on to (literally) God knows where, but my granddaughter who has lived with me for three years is also moving on, to Uni, and in the same month very dear friends are returning to Canada. Each of these changes is completely independent of the others, I knew I was moving before I knew about the Uni, before I knew about the Canada move…. it brings an acute awareness of the earth shifting beneath my feet…. I walk towards August 2021 with that expectant but unsettled feeling of walking towards a roller coaster… will I dare to get on it? Won’t I? Should I? Will it be thrilling or will I be sick as we hurtle earthwards? Watch this space.

It’s very easy to feel alone and totally insignificant and never more so than when you’re a tiny speck in God’s grandeur, aware of the height of the sky, the depth of the ocean, the vastness of space.

This morning

And when we’re in ‘tiny speck’ mode we can easily become overwhelmed. Some overwhlemings are great, fabulous, full of grace. To be overwhelmed by God is just the best experience, but to be overwhelmed by loss and grief is a different kettle of fish. One morning last week it suddenly seemed too much to deal with on my own, and I came off the beach drained and weary, defeated by the too many unknowns in my life. To be heading towards my 73rd birthday with no security in the world, no partner, no family life, no obvious purpose, facing a lonely old age, that was hard and my thoughts were racing and a bit (!) fearful.

Oh, boo hoo…. boo blinkin’ hoo…… I am so sorry for myself…boooo hooo. Gosh, it’s miserable being miserable. Can’t stay there for long.

I know when I’m on a bad track of thought and we’re told

whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.’

I knew where to look for the excellent and praiseworthy… so I piled the dogs into the car and went to the Bible app on my phone because I wasn’t, at that moment, even up to starting the engine and driving home. Flattened. I turned to the ‘red letter words’, the words of Jesus Christ, starting with the Sermon on the Mount, in Luke, knowing that I had to make to make a real connection with the God of love, but before I could find that section, as I sat there, fighting tears, feeling so alone, my eyes focussed on these words,

Soon afterwards, Jesus went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd went along with him. As he approached the town gate, a dead person was being carried out – the only son of his mother,
and she was a widow. And a large crowd from the town was with her. When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her and he said, ‘Don’t cry.’

Of all the verses in the Bible…. just when I couldn’t hold back the tears, just when the enormity of everything I was losing seemed too much and the void I was stepping into seemed too wide… ‘his heart went out to her’. I knew his heart at that moment. And I wasn’t alone.

I knew his comfort. Even in the darkest hour, there is joy and comfort in Jesus. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.’

He has overcome the world. He is in control. Him, not little old me, with all my plans and bright ideas. Not this tiny speck in a vast universe. I can’t even add one day to my life, or by force of will change the colour of one hair on my head. What a waste of time to fret, and scheme and doubt about the unknowable future. And what a miserable way of life that would be. Why would any sane person choose that when joy and peace are waiting?

So then, aware of God with me, there in that scruffy old car, I sniffed away the snot and wiped away the tears and engaged gear….. he has overcome the world. It’s done already. Don’t let appearances fool you.

Here- do you want to have a little smile? You’ll have to concentrate… it’s a moment caught on camera before the lack-lustre England/Scotland Euro game…. look for the bearded guy with glasses and a tam o’ shanter…. he goes down like a domino, taking the next chap with him. I wonder how much of the game he remembers? My bet? Not a lot.

A thought about prayer

The Oxford Concise Dictionary contains over 240,000 words. And that’s their ‘concise’ version. You would think, with all those little pearls of communication at my fingertips, I would be able to string a few of them together, in the right order, to make sense of what I’m feeling and thinking today, wouldn’t you?

Some chance. But I keep on trying.

This isn’t Biblical – it’s just a thought, and you know how unreliable my thoughts are; we talk a lot, us Christians, about God being active in our lives. Sometimes, to hear us, it’s as if we expect God to be hovering in the shadows of every scene we enter, ready to do our bidding, a celestial attentive butler. “Oh” says the God of the Universe “Luce needs a parking space by the chemist. I’ll look away from the millions who are in desperate need to sort that out for her.” Sometimes non-Christians really do think that we’re that … what’s the word… idiotic.

But praying and trusting in God, relying on him, isn’t demanding or infantile. Although I want to turn to God for every need in my life, however small, I don’t think he is conscious of my petty requests in the same way that our cognitive processes work. Rather, I believe that if I am living in Christ, and if Christ is living in me, then it’s a law of nature, of cause and consequence , outside time and space, that ‘All things work to the good for those who love the Lord.’ If I am obeying him, and living in his will, in the peace and joy of Christ, then everything that happens as a consequence of my submission is part of his will. Laid down in eternity, before I was born. He’s not moving that big posh 4×4 out of the parking space so my eight year old Volvo can clank its way in, because I can cope with or without that parking space, and maybe it’s better for me to park somewhere else anyway. A parking attendant? That’s not who he is. And the bigger things, too… he is working in them. When I move house he does more than find me the next house I want, because he knows the end of the story and so he gives me the next house or van or boat or tent that I need to get to the end of that story. I don’t know the end of the story but he does so why would I prefer my bright ideas to his? He’s working his own laws of cause and consequence to bring us to the point where we can glorify him and be fulfilled in him, not fulfilled in ourselves.

He has given us a way of life, a joyful rich way of submitting our lives to him, so that as a consequence we will always be following him, led by him, and will never lose him. I want to think of him when I drive into town, or make a phone call, or bake a cake, or decide to move house. Big or small. Always. I want to live in his will, aware of him, and depending on him, already living in eternity, being with God.

In 1 Thessalonians we’re told:

Rejoice always,  pray continually,  give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.’

Hmmm. Pray continually? Some translations say ‘pray without ceasing’. Oh, boy, think about that… a continual conversation, word after word , an internal monologue without ceasing? Is that what this means? Really? No. I don’t think this is what this instruction means. These are the words of Jesus in Matthew 6:7

‘And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words.

Prayer is not only words. it isn’t framed or limited by language. Sometimes it turns into words, and sometimes we need words, but prayer is a state of being. If I am in Jesus and Jesus is in me then every breath I take is a prayer, every small act is a prayer, my attitude turns from self to prayer, that parking space I wanted is filled by someone else? Good. They needed it. The house sale goes through? Thank you, God, this is a gift. The house sale doesn’t materialise? Thank you, God, I’m content to stay put. Your will, not mine.

In the Old Testament, when Israel had turned away from God to worship pagan gods in addition, turning to the true God only when the mood took them, we read in Isaiah 1:12-15

When you come to appear before me,
    who has asked this of you,
    this trampling of my courts?
Stop bringing meaningless offerings!
    Your incense is detestable to me.
New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations –
    I cannot bear your worthless assemblies.
Your New Moon feasts and your appointed festivals
    I hate with all my being.
They have become a burden to me;
    I am weary of bearing them.
When you spread out your hands in prayer,
    I hide my eyes from you;
even when you offer many prayers,
    I am not listening.

So, prayer is more, much more than words, than pleas and bargaining or magical thinking. We can’t fool God with words. Prayer is a way of life, a state of being, a total submission, a love affair.

How can I stop my heart from singing?

A cut and paste jobbie

Some of you have pointed out that it’s over a week since I posted here. Sorry. There’s a whole to going on in my life at the moment – both in the physical world and in my head, in life and in real life (prayer life). But you are so insistent….

I know that if I told you all the thoughts buzzing around in my scatterbrain brain, you’d be puzzled and also – because I’m still in the process of clarifying these thoughts – you’d very soon be bored and disengage. So, I’m not going to tell you about my thoughts on Genesis (a little more developed than my last blog) or a sudden memory I had that illuminated God’s trustworthiness, or a step of faith I’m taking with a great sense of wonder that so much trust is possible… and I’m not going to tell you about a heart ache and a loss because you have your own…. and I bet you’re all fed up with photos of the beach…. so what will I do in this blog? I’ll cheat. That’s what I’ll do.

This is a writing blog, stolen from my editing website, lucygannon.com

It comes with a warning – don’t bother with it if you have no intention to write, ever! But some of you may be mildly interested, so here goes:

Is there anything new under the sun?

There really isn’t.

That’s quite a short blog, isn’t it? But there really isn’t. Yesterday a would-be script writer asked me how she could be sure she was writing something new. My answer was ‘You can’t.’ The Book of Ecclesiastes, written over two thousand years ago, was spot on… there really is nothing new under the sun. They didn’t know about the internet then, or phones, or powered flight, or the combustion engine, or nuclear power, or even pedal power, but that ancient writer wasn’t talking about things, he was talking about emotions. And none of them are new. Ever. 

Good writing, and certainly good drama, encompasses more than the narrative of experience or event, it explores the emotions springing from that event, and so yes, every story that could ever be told has already been told. Every emotion that could ever be felt has already been felt. That might seem disheartening to the aspiring writer and there are moments when I, too, feel a bit glum – especially now when every home is able to access dozens, maybe hundreds of TV and YouTube channels, with podcasts and blogs and radio and Ted Talks and all the rest of it. It can be daunting to consider a world already full of clamour – a million people blogging at any one time (I’m gaily making up the numbers), another million tweeting and posting images or videos, a thousand gurus and teachers and rabbis and philosophers peddling their wares on the internet – and none of it new. 

Some numbers people will tell you that there are seven basic stories, others put it at seventy, Aristotle said there were only two, but the important truth for any writer is that whether there are ten or a thousand stories is irrelevant because mankind’s appetite for engaging narrative is insatiable. The danger of an insatiable appetite, however, is that we begin to eat any damn thing, producing all sorts of low value ballast to fill bellies, we create a marketplace that values indulgence over nutrition – to strangle the metaphor a bit more, we fill our kitchens with quick and easy-to-eat rubbish. Our problem is not a lack of drama, it’s a lack of good drama. The new young writer should not have been asking ‘How can I be sure I’m writing something new?’ but ‘How can I be sure I’m writing something good?’ 

(this is a new thought, for you and not from the writing blog) Maybe there’s an ever present danger with our appetites. Give us a room and we will fill it with the things we want around us. They seem adequate and the space is acceptable. Give us a bigger room and we’ll soon have that filled too, and then if we have a house we’ll fill every room, and look for a bigger house, and so it goes on. The principle seems to extend to time as well as space; We had two main TV channels and they transmitted for a few hours every evening, it was OK. Then we had afternoon broadcasts too, and then lunchtime news, and morning TV…. and we found enough ‘stuff’ to fill all those hours. We realised that we could fill another channel and another and another…. and then we had the internet and multi-channel broadcasts…. and still we are looking for more, caring less about the quality and more about the quantity. Maybe that’s one of the things the church is struggling with- centuries of Sunday morning and Sunday evening sermons, hours that had to be filled, and so they were, week after week, year after year, and if the sermons weren’t seeming to nourish the church, never mind, keep on filling them hours, them pews….never mind the quality, feel the width (an old British joke)

Sorry. Back to writing:

The first question I would ask any writer, as they set out on the first scene of a script, or the first page of their book, is “Do you feel compelled to write this?” If you have a story that’s intriguing you, and exciting you, one that you’re desperate to tell, then your reader or audience will be equally desperate to hear it. If you just have a vague notion of ‘wanting to be a writer’ but don’t yet have a story bubbling under, the time is not yet right for you. Chill. Think. Develop the story. Explore the characters. Spin the possible outcomes. Live a little. When you can’t keep the story to yourself any longer, that’s the time to start writing. Until then, it’s just yet more words in a world already too full of them. Until then, you will be frustrated and dissatisfied, maybe spending hours at your screen or notebook, working, working, working, but at the end of the day, when you read back all you’ve written, you’ll find that it bores even you. That’s when writing is a slog. That’s why so many people give up.

Timing matters. Don’t start until you’re ready to dive in, don’t start until you’re bursting with the story, until you can walk around your characters and see them from every angle, don’t start until you believe in them. Then, then, you’ll discover the joy of writing. Don’t rush to the screen or the notebook, savour the prospect, the theme. Discover why you want to write. Write notes, jot down ideas in the middle of the night, talk it over with your friends, notice behaviours and store them up, delight in all the possibilities.

I didn’t start writing until I was 39. By then I had death and loss and life, adventure and stupidity, a pile of bad decisions, a whole load of unhealthy friendships, a failed marriage and a few abandoned jobs behind me. I had seen life. The stories were all there. A play writing competition was announced with a prize of £2,000 and we really needed £2,000! I was going to give it a shot. At the time I was a support worker for people with learning disabilities, and once a month we would travel to my father’s home in Norfolk. On the way we passed a small bungalow, and several times I had seen a young man in the window or the garden, sitting in a high chair, with a fixed table, the sort of chair I was familiar with from my nursing days. Seeing this strapping youngster I recognised how little mobility he had, and that he was intellectually impaired, and I would think about his life in that cramped home, and the lives of his parents – who could sometimes be seen tending the garden, or as shadowy figures in his room. My life and my work had already given me the insight I needed to spin a story out of those brief glimpses, to create characters and then to explore their love and their commitment, the strains and griefs and joys of their lives. I was intrigued by this young man and his family. Desperate to tell ‘their’ story. The time was right for me to start writing. Would I have been ready as a twenty year old, in the thick of all my mistakes and nonsense? Maybe I would have had a great vocabulary and could have turned a phrase or two to keep the reader engaged for a while…. but what would I have written about? Where would the reader find insight when I had none? 

What I wrote in that first play, ‘Keeping Tom Nice’ was nothing new. It was the age old conflict of love and loss, man’s kindness and selfishness and compassion alongside his cruelty. Nothing new. It wasn’t well crafted and beautifully presented because I’m not the end product of film schools and creative writing classes. I’m not educated beyond the old ‘O’level GCE stage. But the one thing I had to my advantage, the thing that interested the judges and then the Royal Shakespeare Theatre Company, was a story with a ring of truth, a story bursting to be told.

First things first. Find your story. Care about it. Eat it, breathe it, sleep it. When you’re bursting to tell it, tell it. It won’t be new. But make it true.

There. That’s plagiarised from me by me. If you stuck with it to the end, well done. If you’re thinking of writing, think about the greatest story ever told before you think of anything else. Will you echo that great story? Will your words add to the fund of human kindness? Will they reveal some truth about man and maybe even about God? Is that where your passion lies? If so, write. Write and write. Never stop.

Spring Cleaning!

I’ve spent a happy day spring-cleaning this blog. I deleted everything to start with and then reposted just a handful of blogs. Why? Because each week teaches something new and each week I experience 7 day’s worth of change, and what I wrote two years ago is nowhere near what I would write today.

Once in a blue blue moon we discover something that changes everything, and a thought that came to me last week changed absolutely everything in my life (hence the Spring clean!)

I don’t know how you view the first few chapters of Genesis. Do you believe in it absolutely and literally, as a historical and recordable document, that there was a snake who spoke, the embodiment of evil, and an apple tree in the middle of a garden….? Or do you regard it as a wonderful metaphor revealing the nature of God and the miracle of creation, a metaphor of truth, couched in terms our puny human minds can grasp? I think of it as the latter. This isn’t to say that I don’t believe it. I believe every word of it, the truth shines through the language and imagery. I know that God made man, the first man we now call Adam. I know that the world he knew was perfect, self-sustaining, unspoilt, and I know that his union with God was total, because he came from God. I know that there is evil, and that is what we call ‘the devil’ and I know that the devil is a powerful and active influence, an entity that no one with eyes to see can deny. Live long enough and you will see evil. I know that when there was society (man and woman in the metaphor) we listened to each other rather than to God, and that, given the choice between God and self, we chose self. And I know that from that moment on, the world was no longer perfect.

I’ve known and believed all that for years. But if you believe that Genesis 1 through 3 are literally and historically factual, you may be right. Let’s not waste time arguing the toss.

Here’s the thing – this last few days I’ve learned something new, and something that will influence the rest of my life, every day until I pop my clogs, showing me where to go next, what to do next, how to be next;

The unGodly aspect of man, what we call ‘sin’, is not primarily about what we do or say. Our actions are the symptoms of a much deeper problem. That first instance of sin in Genesis is not about disobedience, or deceit. I’ve always thought it was about those two things – man disobeyed the commands of God and then hid from him, prevaricated and tried to deceive him. A perfect illustration of our sins of commission and omission. But I’ve been wrong – I’ve joined the story too late. The very first instance of sin, of stepping away from God, was man’s lack of trust in God’s inherent goodness.

First of all, before the apple and the snake and the fig leaves and all that… man chose to distrust the goodness and truth of God. Disobedience didn’t come first. Lack of trust came first and from that lack of trust came all the ruin and waste and chaos of life. When mankind doubted the goodness and perfect provision of God, the God who created every feather, droplet and breath in the whole blinkin’ universe, our relationship with him was broken. Not the bloomin’ apple, great though that imagery is.

What broke God’s heart (another metaphor, forgive me) was not theft and disobedience, it was our lack of loving trust. Mankind’s tendency to turn away from God, believing him to be as devious as we are.

If God was a God made of fire and we were creatures of water, how would we co-exist? If God was a God of light and we were little fat clouds of pitch black night, how could we co-exist? He is love, and love cannot co-exist with accusation and doubt. This is why man was banished from the Garden of Eden, from Paradise, a world of perfection. Not because of God’s decision and anger (although that was true) but primarily because fire and water, light and darkness, love and accusation are incompatible.

And the story can be completed by…. by what? By man? No chance. The story can be completed only by God. And so he completed it. He completed it in Jesus. A man of perfect trust, and perfect love. Our God of perfect provision and perfect love.

I haven’t trusted him wholeheartedly. I’m resolving right now to live in total trust from now on. Serene and all that stuff, always joyfully mindful of the goodness of God, as sure as the waters cover the sea. Promise. I am a creature of perfect trust from now on.

Yep, OK, you know me and I know me and so we all know that there are going to be days when I slip-side backwards with little grace. But this is for real, and I feel a great lightness, knowing that he is to be trusted. Understanding.

Not just ‘knowing and believing’ but knowing in very marrow of my bones.

And that changes everything. It changes what I will be doing this year and next, until I’m done and dusted. It changes tomorrow, it changes now.

I trust God with me. I trust God with all those I love and care for. I trust God with the future for all of us.

A drone flies on Mars…

This week the tide is way out in the mornings, so that when we reach the edge of the waves and look back at the beach, there is a new perspective, a new sense of distance, so that I see with new eyes, how beautiful the world is, and how rich we are. I’m aware, with wonder, that God has given us life, and beauty, space, time, thought, love, laughter, grief, our beating hearts, our every breath. Given us all these things. How fabulous. How wonderful. How amazing.

A small drone flies on Mars and that’s amazing. Man walks on the Moon and we are lost in wonder. Luce walks on the beach and … wow.

All these photos have been taken in the last week or so, in my quiet time. Does that sound monastic? Don’t be fooled. My quiet time isn’t always ever so quiet! There are dogs scampering, and chasing birds, and yesterday Pico took furious umbrage at a buoy bobbing in the channel and had to be dragged away, and sometimes I’ll meet someone and we’ll chat for a while, sometimes we’ll even pray as their dogs and mine chase and squabble…. and sometimes there’s an inquisitive seal staring at us from the waves…..but mostly it’s peaceful, mostly it’s solitary, mostly it’s prayer.

Looking back

It does seem to me that when we pray we approach Eden again. I don’t think we can know the full joy of Eden, because we carry with us all our worldly experience, good and bad, and there, at the break of time, there was only innocence and newness, but I believe that we come closer to God in prayer, so that we can share his delight and peace and savour his perfect love.

In prayer, everywhere we look, God’s hand is there, whether we look up at the sky

Or down at the ground

Where the sea leaves a million ripples

In prayer, we find God. Evidence of God, everywhere.

Today, trying to work out how to take a screen shot I inadvertently brought this up…. the information on that last photo, the sand ripples

Look! I was in the sea! That’s how far we had walked. And now, as I type this, the sand we walked on is under metres of water, rolling waves, teeming with fish and crabs and seals.

This is the world God has given us. When life gets between us and God, as it does, when there is illness and loss and pain, we can lose sight of all his gifts, forget to gaze in wonder at the fact that we even exist.

He gave us Eden. And he walked with us there. He walks with us still. He made us because he delights in us, and when we delight in him we are fulfilled.

The Quiet Man

George was an engineer, a man of science, and he was my husband. He had been brought up by strict Presbyterian parents, his father a lay preacher, but the home wasn’t a place of acceptance and love, far from it. His family was all about appearances, doing well, and achieving some standing in the community. He was a kind man, but stoic, taking the ‘strong silent type’ concept very seriously, which is probably why I fell for him initially – I too had grown up in a world that valued men of steel, men who would never weep, or bend. My dad was a Sergeant Major, and even when his wife and then his two sons died, he showed no emotion. I thought that was how men should be.

So George met all my criteria – intelligent, smart, capable, steady. Handsome (it helps). Athletic. He was witty and quick thinking, and he could reduce me to helpless laughter with a quiet observation, or a silly quip. He was great company. But we both had one failed marriage behind us, and we carried the faults of those first marriages into our second. I was too young for him, too impractical, and far too impulsive and selfish. He loved rowing and running, judo and archery. I loved books. We fancied each other like mad, we told ourselves that this was love, and we plunged in, regardless. It’s no wonder that the brand new marriage was falling apart just a couple of years later and so – ludicrous decision!- we moved to South Africa, because that was going to sort it, wasn’t it? Looking back …. what twits!

After his childhood, cold father and dreadful Sundays (church three times and no amusement allowed) George had no time for church, for personal religion and he didn’t believe in God. I believed there was a God, I even believed that Jesus was God, but I didn’t think much of him, I thought he was arbitrary and capricious and I could do without him. Why on earth didn’t we pause and look at our lives and ask “How’s that working out so far?”

You know that terrifying winter sport, the Skeleton? As we flew out to South Africa that was us, hurtling down the hillside, eyes closed, holding on to each other for grim death.

In Johannesburg George was a project engineer constructing sugar refineries. It was a high-pressure but fulfilling life for him and hellishly boring for me, stuck at home in Bezuidenhout Valley knowing no one. Within a year he had been head-hunted so we uprooted and moved to Durban to improve his prospects. More stress for him, more boredom for me, in a shabby bungalow with a three year old child and nothing much to do (reminds me of lockdown!). When you live with someone you see their vulnerabilities as well as their defences and while, to the rest of the world, he appeared confident and high-achieving, he was plagued by stress-related psoriasis and smoked constantly – from his first breath in the morning to his last gasp at night. Tough guy. I had married a good, old fashioned sturdy Glaswegian, someone I could (selfishly) lean on, but now I discovered that all was not as it seemed. The harsh truth is, I know now, that he was plagued with guilt and grief for his first family and he felt responsible for bringing me and our daughter half way across the world only to fail again. I was a huge disappointment to him, life out there was not what he had imagined, and so he immersed himself more and more in his work.

This blog isn’t about me so I won’t go into how I came to faith (at Durban North Baptist Church) but he was pretty disgusted and it made our shaky marriage even shakier. He tried to understand but couldn’t, and I was far from wise and gracious in my new found happiness and purpose! I know I was a real pain in the neck. My enthusiasm and happiness infuriated him. My determination to ‘make a go of it’ seemed childish, simplistic and arrogant. I’m sure I was all these things. Within weeks he said that this was never going to work, and he didn’t want this marriage any more, so as my only income was from a part-time job in a children’s nursery, he ‘suggested’ that I should return to the UK with our daughter. So I did.

A few weeks later, sitting all alone in a hotel room in downtown Durban, with his cigarette and a whisky nightcap, he looked back on his life and realised that he wanted more than this. That his Godless life wasn’t doing much for his heart and his soul. That none of it made sense. And he turned to God in anger and honesty, and he said that if God was there, if God existed, this was his last chance to make himself known. He said something like “If you exist and if you care, show me.”

I don’t know what else was in the prayer, in the anger and sadness and desperation. All I know is what he told me… that he went to sleep that night and when he woke up he was a new man. That’s how he put it, and that’s what I came to know for myself. When George woke up he knew that there is God, that God loved him, and he knew that he wanted to follow Jesus for ever. That day he called me, for the first time in weeks, and asked me to return to South Africa. When he told me that he had given his life to Jesus I was so stunned I said “Sorry, I don’t understand” three times – which is not the reception you want when your life is saved and rainbows are forming all around you, and the world is new and wonderful, and all the angels in heaven are blowing trumpets and throwing a shindig and dancing a jig.

And we all lived happily ever after? Not quite. There were struggles and mistakes and we had a lot of mending to do. But we did it with Jesus. We did it in obedience. George never softened to church but he was no longer the unbending man of steel. That night George was made new. Truly new. The man we flew back to was warm and tender, a man who could weep. He could forgive and repair. He was still my quiet man, still witty and quick thinking, and he could still reduce me to helpless laughter with a quiet observation, or a silly quip. Now his heart was lighter, and many of my most vivid memories are all about laughter, not stress; the time we had to walk around the block before going into our hotel because our laughter and snorting and nonsense would wake everyone up, and as we approached the entrance doors for the second time we erupted all over again and had to do the circuit again and again, getting more and more exasperated and helpless, and then there were all the times our daughter plaintively called from her bedroom “Stop laughing, you two, I’m trying to sleep”, and (less funny for me!) the time I fell in the brambles and both of them were laughing so hard they couldn’t pull me out. But for all that, his soul was quiet and prayerful. He was steady and measured and refused to argue (so infuriating!) and he was a peaceful partner. .

We had another nine years together. And we grew closer, and closer, and closer.

Here he is, the day before he died. It’s my favourite photo but I made the mistake of having it printed on a special backing, so it looks a bit like a canvas, doesn’t it? I made quite a few (and much bigger) mistakes in the months after the shock of his death. Ah, well. It’s still my favourite.

We were on holiday when the photo was taken, on a motor cruiser on the Caledonian Canal. I was two years into my new career as a script writer so life had been exciting and hectic, and we really needed this wind-down time. Our daughter was 14 and she had brought a friend along, Amanda. It really was an idyllic two weeks, slowly cruising across Scotland, all the way from Fort William in the west to Inverness in the north east. We day dreamed across the lochs, laughed and chivvied through the locks, drank wine on deck in wonderful sunsets, moaned a bit in the morning rain…. and George was in his element.

The Captain of my ship. Or dinghy.

George had lived in England for most of his life, and he hadn’t expected to be moved by this Scottish holiday, but he was. He just loved the whole experience. Although he wasn’t a bird watcher, he had always wanted to see an eagle flying wild and the day before we left for home, a huge golden eagle soared above us, for all the world like a gift to George Marshall and no one else!

The next morning as we prepared to leave the boat, drinking our last cup of coffee before heading off, I took that precious photo, George, happy and relaxed, rested. And about to go to glory.

Now, if anyone is enfolded into Christ, he has become an entirely new creation. All that is related to the old order has vanished. Behold, everything is fresh and new. 2 Cor 5:17 (TPT)

Prepare to be amazed!

I’m a bit deaf and I have tinnitus, so sometimes I misinterpret sound. It can create some surreal images and certainly gives us all a laugh at times. Today I heard a news report that after a decade in league football the Pope has sustained brain injuries, as a result of heading the ball. I replayed the sounds in my mind but I still don’t know what was actually said. My granddaughter walked through in her pj’s one night and declared that she was just going to take a maths exam and then would be painting her head. She also regularly asks me if I want anything from Top of the Pops (I ask for John Lennon and Ray Davies) and other much stranger things. Before you ask, yes, I’ve tried hearing aids but they don’t help – they just add more confusion to the white noise, squeaks and pops. I know my deafness can get a bit tedious for friends, and I do sometimes pretend I’ve heard when I haven’t, making a non-committal sort of response, and hoping for the best. I think I may be turning into my Dad who was so stubborn that when the doctor told him to stop taking his glass of wine every evening, and I said “Oh, Dad, that’s a shame. What are you going to do?” He replied, quick as a flash “Change my doctor.”

I don’t blame him. If you can’t have a drop of wine for your stomach’s sake when you’re 90, it’s a bad do, right enough. Age has to bring some privileges and consolations. And there are definite consolations to being deaf; I appreciate silence now, and even treasure it. It’s a shame I didn’t appreciate it years ago, just as I didn’t appreciate the sky, just as I didn’t appreciate peace. But I’m making up for it now.

Silence, sky and peace, yesterday morning.

It’s been a few days since I blogged, because I’ve been thinking a whole lot about being a disciple, preoccupied with the subject really, but not quite ready to talk about it. In our church we’ve embarked on a year of exploring the full meaning of discipleship, a year for forming small disciple groups, and for being being committed to that way of life.

I want to be a fully committed disciple so much that everything I read and hear seems to resonate with the theme (not entirely deaf, then). I became a Christian when I was 35, but my commitment dwindled away and the world and the daily round took over. I know that for the next thirty years I didn’t grow or mature spiritually. Doldrums. I called myself a Christian but there wasn’t any sign of Christ in my life. This week I was arrested by a simple statement “We are responsible for our own spiritual growth.” That struck me as such an exciting thought. I was brought up as a Catholic and taught the doctrine of sacramental grace, conferred by the priest, earned by attending Mass and going through the sacraments. Now, attending a Baptist Church we sometimes go to the other extreme – speaking as if we can do nothing, take absolutely nothing worth taking to the altar.

I don’t think that’s quite right. We can lay down our hearts and our commitment at the altar, our willingness to be obedient, our commitment to rely on God for everything, and him alone. He doesn’t want our rituals and all the paraphernalia of religion. We are told in Isaiah 1:

‘The multitude of your sacrifices –
    what are they to me?’ says the Lord.
‘I have more than enough of burnt offerings,
    of rams and the fat of fattened animals;
I have no pleasure
    in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats.
 When you come to appear before me,
    who has asked this of you,
    this trampling of my courts?
 Stop bringing meaningless offerings
!

But when you love someone you need to give them all you have, all you value. So, what can we take to our God? What can we give to the one we love and worship? Psalm 51:17 tells us;

My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit;
    a broken and contrite heart
    you, God, will not despise.

God wants our hearts, our love, our commitment. That’s all. Not deeds or derring-do. Not cleverness or ability or world beating records, or incense or cathedrals. Just us.

My Uncle Frank was a real character, he took to his bed at the age of 50 and spent the next 20 years plus as an invalid. The docs could find nothing wrong with him, but one fine day he just decided that he had a weak heart, and that was it. He believed his own words. For the next quarter of a century he lived in comfortable luxury, upstairs, with a radio and – later- a TV, eating heartily as his wife waited on him from morning till night, entertaining friends and family regally from a mound of pillows. No one made a fuss about the wasted life, it was his to waste, and my aunty thought he was a wonder, his charm and twinkly good humour winning her over completely so that she was always his devoted slave. He was committed to being a helpless invalid and so he became one.

When I was a student nurse we had a man of about 40 brought in to our medical ward, a merchant seaman, who had decided to die and to die soon. There was nothing physically wrong with him – he was put through weeks of tests of every conceivable kind. His appetite was normal, he drank normally, he helped around the ward, but he was convinced he was dying and he was losing weight at an alarming rate. Fading away as we looked on helplessly. Here’s the thing – he wanted to die so resolutely that he did. In a couple of months this fit, youngish, strong man, was skeletal and dead. He had already received psychiatric care, and no mental illness was detected, no abnormality, apart from this one fixed idea. We considered him deluded but he was right and we were wrong – he died. His commitment to dying never wavered, and so he did.

Commitment holds mighty power. Commitment to a lie is always destructive but commitment to the truth transforms lives for the good.

And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. Philippians 1:6

God is committed to our transformation, and when God is involved…. stand back and prepare to be amazed! He will transform you. He will do the good work in you. That is his commitment. Ours is to submit to his teaching, to be his disciples, to follow him faithfully, just as if we were there with him 2,000 years ago.

The Amazingly Astonishing Story

I’m reposting a blog from my publisher:


Lucy Gannon introduces The Amazingly Astonishing Story

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Award-winning TV writer Lucy Gannon introduces her new memoir The Amazingly Astonishing Story which is published today.

By turns laugh out loud funny and deeply sad, The Amazingly Astonishing Story is a frank and surprising look into a child’s tumultuous mind, a classic story of a working-class girl growing up in the 60s. Her Catholic upbringing, a father torn between daughter and new wife, her irreverent imagination and determination to enjoy life, mean this really is an amazing story (including meeting the Beatles). 

“The saddest, happiest, funniest book I’ve read for ages” – Dawn French

“In her own real life story she excels herself… she’ll have you in tears, barking in anger, and laughing out loud in the space of one beautifully crafted sentence.” – Kevin Whateley

One of the questions writers grow used to, and tired of, and flummoxed by, is “What makes a writer?” and another one is “Where do you get your ideas from?”

The answers I give are usually apologetic shrugs followed by lame and unsatisfactory suggestions, because both those questions are unanswerable. Until now. From now on, in answer, I can point to this book and say “I think the clues are in there.”

This book tells, of course, just the beginning of a long and eventful life. It’s a start, you could say.

Dickens was onto something when he said “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” That’s life. And my life has been an adventure from first cry right through to now and Covid, losing my mother at 7, living through a crash landing at Orly Airport, nearly drowning in the Med, surviving a boating disaster in one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world, coming off a motorbike on an icy road, spending  Christmas Eve in a small tent in a gale on Beachy Head, going through a divorce, being broke, marrying again, becoming a Mum, winning The Richard Burton Drama Award, being widowed at 43, and going on from there to have a successful and happy career as a dramatist.

This morning, at 71 years old,  I stood on the beach, deafened by the roar of the wind, under a wild and beautiful sky, and it was as if I saw myself, on this small stretch of sand, on the edge of an ocean, and then as if I saw beyond and beyond – to the billions of stars and suns and moons and the wildness of the cosmos. My eyes saw waves and sky and wheeling gulls, but my mind saw everything.  My wonderful mind. Your wonderful mind. Our minds, eh? They reach out to each other. That’s what this book does. It reaches out. I hope it finds you.

I wrote it for many reasons, but the essential hope was that it would show that from the coldest of beginnings, life can spin into something rich and warm and wonderful. To say that there is more to every life than whatever we are going through at this moment, that the future can be tumultuous and exciting, and even that in the  middle of loneliness or need , we all have wonderful internal worlds, we can carry on a funny, loving conversation within our own minds, we can reach out and sense the eternal and the wonderful life force. We can meet that life force. We can meet God.

A rich life is made up of the best and the worst, both the greatest joy and the deepest sorrow. I am very, very blessed to have had both in great big spadefuls and I wouldn’t change a single day or hour of it, and I wouldn’t miss out on  meeting any of the rich characters in all the crazy episodes along the way.  

So, should I have called this memoir “The making of a writer”?

Maybe.

Lucy Gannon

The Amazingly Astonishing Story is available on the Seren website: £12.99

Create your free Seren account and enjoy 20% off every book you buy from us.

Join us for the virtual launch on Tuesday 17th November from 7pm. Register for FREE via Eventbrite https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/125903521823.

On a day like this

I live in building that was once a church vestry. It’s not quaint or pretty or even particularly old, built in 1926 on the side of a big chapel, a utilitarian building really, bare bones to serve the congregation. It amuses me that before they built the vestry they had to knock down a pub! Strange neighbours, eh? I wonder if there was ever a time when both the pub and the chapel were active? When the fishermen and labourers, wending their drunken way home in the wee small hours, crossed paths with the church deacons who were opening up for a day of worship? I like to think so, and I hope that sometimes the doughty church men might have paused in their Sunday chores to lead any lost sheep safely home.

I do like my once-vestry. It’s just two bedrooms, a bathroom and the living room, which is an open plan kitchen and sitting room. The high ceiling gives a great sense of space in what is really a small home. There’s no garden, no drive, no views – the front door opens onto the pavement on the busy main street of my village, so there are lorries and vans and cars, bikes, people, dogs…. life. It’s been a comfortable home and I know that when I move I will miss the sense of air and light and space.

When decorating isn’t a DIY job

We’ve been happy enough here, me and my dogs, a few wood lice and some spiders. Some really big spiders. I like spiders. I don’t understand why most people don’t – they’re usually harmless, always quiet and unobtrusive, they do their job without complaining, and you don’t have to feed or insure them. Or take them to be groomed. What’s not to like? But at this time of year they’re busy catching flies and although I don’t like breaking entire webs, if they’re old and broken, clearly abandoned, I do try to clear them. I have an extending feather duster but it doesn’t reach quite far enough, and no matter how much I rax to my fullest extent I simply can’t get anywhere near them. Even my granddaughter, standing on the worktop, stretching as high as she can…. no way. I’m adept at deliberately forgetting things that would otherwise clutter up my head, and I have happily forgotten these webs for quite a few months but I thought of them again today, as I drove to the beach in the early morning. In the early sunshine I was sharply aware that all around me, all around me, seen and unseen, there was abundant, vibrant life, and I was thankful for it, for all those scurrying, hurrying, peaceful, restful, feathered, fanged, claw and beak lives.

Come with me? The lane to the beach is narrow, and just after dawn the road is alive with birds, squirrels and rabbits. I drive with more care than is usual for me, slowly and guiltily, aware that I’m disturbing the peace, and trying not to harm any of them. Once I saw a fox and once a badger, the fox standing stock still in the dappled light where trees overhang the road, and the badger trundling, scurrying fatly, up a farm track. In the last stretch of road, past the mouth of the estuary there are flocks of Canadian Geese, a few swans, little fat ducks. In the dunes there are unseen adders, voles, mice, and rats. On the beach the gulls wheel and the swallows dart, gannets dive out at sea, little flocks of chirpy things (I’m no ornithologist) skim across the breaking waves, sending Pip into a frenzy. As she races to and fro, hopelessly chasing these tiny murmurations, I paddle at the sea’s edge, past all the different kinds of jellyfish washed up on the high tide mark. We crunch – the dogs and me – through the discarded shells of crabs (and, once, a lobster) Two or three times a year curious seals pop up to stare, and sometimes to shadow us, as we walk from one side of the sands to the other. A few times I’ve seen dolphins. Under our feet are the tracks of pea crabs, and worm casts and leaping sandflies. Under the sand, ominously, there may be weever fish, unthinkingly toxic.

This is my world. Dogs and spiders, fish, fowl and rodents. On a day like this I think of Genesis 1:

And God said, “Let the water teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the vault of the sky.”  So God created the great creatures of the sea and every living thing with which the water teems and that moves about in it, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good.  God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the water in the seas, and let the birds increase on the earth.” 

On a day like this it is as if my skin is alive and electric, my eyes peeled, every sense raw. The miracle of life is too much to grasp, that all this should have come from nothing… from nothing. That I exist, and have thought, and have had life, and known so much joy and so much grief, and lived so fully and so long….and all of this a gift. From nothing. We are bacteria, we are virus, we are cell, and fibre, bone and iron, we are pulse and breath and thought and fear and love. Everything we are, we are because it has been given to us. Freely given.

We are loved and precious, and claimed. On a day like this I know it to be true. God loves me. God loves you. We live because he loves us, we are created because he is love.

On a day like this, I know God’s love.

On a day like this, I listen for his voice. There he is. In the birdsong and the waves, there he is. In the wind, in the silence, there he is.

He is.

Giving thanks for ALL things.

My village is built on the shore of an estuary. On our side of the estuary is a wide beach, sandy and gentle, skirted by dunes, and on the other side is a smaller, rockier, more workmanlike shore with a jetty and boats and a caravan park and boulders dumped there to keep the winter tides at bay. The two estuary shores have friendly, welcoming names – the beach is Poppit Sands, and the rocky shore opposite is Patch. Poppit and Patch. They could be detectives in a tongue-in-cheek TV series, or dogs in a children’s cartoon.

Poppit thinks she’s a cut above Patch, because she comes under the aegis of the the Pembrokeshire National Park Authority, while Patch sniffs dismissively and says that Poppit is all fur coat and no knickers. They glower at each other across the shallow water. You’re either a Poppiteer or a Patchist. Some people try to love both but you can’t serve two beaches. Fact.

I usually stick to Poppit, but recently, feeling very much alone in the long lockdown days, I’ve been getting into the car and going a bit further afield just to give my bored eyes something different to see, my brain something to actually think about. Mostly, because I’m alone, I don’t get out, just drive around, but yesterday we went to Patch in the afternoon, and I took the dogs for a leg-stretch. It was a real shocker! I was shocked to my core. I thought that I was, in spite of weight and arthritic spine, a fit kinda person. OK, I can’t walk fast, but I can walk far. Very far. OK, I can’t jog but I can swim. And I love the water. OK, I can’t do stairs, but I don’t want to anyway. Who does? OK, I’m deaf but it isn’t the deafness of old age, it’s the deafness of something else. Yesterday it all got serious. I discovered that I can’t walk on pebbles! My ankles turn, I lose my balance, I feel disoriented and sick if the scree moves beneath my feet, my tri-focals confuse me…. I felt, suddenly, about 90! I managed to get to the top of a steep incline and there I stood, shakily. Paralysed. Retreating was as dodgy as going on and, reasoning that there might be another way around the promontory, I eventually continued down the scree on to the less pebbly shore. There I discovered that there was no other way back to the car except the way I’d come. Stranded. I sat on the rocks for simply ages trying to pluck up the courage to return over what now looked – to my chastened courage – like a sheer cliff face.

As I sat there, with Pip madly chasing birds over the slimy rocks, and Percy glued to my side, worrying (he’s an empathic dog) I found myself saying “This would be an adventure and something to laugh at, if I was with someone. ” and a small filling voice (the only way I can describe it) said “You are with someone.”

And I was. I was with God. So we sat there, me and Percy, and I knew that God was with us. And you know what? The scree wasn’t so worrying, I didn’t fret about falling, and I did laugh at the silly bloomin’ woman who managed to get (almost) stranded on a perfectly ordinary seashore, a seashore where toddlers clambered happily and couples strolled romantically.

And I got back to the car without calamity.

What a twit. Aren’t we a funny lot? You may not be a daft old bat yet, but one day, if you get to your three score years and ten, you will be! Here’s the news… it’s not so bad. Yeah, yeah, sometimes you’ll think it’s the pits, deep deep cesspits, but most of the time it’s not so bad.

Get ready to laugh at yourself, if and when the time comes. And remember you won’t be alone. Even when the world turns away, when the most ordinary day becomes a worry, God will be right there with you.

Even to your old age and grey hairs
    I am he, I am he who will sustain you.
I have made you and I will carry you;
    I will sustain you and I will rescue you. Isaiah 46:4

Today, just now, (don’t know how long it will last) I am giving thanks for all things. Even wonky eyes, hearing, ankles, back….