The Things We Carry

Image by Pascal Bernardon at Unsplash

Walking through my village over recent weeks, I’ve noticed how few people are empty handed. Most people walking along are carrying something.

One man carried a reel of electrical cable over his arm. Was he an electrician by trade going to work in someone’s home or was he going to repair or replace something in his own? 

Another man carried a sheaf of what looked like official documents. Perhaps he was on his way to a solicitor’s or accountant’s office?

A woman carried a child’s scooter, its handlebars hooked over her arm. She was probably taking it home after her child had ridden it to school. No doubt she’d be carrying it in the opposite direction later, to meet its owner at the end of the school day. Perhaps she’d even sneak a ride herself when she thought no one was looking?

Someone else carried a plastic cage containing a cat, its furious face pressed against the bars on the door, as it neared the veterinary surgery.

A man carried a newspaper folded under one arm and another man a tennis racquet, while a woman, on her way to the sports centre, had a rolled yoga mat.

Someone carried an envelope towards the mail box: a birthday card? The response to an invitation? a letter of condolence? acceptance of an exciting new job offer?

A young mother with a pushchair (stroller) full of shopping carried a toddler on her hip, possibly the result of pestering by the child, seeking a different view of the world from a higher vantage point.

Someone exited the local florist’s shop carrying a beautiful bouquet of flowers. Who and what was that intended for? A present for a loved one? The means of apology?

Inevitably I saw several people carrying take away cups of coffee from the local deli and the various cafés.

I could go on. These were the things I noticed, almost without looking, that people had with them. Things representing working lives, contact with officialdom, family and leisure time, care and relationships.

But, I wondered, what else were they carrying? What invisible things? What joys, what successes, what sadnesses or grief, what challenges, what boredom and frustration, what feelings of helplessness or worthlessness?

I thought about the things I sometimes carry visibly: a yoga mat, an envelope, a cup of coffee and then I began to think about the things I carry which are invisible to others and which I sometimes struggle to think about or even acknowledge.

Yet Jesus, who is always walking with me, knows what I’m carrying deep inside and, if anything gets too heavy or overwhelming, I know He will carry it for me if I share it with Him and allow Him to take it from me. Nothing is too heavy or too awkward a shape.

I wonder how many of the people I’ve passed recently know about Jesus and how fully he wants to share in and can help carry our burdens: the small everyday ones and the larger more complicated ones?

As I walk, I try always to smile at everyone I pass and, if it seems appropriate, say something. The smile and the words are silent prayers and greetings I carry to them and for them, from Jesus. Whatever else I may be carrying I carry His love. 

What do YOU carry? What COULD you carry to others?

Let’s Have a Think

Image by Sage Friedman at

Today, 22nd February, is World Thinking Day. First celebrated in 1926, it was chosen to mark the birthdates of both Robert Baden-Powell, founder of the scout movement, and his wife Olave, who became World Chief Guide.

It’s many years since I was a Girl Guide but every year when 22nd February comes around, for some reason I always remember that it’s ‘Thinking Day’.

It’s a special one for Girl Guides and Girl scouts worldwide. A day when they’re encouraged to think of others across the world who belong to these movements: now numbering over 10 million young people.

They may find out more about other countries and cultures and, increasingly, focus on global issues. According to the Girlguiding (UK)’s website: ‘Previous World Thinking Days have tackled the subjects of poverty, gender inequality, environmental sustainability and access to education.‘ (

Donations are invited for a Thinking Day Fund which, among other things, helps increase the girls’ confidence and gives them skills to develop as leaders and take action on things which are important to them.

So, what will I do on World Thinking Day? I’ll pray for Guides and Girl Scouts everywhere, for an expansion of the Guiding movement and for more leaders to come forward to support these young people.

I’ll also give thanks for the fun and laughter I had when I was a girl guide, despite some of the memories reminding me of just how ‘mature’ I am now. (Does anyone else remember having to make and receive a phone call in a public phone box with its somewhat sinister Buttons A and B?) Or polishing silver to complete a House Orderly badge? Different – but very precious – times.

With ever darker news stories, I’m determined to keep 22nd February as my day of thinking about good times. Will you join me?

Putting the Pieces Together

Image by Benjamin Zanatta at

After my husband Paul, spent a couple of nights in hospital, I bought him some jigsaws to complete while he recovered and he hasn’t stopped doing jigsaws since then. Apparently, that makes him a fully-fledged ‘Dissectologist’!

Now we live surrounded by them and he can’t pass a charity shop without going in and buying another two or three though, to be fair, he always takes the ones he’s completed back to those shops for resale. So, a double bonus for the charity.

The larger 1000 piece puzzles he completes on a table but he prefers 500 piece ones which he can do on a board while sitting in an armchair.

He always sorts out the ‘edge’ pieces first and there always seems to be at least one missing on the first trawl through the box. Then, once he’s almost finished the puzzle, we nearly always have a frantic search for the final piece needed to complete the picture.

Sometimes the missing bit has stuck to his sweater and been accidentally carried – and dropped – into another room. Those bits take a little longer to find!

Some jigsaws have all their pieces cut in the same shape but, even so, each has its own unique place and the picture won’t be complete until each one is in its rightful place.

The same puzzles – certainly new ones – are sold in many different shops but however many people buy the same puzzle, I would think it’s statistically almost impossible for two people who’ve bought the same puzzle to put the pieces together in exactly the same order.

Life is made up of so many pieces (relationships, events, tasks, deadlines) and those pieces are often scattered and very hard to put together. If we’re not careful we find we’re combining them in the wrong way and losing sight of the overall picture.

Sometimes when we have a big life event to deal with, moving house for example, it’s as though we’re working with one jigsaw which has lots of other jigsaws within it. Each mini jigsaw has to be completed, then they’ve all got to be joined up correctly in order to finish the picture.

God is working both in the jigsaw of our individual lives and of our world, taking the pieces in exactly the right order and putting them in exactly the right place at exactly the right time.

Over the past few months, I’ve taken part in some online Quiet Days. I’ve always come away with so much to think about.  One in December was themed round Advent and it was pointed out to us that so many things had to happen across centuries in order that Jesus would be born when and where he was. How people across Biblical history were moved by God into an exact time and place in history and in the salvation drama; becoming part of the divine jigsaw.

For example, the arranging of marriages across many generations so blood lines were joined culminating in Joseph and Mary meeting; the Romans demanding that a census be taken, meaning Joseph and Mary having to go to Bethlehem; Israel being under Roman occupation and legal jurisdiction at the time of Jesus’s death so His crucifixion was possible, which it wouldn’t have been under Jewish law, even the Romans being expert roadbuilders, which made it easier for the Gospel to be spread over great distances.

So many ‘jigsaw’ pieces – across different countries, cultures and times – needed to be put in place before Jesus was born to complete the picture of our salvation.

Today, God is putting together the jigsaws of our individual lives to make us complete. But we’re also each part of God’s jigsaw for the whole of his creation. He’s putting us, as individuals, into the perfect place, at the perfect time to make his Kingdom perfect.

 As part of that, we’re being called to be part of each other’s jigsaws. Jesus is the bit missing from a lot of the puzzles which are people’s lives. He is the missing piece which fits all jigsaws and completes all lives.

As a Christian I know I carry the Jesus “piece” inside me all the time and that I’m challenged to offer it to everyone I meet through what I say, what I do and who I am. That one piece which will make sense of all the other scattered bits and complete the picture.

Who might you give the Jesus piece to? Who might you come alongside? Whose jigsaw might you complete?

Image by Sigmund at

Wake Up and Smell the Coffee

I really enjoy drinking coffee. For some years now I’ve chosen to drink decaffeinated coffee as I found that caffeine seemed to affect my sleep but, once I’d got used to not having that instant ‘hit’, I’ve been happy with my choice and I certainly sleep better.

At home I usually drink instant though I have recently succumbed to the occasional coffee pod. However, I just love the smell of freshly ground coffee.

When I was growing up, there was a Tea Importers and Coffee Grinders in a neighbouring town. Just thinking of it now brings back the gorgeous smells that drifted out onto the street as the staff ground beans from the many sacks around the shop floor. Just walking past was a wonderful experience and occasionally going in to buy a paper bag full of freshly ground beans for our home percolator was magical.

I bought the percolator as a Christmas present for my parents and, just the week before Christmas realised that I ought to buy some coffee to go with it! My mother got very annoyed and frustrated because she couldn’t understand why I kept walking some way behind her through the crowds. Of course, it was because I didn’t want her to smell the deliciously fragrant parcel which I had hidden in my shopping bag and so guess what her present was going to be!

At that time, having percolated coffee seemed like the height of sophistication. Now, of course, we have an almost limitless menu of coffees to choose from in even the smallest café.

I find this very frustrating as each coffee has to be made individually. I often begrudge the time it takes to queue up and give my order, defined as it inevitably is by size of cup, type of milk and various other choices when all I want to do is sit down and enjoy a drink.

And that doesn’t take into account all the noises : the hissing, the tamping down, the banging as the used filters are emptied and various other mechanical noises. I really sympathise with anyone who works in a coffee shop. The long-term damage to their hearing must be considerable. As a customer, when sitting drinking my coffee (finally) the relief when the queue disappears and things quieten down temporarily is huge.

Yet, despite all the irritations, the taste and smell of the coffee – even when its decaffeinated instant – gives me a real lift. I generally only have one cup per day and I enjoy it as I start my quiet time.

Whilst the phrase ‘Wake Up and Smell the Coffee’ seems to have originated as a tag line in a coffee advert, another definition reads: “to realize the truth about one’s situation: to become aware of what is really happening.” **

Something I definitely need to do each day. To realise that my day will go best when I don’t rush into things but take some time to pray and ask for help to face what’s really going on in my life, the lives of my family and friends and the wider world. Not just the gorgeous scent of the freshly ground coffee but the bitterness of the used grounds too.

Sometimes it can be a real wake-up call: almost a deafening one; the equivalent of the noisy coffee machine. Yet, once I’ve ‘talked’ and ‘listened’ (I still have so much to learn about when to speak and when to listen!) and before I turn towards the constant noise of the grinding machinery which is all too often the best description of my busy life, I still myself.

I relax and enjoy the warming scents of prayer and praise as I think of those I love, those I’ll meet during the day, whether in a planned way or unexpectedly, and then I’m ready to go into my day refreshed, always keeping my ears open for the quietest coffee shop should I need a quick ‘pick me up’!

** “Wake up and smell the coffee/roses.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster,

Thawing Out

Recently I defrosted my large top-opening freezer; a job that should be done far more often than it is but which I find physically challenging. I always make sure my husband is at home so that if I do fall inside while trying to dry the inside walls and floor of the freezer, or if I aggravate an old back injury and end up jack knifed over its edge, I should be rescued reasonably quickly!

It’s time consuming taking the food out, packing it into insulated bags or newspaper, stacking the packages together and covering them with blankets, then waiting for the ice inside the freezer to melt, before trying to put everything back again in some sort of logical order. Past experience tells me that what I think is a logical order today will not seem so the next time I’m trying to find something I absolutely know is in there.

But the benefits far outweigh the disadvantages. Sometimes there are surprises, as packages which have lost their labels are puzzled over, prodded and sometimes even have to be defrosted before sharing their secrets and I may find I’ve got just the right ingredients to make some ‘old favourite’ meals again.

Most satisfaction comes when the job is done and I look proudly at (yet another) updated list of contents, which I promise myself this time I really will keep up to date; at least for longer than the last time I made that promise.  

As daylight hours increase and I start to look hopefully towards the end of my Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) for another winter, I like to have a personal spiritual defrost and deep clean.

I ask for God’s help and grace as I start my expedition through the frost. What will I find in the darkest, i.e., least visited, corners of my spiritual life? What will take the longest time to thaw having been left untouched for so long? Will I recognise what I’ve found once it’s thawed out or will it melt into oblivion? What things that I thought were safely encased in ice and untouchable might be uncomfortable to revisit once their protective coat has been removed?

The scraping away of the accumulated ice can be time consuming and painful; the reminder of the contents I’ve forgotten – or not had the opportunity – to use, frustrating. But it’s also exciting to see what’s still there and to think about how those things could be used in both old and new ways.

I am excited about adding to my store of spiritual food and sustenance during the coming year. After my defrosting session I now have plenty of extra storage space to fill!

I know for sure that I won’t always be able to find the things I need when I need them, or maybe not recognise them when I see them but God knows where even the tiniest frozen blackberry has rolled to and will let me find it if I keep searching.

So, a quick prayer …. find the bag of stewed apple …. and the one of crumble topping and that’s dessert sorted!

Don’t Mind the Gaps

As 2021 draws to a close, my thoughts are turning, not so much to a review of the year almost finished, as to the year that’s about to start.

Normally in this last week of the year I go back through my diary and list any special days out I’ve had: trips to the theatre and meetings with friends, for example. Compiling the list brings back happy memories and also acts as a useful aide memoire when booking annual appointments in the year ahead.

2021, however, has inevitably provided far fewer really happy moments to remember, as lockdowns and Covid restrictions have continued to limit so many aspects of life and there seem to have been huge gaps of nothingness between the bright spots.

But, looking back and particularly over my spiritual journey through 2021, I see so much change and growth that has happened; happened in the background, in the gaps between the mountain top experiences I’ve been led to through daily reflections from the Pray as You Go ** websiteand online Quiet Days with Beauty from Ashes. ***

It’s so easy (and human) to want to journey on from one highlight to another, always looking ahead for the next excitement: the sunlit path through the shadows, to use the analogy which inspired this blog.

Yet, so often it’s through the gaps that the real beauty comes. The sudden sunbeam slanting through the glowering trees in the darkest part of the wood; the sounds and scents just on the edge of our consciousness as we walk.

I’m so thankful that the shortest day of the year, potentially the lowest point for my Seasonal Affective Disorder, has passed; now I can look forward to lighter times to come as the days gradually lengthen.

In 2022 I’m determined that, even if it becomes easier to plan travel, days out and other treats, I’m going to be open to exploring, experiencing and enjoying all the gaps in my year too. After all, it’s in the tiniest gaps in dry stone walls and paving where the most beautiful miniature flowers flourish.

I didn’t have the opportunity to go to university and, even if I had done so, the now ubiquitous ‘gap year’ was not something that was common at the time.

So, rather belatedly, 2022 will be my ‘Gap Year’: not crammed with travelling and pre-planned projects though but full of the Christian promise, exploration and hope to be found among the everyday.

Will you join me?

Happy New Year.



Tales of Christmases Past

I’m finally into single figures in my countdown towards December 21st, the shortest day; the day I hope will prove to be the turning point in my annual battle with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD.) It’s an arbitrary landmark really and last year proved to be a false dawn as the effects of SAD affected me much more in January than in December.

Friday saw my happiest afternoon of this year, when we put up our Christmas decorations, culminating in the Christmas tree. I love to do this to a background of Christmas music.

Once I’ve finished decorating, I put out the room lights and just sit and look at the lighted tree, giving thanks that, whatever the problems of the past twelve months, I’ve reached my most light-filled time of year again.

This Year’s Tree

Like many others, I suspect, I then dip into my store of special festive memories which always come flooding back: some sad as we remember special people who are no longer with us but also happier and even amusing Christmas times. Here are some of my memories.

I’ll never forget the Christmas when I was around fourteen years of age and helping my very long-suffering mother to make a Christmas cake and four Christmas puddings despite having forgotten to buy any extra eggs and so only having the exact quantity needed. Promising to be very careful, unfortunately I cracked four of the eggs into a bowl while the other two ended up on the floor! I fled pursued by angry words.

When I returned sometime later to try and make amends, I was drying the dishes when I noticed a scale pan full of dried fruit. When I enquired innocently what that was for, I had to beat another hasty retreat as my mother realised that, in her fury, she’d put the Christmas cake into the oven without any fruit inside it.

Another food related memory – which I very much fear may have happened the same year as the fruitless cake episode! – was when mum returned to work the day after Boxing Day leaving me to wash up after the dinner party we’d had the evening before with a much-loved great uncle and aunt.

I spent a long time washing, drying, putting away, then washing the next stack of plates and dishes. Finally, I’d finished and looked round the kitchen tired but satisfied with my work. Then I spotted another large saucepan on the stove. It was full of greasy water: mum had obviously left it soaking overnight. Tempted as I was to ignore it, I buckled down and cleaned it.

When mum came home, she was so pleased with all my hard work. Or at least she was initially. Some time later she came and asked what had happened to the saucepan on the stove. Proudly I told her how much time and effort had gone into cleaning it. Only to be told that the greasy content was actually ‘two days matured’ home made turkey stock which was going to be the base for a soup.

Somehow, we managed to get through a few more Christmases together before I left home to get married! For our first Christmas, Paul and I had a small tree which we spent a long, long time trying to wedge upright in a pail. Once we’d succeeded, Paul added the lights and then, although we were both tired and rather fractious, I was ready to decorate.

As some of the bottom branches had been forced upwards by the edges of the pail, I decided to cut a few off before I started. That was easily achieved but, unfortunately, at the expense of the coloured lights, the cable to which I’d cut straight through!

It’s so wonderful to have these (and many other) Christmas memories. Everybody has their own stories to tell and people have their own versions of the same events: which can lead to some animated ‘discussions’ at subsequent get-togethers.

This Christmas I hope to make some more memories to add to my collection, at the end of what has often been an isolating, painful and frustrating year.

As I approach the shortest day of the year and look forward to feeling I’m coming out of the depths of SAD, I’m rejoicing, both in the Christmas lights I’ve got at home and the inner light God provides every day of the year even when I sometimes find it hard to access it.

I hope your Christmas decorations will bring you joy, light and…. some wonderful Christmas memories.

Once a Writer …….

Look Through Any Window

Image by Stijn te Strake at Unsplash

We’re now in the second week of Advent and I’m enjoying a new image every day as I open a door on my nativity story Advent calendar.

Such a sense of anticipation and excitement: What will be behind today’s door? What will it add to the story? Should I open it quickly: the sooner to reveal the image, or slowly: to prolong the reliving of childhood excitement at this daily activity?

Each image is a representation of a small part of the journey through Advent towards Christmas; a fleeting glimpse of one bit of the story.

I love the momentary glimpses into other lives I get from the window of a train carriage when passing through a residential area. I find it really difficult to understand how other passengers can work on a laptop or bury themselves in a book while commuting; even allowing for work pressures and the tedium of having to make the same journey each day.

Though I do sometimes carry a book or pick up a free newspaper at a station, I inevitably put it aside to look out of the window, especially on a journey after dark when the windows of the trackside homes are lit up.

I love the constantly changing ‘slide show’ as one small scene of someone else’s life is replaced by another equally fleeting, but still fascinating one, of someone else’s.

If the train stops at a signal, while seasoned commuters in the carriage complain, I rejoice, as any delay gives me precious extra seconds to invent stories for the people I can see through the windows of the apartments and houses.

If they’re eating, what are they eating? If ironing, who are they ironing for? If reading, what are they reading? Is their reading for homework or study? What are they studying?

Getting glimpses of other peoples’ lives is endlessly fascinating and if those glimpses are part of a journey we’re on, how much more so.

During Advent we’re given tiny glimpses (both visually and in words) into some of the greatest journeys ever undertaken: Mary’s to visit Elizabeth; Mary and Joseph’s to reach Bethlehem; the shepherds to Bethlehem; the Maji to the Emperor; the Maji from the Emperor to Bethlehem.

For most of these journeys we have to imagine many of the details for ourselves: for example, the thoughts and emotions of those travellers and how these may have changed during their journeys.

As I continue opening the doors of my Advent calendar and enjoying the occasional view through other peoples’ windows from a train, how wonderful it is to know that God is always looking into our lives; not just occasionally glancing through an open window in passing but seeing, understanding and becoming part of our story, completely, wherever we are and whatever we’re doing during Advent and far beyond it.

How wonderful to know that He’s endlessly interested in and fascinated by whatever I’m doing, what each of us is doing. How wonderful to be known in that way.

Taste and See …

During a recent bout of illness, I lost my sense of taste and smell for over a week. It made me realise how much I rely on smelling food for it to be appetising and, if it hadn’t been for physical hunger pangs, I wouldn’t have wanted to eat much at all. And, not being able to taste the food meant that I finished meal times as quickly as possible; there was no incentive to linger over putting food into my mouth.

This was the first time this has happened to me and I feel real sympathy for my sister-in-law who lost the ability to taste and smell following a heavy cold two years ago, has never recovered those senses and has to rely on her ‘food memory’ as she eats.

I’m currently watching Masterchef on UK television, one of my favourite programmes: whether the amateur, professional or celebrity version.

It does seem strange that these programmes are so popular – in many different countries now – because, although there is some sense of jeopardy as the chefs battle with undercooked or overcooked main courses, desserts which have refused to set and the ever-present ticking clock, the audience is excluded from the most important part: tasting the final result.

We have to rely on the appreciative (or unappreciative!) comments of the judges and food critics who get to taste the food, helped by our knowledge and experience of some of the ingredient combinations used, and our food memories so that we can imagine how the food tastes without actually eating it.

I’ve recently been enjoying trying out different kinds of prayer, guided by Amy Boucher Pye’s 7 Ways to Pray** which introduced me to the concept of ‘slow, deliberate reading of the Bible, chewing on the words and being wonderfully and luxuriously fed without anything physically passing my lips.

3 Then he said to me, “Son of man, eat this scroll I am giving you and fill your stomach with it.” So I ate it and it tasted as sweet as honey in my mouth. (Ezekiel 3:3 NIV)

8 Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him. (Psalm 34 NIV)

What wonderful reminders that we don’t need to be able to physically eat something in order to get the most amazing ‘taste’ sensations; ones which will refresh us, stay with us and keep us healthy.

Today, with 31 days left until the shortest day of the year, I’ve felt the first twinges of Seasonal Affective Disorder: feeling tearful for no apparent reason and having a lump in my throat.

It must be time to dose myself with some of Ezekiel’s ‘honey’!

** 7 Ways to Pray Time-Tested practices for encountering God

Publisher: SPCK Publishing (2021); ISBN 978-0-281-08496-8

Emerging From the Wood

I’ve been watching Britain’s Best Woodworker on television recently. Amateur woodworking enthusiasts compete in various challenges to create everything from furniture to dolls houses.

This week’s challenge to create an animal sculpture, saw three of the five contestants work with an individual trunk from an oak tree, complete with bark.

While two had sketches to work from and mainly used chisels to achieve the precise shape they designed, the third contestant attacked his tree trunk with a chainsaw, using its power to cut away excess wood and shape his creation.

The oak proved much harder than any of the contestants had expected and all were completely exhausted by the physical challenges of spending two eight- hour periods standing, kneeling, chipping away, cleaning up the wood chippings and, in the case of the man using the chainsaw, replacing broken belts and regularly cleaning its teeth of wood debris.

At times, each of them was discouraged as they struggled to achieve their vision for their sculpture.

It was fascinating watching as each of their animals: a Boxer dog, a lion and a giant snail ‘emerged’ from their giant tree trunks and took on their own personality, each reflecting in some way the personality of its sculptor.

At the end of the allotted time, some of the sculptures were finished to a high standard while others needed more time for refinement.

It made me think of God’s sculpting of each of us. We may see ourselves as unpromising material and we often prove to be very resistant to being reshaped, but we’re each being turned into the beautiful person He always intended us to be.

He never gets discouraged or tired and is expert at inspiring both the large-scale (chainsaw type) modifications and the much finer (chisel type) ‘tweaks’ needed to fashion us as He intended so we can reflect the personality of Him as our creator.  

For our part, we need to have the faith to step out of the tree trunk, brush away the shavings and totally inhabit our God-given form and personality.

I have a beautiful card on my desk with a photo of the sun shining through tree trunks. Each trunk is a different size and shape; a totally unique part of the world. The sun is shining on and blessing them all; there’s a sense of dawn and expectancy, what will emerge?

Who is emerging as you are being sculpted?

Marilyn Baker’s beautiful song, ‘Jesus You are Changing Me’, which I’ve discovered recently, is on a similar theme, using the images of a potter shaping clay. Enjoy.