It’s a Wonderful Life

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One of my favorite movies is It’s a Wonderful Life with James Stewart and Donna Reed, it used to be one of regular go to films over the Christmas period, though I admit I’ve not watched it for a couple of years. In it George Bailey (James Stewart) contemplates and attempts suicide only to be rescued by and angel (called Clarence) and friends and family who all rally around him and his family in his time of need. It’s a wonderful, if slightly sentimental, film about thwarted plans and dreams, of second chances and  of love and hope.

Well …. this year our Christmas, whilst maybe not quite as dramatic as George Baileys,  did NOT go according to plan!

In fact at times it felt like the “worst Christmas ever” – let me tell you about it. First, Angela (my wife) was really ill, she’d not felt well for a few weeks but Christmas morning she started vomitting (I know it’s gross but it needed to be said) in fact it was nearly worse as she was almost sick over the unwrapped presents, and almost fainted into the Christmas tree in the main room. Her being ill was bad enough but then trying to deal with one young adult with ASD and learning disabilities, and an eight year old foster child with emotional and behavioural issues kind of compouned it. Too much stress leads to to many raised voices, and ineviable fall outs. By the end of the day Angela was so poorly that we’d contacted the ambulance and been sent off to the emergency doctors to get treatment.

Meanwhile, we tried to return to a degree of Christmas organisation with my announcement that contrary to tradition (and against the vote of no confidence in my ability) I would cook the Christmas dinner. But these things were not meant to be, just as I started to prepare the roast potatoes I realised – the electric cooker was not working! Surely just a fuse I hoped, but no it wasn’t – whatever it was has put the cooker out of action for the day (and in fact into the new year). So I popped some soup in the microwave to make sure hungry mouths were fed whilst I regethered my thoughts.

This is the point were disaster becomes blessing ……

I went to our neighbour, and begged if she might rescue our Christmas by letting us use her oven to cook. Of course was the answer, come back at two and it’ll be already – and it was. Later in the evening when we had to drive out to see the emergency doctor another neighbour looked after the youngest child so we could have a hassle free consultation. On Boxing Day, with Angela still in bed, still sick and me still reeling; another neighbour took the eight year old out for the day with her own daughter allowing me space to care for Angela. At the same time another neighbour, hearing she was ill, turned up with a bunch of red roses and to wish her a speedy recovery. As I reflected upon such genuine neighbourly love and care, I also thought about how fortunate we are in UK to still have a NHS that is free and available 24-7 every day of the year, and that it is staffed by dedicated people who offer that care and support as needed.

As time goes by, and as Angelas recovery becomes more complete – I’m afforded the luxury of thinking still further about the whole experience:

Was the Christmas we’d planned?

Clearly not.

Would I want to repeat it?

No!

Would I do things differently, not get quite as stressed?

Yes I hope so

But in the end, this Christmas has reminded me of the truth behind the Christmas message – the truth that is love, grace and hope – it’s a wonderful life.

 

 

 

Yuletide Carols

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This weekend marks the Winter Solstice, and to mark it and the coming of Christmas in the days ahead we returned to our allotments for our annual bout of carolling.

As the Winter Solstice arrives, the shortest day arrives, winter begins to turn and we gain more daylight going forward. In ancient times (and in other cultures) people, who spent more time outdoors, were acutely aware of this annual ebb and flow of daylight.

In Celtic mythology the Oak King and the Holly King were twins, pitted against each other in a never-ending fight for supremacy. As autumn falls and the Oaks lose their leaves, the holly stands out, “ever green”  – it seems the Holly King has won out but only for a time, as in the Spring we know that we will see the return of new growth.

Every year at the Winter and Summer Solstices, the two characters of Holly and Oak Kings fight for dominance. In actuality, these brothers are two parts of the same thing, the waxing and waning of the yearly cycles of the Earth. The Holly King rules the waning year, from Mid-summer to Yule, and the Oak King rules the waxing year from Yule to Mid-summer. The Holly King represents darkness, decay and destruction, however, also represents inner knowledge and mysteries. The Oak King, on the other hand, represents light, growth and expansion. These two mighty kings fight a symbolic battle to win the Crown of the year, at Yule when the Oak King wins, and at Mid-summer when the Holly King wins.

Likewise the Christian faith teaches us a story of birth, death and resurrection – a story that begins with a birth of a child to a couple whose future holds no certainty, a child will ultimately be put to death upon a cross by worldly powers that see their power threatened by a message of peace, love and forgiveness.

In our lives and in the world their are times when it seems darkness is gathered all around us, in those times (and in all times) it is important to remember that seasons change, and that unseen the seeds of new life are already present within the death and decay of the old.

“Cold and dark, this time of year,
the earth lies dormant, awaiting the return
of the sun, and with it, life.
Far beneath the frozen surface,
a heartbeat waits,
until the moment is right,
to spring.”

May the blessing of peace, the beauty of hope, the spirit of love, and the comfort of forgiveness and faith; be the gifts your receieve and pass on this Christmas.

“When Words are Not Enough….”

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Well it’s months since my last post – both Advent and Christmas have passed without comment from these pages, and now we have entered the season of Lent. It is always a time for inner reflection and hopefully (though not always) of some revelation too. In my Pioneer Ministry (Share) we began the forty days with a short prayer time to mark Ash Wednesday; around five of us shared a short liturgy, received and offered ash crosses on our foreheads, and spent time at various prayer stations.

Lent this year has also coincided with the first real steps towards trying to secure funding from Sheffield Methodist Circuit and elsewhere for the continuation of my ministry and other work beyond the end of 2018. This process itself has forced me to re-examine what I do, how and why and do it, and how I work alongside others (in Church and beyond). Needless to say this has brought both positive, and more challenging emotions to the fore; much has been done in so many ways since I began here in 2010. People have come and gone, faces and roles have changed and the world moves on – however it is to this place I still feel called and the ministry I attempt to fulfill that I still feel called to.

Hopefully I will find more words in the coming weeks as I continue to reflect and discern the new paths …. meanwhile I sit and contemplate the prayer poem featured at the top of this post written the other week by my friend Laura.

When words are not enough,

Let us hold the silence.

When prayers are not enough, 

Let us act out our love.

When life turns us about,

Let us find our way.

When all is darkness,

Fill us with hope and love.

When we are weary,

Let us rest.

When we are full of fear,

Send us a bird singing sweetly, a rainbow.

Lift our spirits and remind us of the beauty in this world.

When we are ready to follow you once more;

We will walk your path,

Sing your song,

Dance with the seasons,

Weave the threads,

Mould the clay.

As the tears fall,

We have joy in our hearts,

To be part of your creation.

(Laura Hill 2018)

Green Wellies and Harvest Feasts

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6685965833_dc8cf987bb_bA few weeks ago I was invited to help lead a YMCA learning hub on the subject of “Disability and Special Needs” -also in attendance was Rev Katie Tupling who offered a timely reminder that in any civil rights cause “Nothing about us, without us, is for us” and she of course is right.

I’m not a person with a disability, and can’t therefore with any legitimacy start to speak of that experience, but I am a Dad (in this case technically ex-foster parent) of a young man who has a diagnosis of Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and Moderate to Severe Learning Disabilities (M/SLD). When I speak it’s from this perspective, and with this passion behind it – but my experiences are NOT the same as my sons. I’m not the one who has been kicked, and spat at, not the one who has been called vile and hurtful names, and I’m not the one who has to live it out day after day.

In his case, as with many others, we’ve had to fight and argue (and we still do) for so many of the support services he needs. Even as I write this we have no idea what staff will be around (if any) over Christmas to provide him the support he needs, and whilst that’s irritating to the extreme for us, not knowing the extent of support we’re going to have to provide, because those being paid and contracted to do it won’t or can’t – it’s nothing of the uncertainty and insecurity it causes him. There are some things that we (as parents) have had to deal with that, certainly as a child, he didn’t directly: like when someone had stuck the prayer book pages together to hide the “badly” almost illegible prayer he had written, or the “tuts” we got from some in the early days when he would climb over the pews in his bright green wellies.

But I don’t want this blog piece to just be another set of moans and groans (though believe me it could be) about the negative aspects of dealing with attitudes towards disability, or the difficulties around accessing benefits and support services; instead I wanted to share some good memories from living and working alongside young people with physical and learning disabilities.

One of my Pioneer Ministry roles takes me into local schools, doing assemblies, prayer days, Godly Play sessions and Chaplaincy. One of the local schools I work with is Woolley Wood School, a specialist school for children with special needs. I always say at Woolley Wood that the children there “know how to celebrate” – I can honestly say that I’ve witnessed some of the best Harvest and Christmas celebrations ever there. There is something about how staff, parents and children grasp and live every moment of those times to the fullest. Last years Harvest Festival  in particular, will forever live in my memory. A group of us from the food bank had been invited to the school, we spent time in the classroom, learning new songs and the sign language to go with them, then all of us went into the long wide corridor laid out for lunch like some great feast in the nave of a cathedral. Each class had cooked and brought something to the feast to share with everyone, we sat and we ate and we drank. Then we went outside to dance and play and enjoy each others company, before returning inside for the final act.Once again, we (as guests) were seated at the top end of the corridor and the children seated down the sides, some in wheelchairs, some independently – singing and signing “Love grows stronger when you give it away”. Gradually from the far end of the corridor a small group of children, and adults pulled along a decorated wagon – as it passed each class in turn their harvest offerings were heaped into the wagon, and then each class followed on behind it. For the full length of the corridor it came, piled higher and higher with food for the food bank, and the singing grew, and the laughter and the tears. My few words of prayerful thanks added nothing – all had been said, sung and given already.