The lounge is still showing the effects of the festive tornado which has visited it over recent days, but normality is slowly reasserting itself, and so it must be time for the Bywater 2016 round-up.
Since you have of course all still got the 2015 round-up fresh in your minds (after all, what else have you had to think about all year?!), you’ll remember that I signed off somewhere above the Atlantic, on our flight to Florida. Well, two weeks in the thrall of Disney did not disappoint! After a rather intense 2015, I can’t say I was much looking forward to it’s successor, and so those 2 weeks of minimum responsibility and maximum fun were exactly what I needed. We spent them with our greatly beloved fellow house-dweller, David, and my mum and Linda, who are also greatly beloved, by the way. The days were a halcien blur of trying to work out which rides to go on and in which order, and when and where to drink the next cup of tea. Did I mention it was glorious?
But the Year had to get underway eventually, so the latter part of January found us back in the swing of life. Well, it found me back in the swing of life … it found Phil limbering up for a skiing holiday.
While we’re on holidays, I’ll just give you the rest of the travel low-down. After all, it saves me having to think about work! In July, we went with 3 friends to Tenerife for a week in the sun. I had to work a few hours every day, but it was a fabulously fun and restful holiday in spite of that. You know, it was the all-inclusive sort, where you can practise living the entitled life of consumption with no apparent cost. What’s not to love?
We also managed a break away in France, some camping in East Sussex and a brief visit to Geneva for the 24-7 Prayer Gathering. In addition, work took me to Manchester, Derbyshire, Scotland (twice) and a whole host of other places nearer to home. Work mostly took Phil to London … a lot.
My portfolio lifestyle has had a couple of carry-overs from previous years. I still work a day a week for The Salvation Army, which at present mostly involves the producing of our mammoth and splendid prayer series, known as “One Thing”. 2016 mostly involved getting Season 2 filmed and edited … “One thing for the Church – Growing prayer together” … and making a start on the filming of Season 3 on prayer and mission. It is still a great joy to be contributing to the work of a movement which means so much to me, and still an honour to be involved in the One Thing series, which really is a dream come true for many of us.
another ongoing joy and privilege in my life is canterbury Boiler Room, which continues to go from strength to strength. Our cityspace shop is now frequently bursting at the seams with people who want to spend time there and who seem to find it a place of welcome and peace. We had a Christmas party which we closed with a little time of thanksgiving, and it was actually rather emotional to hear some of our regulars talk about what cityspace has done for them in their lives. We are still on something of a financial knife-edge much of the time, but we enter 2017 knowing we are doing something powerful here in the city of canterbury and trusting that God will keep supplying our every need.
But my portfolio has also acquired a couple of new pages this year. In January I was approached by a Christian publisher and asked to write a book. Many of you will know that I have an ongoing project in hand to write a novel, so I have been turning down other writing projects, but I knew for sure that I was meant to do this one. It is a devotional/bible study book on some of the characters mentioned in Hebrews chapter 11, and it is broadly about how they did faith … what it looked like for them and how their stories might inspire us. It isn’t by any stretch my magnum opus, but I thoroughly enjoyed writing it, and am looking forward to going through the editorial process, which I’ve never done before. I am however very much looking forward to getting back to the novel now 🙂
Another new page in my portfolio this year has been the honour of becoming Moderator of Christians Together in canterbury. I think I had it down as one of those things which would be significant but rather uneventful. How wrong could I be! In June we heard that Redbridge Council had secured the purchase of a large number of empty houses on an estate at the edge of the city, with a view to moving some 200 families here in the latter part of the year. You can probably imagine some of the negativity and fear which ensued in our local press, and we as churches felt we very much wanted to be part of telling a different story … welcoming those families and letting them know that, however they came to live here, we would bless them, love them and do all we could to help them settle in. With a lot of help from a lot of people, we put together almost 200 welcome bags, supplied needy families with essential white goods and were able to help in countless other small ways. It has been a busy few months, but such a privilege to be a part of helping this new canterbury community to get established. And we are on the lookout for more ways to work together to bless the city in 2017.
I always feel rather torn when it comes to telling you about Phil’s Year, since that’s really his job, but it also seems somewhat Lyndall-centric to leave him out, so I’ll do my usual inadequate summation and you can ask him for details if you want to. He finished 2015 vowing to curb the excesses of accountancy in his life, and for the most part he has managed that … a bit. I think he would be the first to say that being treasurer for aCouple of charities is a harder job than you’d think, and that has never been more true than this year. He enters 2017 still looking to cut back and plant anew. What that will look like, who knows, but he is one of the most go-with-the-flow people I’ve ever met, so it will be exciting whatever happens. He still manages properties, plays music, bakes astonishing cakes and hosts the phenomenon that is “Pastry Church” in our lounge (or garden) every two weeks, as well as frequenting the cathedral for early morning Communion on a regular basis.
Warning: this paragraph may not match your own personal echo chamber 🙂
It’s one of those loveliest of coincidences when you happen to be married to someone who shares your political viewpoint, and it is safe to say that we have both known our fair share of disappointment and frustration this year, as we have watched the disasters of Brexit and the Trump victory unfold. As passionate believers in the God-honouring roots and core values of the European Union, we were staggered and appalled to watch the car-crash of a referendum campaign, full of lies and manipulations on both sides, and heartbroken to watch our nation walk away from such an important project, largely out of self-interest. We then watched in horror as America chose as its next president a man who seems to lack much of the wisdom, grace and consistency generally required to lead the most powerful nation on earth well. These are matters which have split whole nations down the middle, and for us it has been hard to watch how some parts of the Church have engaged with these matters too. It has felt at times as though wealth, power and self-interest have been dressed up as Christian values, whilst care for the poor and marginalised and respect for all people have been downgraded to liberal wishy-washiness. This seems so far from what we know of jesus and his priorities that it offends us. And with that tension has come the task … the responsibility even … to be involved in two different conversations: the outraged, grieving conversation about injustice – honestly expressing our distress at the current state of affairs and honestly outlining our concerns about the future – and the hopeful, determined conversation about how we find the positives and move forward. Being 2 people who are good at conversation, we hope we’ve been able to bring helpful contributions to both.
On a considerably lighter note: the house and pets continue to fair well. In a desperate bid to ring some changes, and to move my chair to a warmer part of the room, we rearranged our lounge in October … shortly after which, the bit of underfloor heating which used to be under my chair ceased to work altogether, so I’m calling it a prophetic move 🙂 Croft is one year closer to retirement, and may even have been replaced by a younger model this time next year. The semi-resident cat continues to live well and successfully in his own little way. Our new apple tree produced a spectacular crop of d50 or so apples, and we are embarking on the rather complex process of applying for planning permission for the installation of a wood burner. Watch this space!
I heard a BBC correspondent say the other day that we enter 2017 with our compasses broken, which makes it difficult to predict anything on the global scene. I certainly relate to that at the macro level, but also at the micro level. Life needs to keep moving forward, it needs to keep changing and shifting so that new things … unimaginable things … become possible things. We may not like all the unimaginable things we see at present, and we do need to be vigilant that the age-old values of kindness, justice and integrity are not just imagined out of existence – but on the whole we welcome this new year and its new landscapes with anticipation. May it surprise us in many good ways!
And may it surprise you in many good ways too.
Lots of love from us both,
Lyndall and Phil
It was a girls toilet somewhere between the Ark Royal and Golden Hind dormitories at Chorleywood College. I was thinking about what options I would take when I started GCSE studies in the Lower 5th the following year. I remember expecting it to be a complicated internal conversation, as I settled in for a quiet moment of reflection, but it wasn’t. It took me all of several seconds to name my deepest ambition. I wanted to speak French and German fluently, and that ambition made almost all my educational choices from there onwards.
I did the GCSEs, and was excited to discover I could throw in Italian too along the way. I did the A Levels and was excited to discover I had a year to spare before going to Uni, so I could go to Austria for the year to teach English in Vienna.
The Uni choice was simple … Modern Languages, of course, which comprised a fabulous year in France, thanks to the Erasmus Programme.
It was during my final year that I realised I still wasn’t as fluent in French and German as I’d wanted to be, all those years ago in that toilet cubicle … those languages weren’t yet sufficiently deeply entrenched in me … I wanted to know more … to be more connected to their peoples and cultures. So the obvious option was the Masters in Translating and Interpreting, with the chance to learn Dutch and the dissertation on the EU’s use of disability-related language.
And then, as if the wiring of my soul to the continent I love weren’t inextricable enough, I married a man who grew up in Germany, whose dad worked for a European institution and who was writing a PhD thesis on European federalism.
Why this potted history? Because it is my best attempt to explain something so very hard to put into words. It is my attempt to explain how deeply connected I feel to the European Union. It has been the backdrop to my life so far. So much of what I have loved and learned and lived has been caught up in it. To many, it is just a distant bureaucracy which our nation happens to belong to. To me, it is a vision I have loved and prayed for and been proud of.
As I read the avalanche of social media comment on the Referendum result, I find myself bewildered. For so many of us now, it is a place to express ourselves: to vent frustration and to seek solace. And I have agreed with those who have found some of the venting to be insufferably rude. I have not wanted to join the blame-game. But I have struggled in equal measure with those who have asked me to put the Referendum behind me and move on. For a while it troubled me to feel that way. People I respect are calling me forward … appealing to my better nature … and I am not usually the resentful type, but I just can’t do it yet. And then I realised why. It’s because, for me and for many of us Remain voters, Friday morning was like waking up to the news that someone had died; the same shock, the same sick feeling in the pit of the stomach, the same dread of an irrevocable tearing.
Even as I write, I can hear the raised eyebrows. Lyndall, it was a political decision about a set of governing institutions. Lyndall, this wasn’t meant to be emotional … It was a clear-headed choice about what is best for the UK in the coming years. But for me, this membership of a union was never just a political thing. Oh yes, I’m sure that was in part because my love for it was born in childhood, but that makes it no less real and valid. I fell in love with the ideals on which it was founded, and though my adult brain fast discerned its shortcomings (you try writing a dissertation on EU documentation and see if you can avoid becoming cynical!) but we humans have a way of knotting our best dreams up in red tape and control-freakery, so I always assumed that was just part of the growing. This greatest of dreams is only 60 or so years old, after all. That’s nothing! My parents are older than that 🙂 So of course there’s still work to do.
Have you noticed? I still can’t talk about it in the past tense. I still can’t say we “were” part of this imperfect but worthy project. It makes me cry to change “are” to “were”.
On Friday morning, I suddenly felt like something I dearly love had gone. When someone dies, you stand by the veil of death and scream your lungs out because you can’t believe they’ve gone to where you can’t go. You can’t believe you’re now the other side of an impassable breech. That’s how it felt to me … That’s how it still feels to me. How could we have gone through that veil to the other side? How could we suddenly have ceased to be part of it all.
What is it they say about the stages of grief? I don’t know the order but I feel them. I’m doing denial: I’m looking at the petition to protest the invalidity of the Referendum result and hoping it might work. I’m saying over and over to myself “this just can’t be!”.
I’m doing anger. Oh, I’m angry! Clearly I don’t actually think this in my rational head, but my heart feels like 52% of my fellow citizens have murdered something I love. I have no desire to fuel hatred or disunity,, but I can’t help feeling angry at people for voting Leave. No, I don’t hate you or want to stop being your friend … I just feel anggry and hurt. But it will pass. That’s the trouble with heart stuff, isn’t it: it’s impossible not to take it personally at some level, however illogical or unreasonable that may be.
And I’m sad … Sad beyond sad. And here’s perhaps my most shocking admission: the only thing that lessens the sadness is seeing things crumbling in the way they are this weekend. I know, I know … Schadenfreude is not pretty or edifying! But the chaos makes sense of my sadness. We should not get off scot-free for turning our backs on something so precious and important.
By some strange quirk of technology, my iPhone randomly stopped recognising and auto-capitalising EU on Friday morning. This made me intensely sad. That probably confirms me as certifiable, but I say it because it’s yet another sign of grief – that irrational reaction to the smallest thing.
Grief is a tender, even toxic place to do business. One of my reasons for writing is to say that I understand the very sensitive issues around saying anything at all about the result at the moment. If yeu leave something you have grown to dislike or mistrust then you feel relief and hope, but it’s hard to express that when you know a lot of people who love the very thing you disliked, and are aching from its passing. If you have lost something you loved and valued, then your grief reaction may well be to hit out and grieve aloud, no matter how often that gets you tagged as abusive. It’s easy to talk to the like-minded, but talking to those “on the opposite side” is like tiptoing through landmines. I hear all the calls to work together and to unite for the future, but for the moment we are a country divided: two sets of people living two entirely different emotional experiences, and I believe we need to be brave enough to let that be for a while.
For my part, I have been moved by the restraint and compassion of my Brexit friends. I have tried not to offend, even in my anger, and you in turn have been kind and considerate. And to my Remain friends, I am grateful for the cathartic process of ranting along with you.
Will I ever reach acceptance?
You’ll be pleased to know it wasn’t just my 12-year-old self who stood in that ballot box on Thursday. From an adult and rational perspective, I believe passionately in the vision of the EU, in the Christian values on which it was founded, and in the absolute rightness of our being part of it. So in some senses, no I won’t ever reach acceptance. I will keep praying and working to see us once again become a full, active and reciprocal member of the European Union. But my heart commitment has always been to that: to the UK belonging to the EU. Though at this stage I’d never say “never”, I don’t believe I’ll ever want to leave the UK entirely and settle elsewhere. Back in that toilet cubicle, my raw,, immature and unformed resolve was to be a connector … to be a person who helps link the country I love to the European vision I love … and that means being here, loving here and praying here, as well as being there, loving there and praying there. I never was any good at the splits at school, and I never imagined that my vocation would require me to straddle such a wide and widening gap, but I’m up for giving it a go 🙂
I first met Malcolm when I was engaged to become his daughter-in-law. The story of why we hadn’t met sooner is one I won’t tell here, but suffice it to say he had only had 6 weeks or so to get used to the idea of his son marrying some blind church-worker he’d hardly even heard of before, when he suddenly found himself spending a whole weekend with me. I mostly remember that weekend for the nerves, the awkwardness and the terrible embarrassment when my newly-acquired fiancé told me I was about to serve his parents mouldy cheese! But looking back, that first weekend was really my first introduction to one of Malcolm’s most remarkable qualities. You see, that very first weekend of meeting was devoted to looking for a house which they could help us to buy for when we got married. Malcolm had never met me, yet he was willing to help buy us a house
Malcolm did generosity on a grand scale. He worked hard and his job paid him well, so he and Thelma had a bit to spare. Yet not once have I seen them splash out on luxuries (except perhaps the odd trip around the world) and not once did I ever hear him complain that he needed to hang on to every penny, in case of a rainy day. Oh, he horded all sorts of things, as we discovered when we went to clear out the loft a few years ago and found almost every single household appliance they’d ever owned, neatly re-packaged in its original box … Just in case. Yet he never horded money. He was for ever passing it on: to his kids, to missionaries they supported overseas, to the church and to countless other good causes.
Well, we got married and moved into the house Malcolm and Thelma had so kindly bought for us, and of course we welcomed them to come and stay. While they lived in Germany, our house was their base of operations in the UK. And it was on these visits that I discovered another of Malcolm’s remarkable qualities. He was quiet. In fact, he was something of a stealth-father-in-law. Most people make a degree of noise wherever they are and however stationary they remain, but Malcolm could inhabit a chair in our lounge, or a space in our hallway, without making a sound. It prompted many a near-miss on my part, either almost knocking him flying or inadvertently almost sitting in his lap. They tell me he wasn’t always that quiet, but maybe many years of being surrounded by more talkative people than himself caused him to perfect the art of silence.
The quietness was a deeper thing, though. He was quiet in a humble, unassuming way. He was a Patent Examiner for the European Patent Office, and his job was to work on the granting of Patents for new drugs. A drug can only go forward to it’s main phase of testing once it’s been patented, and no drug makes it to market without a patent, of course. It was Malcolm who granted the European patent for Zantag, for instance, which suppresses ulcers, and which was at one time the best-selling drug in the world. Then, in 1993, his team began work on “biologics”: genetically engineered proteins which help to switch off parts of the immune system that fuel inflammation. If you have ever benefited from newer treatments for Rhumatoid Arthritis, IBS, Crones Disease or the like, then you have Malcolm to thank for those drugs being patented Europe. One of the companies he worked with also produced the revolutionary drug, Herceptin, for the treatment of Breast Cancer.
It tells you much about Malcolm that the only reason we really knew about these remarkable things was because he happened to mention them in passing to Rachel, his daughter, because she was studying Pharmaceutics at university! She told us at his funeral that He had once received a patent application from one of her lecturers at uni … Which he had refused. She was more than a little concerned that this might prejudice her chances of a good degree result!
That kind of work in the worlds of chemistry and law requires a sharp mind indeed, and Malcolm certainly had that. He had a prodigious memory. You could ask him when something had happened, and he could tell you year, momth, date and even day of the week. It’s one of those family legends that, on the day my husband Phil was born, Malcolm’s diary entry simply included the car’s mileage and the amount of petrol he’d put in. Of course, he was mercilessly mocked for this shameful lack of perspective on such a significant day, but he pointed out on several occasions that he only used his diary for the things he might forget, and there really weren’t many of those. With his ability to locate even the smallest of events in his brain’s time-line, I am pretty sure he would have had no trouble remembering the days his children were born.
It is always my intention to make my blog tributes both personal and honest, and honesty requires me to mention one of Malcolm’s more … Difficult qualities. He was a man who liked to know exactly what was going to happen and when. In fact, Phil and I even developed a name for it: “planicking”. Planicking is, as the word suggests, a combination of planning and panicking. It’s planning, but without the reassurance of knowing everything will be OK; it’s panicking, but without the freedom to enjoy flying by the seat of your pants. It is planning in panic, and panicking while you plan. And my father-in-law was an expert! If we ever told him our plans for travel or holidays or working or buying houses … Or even just doing a bit of DIY … He would lay out for us all the potential pitfalls. His great knowledge of life gave him much cause for concern.
About five years ago, Malcolm had a major stroke. It paralysed one side of his body and robbed him of the ability to speak. He spent the last years of his life in nursing homes, and though he clearly understood much of what was going on, his mind was significantly diminished. It was a painful and traumatic time for the whole family, but in that strange way God has of working things together for good, we started to notice one very precious side-effect of the stroke. The planicking bit of Malcolm’s brain had been switched off. That was of course a huge blessing, not least because he lost almost all control of his life, and had to live to the rhythms and decisions of others, but it was also a profound revolution. The man who had so often seemed overloaded by the potential problems life could present was suddenly resting in a deep peace. Those last years were spent in a kind of contentment that I’m not sure Malcolm would ever have found this side of Heaven, had he not had the stroke. It doesn’t make the stroke OK, but it does speak of a God who knows how to heal, even in the midst of brokenness.
The stroke means that we said goodbye to the Malcolm we knew a long time ago, but these past five years have certainly been a kindness from God, giving all of us the chance to prepare for life without this lovely man. To quote Phil’s very excellent tribute at the thanksgiving service today, it is now that we have the pleasure of seeing Malcolm in those he loved. His daughter Rachel has that tireless dedication to family and her work; his son Anthony has that same quality of earning people’s trust and respect and of showing prodigious hospitality; and, if I might add my own suggestion, his son Phil has his passion for justice, his incisive mind and his quirky sense of fun. Malcolm has left a rich and beautiful legacy, and it will last for generations to come.
I like to think he’s at rest now … Knowing and understanding everything he ever wanted to know and understand, and never having to planic again. I like to think of Heaven being that reality where we all get to do what brings us most fun, and so I picture Malcolm leafing through the world’s newspapers (just to stay informed), drinking good coffee, with maybe a slice of cake from time to time, and playing with the biggest model railway ever built. In that place, he will be supremely at peace.
Greetings from approximately 35 thousand feet above sea level. We are currently about half way through a flight to Orlando Florida,and I have thus far eaten one passably good aeroplane meal, and watched Far from the Madding Crowd and The Martian. And, putting it like that, I am indeed very far from any madding crowds and Martians. Anyhow, having spent a couple of hours watching a woman Endeavour to make a success of running her own farm, centuries before anyone thought women could do such things, and a couple of hours watching a man endeavour to survive alone on Mars, I just about feel inspired enough to endeavour writing the Bywater 2015 round-up!
First though, in case you’re wondering, we are on the way to Orlando to spend two weeks soaking up the warmer weather and the delights of Disneyworld, Universal and Seaworld. It is something I had wanted to do during the year of my 40th birthday, but we couldn’t make the diaries fit to pull it off, so it is a long-awaited treat in my life … 16 days of glorious holiday, in the company of Phil, our housemate David, and my mum and Linda. It wouldn’t be at all easy to express how much I’m looking forward to the break, the sun, the fun and the company … And of course the food. Oh yes, there will be food … Plate-loads of it, doubtless all posted to Facebook for posterity. So enjoy 🙂
Anyway, it’s probably about time I scrolled back to 2015.
The first part of the year held some surprises for me in the work department. I had been doing some editorial work for UCB (United Christian Broadcasters) on a monthly basis for about 5 years, but in February they decided to revamp some of their resources, and didn’t need my services anymore. I was sad to stop, as I had really loved helping to edit the National Prayer Diary, but it proved an open door to get involved in some more regular work with The Salvation Army, an organisation which I love with a passion and which I have worked for, on and off, for almost 15 years now.At the moment, the work mostly involves helping to support the leaders of our Prayer Centres, as well as pulling together an immense project to produce a 3-season prayer training series on DVD. Having filmed all of Series 1 in 2014, we spent the first part of 2015 finishing the editing and getting it to publication stage, before starting the filming for Series 2. Feedback on Series 1 (Bringing Personal Prayer to Life) has so far been excellent, I am pleased to say.
Phil has had a busy time on the work front too, continuing to help Chapel Street to Function and grow. In recent months, it has been rare not to find him on the sofa under the laptop, wading through Excel spreadsheets. The man has a capacity for hard work, very late into the night, which frequently puts me to shame.
Despite all the hard work, we managed a bit of travel too: 6 days in the South of England in April, partly on the Isle of Wight and partly in the New Forest, and then 6 days in the South of France in September, partly in Avignon and partly in Marseilles. They were both trips taken with lovely friends, and we thoroughly enjoyed exploring those places in good company.
It was also a year of weddings. Such years are unusual at our age, but we attended 6 in all. They were about as different as 6 weddings can be: from delicate cream teas in posh hotels to good solid pub grub in a working men’s club; from barbecues in marquees to rides on steam trains. It was eclectic to say the least, but wonderful to see so many people make their special days so personal to them.
The Cityspace’ community shop and Canterbury Boiler Room prayer community which I’m involved in have also gone from strength to strength this year. The shop has continued to welcome people who need friendship and support, and the prayer community has continued to help champion the cause of prayer in the city. It is still a matter of faith each month to meet the rent on our premises, but we got some grants through to make some improvements to the building last month, so that will help us to make better use of our upper floors, which in turn should help us raise more monthly giving. It can be a stressful aspect of my life, but it is also one of the most rewarding things I do.
A running highlight of 2015 has been Phil’s 40th birthday, which occurred on 2nd March but which was celebrated many times over, culminating in several fabulous barbecues throughout the summer months. It has to be the first time there were 40th birthday cards up in our house for a total of about 9 months!
The Broad Street house has undergone a few changes too. Our lodger, James, who had lived with us for about 2 and a half years, was one of the fortunate folk to get married this year, so he moved out in April, and we had an empty room for a while, enabling us to do some temporary hosting of friends who needed short-term accommodation. Then in September we took delivery of our newest housemate, Brian, who is bringing some excellent American flavours to the house … Quite literally, since he made us green bean casserole and corn bread casserole for our first ever Thanksgiving dinner.
The pets still fair well: Croft has turned 8 and is still holding his own in the basically-doing-what-he-likes-but-still-just-about-managing-to-be-a-good-guide-dog stakes. Clint, the cat, has left home several times this year, and also returned home again several times in between (logically). We conclude that he has a series of residences which he switches between, depending on the quality of the food on offer and the likelihood of getting stroked.
Our year came to a close with a quiet but significant victory. For many years now, Phil has been interested in investing in more property, and has been looking for the right opportunity. He has considered many options over those years, but nothing has quite been right. This year though he alighted on a mixed business/residential property near to us, and after 6 months of trying to line up various complex financial and legal matters, we finally completed on it on 22nd December. It won’t signify any particularly visible changes in our lives, but it is a step forward in a long-held dream of Phil’s, and that makes it very significant indeed.
May 2016 be, for all of us, a year when we see our long-prayed-for, long-hoped-for dreams get a few steps closer.
We wish you all the very best for 2016, and pray that it will be a year full of joy for you.
… But now I must go, because Mr Holmes awaits … the film, that is, rather than the detective himself …
Lots of love,
Lyndall and Phil
On 13th August, my nonna died. For those of you less well versed in the Italian language, ‘nonna’ means ‘grandmother’. Nonna was my grandmother, and for most of my life she was my only living grandparent. She was a force of life and now she is gone.
It has taken me several weeks to be able to write this piece. When someone I love dies, I always want to honor their memory by writing something about them, but this time it has been more difficult to gather my thoughts. I’m not sure why, except to say that gathering my thoughts about Nonna is akin to trying to do a pen-drawing of the moon. Not only does it mean trying to convey an immense and complex entity in just a few simple words, it also means making sense of all that she meant to me. That isn’t easy when she has just always been there.
But I need to start somewhere, so let me start with the woman who championed me joyfully and relentlessly at every turn. When I visited Nonna for the last time, her gradually fading brain was sometimes more in the past than the present, and she spent a lot of time reminiscing about the earliest years of my life – the time when my family discovered I was blind. She described those years as ‘all those ups and downs’, and in talking to my parents I know that the downs were significant. Yet she spoke joyfully of how we had all come through that time. I can’t say I remember it, but I will never cease to be grateful for the dedication my family showed in not letting my blindness get in the way of living life (theirs and mine) to the full. And since that day, the very blindness that had brought so much sadness became a cause for celebration for my indomitable Nonna. She would vaunt my achievements to anyone who would listen, considering them all the greater because I had had ‘so much to overcome along the way’. I always intended this to be an honest piece, so I will confess I often found that difficult. I didn’t want to be the odd one out … the one who had special needs … the one whose achievements were deemed so much more remarkable because of being blind. I just wanted to be me … one of the crowd. But you fast learn that life as a disabled person will never accord you that, and so you learn to appreciate the appreciation 🙂 And if I was going to have to be lauded by anyone, then I couldn’t ask for better than Nonna. She genuinely believed I could do whatever I set my mind to, and she struggled to believe I could ever put a foot wrong. We argued often on that point – me pleading desperately that I am only human, and she reassuring me that I would get everything right! Crazy but very lovely of her!
Mind you, she was always prepared to help in enabling her family to thrive and succeed. She prayed daily for every single one of us, and I have often commented that we had relatively straightforward adolescences as a result … Oh, we each had our teenaged rebellions of a minor sort, but Nonna’s two daughters and five grandchildren stand today with faith in tact and lives overflowing with blessings. We owe much of that to her covering us daily in prayer and lavishing us with faith, hope and love.
Prayer was a bit of a thing for her. I remember how absolutely thrilled she was when I became The Salvation Army’s national prayer co-ordinator, in one fell swoop uniting two of the great passions of her heart – namely prayer and The Salvation Army. Again, in the interests of honesty I would have to confess that this sometimes caused problems … every single phonecall, every single visit, every single encounter with her became another work meeting for me, as she grilled me on what we were doing to build up prayer in the movement and as she offloaded her own joys and frustrations over how her local church was prioritising prayer (or not). What I wouldn’t have given for a more restful topic of conversation, especially as these debriefs usually occurred when I was on holiday or trying to enjoy a rare day or two away from the office! But you can’t work in the field of prayer for very long without knowing that God has a habit of planting a few prayer fanatics around the place, just to make sure we don’t lose sight of how vital it is. Nonna was one such prayer nutter … as am I … and it is a mantle I am delighted she carried.
I suppose one of the things prayer does is to give you very high standards about life in general. If you are daily living and praying the belief that impossible things can happen, and that even the worst situations can be turned around, then it can become anathema to you to accept things which are less than ideal. Praying people tend to need to find a balance between expecting and accepting, wrestling and resting. Dare I say I’m not sure Nonna ever quite grasped the accepting and the resting 🙂 She fully expected her prayers to be answered, and she wrestled until they were. Her faith in God was simple but unassailable. If something needed to change, we should pray until it changed. In her latter years particularly, this determination didn’t always serve her well. She found it harder and harder to accept things which weren’t quite as she thought they should be. I remember ending up in a fierce row with her once – the only row we’ve ever had – and it revolved around her seeming inability to accept people and things for what they were. She constantly wanted people to be doing better than they were. She constantly wanted things to be further ahead than they were. I remember exploding in my exasperation, right there in the middle of Orlando Airport: “Nonna, where’s the grace?!!!!”
In fairness to her, she was no hypocrite. She extended that same rather perfectionist attitude to herself as well as to everyone else. One of the other things she kept telling us on our last visit to her in hospital was that she kept having to take herself in hand for being so ungrateful. Apparently she would find herself awake in the early hours, feeling anxious about life and all that was happening to her, and, in her own words, she would “smack” herself, telling herself to snap out of the misery and to be grateful for the knowledge that God loved her. Given the demonstration which accompanied the spitting out of that word “smack”, I rather think she was doing it a lot! She wasn’t a woman to cut herself any slack.
She was such a dogged lady in so many ways. She had the Latin feistiness that is so often associated with the Italians, and in her case it translated into a solid and unswerving devotion to God, to her family and to the Salvation Army churches she led. She was tireless, right to the end. During that last visit to her in hospital on her 91st birthday she spent a lot of time telling us how she just wanted to be back in her routines so that she could get on with being useful to God again. She certainly lived the old Salvation Army adage that we are here on earth to work and serve with all our strength, until we literally can’t work and serve anymore, at which point we get promoted to glory. Nonna was probably one of the most hard-working people I have ever met.
Nonna was a woman who worked and prayed, prayed and worked. I once heard someone giving some teaching on prayer and he proposed the idea that we could outlast the enemy … that we could persevere for so long and with such faith that the enemy would simply give up on opposing us in the end! If that could be said of anyone, it could certainly have been said of Nonna. I rather like the idea that the powers of darkness might simply have given up on her out of sheer exhaustion!
What will I miss? I will miss the affection she always showed us. I won’t exactly miss the means by which she expressed it: grabbing hold of me and planting endless kisses on me (no one had taught her that important lesson about not imposing physical contact on another human being :)) – but I will miss the loving and compassionate way she always greeted and treated us. I remember an occasion, just a few years ago when Canterbury Salvation Army did a performance of the musical “The Blood of the Lamb”. Nonna came to see it, and as I emerged from backstage at the end, all I could hear was her strident voice singing “There’s only one Lyndall for me!” In a broad Italian accent! She was always so overjoyed to see us and that was wonderful.
I will miss her ever-enquiring mind. Whenever I saw her, she would ply me with questions on everything from the state of The Salvation Army to the methods of training guide dogs. You could tell she had been thinking about all sorts of things.
I will miss the humour. She loved a good chuckle and she wasn’t afraid to laugh at herself too.
I will miss her phenomenal memory for people. She loved people and she cared what happened to them. She was forever telling us the stories of other people’s lives and engaging our help wherever it was needed. I’ve lost track of all the students who were coming to study in Canterbury who she wanted me to look out for. Even when she had started forgetting things, she would still remember people and their lives, and would still be able to ask the kind of questions which can only be asked by someone who has really listened.
What do I wish for her now? Just one thing really: I hope and pray she now knows how very loved she is by God, and that she has stopped smacking herself!
You know you’re cruising towards the end of an indulgent festive season when you’re using chocolates as indigestion medication, right? So here I sit, on the second day of January, feeling a little queasy from too much good food, and I am self-medicating with some rather excellent chocolates I was given by one of our Christmas Day guests. So let the annual task of trying to remember what we did last year commence!
(Oooooh that 1was a mighty fine raspberry one!)
For those of you who follow this missive avidly, and who have had little better to do all year than to retain the finer details of what I told you last New Year, let me put you out of your suspense-filled misery and tell you that buying a flat-screen TV did not, in fact, signal the dramatic life-changes it did last time. We still live in the same house, with the same people, and the same TV. It has served us well, and was joined, at Easter, by an Apple Box (which is not a box of apples), which now enables us to do what the young folk do … namely sit around finding funny/cute/inspiring Youtube videos and playing them out through the TV. Well, I’d hate you to think our lives had become meaningful or anything 🙂
Anyway, back to the news …
Phil’s winter consisted of some skiing holidays, while mine was much focused around helping to arrange/contribute to the renovation of the new shop which our Canterbury Boiler Room prayer community acquired at the end of 2013. We finally opened the shop in April, and it has been a highlight of my year to spend time there, meeting people, doing all manner of creative things, and contributing good things to the life of our city … things like a welcoming place where you don’t have to spend money; things like a place where people can be heard and valued for who they are; things like friendship, hospitality, kindness, and of course prayer. The shop is called cityspace and it truly is proving to be a space in the city for the things in life which matter most.
In March, I turned the grand old age of 40. It took me a while to work out how I wanted to celebrate this milestone, but in the end I decided that bucking the trend of my intensely introvert personality was the way to go, so I had one of those huge parties which I always dread going to 🙂 (I therefore tender much respect and gratitude to everyone who came … it must’ve been terrible!!!). For me, however, it was wonderful. I have had the privilege of doing life alongside some truly amazing people over the years. My home life, my church life, my work life and my school life have brought me into contact with such a beautiful and crazy range of people, and it is a rare thing to put those people in the same room together. In fact, we haven’t really done that since our wedding. At the start of April, however, about 60 such beautiful and crazy people converged on our rather large house, and joined me in birthday celebrations.
After even more deliberation, I decided that the birthday present I most wanted was the chance to go to Disneyland Paris with Phil and our housemate David … so we did! I love my life, but the chance for 4 days of unadulterated fun is rare even for me, so it was a total joy to have nothing more pressing to do or decide on than which ride to visit next. For the connoisseurs amongst you, the Rockin’ Rollercoaster still remains one of the finest specimens of its species, but the Finding Nemo coaster is a strong addition to the repertoire.
Work-wise, I have found myself back at Salvation Army National Headquarters in London on a remarkably regular basis this year. Having sensed a nudge from God, earlier in 2014, to offer some of my time to developing a few of the more innovative aspects of prayer in the UK Salvation Army, I found myself helping to coordinate the making of the first part of a 3-season prayer training course on DVD. None of us on the team had ever done such a thing before, so it was a steep learning curve indeed, but we will be more prepared as we go into making the second one.
The DVD project saw me teaching and working on a number of film-shoots, one of which was at the Detling Summer Conference in August. It was a rare opportunity to be working in the same place as phil, since he helps Detling with their finances. So we took the Mother-in-law too 🙂
Phil continues to work for Chapel St, helping them to stay on a financially even keel. It has been a busy year, judging by how many nights he’s been wrestling with recalcitrant government websites till 3am. Yet it did recently put him in the way of doing a course which allows him to guide school groups on skiing trips. The course, unsurprisingly, had to be done in a ski resort, with real skiing and everything, so he managed to escape the pre-Christmas rush and hit the slopes.
In addition to our little Disney jaunt, Phil and I also managed a week or so in Spain in October. It is often said of us that our holidays consist of little more than eating cake. People say it like it’s an odd or bad thing … whereas I can’t really think of a better way to spend any week! Hence, truue to our familiar form, we spent the week wandering round eating cake 🙂
I’ve got bored of the big things now, so I’m going to bring this round-up to a close with a list of 10 variously-sized things that have hapened to us and those we love during this year …
1. Phil built a summer house.
2. I drove a car … just a Disney one, but a car nonetheless.
3. Our cat Clint left home for a few months, but then returned … not to eat but just to visit and receive affection.
4. We watched the first 3 seasons of Game of Thrones.
5. Our housemate got engaged. This means we will soon need a new housemate, as James will be moving out to his new pad.
6. Croft got his own Twitter account.
7. My grandmother turned 90.
8. My mum graduated with an Honorary Doctorate from Roehampton University.
9. My brother and family got a dog.
10. We got given an inflatable Jesus for Christmas.
Such is the stuff of the Bywater year, my friends. We trust that yours has been just as exciting and quirky 🙂
This coming year looks like being more of the same. I am hopeful that I will manage more book-writing than I did in 2014, and that we will find just the right person to occupy that large hole which our departing housemate will leave … although I’m hopeful he wont leave a literal hole in the house!
We wish you all a joyful, hope-filled and fun New Year, and look forward to seeing many of you as the months unfurl.
Lots of love from us both,
Lyndall and Phil
Norma was one of the first people who sought me out when I started working for The Salvation Army in 2001. With what I came to know as her characteristic precision and determination, she informed me that she knew exactly what she’d like to see happen in prayer at Harrow Salvation Army, and she wanted to know if I might come over and help them achieve it. I accepted willingly, and so began a friendship which has been a source of blessing to me for the past 13 years. Norma was that rare and special combination: an administrative prayer warrior. The two things are rarely found together. Administratively gifted people often find prayer too abstract and difficult to get excited about, whereas prayer warriors are usually far too busy engaging in heavenly spiritual battles to bother with paperwork. But Norma was definitely both, in pretty much equal measure I’d say. She believed entirely and wholeheartedly in the heavenly battles, and wouldn’t miss them for the world, but she also believed passionately that there was no reason why an army couldn’t be well-organised, well-equipped and well-informed.
The admin predilection meant she was pure gift when it came to informally appointing the first ever Divisional Prayer Co-ordinator. In fact it wasn’t so much an appointment as a catching-up! It turned out that Norma had already begun gathering email addresses from people all over her division and was busily keeping them posted on all kinds of prayer matters, great and small. It would have been churlish not to give her the title!
As is so often the way, no sooner had Norma got well and truly stuck into the business of championing prayer than her own personal life hit a very bumpy patch. Always a private lady, she wasn’t given to telling us all her woes, but I remember talking to her and finding that steely old determination still intact beneath the layers of grief and pain. She had found a life that mattered to her … a calling that fit her soul … and she wasn’t going to let go of it for anything.
I don’t know if I’ve ever met anyone who so aptly fits the descriptive “prayer warrior”. Norma was a fighter. She rarely took no for an answer when she knew what she was headed for, and she would never give up on a prayer battle if she could help it. She believed in prayer, and her theology of it was simple and clear: if you pray and things don’t happen, then you need to pray longer, harder and with more people! You see, she was unerringly logical in things. She regularly told me that she was frustrated that there weren’t more people praying for a particular thing, or that we obviously needed to put more welly into it if we wanted to see breakthrough! I’d be being disingenuous if I didn’t own that sometimes her approach was hard to square with my own theology 🙂 I don’t think prayer is ever quite that logical or quite such a tidy equation, but I loved her tireless determination. I loved it because it wasn’t born of exacting legalism … an obsession with Getting things right … It was born of love. She wanted more prayer because prayer was her love language, so the more prayer we all did, the more love people would get to experience.
One of the greatest joys for me personally was to see how enthusiastically Norma grabbed hold of the Freedom in Christ course in the latter part of life. I had watched her soldier on through great personal pain, never once leaving her post as a watchwoman on the wall, and the fight had taken its toll … but she was way too selfless to really give herself a break, so God in his infinite creative wisdom brought along a teaching tool which had the capacity to bring immense freedom to many people, but which needed a good strong administrator to ensure it all ran as smoothly as possible. So Norma stepped up to the plate, ideally suited as she was to running something that would make other people’s lives better, and as she prepared to become a Freedom in Christ teacher, that Christ himself gently took hold of her and applied all the course material to the wounds in her heart, surprising her with a healing which she had never expected or even asked for.
I could go on for a long long time, but there is just one memory I think I want to end this tribute with. It is a snapshot in my mind, but it stays with me because it was simultaneously so Norma and so God. In my memory she is standing in the centre of the circle of prayer leaders and we are praying for her. As we pray, God gives me a picture of Norma as a mother hen sitting on eggs. I don’t think much to it except that it fits with what others have shared, so I just share it with her. Well, it fair tickles her and she starts laughing uncontrollably! Given the particular quality of her laugh, this only serves to further heighten any likeness to a sitting hen, which sets the rest of us off too!
It was so Norma because it tickled her always self-deprecating humour. It was so God because Norma would never have dared think of herself as anything so beautiful and important as a mother hen, but God saw fit to honour her with the very same image he used to describe himself and his care for his people. Knowing Norma as I did, I’m not in the least surprised that he saw echoes of his own loving heart in the way she nurtured, cherished and protected those in her care.
And so, as I say “so long, till we meet again” to this lovely lovely lady, my joy is this: that a warrior has at last entered her rest. And boy does she deserve it!