Monday, 15 December 2014

Santa Christmas Carols...

Yesterday was a fun day....I had applied to do the inaugural Reading Santa Run a few months ago, primarily because it was a fund raiser for Duchess of Kent House (where Karena died) and also for the Alexander Devine Children's Hospice - both charities feel close to my heart.
Having got out of bed rather reluctantly in order to get there in time to register, I decided to run it full-pelt (is there any other way?) with the more serious Santas - there were 1000 of us in total.  I don't know my overall race position (top 30 or so I think) but I came across the line in a good time.
Even the real Father Christmas turned up which was nice - you can see him if you look really carefully in the photo.

Then in the afternoon, Ellie and I along with 2 of our daughters were singing in the choir at the annual Reading Family Church carol service at the Town Hall. It felt like a great privilege, was really enjoyable, and the wonderful truth of Christmas was declared in a mixture of traditional and contemporary styles, with Jesus birth, death and resurrection right at the centre of it all.

The Santa Run was brilliant fun, but singing "Fall on your knees" from the carol "O Holy Night" in a 3 part harmony made my legs buckle with emotion.

Merry Christmas !

Thursday, 4 December 2014

A great day....

My daughter got baptised on Sunday....this is what she said before she got dunked.....

"Hello, my name is Olivia and I am 14 years old. 
Throughout my life I have been brought up in a Christian family and have been in this church since it started in 2001. From an early age I was taught about Jesus and the significance of him dying on the cross for everyone who believed in him. When I was 5 years old I made a first time commitment to God in my bedroom. From then on, my faith and understanding of who God was grew, through being around other Christians, going to kid’s church on a Sunday and quizzing my Dad from the age of seven about some of the questions I had around Christianity.

Nothing really unexpected had happened in my life when I was younger, until one evening in 2008.  It was then that I found out that my mum had been diagnosed with cancer and was to go through a course of chemotherapy to make her better. From then on, I became used to mum feeling unwell and going in and out of the hospital every few weeks for chemotherapy.  

A year later, mum was moved to Duchess of Kent house hospice as her condition didn’t improve and it was there, a few weeks later, that my brother, sister and I were told that in a week or so mum would meet Jesus face to face.  In the dark days that followed I became more increasingly aware of God’s love for my family and I, and that when mum took her final breath, she would be with Jesus Christ in heaven.  
At 8 o’ clock on 12th February 2010, mum went through the gates of glory where she is now partying in heaven.
In the years that followed there was lots of crying and pain but I also had a great sense of peace over me as I knew where mum was.  I also have great confidence that one day I will meet mum again and like the 'picture' that God gave me a few months after her death, one day, I will run into heaven where she will be waiting for me, and I will pick her up and spin her around laughing.

Later that year Dad met the amazing Ellie at a bereavement conference where God showed us that he had more plans for our family.  A year later they got married and I also gained another brother and sister!  
In the years that followed up until now I have learnt more and more of Gods’ great love for me through events like Carroty Wood and Newday and despite the death of my grandma earlier this year, I have learnt and realise that God really does work for the best of those who love him.

I am getting baptised today as a declaration of my faith in Jesus, to be obedient to God’s word and the plans that he has for me in the future."

I am so proud of her!

Saturday, 22 November 2014

Mud mud glorious mud...

It's been quite a while since my last blog...I haven't felt like it much to be honest.

So here's an update on life in general...
We had a great family holiday cycling in Holland....we did a circuit around the country covering about 250km in a week.....the children really enjoyed it even though some got a little saddle sore at times.  A great memory!

We made up a song on the final day's longest tour stage(!) - you can sing along, to the tune of "On Top of Old Smokey"

My buttocks are aching,
My muscles are sore,
But still we keep cycling,
Can't take any more!

The wind it is blowing...
Right into my face,
But still Ben and Barn'by
Won't slow up the pace

Oh Dad he keeps stressing
And shouting for speed
But we go in circles
When he takes the lead.

And so we keep going,
Tho' our bottoms are red...
We can't wait to get there
And flop into bed!

Our beautiful daughter Esther started at University in September - she seems to be thriving despite a tearful start (until we left the car park I think!)....we are so proud of her, she seems to have settled in really well, has been making new friends, exploring churches, and has joined the horse riding club.

Our two boys both did really well in their GCSEs and are now working (hard?) on their AS levels.

Our building work got hugely delayed, causing no small amount of frustration...long story was due to start at the end of July and after many unfulfilled promises and false starts, it eventually started about 3 weeks ago!  All looked fairly good until they found the drain problem....I have to say that when I was thinking about an extension, I wasn't really expecting this (photo taken this morning!).  It's been a long, stressful, sleepless and expensive couple of weeks trying to sort it all out!  I have to say (much to my surprise), Thames Water were brilliant with quickly approving the revised revised updated modified plans revision 6 (!) 
The builders have totally trashed the garden tho!  Hey-ho, at least I hadn't just turfed it :-)

We found the stress of it all quite hard to deal with, it's caused sleepless nights for Craig and migraines for Ellie.  We read this morning about simple trust (Psalm 131).  Nicky Gumbel writes,

"How does this total trust happen?  First, resign as general manager of the universe.  Stop trying to control everyone and everything.  Second, put your trust in God in the same way that a baby has total trust in a parent."

So, onwards and upwards...and looking forward as best as we can (over the mound of earth !!) 

Thursday, 15 May 2014

Making sense of it all...

Time marches on.  Amazingly, we’ve now been in our house for 6 months and it does definitely feel like home.  We feel very grateful !

We have our ground floor extension planning permission through, and have appointed a builder to do the extension work…. starting late in July.  It’s a long story, but the evidence of God going before us in this process is very clear to us, and as we have 3 children sitting major exams right now (1 doing A levels, 2 doing GCSEs), the timing makes a lot of sense, despite all my hopes and plans to start earlier!

Here’s a few before-and-after photos of the garden – it’s a work in progress but is getting there slowly but surely.  Most notably, digging up ~8 tonnes of concrete path, lots of heavy digging/clearing and laying 90m² of turf…this has made a big difference to the overall appearance.  I am currently building a garden patio/seating area in my usual slightly obsessional way! 

Horace the nutter puppy has settled in well….aside from his irritating desire to dig up our newly laid turf, that is !  Grrrrrr!

The fallout of Ellie and my grief journeys continues….it’s difficult to explain but I know that I am so very different now to how I used to be….most notable is my emotional capacity which is close to “running on fumes” most of the time.   This rears its ugly head in a variety of ways, but particularly in things like conflict avoidance, lack of ability to handle stress of any magnitude, and little energy for conversation.  Most of the time I try not to think too hard about the past but the impact on my children’s lives is one which frankly rips my heart to shreds….which is something I can’t really avoid thinking about despite how much I try to look forward.

What does amaze me is how well the children seem to be doing.  To the outside world we are a “normal” (and large!) family…and I guess we are just that!  I know that I feel very blessed by all that I’ve been given with my beautiful bride and quiver-full of children!


I think the only way to make sense of it all is to keep looking up….God knows the pain, He knows the angst, He knows the past and He knows the future too….one day it will all make sense I think but I guess that won’t be until we meet up!  In the meantime we will get on with the garden...

Sunday, 30 March 2014


In the media, this little abbreviation generally means " Payment Protection Insurance" but not for me….

Until just a few months ago, it meant, "Porridge Performance Index" as I kept a log along with a friend at work of the condition of the breakfast porridge served up in the canteen each day based on our assessment factors of Temperature, Consistency and Taste.  The algorythms used to finalise the days overall porridge quality score became quite complex, but the result was a daily assessment which bizzarly seemed to track the world stock markets quite closely. I had graphs automatically updated each day and even considered publishing the data online but noticed that the stock market falls seemed to be predicted by our PPI sooner than they happened, so in order not to panic the markets, I decided I should not publish the data :-)
There was much amusement to be had when on days of disagreement over scoring, we had to consult the international porridge standards agency, "Offpot".... and further amusement at the thought of Scottish independence which would obviously require the generation of a new porridge standards agency for Scotland, "Scoffpot".   Anyway, enough of my silliness….PPI doesn't really mean that !

Now for the serious stuff….
For Ellie and I, PPI is a term we have coined between us to express our emotional state. 
It stands for "Precipice Proximity Index" and is essentially an assessment of how "close to the edge" of the emotional cliff we are.

The scale we use is 1-20, and the levels work something like this :-

1-2  Emotionally stable.  Wellbeing good.  Living well.  Enjoying life.  Looking forward to the future.
3-4  Emotionally stable.  Wellbeing generally good.  Coping.  Living in light of past pain but not letting it dominate the present.  Looking forward generally.
5-6  Slightly on-edge emotionally but coping.  Feeling fairly low.  Thoughts of the past sporadically overwhelm but generally able to purposefully think about something else.
7-8  Feeling emotionally tired from the grief journey.  Drained.  Physically tired.  Lacking conversational energy etc, looking back too much.
9-10  Feeling emotionally exhausted from the grief journey.  On the edge of tears and likely to start crying at a moment's notice.  Living the children's pain.  Staring backwards into the abyss of grief
11-12  Exhausted, highly emotional ; very tearful; lots of flashbacks; want to curl up into a ball and climb into bed.  Teetering off the cliff edge emotionally.
13-14 Overwhelmed, irrational.  Plummeting off the cliff edge of pain.
15-20+  Highly emotional.  Totally irrational.  Completely overwhelmed.  Suicidal.  Lying in a jibbering heap at the foot of the cliff edge emotionally.

Most of the time both Ellie and I have a PPI of between 5 and 8, and once in a while will drop to a PPI of 3-4 but rarely any lower.  We also rarely venture much above 12 but it does happen to one or other of us sometimes (thankfully not normally both of us at the same time).

It's not meant to be a very scientific scale and is based simply on our experience rather than any any kind of factual research but it does help us to express to each other the reality of the journey's highs and lows more adequately than anything else we've come across.

The trick for me to lower my PPI is burying myself into something which prevents me thinking too hard about the journey…hence I am still pursuing my triathlon training which continues to be my most effective mind-numbing experience to date.  (And I'm very pleased with my recent Reading Half Marathon PB of 1:32:24 !!)

No idea if that makes any sense or not....

Friday, 21 February 2014

A tribute...

My mother-in-law, Grace, died on 27th January, suddenly and unexpectedly.  She had been married for over 60 years.
This week was her funeral...the crematorium was the same place that her beloved daughter, Karena, went to just 4 years ago, and the church service that followed was in the same place where we got married back in 1993.

It is no understatement to say, that Grace always treated me like a son. She was a dedicated mother, and an outstanding grandmother to my children, whom she loved with all of her heart.

She was devoted to her family and friends, and was lots of fun to be around (even though she didn't always understand the joke !).  She did probably spend too much time in her beloved Marks and Spencers though!

I never knew her when she looked as young as she does in the photo here....but now she is in her permanent home with Jesus, I guess she will be more youthful.....certainly she has been reunited with her daughter in the place of great reunions.  We do have that confidence, and hope for the future too.

I had the privilege to read out these words at her funeral :-

May the God of hope fill us with all joy and peace as we trust in him, so that we may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. (Rom 15:13)

We keep trusting Jesus in amongst all the heartache.

We will miss Grace very much, but she's in the best place now.

Friday, 17 January 2014

New beginnings...

Back in December 1992 I became a Christian…it was a day that I remember very fondly as it changed everything….nothing would ever be the same.  At the time I was 24 years old.  I had been friends with the lovely Karena for some time through work; we got on like a house on fire - she was so full of life, was fun to be around, made me laugh and she was a Christian.  Over many months as our friendship developed she shared her faith with me….and challenged me to look into the evidence for Jesus' life, who he was and evidence for the resurrection.  Over time, I came to understand not only the historical evidence for Jesus' life, but also who he was and why he came…and it culminated with me praying a prayer to ask Jesus into my life whilst sitting alone in my car at 11pm one winter evening.  It was a complete new beginning and I have lived in the wonder of the gospel message ever since. 
Not only did Jesus turn my life upside down -  but 6 months later I married the lovely Karena to share my life with….she really was a gift to me from our Father in heaven.  It was another new beginning.
On 31st Dec 2008, Karena was diagnosed with cancer - that's 5 years ago now.  A lot of time has passed since then.  A lot of change has come.  My wife died and my three children lost their mother. I am now re-married to the lovely Ellie and I have inherited (a good word to describe it!) two more beautiful children.  We are a 'blended' family but much of the time for Ellie and I, everything can feel somewhat tainted by our combined history. 
Next month it will be 4 years since my Karena died and 14 years since Ellie's Ben died.
God promises us in the bible that he will never leave us nor forsake us.  It's an ABSOLUTELY HUGE promise.   Both Ellie and I bear witness to the truth of this through what has felt to us like the most bitter of circumstances.  Every day still we are confident of God's presence and of his favour, and every day in a myriad of ways the good news of Jesus breathes life afresh into our hearts, and gives us confidence and hope for the future. 
Every day with Jesus represents a new beginning to us.
Nothing can ever come remotely close to replacing those that Ellie and I have loved and lost of course.  Our lives, our hearts & our emotional capacity are forever changed, and every day presents emotional challenges as a result  (which reminds me, I must blog on our "Precipice Proximity Index" aka "PPI" sometime soon!)
We are very glad for all that we have been given though….we treasure one another and we have five teenage children who delight and exhaust us in fairly equal measure.  It still feels like new beginnings for us as a combined family and we are looking to the future, and trying not to look back too hard most of the time….yet we are acutely aware that the pain of the past invades each and every new day.
So here's one more new beginning to make you smile….
A long time ago Ben promised Ellie that he would buy her a puppy when their 2 children were a little older and when they'd settled down out of bible college.  Last weekend, we 'fulfilled' this promise as Ellie and I left the house at 5.15am along with our dog, Sam, for a 200+ mile journey to west Wales….our mission was to collect a 9 week old rescue puppy called Horace.  We reserved him before Christmas and told the children about him on Christmas day….and as expected, they are all utterly besotted with him ! 
I know he's 'just a dog' but for us he is also a part of our new family identity and our new beginnings together….and he is also very cute and cuddly (even though he yelps at bedtime and leaves unwelcome little packages around the place !!)