What are the chances?

There are some moments in life that remain etched in your memory. We might not realise until something triggers that vivid picture, as if a film is replaying a scene in slow motion. For me it was a friend posting a photo of their mother on Facebook…

It was winter and I think it was raining. I was sitting in the concourse of our university building. It was a general meeting/hovering area with low vinyl covered seating arranged back to back in two squares. Long windows looked onto the railings which my bicycle was locked against, wedged in beside a string of others, and beyond that loomed the concrete slab of the student union. The college shop, jammed with stationery and sweets, framed one end of the space and a wide corridor was on the other side. It was a good place just to ‘hang-out’ if you’d had enough of the library or wanted to meet someone or kill time before a lecture (pre mobile phones).

As ever my canvas bag was bulging with folders and notepads and because it was nearly the end of the day I was thinking about mustering up the energy to go out into the cold and cycle home. An older lady in a long dark pink coat and white hair caught my attention in the corridor. She had a large handbag clutched against her and paused to look across at where I was sitting. I smiled absentmindedly at her but she looked passed me and continued down the corridor studying the various notice boards lining the walls as she walked. A couple of minutes later I slung my bag across my shoulder and headed down the corridor towards the main entrance. As I rounded the corner the same lady appeared again. She’d obviously come in a complete circle around the quad. This time I smiled properly and asked her if she was lost.

“Emm,” she hesitated. “I’m trying to find someone from the Christian Union… do you know how I would find them?” I was surprised and nodded saying I was actually a member, which seemed quite a fortunate coincidence. She looked relieved and started to explain how her daughter was a student at the university and she wanted us to pray for her. She’d come in especially to ask for us to pray. She told me her daughter’s name and then which course she was on. At which point I took a step back… she was on the same course as me and in my year. The lady reminded me of my own mum, but it wasn’t her very traditional shoes and winter coat, it was something in her face and her eyes that shone out. She was here because her daughter meant so much to her that she had come to find a stranger to pray for her.

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I was quite amazed and moved. The next day I related the story to some of my Christian Union friends. I did pray for her daughter, but without much faith that it would do any good. This student was not someone I could really see myself befriending. I’d told my friends she was a lost cause. She was a wild firecracker who rushed in and out of seminars or lectures, wavy blonde hair flying around her, always in a rush. She cracked loud jokes and boasted about boozy nights out and her current boyfriend’s antics… who from what I could gather was some kind of bank robber. Poor lady, no wonder she wanted us to pray! I kept my distance.

Some months later I was choosing modules for the next two years and found myself in a small tutor group with this same girl and three others. We would have to work together in the coming year on a joint video project, which would form a major part our year’s work… I wasn’t looking forward to it. I felt I was the one in need of prayer now. Somehow the two of us always ended up being thrown together against my choice, but over the coming months I began to see another side to this brash confident student. As we lugged heavy video cameras around south London and I struggled to keep up with her striding pace, or we sat munching eggy rolls in the Union snack bar something thawed between us. We became friends.

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It was this same girl who a few months later hugged and listened and cried with me in the weeks after my mother’s sudden death. Together we crushed giggling into a phone box in deepest Devon to phone respective boyfriends on a summer camping trip with my recently bereaved father. On graduation day we posed for photographs next to each other outside the Albert Hall and then months later she bundled her essential long black skirt into my bag as I headed for Morocco. On the morning of my wedding we sighed as she helped me into my dress and she teased my dad, in a way only she could get away with. This same girl is married to an inner city vicar and has spent her life building a church and seeing amazing miracles of faith and healing. It seems incredible that my meeting with her mother in a university corridor so many years ago turned out to be the start of something I could never imagine. Was that a coincidence? Or was it an answer to prayer? Whatever you think… thank God for mothers who never give up praying for their children.

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Letting yourself go

Do you ever let yourself go? I don’t mean not washing your hair and wearing old clothes, but really ‘letting go’. I’m not precisely sure what this kind of ‘letting go’ looks like, but I know I’ve been on the edge of it and I’ve certainly had dreams about it…

I did a parachute jump quite a few years ago. It was BC*. I’d spent a whole weekend sitting in a classroom, then practising jumping, landing and rolling off a little platform a few feet up. We were all ready to go by mid afternoon on the Saturday… but the weather wasn’t. Apparently it was too windy. There was a chance it would be too windy the next day too and as our ‘training’ only lasted a few days, if we didn’t make the jump soon we’d have to train all over again. It does actually make sense. Practising to jump from a great height is a good idea, so that when it comes to taking that leap of faith you do it almost automatically. There’s a drill you know and the drill will make you safe.

During the early hours of Sunday morning the person I still share a bed with was woken with me shouting, “One thousand, two thousand… check parachute!” with most of the duvet pulled over my head. I thought I was ready!

The wind was still a touch too strong the next morning and us would-be parachutists lazed around in the sunshine, looking up at a blue, blue sky and intermittently watching a wind sock. This isn’t a sock hanging in the wind on the edge of the runway– it’s more of a traffic cone made from kite material that fills with wind and flutters or flops. We were hoping for more of a flop as the day progressed. The wind was a problem for parachutists because it could easily blow us off course and we could end up in the river Trent or a up a tree or in a silage tank… yuk! ..rather than the intended cornfield.

Eventually we were called to order and told we were going up in a plane that we wouldn’t be landing in. The little practise jumps and rolls were repeated and hugging our black parachute packs to our chest we walked towards the runway. I remember glancing back and waving and hoping everything was going to work out OK. There were a number of possible scenarios.
1. The parachute didn’t open
2. The parachute tangled
3. I broke my leg on landing or worse
4. The emergency chute failed or I forgot where the pull thing was (where is it again?)

Hopefully the person who had packed my parachute had done a good job and all would be well. But I said a little prayer anyway. A parachutist had died a week earlier at the same airfield when both his parachutes had failed, but statistically didn’t this make my chances of survival better?

It was amazing looking out of the door of the plane and inching myself along with my feet dangling over the edge of the sky. A guy in goggles gave me the thumbs up and I really had nowhere else to go except out. I let go of the handle I was gripping with one hand and leapt. A few seconds later I was looking up at a perfectly circular canopy above me and had that beautiful experience of floating to earth like a spaceman/woman. The landing was a little bumpier than expected… but all in all it had worked. I lived to tell the tale and write up the story in the local newspaper.

Somehow jumping out of a plane was easier than some of the other leaps I’ve been called on to take in life. But experience is telling me taking a risk, doing something that doesn’t make complete sense, is more fulfilling than watching from the safety of the ground. So… what leaps are you taking today?

*Before Children

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Sink or swim?

Today feels like I’m coming up for air after a long stretch underwater. It’s surprising how a crisis can throw everything else you’ve been worrying about into a vague blur. A bit like swimming under water, you can see the bottom of the pool and random arms and legs of other swimmers bubble past without much meaning. All you can hear is the sound of your own breathing. It’s a whole other world.

I went swimming in a pool for the first time in months this week and was happy that I hadn’t forgotten how to do front crawl. Amazingly it even felt quite natural and I didn’t arrive at the end of the pool desperate for air. I was still a lot slower than my current swim buddy – who is significantly younger. Ploughing up and down the pool gave me time to reflect on the last couple of weeks and the sound of my own breath in and out reminded me of sitting beside a hospital bed and watching my son breathe. He had to think about breathing, something most of us rarely do. At points he was using his whole body to help him draw in air. It was painful to watch.

This particular family crisis is over for now. I’m no longer lying awake in bed wondering if my son will make it through the night and praying for him to have the strength to go on breathing. I can look back with a grateful heart, that the tears and the fears – spoken and unspoken – are now consigned to a flashback or occasional nightmare. And I’m a believer in the power of prayer. The prayers and support of so many friends and family were a comfort for our family as we found ourselves in a very dark and scary place for a few days.

My perspective on life earlier this month felt a bit like swimming under water and coming up for air. Now I’m wondering if it’s the other way round. Do I live my life underwater, looking at the world through misty goggles, when I should be getting my head above water? Facing issues of life and death puts things into sharp focus – issues that were a worry become insignificant compared with the reality that is this moment.

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I’ve heard someone say we should make each day count because we never know what the next day will bring. Perhaps it’s time for a change in perspective. Time to embark on that adventure we’ve talked about, but never actually set off on… time to make the most of every moment of every day.

I want to breathe it all in because it’s God that gives me breath and that breath is life.

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