True stories

If someone asked you to tell a story, what would it be? Would it be a well-known fairy tale, a mystery or perhaps a thriller? It might be a heart-breaking tragedy or a love story with a happy ending… but would you choose something that really happened or would you make it up?

Once-Upon-a-Time

As a child I loved stories. I read them and I wrote them, so it was no surprise I ended up as a journalist. That has involved listening to other people’s stories and re-telling them in an interesting way, or sometimes piecing together a story from lots of different viewpoints and sources. I can’t forget some of the best newspaper stories I’ve written including the sad ones like the toddler twins with a rare and incurable disease who died holding hands or the funny ones like the vicar on a run with his dog being tossed into the river by an overprotective cow.

Stories captivate us. We want to find out what happened next or understand why something has happened. We get drawn in by the characters and if it’s a good book they become important to us and we think about them even when we’re not reading the story.

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I’m in the process of making up a story… writing fiction. The trouble is the characters aren’t behaving quite as they should and there’s a problem in the plot. Hopefully, I’ll get it sorted soon. But as I pour over my plans and struggle with sentences and speech marks, I’m realising the best stories are playing out all around me.

Working for Scripture Union International over the past year I’ve heard many moving and inspiring stories from around the world. These are true stories of how lives have been transformed through an encounter with God. One was about a 14-year-old girl who fled from the fighting in South Sudan into Uganda. She lost her parents, saw terrible violence and just escaped with her life. On the road into Uganda, she was helped by a woman from her village who agreed to adopt her as part of her own family. They moved into one of the huge displacement camps in Northern Uganda. But because of the girl’s terrible experiences and the way she had to work so hard to look after the woman’s younger children, walking miles to fetch water, she became bitter and angry. She blamed the woman for her hardship and all that had gone wrong in her life. She decided to take her revenge. She made plans to poison the woman or one of her children. Before she could put her plan into action she wandered into a meeting in the camp being run by Scripture Union (SU) volunteers. They were talking about forgiveness and about God’s love and they sang songs too. As she listened something amazing happened to this young girl. She realised what she’d been planning was wrong and she began to cry. She didn’t go ahead with her deadly plans. Instead she asked for forgiveness and her life was transformed as she began to see her situation in a new light.

It’s so good to know that God’s ‘Big Story’ is also ours and there really is a happy ending!

You can listen to more stories from SU Uganda and other parts of the world here.

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turning pages

A pair of white gloves was draped beside an open picture book. I didn’t notice them at first because my eyes were drawn to the startling colours on the satin pages. I slid my hand across the expanse of paper, enjoying the silky texture beneath my skin. It was a giant picture book laid out on a stand in the hallway of the old house and there were no words. As my fingers twitched at the corner of the page, I paused – what if it ripped?

The other night we were invited for a meal at the home of a couple we had met briefly a few weeks earlier. We’d been welcomed in warmly and had sat by the open fire sipping Prosecco with brandy and nibbling canapés. It had been time to move to the dining room, and as I followed one of our hosts along the passageway I hadn’t been able to resist a closer look at the book. Each leaf was about the size of a television screen.

The gentle voice of the owner flowed over my head as she noted my interest and told me something about the origins of the book, which I instantly forgot. “There are gloves to turn the pages,” she said. That was all I heard. I stepped back and smiled. I thought she’d been joking. But no, there really was a pair of white gloves on the dark wood table beside the book. I realised my ‘crime’ and snatched my hand away. I’d dared to touch the book without the gloves.

During the meal and in the few days since I’ve wanted to go back to that hallway and slip on the gloves to turn those giant pages, soak in the colours and images and find out what the book was about. It was obviously very precious. So precious that it couldn’t really be touched.

I have some precious books of my own. But they come in two kinds. Some are precious in a valuable and historic sense, which means you have to be careful when you handle them and they must be wrapped away and stored in a safe place. Others are precious in another way. They are my favourite books from childhood and so well read they have become torn, dog-eared and stained. My all time special – More adventures of Caroline – has no cover at all, just the inside pages are left. I haven’t a clue what happened to the cover.

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When we love something very much it inevitably gets used, moved around, packed and unpacked and so it gets worn and sometimes damaged. (Readers of the Velveteen Rabbit will have heard this before!)

And that’s because when we’re attracted to something we want to touch it – we reach out our hands to see what it feels like. It’s an important part of the experience and so it seems alien to put on gloves to turn a page. Touch is one of the reasons I prefer reading a book to a Kindle. I like the feeling of turning pages and in the same way I enjoy flicking through magazines or rustling a newspaper. Touch connects me with objects, ideas and stories in a way that just looking doesn’t cut it.

So here is my Advent thought… God knew we needed someone who could physically be there, who could touch us and hold us, demonstrating love in a way we could feel it.

Isn’t that what we’re all waiting for?

#adventword #touch

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sea addict

I have to confess. I’m addicted. I can’t go a day without it and I’m afraid I may get a little shaky if I don’t see it. I didn’t realise it could be so addictive or I’d have been a bit more careful. Photographs don’t do it justice – they don’t capture the smells and sounds that make it such a wonderful ‘drug’.

I never imagined moving to live beside the sea would be so delicious and leave me craving for a sight of it every day. This afternoon I ‘ran’ to the beach (not the kind of running you do when being chased by hungry lions – just the kind that keeps pace with a slow cyclist). I knew it was going to be beautiful when I noticed golden blades of grass casting sharp shadows on the sand in the dunes. A bright white sun was starting to slide towards the horizon across the channel lighting up the ripples in the muddy coloured sand as the rays danced across the water. There were shallow dark pools on the wide expanse of empty beach. In the distance a solitary sailing boat bobbed mid channel and high up in the distance a flock of migrating birds swooped and swirled in a cloud, before disappearing out to sea.

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This is a special place. The only sounds were some strange sea bird noises and what I think might have been baying seals on the sandbanks. This afternoon it was as quiet as a nature reserve. I had the beach to myself. The light was unreal in a golden ethereal way. It felt like it was going to be the kind of night for smugglers to pull up their boats and haul their contraband up the beach…the kind of night for stories and secrets to be shared around a fire on the cool sand while the waves creep closer.

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I’m not sure how or why I’ve developed this addiction to ‘see the sea’ over the past few weeks. I could also describe it as a love affair because no matter what the state of the water – dark and stormy, grey and choppy or calm and blue – I can’t help but love the view. I even love it when the tide is out and messy dark green sea plants are left exposed, with the channel a remote blue strip beneath the boats. There is a reassuring rhythm to the tides. I’ve been waking up trying to remember what state the tide will be at – we can’t go far around here without noticing if it’s in or out. Now we’ve stuck a tide chart up in the kitchen and most days someone checks out the tide times and heights.

The sea here gives me a sense of space and freedom as its wide-open skies wrap around the island. It’s a sea of possibilities. A reminder that there are so many stories out there as people set sail or launch into open water – a lone fisherman inspecting his nets, an anxious sailor battling against a retreating tide, or a man on a motorboat heading into the deep. It’s a place of inspiration too. There are mysteries here to unravel and stories to be told… even crimes to be solved. I’m going to indulge my addiction for now. After all it’s not expensive or unhealthy and I have a suspicion the sea has something to tell me. And most of all – we live here…

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