Monday, 27 October 2014

Us and Them

You never think it will happen to us, it's something that happens to others.
How often do people in the news say that statement?

I've been to two different mental health training sessions in the past week, the first one was trying to normalise mental health, giving the scary statistics that 50% of people the NHS is working with have a mental health issue. The one in four of us will have a mental health issue.

We hear it about physical health too – 1 in 3 people will get cancer in their lifetime.

The second lot of training – today – talked about us and them. This training was focused on self-harm, and the speaker talked about how “we” as “normal” people dealt with distress instead of “them” the people who react badly, which leads to self harm.

How does he know that in that room of 8 people who work with young people that we aren't or weren't self-harmers.

It's made me ponder two things:

1, we assume that everyone is like us.

2, we assume that noone is like us.

In the ways we are “normal” we assume that everyone else is like us. It's why LGBT people have to come out, but straight people don't. I met for the first time one of my fiancé's colleagues recently, and before I met her I asked him what she looked like. The picture in my head was totally different – I realised it was based on someone else I know who does a similar job to her – but also similarities to myself.

In the ways we are the “them” we assume we are totally on our own – not helped by the way that so many things are still taboo; mental health, abuse, some physical illnesses. We don't talk about things, we assume we are the only one. Sometimes though when you open up, let down your walls you find out you have more in common with others than you think.

I've always said “Everyone is a little bit broken.”

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Spinning plates in a snowy valley

Do you ever feel like you are spinning plates in a snowy valley, and you are one snowball away from everything crashing around you. Life is busy. That is generally how I like it. But right now I could do with things calming down. It feels like if it's not one thing it's another. With Work and Wedding, preaching and praying, faith and worship and a polite word beginning with f to describe housework (?)

My wedding has a DIY strand to it, which I think will be great but demands a lot of time.
My work seems to have me dealing with one thing after another, with many meetings, much worship preparation, huge amounts of admin as well as working with some wonderful families.
Preaching is something I love, but don't feel I can put my all in to at the moment.
Faith and worship is so near yet so far (that's my Local Preaching training if you don't know)
And then there is cooking, cleaning, loading the dishwasher, and all the other houseworky type things, to ensure I'm fed, watered and clean.
Then occasionally I try to have a life!

I don't think it would take much to totally knock me off balance from where I am at the moment. I like the snowball imagery, its more than just a drop of rain, but it's smaller than a foam-ball – and I've had one of those in my face recently (delightful 9 year old)

The one thing that is helping me keep my plates spinning is prayer. My spiritual director has challenged me to pray for 40 minutes every day. I don't tell you this to boast, but more to be supported and accountable. But also because I've found Psalm 121 very helpful. “I lift my eyes up to the hills, where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, maker of Heaven and Earth.” You know, to be able to lift your eyes to the hills, you have to be in the valleys. Sometimes it seems like its too dark, or too snowy to see the hills, but we should always raise our eyes, and find God. Through my prayer time I've found God to be close at hand, all around me in creation and that he cares for me.

I don't often blog overtly about my Christian faith. I've talked about MWiB and what that does. I've shared some of my passions that come out of my faith, but I don't often talk about the God who loves and cares for me. The God who is close. The God who knows everything about me, and longs for me to reach to out to Him.

Saturday, 12 July 2014

Tradition vs feminism

So I've been engaged a whole week, and I don't think I've ever made so many decisions in such a short amount of time. Nor spent so much time either on the phone or with my parents since I lived with them. Even Fiancé has called his Mum about three times this week.

We've also had different reactions from people. Fiancé has had more friends arrange to go out and celebrate with him, whereas I've had more cards - addressed to us both but sent to me. But he's had money in cards, whereas I haven't. 

I've pondered a bit over gender differences this week. 

So here's the thing. I'm a bit of a feminist.
I told someone I was a feminist a few months ago, her response was to check I was still with my boyfriend.  I replied yes, and so she said I wasn't much of one then.
Obviously thinking all feminists are lesbians!
I'm not going into to my equality rant right now, about why I'm a feminist, you just need to know I am.

I'm also quite traditional.
It was me who told Fiancé I expected him to ask my Dad's permission. 
I expect Dad to walk me down the aisle and present me.
I'm a little sad my Mum's name and occupation won't be on my wedding certificate.

This has been the balance in my head all week.
There has been a couple of moments when I've thought and possibly even said,  I want ... and I'm the bride.
The whole debate about which church we get married in, came down to this as well, really. Though practicalities won in the end.

Maybe I want an equal marriage and a traditional wedding. Is that me wanting it all. Having my cake and eating it? What a funny phrase that is. Of course you eat the cake you have, otherwise what is the point of having cake.

I don't have answers, just yet, and I think its something I'll reflect on over and over during the next 8 months of planning - oh yeah, we have a date!

Any thoughts, comments, ideas, ponderings and support gratefully received.

Sunday, 6 July 2014

This is it

When I was about 6 or 7 I went to a ballet class, and we did a show that was called "this is it" with a title song to match. We have it on video somewhere. 

This blog is it. The blog I've wanted to write for many years. The one people have been expecting when I've given other news.

It is the same with phone calls. When I was given my note to preach in feb 2010 I rang my family excited about starting the Local Preacher journey.  They were surprised I wasn't ringing to announce my engagement!

But now I am. Our families have been rung / emailed, we are facebook official and this is it, the blog of how he finally did it.

My Fiancé and I have been together for just over 5 and a half years. Meeting at a train station for MYC back in 2007 and getting together a year and a day later (via Msn) in 2008.

Years have passed and life has moved us around a bit,  but we are now at a point where we can actually see us building a life together.

Friday 4th July dawned a grey morning, after originally making plans to walk up a hill and have a picnic we decided to scrap the picnic and just take some cake with us.

As with every other time we go anywhere I'd asked Boyfriend if he was going to propose,  and if he had a ring. Replying no to both, we went off for this 2 mile walk to a little towery thing near where I live.

I made some comment about halfway up the hill if he was going to keep suggesting walks knowing I'd say yes if I thought he might propose on them. He likes walking more than I do.

We got to the top and looked at the old, now covered well, and the tower and worked out which towns and cities we could see before sitting on the bench to eat cake and take photos to prove I walked somewhere. 

Unbeknown to me, when Boyfriend got the phone out of the bag to take said pictures he also moved the ring into his hoody pocket.

Sitting back next to me on the bench he said some beautiful things, something along the lines of, you are beautiful, and amazing, and will make a wonderful wife and I love you. 
To which I replied "that would make a good proposal speech"
Next thing I know he's down on one knee with the ring out.

For someone who has wanted this very moment for years, and even thought about how to respond,  I was speechless,  shocked and said oh.
I took the ring out of the box and asked him to put it on my finger.
We kissed. And it was only a minute or so later that I realised I hadn't said yes yet. I checked with Fiancé this was the case, which it was and gave my affirmative answer.
This was when the shock of it actually happening hit me and we sat down, and took the photo of the ring before the walk home, and the visit to my mum.

So this is it.
I'm engaged!

Just watch out as this is when I become a wedding bore or worse a bridezilla.

Thanks for journeying with me so far.

Your newly fiancéed friend.

Sunday, 1 June 2014

Rachel, being Rachel

What makes you, you?
Or more importantly, as it is my blog, what makes me, me?

I've just been Cced into an email that includes the line “Rachel, being Rachel, has only just got round to submitting her claim”

“Rachel, being Rachel”

Now that shows that they know that either a – I'm rubbish at paperwork, or b – (which I'm actually hoping it is) money isn't my driving factor in life.

Expenses are something I do for a number of reasons. Part of my philosophy in life is that I don't think people should be expected to volunteer their money if they don't want to. For those who volunteer time, they shouldn't be out of pocket. I also do my expenses because I don't have endless amounts of money and sometimes do need it back. I do my expenses because I believe charities and churches should know how much things cost.

This email came from a charity I love. A charity I don't mind if I occasionally forget to put a claim in for a train journey for example. I know what I should do is claim everything and give of my earned wages – as I know then they would be able to gift aid it. I should also put that money in an account so that when they stop paying for me to come to their events I'll have money put aside for it.

I wonder if that is what they think when they say “Rachel, being Rachel” maybe its the former, and they just know I'm rubbish at admin. But I'd like to hope its cos they actually know I'm not in it for the money – and I'm doing it now so they can balance the accounts!

“Rachel, being Rachel” sounds like it is going to be negative. I want to reclaim the phrase. I want my name to mean something. I've often joked (only half seriously) that I'd like to have a room at Methodist Church House named after me. Now you have to do something very momentous for that to happen.

“Rachel, being Rachel” could mean a whole load of things. I hope, that generally it's positive. I'd want it to denote my patience, kindness, listening ear, I don't mind too much if its my bossiness. I had another email today that described me as a tower of strength (insert short joke here!!) and was grateful for my calm encouragement. That is what I want Rachel to mean.

How would you end “Rachel, being Rachel...”
And what would you want “You, being you” to mean?

Obviously “Rachel, being Rachel” means I'm blogging when I should be creating powerpoints for said charity – so I better go back to work.

Sunday, 18 May 2014

Stay Optimistic

Sometimes I blog cos there is something I really want to explore and blogging helps me deal with things. Sometimes I blog cos I'm doing something on a theme and trying to keep it up to date. Today I'm blogging cos I have some time and my current knitting project is out of my reach!

I've blogged before about clothing, and how linked to power and decisions it is. I got in trouble in the past week or so about clothing. I made a comment that was taken badly, and along with that, the general stress of church work and my passport being missing I've had a bit of a down week. I'm generally a bouncy person – it annoys boyfriend as I recover from arguments or upsets much quicker than he does, so it's always tricky when I can't shift out of a down couple of days. This weekend however has really cheered me up.

Firstly an old colleague came to visit, which meant I got late night chats and hugs at bed time.

Then we went to Youth Work Summit, an amazing day which has given me loads to reflect on, I caught up with old friends, and even made a new one who does a similar job to me locally – and we've agreed to meet up for coffee. By lunch time I was in a much better mood and that meant I got to engage much better with the worship later in the day.

Then this morning I was preaching. I wrote a brand new sermon last night, picking up on some of the things I'd heard during the day, and things I'd be pondering for a few weeks, and had a fab time this morning worshiping, questioning, praying, quizzing, and generally having fun in a pulpit (well lecturn but you know). After that the two preachers who were assessing my service said nice things, my words are much clearer and people engaged well with the whole service.

A few weeks ago now I was walking from my house to that of my parents and half way up the last bit of hill is this bench. I love positive graffiti. At that moment it gave me a real lift as, as you may know I'm not a fan of walking – or any exercise really. It's now the background of my work laptop.

I just want to say thanks to those of you who have helped to cheer me up, checked when my odd sock playing had dropped, sent me chocolate through the post, and to my Mum who was here to help when I found my passport – my leopard was looking after it. (I do realise I'm 25 and still have cuddly toys, that's ok!) Thank you my lovely friends who have all contributed to helping me stay optimistic. Let's see what the next week has in store.  

Friday, 18 April 2014

Lent 6 - Risky love

Welcome to holy week.

The week we experience it all; the exuberance of Palm Sunday, the righteous anger in the Temple, the last supper of a group of friends, betrayal, denial, torture, suicide, death, grieving, resurrection, new life, joy, questions, doubts, breakfast. What a week!

I was trying to think of a certain quotation about life being a race, and I came across a long list. I think my fave is - 'Life is like a Taxi. The meter keeps ticking whether you are getting somewhere or just standing still.'

A current favourite movie of me and those closes to me is 'About Time'; the story of a man who can time travel, who can repeat time and make it better. This is a totally different world to that of Dr Who as in About Time you can't meet yourself and cause a paradox. Though changing too much can totally change the present. The main character and his Dad (who can also time travel) both have a different ideology as to how to best use the gift and live out each day to the best - I won't tell you how, that's as River Song would say "spoilers"

Last night I was at a Maundy Thursday meal and communion. Based on an Iona liturgy of doubters, betrayers, deniers, all. we had the choice of getting communion from one of four stations with a special liturgy to fit with that character.
     Thomas for those who doubt themselves, others and God,
     Judas for those who betrayed themselves, others and God,
     Peter for those who have denied themselves, others and God,
     and the others, the secret, silent ways we fail, the times we don't wash feet or love others.
It also have 6 stories of the last thing I said to them. Last words are often remembered. What if the last thing you said to someone, was the last thing.

This week's reflection touches on who we journey with. Who have you chosen to journey with. It's risky to travel with people, but even more so to travel alone. Love is risky. Today at the Good Friday service three nails were hammered into the cross, it was a powerful sound. What would it have been like for Jesus' friends to hear, to see.

Jesus chose the ultimate path, my life journey hasn't always been simple, but when you think of Christians in other countries, people in extreme poverty. My life hasn't been hard. Some days I wonder why God has called me to this life path, but then usually one of my friends makes it okay.

I read another blog the other day, written by a mother who says 6 simple words have changed the way she talks to her children. "I love to watch you play"

So to you, my wonderful friends, who I've chosen to journey with.
I love to hear your stories
I love to see your photos
I love to get your emails
I love to stay up all night talking
I love your hugs
and most of all
I love your friendship.

Life is a journey, with its ups and downs, but I wouldn't miss it for the world.

Happy Easter.

Saving God, it is not just that I find it hard to trust you; rather that I don't trust my own judgement.
Sometimes you seem to invite me to choose a path that scares me. Help me to keep close to you, that I may

glimpse you on the path ahead, follow you and find your way today. Amen

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Lent 5 - Risky Chemicals

 As Rach is rather busy, (I'm sure she'll explain all next week) this week you get a guest blog from me - Emma

As a chemical engineer, quite a lot of my day job has a fair bit to do with chemicals.  Shocking, I know.  In writing this week’s blog post, I started to think about one chemical in particular.  Bear with me.  Can you guess what it is?  It’s a non-metal which is pretty abundant, solid at room temperature and is commonly yellow.  It’s known as brimstone in the Bible.  That’s right, it’s sulphur (the last clue clinched it, right?).

Sulphur, although really useful for things like matches (and, actually, living) is pretty nasty stuff.  This is why gases are cleaned of sulphur before they leave a refinery – so that the sulphur can’t escape as SO2 and contribute to greenhouse gases. This means that, through a clever reaction known as the Claus process, the sulphurous gas is heated, the liquid sulphur “condensed” out and the sulphur-free gas allowed to continue.  The sulphur is massed into a stockpile and then shipped around the world.  The liquid sulphur has to be kept hot (i.e. above 150°C) in the pipe so that it doesn’t solidify, and block said pipe.  Once the sulphur has solidified, that’s it.  “He has walled up my way so I cannot pass”, says this week’s Bible link from Job 19:8.  There’s no going back – you’re going to need a new bit of pipe.  To help with this, and to prevent the build-up of any cooling sulphur, the pipes need to be straight.  They may not have bends, even to go around something.  While normal industrial structures look like this:
Image from - one of Burtnysky’s refineries

these sulphur lines, instead of bends, have mini-junctions, like this:
My own sketch

This is so that the pipes can be “rodded” – basically, a massive rod is shoved down the pipe to push all of the sulphur out of the other end.   That’s nice, Emma, I hear you say.  But what does that have to do with Rach’s Lent Blog?

I’ll tell you.  This week’s picture is of a remarkable sculpture by Jonathan Clarke.  It can be found in Ely Cathedral.  

Looking at it, it occurred to me that the journey this sculpture represents is a far cry from that that I see in my every day life – none of the regimented planning that comes with being an engineer.  The path meanders across the wall – sometimes in shadow (the verse from Job continues “... and he has set darkness upon my paths”), sometimes in light, sometimes seeming to bask in the coloured light from the stained glass window (side note: also probably dyed using a sulphur compound...).  It lacks the directness to which I have begun to be accustomed, but I guess the point is that our journeys of faith are never really as simple and straightforward as we’d imagine them to be.

The journey also isn’t always quite as we’d imagined.  Maybe sometimes we think we’ve got somewhere with God, and y’know, we’re doing ok.  Quite happy with how much of my life God takes up, I mooch along, feeling all right.  Then... bam!  You realise you’ve got it all out of proportion.  Look at the actual size of this sculpture:
Image from

It’s huge!  Much bigger than anything I imagined when I saw the original image.  My feeling is that much of the time, this is also what my faith journey is like.

Something that I really like about this piece of art is the cross at the end of the path.  To me, it has a somewhat higgledy-piggedy look about it.  The arms don’t line up, and looks very much like something that I’d produce if I tried to make a cross at home by myself.  I think it is that “home-made” look that I like – the imperfect, humble and relatable quality.  But is the cross the end, or the beginning?  Is the focus of the sculpture the time of Lent, culminating in the death of Christ, or the journey onwards from the cross, through the door – the path which we are all now travelling? 

Lord God, through life’s difficult path,
be with us on our journey
and lead us from darkness to the light of Christ.