Learning Curves: Writing My Memoir

I’m circling the edges of memory as I wake from a dream that seems to allude an important message that I can’t grasp. Maybe writing it down here will help.

The woman looked familiar as she attempted to speak. She came rushing towards me mouthing her words then faded out again before I could understand what she was trying to say.

She rummaged around on the ground digging up clumps of earth with her hands. I held out my upturned palms and she poured the soil into them. As she poured, I noticed tiny crystals shining through the soil, like glitter on a Christmas card. We sifted through it together, choosing which of the crystals we wanted to keep and tossed those we didn’t back onto the ground. It’s as if we were sharing our memories as we looked through the dirt of our past.

She disappeared.

When I called out for her to come back into the dream she revealed herself to me as my mother and smiled. She gave me a piece of crystal, the final memory from her life and said.

‘This is your life, not mine. It’s time to stop raking around in the past and live your own story to write down.’

Then she was gone and I’m left with an unfinished story of her life.

But I think I get the message now.

Someone else’s memories have no place in my life story.

I need to write my own truth, find my own way home.

Stone Soldiers

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I heard a fascinating talk recently by Deacon Andrew Carter, a member of the Methodist Diaconal Order who shared, in word and image, from his own recent experiences of a journey millions of pilgrims have completed over thousands of years … Continue reading

Race4Life 2017

Racing for the life of someone I love who could be saved by Cancer Research

On 18th December 2015, the news that she had been diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer stunned me. It felt somewhat surreal that The Northern Lights decided to make a rare appearance over Scarborough Bay on the evening of the 20th and the memory of that beautiful sight was lost as my world began to fall apart when the word ‘terminal’ was used on 24th December.

Sister

Your diagnosis floored me.

In its aftermath I walked a mile
with the sun warming my face
and a trace of your smile
as sun slipped into shadow
beamed full on my face.

Beautiful Aurora Balouris.

Your breath-taking light
radiated through memories
as I walked over sand
skimmed stones on the sea.

Then, in a downpour of rain,
I laughed, and laughed, and laughed
until I fell to my knees and cried.

You were given two years. What followed was a year of keeping my unbearable sorrow hidden as you suffered the side effects of intense chemo and radiation in an attempt to shrink the tumour that would, at best, prolong your life.

So many people prayed for you. We prayed daily that the tumour would shrink and keep on shrinking. That it would shrink so much it would simply disappear.

Sometimes, we get what we pray for.

Your last three scans have shown no evidence of disease and we keep on praying for continuance of that. The wonder of experiencing immense joy after being in a waiting space of grief for over a year is quite something.

Taking part in the Race4Life to raise money for vital research into different cancers feels like the right thing to do. It’s an expression of my gratitude to Cancer Research for helping to save my sister’s life.

My personal Race4Life on 12th July 2017 will be as a celebration of my sister’s life.
If you would like to make a donation towards my fundraising efforts, please go to:

my online fundraiser page (or ask me about my paper form)

 

 

The Reluctant Christian

It’s 10 years today since I became a Christian so I wanted to share this brief testimony of faith with you about that special day on 10th March 2007.

God grant me your grace,
that promise of forgiveness,
unconditional

Before becoming a Christian on 10th March 2007, I set foot in a church only occasionally; for christenings, weddings and funerals. Even so, I thought of myself as a Christian because I did believe in God and was a nice(ish) person. That’s what I thought a Christian was.

My journey to faith really began a lifetime ago but, to keep this missive as brief as possible, I’d found myself at a crossroads, having become an adult orphan separated from my four siblings through the toll of years of family trauma. I was at saturation point with that, so much so that my health was deteriorating. I also hated my job and, although I am married with two adult children who I love dearly, I felt there was a big hole in my life that I couldn’t fill. I didn’t know what my life was about any more or even why I was here. It was then that I spotted a poster on a bill board asking: What’s the Meaning of Life? I thought I should investigate what this was offering.

I phoned the number on the poster but they were running the course on a day and time when I was doing something else. I’d initially thought it was one of those ‘self help’ courses and was a bit shocked to discover it was a Christianity Course called Alpha. So, I left it alone as I thought it would be too intent on trying to convert people.

Then I successfully applied for the post of administrator for the Scarborough Methodist Circuit. I thought it would be quite nice to have a spiritually-led job to bring me up to the age of retirement.

On the first day, I walked through the door to start work and there was the Alpha poster in my face. In that first week, Reverend Clare Stainsby gave me a booklet about being a member of the Methodist Church (Called By Name) and the hierarchy system of the Methodist Connexion, which was necessary to carry out the job. I didn’t know anything at all about the Methodist Church, or any other church come to that. I read the whole thing and was so fascinated by it that I signed up for the next Alpha Course, which was being run by Reverend Geoff Bowell and his wife, Helen, at their home – not far from mine. It started on 29th January 2007. I’d been in the job only 21 days and here I was on my way to God.

I expected Alpha to be for people like me who didn’t go to church so I was surprised that there were people there who did, some of whom had been going all their lives via their upbringing, some were Christians – some were not. They were searching for understanding and a personal relationship with God.

During the course, I made new friends. We laughed together, cried together, shared our stories and ideas. I found it hard sometimes as I didn’t really know what my questions were – never mind getting answers to them. I asked Geoff if I’d have all my answers when I’d finished the course and he just laughed and said, ‘Oh, we don’t get the answers, we just get a better set of questions.’

I struggled with the Trinity concept of accepting that God and Jesus were the same person – I believed in God and I could understand how He was the Holy Spirit too – I knew about Jesus but couldn’t get the sense of it all being the same person. I almost stopped going to Alpha because of this hurdle. What was the point in my continuing if I couldn’t grasp the basis of the whole context of the Christian faith? Then Helen said to me, ‘Why don’t you ask God to show you in a way you will understand?’ So I did and that night I had a dream.

If I told you what that dream was you would not know how I came to my understanding of the Trinity through it because each of us gets shown things by God in ways that are unique to us as individuals. However, when I woke up from the dream, everything was crystal clear. I knew then what Jesus meant when he said, ‘I am the way’. I had to go through Him to get to God. How on earth had I got through my life so far without knowing this? All I had to do was open the door and let Jesus in and He would do the rest. But that was easier said than done.

I felt unworthy, untrusting, concerned that I may have to do something I didn’t like if I committed myself. Soon after the dream I realised that, through Jesus, God had actually crept into my life (when I wasn’t looking). I had opened that door to take a peep and couldn’t close it again. I couldn’t pour Him back out of my life once He’d arrived. He was here to stay.

The Alpha away day’s teaching based on the Holy Spirit was on Saturday 10th March 2007 at the Solid Rock café on Newborough. I knew something had already happened to me in my heart and felt that this day was going to be special for me somehow. I felt different.

We began the day by singing the hymn ‘King of Kings, Majesty’ before the lessons started and I couldn’t get the words out. By the second line ‘God of Heaven living in me’, I knew for sure God really was living inside me. I couldn’t sing. I could only listen to the words as they were being sung because I felt overwhelmed. As I was saying the words to God in my mind, something was building up inside me.

After the song, we continued our learning until lunchtime but I was in a daze and didn’t really take anything in. I felt impatient, waiting – for more of this feeling I had experienced. I wasn’t prepared for my response when we sang that hymn again at the end of the day.

Following the lessons and discussions, we stood in a circle and Geoff prayed for the Holy Spirit to descend on us. I said to myself, ‘OK, this is it – it’s now or never. Open your heart and you’ll maybe find what you’ve been looking for. Just let Jesus in.’

I could hardly breathe because I was trying to keep my emotions in check as we sang ‘King of Kings, Majesty’ once more. My whole body tingled and trembled as an overpowering sense of love struck me dumb. When we sang the second line ‘God of Heaven living in me’, I was saturated with a feeling of unconditional love and peace. Tears poured down my face. It was as though I was being washed with forgiveness. I sobbed throughout the whole song, knowing God was forgiving me for every single thing I had thought, said or done in the past that was wrong.

That was the exact moment I gave my life to Christ.

***

I wrote the following as a celebration of that day:

First Rites

Anoint me from the golden chalice
pour your presence from above.
Through your light let me come to glory
as you lead the way with righteous love.
My door was open only slightly
yet you took my breathlessness away
with forgiveness of a lifetime’s story
freeing doubt, and fear, and pain.
My tears, in silence all around me,
flow through fingers, sooth my sorrow
as feathered whispers brush my skin
with promises for a new tomorrow.
Your love, now rising through my soul
leaves my sins beneath,
in sudden triumph takes me whole
and, waiting underneath
is trust and faith – born anew.
I have found myself in you.

***

All it took was a small step to open the door to Jesus’ knock but on the other side of that door it seemed so far away. It took me years to let him in. Thankfully, it’s never too late. God never gave up on me and when there was nothing left for me but God, that’s when I discovered that God was all I needed.

Text © 2007 Julie M Fairweather

PS I thoroughly recommend Alpha if you are searching for the meaning of your life. It’s a place where you can ask anything… even those questions about suffering… the suffering in the world that many blame God for. I hope you will be surprised and encouraged by the answers and that these answers will offer you a better set of questions to take with you as you journey on.

Finding my way

I woke this morning with ideas for mapping my life story in readiness for a writing project I’m undertaking in January and, as if reading my thoughts, Facebook had produced a video highlighting events from 2016. This cheered me immensely as it proved that I did indeed have some wonderful memories to celebrate in my writing… in-between the days that I had been dogged with depression (as yesterday’s personal journalling informed me).

I pinned a copy of an old map of Manchester on my office wall as a starting point to the planning of the project, ringing the places that mean something to me. (The map is one of many that will inspire The Studio’s Art Exhibition early next year – my own contribution will be a simple book of appropriate Manchester map poems on hand-made paper.)

That decided, I embarked on a personal journey through the Advent Labyrinth at Holy Trinity Church in Eastfield. There’s no doubt that my current mood has an affect on how I embrace this annual journey and life experiences I hold on to do tend to come to the fore during part it.

The first station was a star – a symbol of God’s light. I was invited to light a lantern and carry it with me as a guide to show me the way. I thought about the darkness of the depression I’d written about in my journal the previous day. It’s comforting to know that God can lighten whatever feels dark for me… when I remember to ask for His help that is.

At the station of burdens, I picked up the large, heavy stone and imagined an image etched into it of God reaching out to me saying, ‘take my hand’. I poured out my pain in connection with my brother’s alienation of me and realised (yet again) that I can’t change him or the situation so I gave the stone to God to carry for me. I picked up the holding cross and the contrast in weight was such a relief that I had to admit to knowing that all I needed to do was hold on to the cross instead of the stone. I asked God to break down my brother’s barriers to forgiveness and left the station with the weight of that lifted from me.

At the gift box station, I gave thanks for the gift of writing and how I had been drawn to use it as a voice for prisoners of conscience on behalf of Amnesty International. I am grateful that this opportunity enhances my gifts of understanding and compassion for others and, through this, I am being led towards becoming involved with welcoming refugees to the town where I live. I want to be part of a people who belong to one another.

At the final station I visited, I reflected of my journey and confirmed my trust in God that He can help me make sense of and heal my memories so that I can move towards reconciliation of self to enable me to help others more effectively. Therefore, in God’s hands I place all these things today.

It’s hard to let go and let God and I was tempted to revisit the burdens station and pick up the stone but I resisted because I prefer the weight of the cross.

On my return home, I received a beautiful Christmas card from a friend which reads: ‘Christmas is more than just a season. It’s a feeling of hope in our lives. It’s the promise of peace in the world. It’s the blessing of God’s love in our hearts.’(author unknown)

I’d like to add that Christmas is about Christ… and realising that truth can set us free.

THE PLOTTING SHED

Plotting Shed Charity Gala Night

in aid of

The Yorkshire Air Ambulance

Sunday 27th November 2016 at 7.15 pm. Doors 6.30 pm.

A gala charity evening of poetry, story, song and more…

to celebrate the works of the 26 local authors of Plotting Shed

Compèred by Heather Ayckbourn and Felix Hodcroft

More info:

shed-1

THE PLOTTING SHED                                                  COMPILED AND EDITED BY DAVID B. LEWIS

A glass of wine or soft drink included in the ticket price on arrival and the proceeds from the ticket sales will go to Yorkshire Air Ambulance. The format will be cabaret style seating at tables with candles and nibbles and an informal atmosphere. The book will of course be on sale at the special show price on the night. A promotional film launch will take place in the upstairs foyer area before the main event and will run on a loop on a screen during the interval and after the show.

Ticket price: £10 – Under 15 £5

TICKETS FROM THE STEPHEN JOSEPH THEATRE

…………………………………………………………..

If you can’t make the evening please consider pledging your support on Kickstarter.

You will be helping local writers and helping the world by spreading Creative Writing to the parts most writers never reach.

All you have to do is pledge £10 plus the p and p fee as stated according to where you are in the world and that’s it until 28th November when, if the fundraiser is successful, Plotting Shed will automatically have the money transferred into its account. You will receive your pledge order asap after that. If the fundraiser is not successful nothing else happens.

In the name of humanity

I have been captivated by an urgent appeal that I’d like to share with you in the hope of gathering support in the form of letter-writing on behalf of a 14 year old boy.

I spent a couple of hours at the monthly meeting of the Scarborough branch of Amnesty International yesterday writing letters in the name of humanity and justice for people whose human rights are being abused. In particular I was extremely moved by an urgent appeal to call on the authorities in Egypt for the release of Aser Mohamed, a 14 year old boy taken from his home in January for questioning with no search warrant or arrest warrant in place. His parents were told he would be returned within 2 hours. He was not. He was unlawfully detained for 34 days and subjected to horrific torture by electric shocks to his body and suspension from his limbs – as a result of which he suffered displacement of his shoulders. All this in order to obtain a confession of guilt for crimes he did not commit. He was not permitted medical treatment nor allowed to see a lawyer or his parents during this time.

It is beyond tragic that this innocent boy could be facing 15 years imprisonment if convicted of these crimes he did not commit.

Several details of this atrocious case can be found via this link where you too can take action if you feel moved to do so.

I wrote the following handwritten letter to the authorities at the addresses given and also copied it into the social media addresses.  I have to tell you that it did stick in my throat having to use the given salutation of ‘Your Excellency‘ for the Interior Minister.

(my address)

(date)

Dear (as appropriate)

I appeal to you from my heart to release Aser Mohamed immediately. He was taken illegally for questioning from his home on 12 January with no search warrant or arrest warrant in force. I can only imagine the pain and agony he has endured in the process of torture regimes in order to obtain his false confession.

We at Amnesty International are aware of the unfair and unlawful detention of Aser, the electric shocks torture and the suspension from his limbs for long hours – resulting in displacement of his shoulders. We are also aware and horrified by the fact that he was refused any medical care – nor was he permitted to see his family.

I can’t help but wonder how your own family would suffer if you were ever in this position yourself and I beg you to look into your heart for any shreds of humanity that permit the release of Aser as soon as possible… meanwhile allowing him access to a lawyer, medical assistance and family visits.

Please end the ill-treatment of Aser and bring those responsible to justice.

Yours sincerely,

(my name)

Please check out the link and send letters of your own by the given deadline of 11th October.

THANK YOU ON BEHALF OF ASER