My attempts at leading a service

Earlier, in the summer of this year I was honoured to be asked to lead a service. I was pleased to be asked. And I gave it a go. To my surprise the theme and the service flowed through inspiration.

I didn’t know how or why.

In some ways it seemed effortless, and yet it took it out of me. Afterwards I have been glad not to be asked again for a while.

Mostly in my life, I conform. I try to obey rules and be a compliant citizen. In church I want to rebel. However on this occasion, I followed the ways of the Methodist church that I have been brought up in.

In the church I attend the service is in the form of a hymn sandwich. Each piece of prose is sandwiched by a hymn.

The service starts with a prayer and ends with a blessing. The set readings follow the liturgical year and usually are from the Old Testament, the New Testament and one of the gospels. This year we are following Matthew’s gospel. They are chosen, I think, by the Church of England.

A lay preacher does not have to use the set readings for the day. However I chose to do so. I am not an official lay preacher. I haven’t followed the course or undertaken studies for local preaching. That is part of my rebellion. However I think consciously and unconsciously I am steeped in local preaching. I come from a family of a long line of nonconformist preachers and teachers.

And so in some ways it seemed easy. I knew how to do it. In other ways, emotionally, and spiritually, perhaps, it was harder. I was giving of myself and my relationship with God, something that I hold as very precious and heart-felt.

For the next few days I will publish the service I gave in bite size pieces.

Let me know what you think.

Let me know whether it has worth for you. If so I am the channel of God’s love to you, and I am glad of that if so.

If it leaves you cold, not to worry. Someone else may be able to connect with you in a completely different way.

All the best and God bless.

Let us enjoy this exploration together along the way.

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Prayer for Others



My first Prayer is based on words of Mother Julian of Norwich

In you Father Almighty, we have our preservation and our bliss; In you Christ, we have our restoring and our saving You are our Mother, Brother and our Saviour. In you, our Lord the Holy Spirit is marvelous and plenteous Grace.
You are our clothing; for love you wrap us and embrace us.
You are our Maker, our Lover and our keeper. Teach us to believe that by your Grace
All shall be well;
And all shall be well;
And all manner of things shall be well.

Heavenly Father (and everyone)

I hope you don’t mind if I base our prayer for others on events that happened to me last week.

Last week I did a lot of walking; often beside the canal. There were sunny days; others cloudy and overcast and I felt a spit of rain. I was delighted with the families of geese I met, the parent geese hissing at me to protect little goslings. I kept on my side of the path and they kept to theirs. Daft woman that I am, I tried to soothe them with my voice saying what beautiful goslings they had. Let us give thanks for the lovely part of the world in which we live.

There was silt and debris collecting beside a lock.

As we reflect on our past week help us sift through the silt and debris that might be collecting in our lives. Let us feel the living water wash away the ugly bits of grit until we see the sparkle of sunlight. It dances on the flowing water that is renewing us with refreshment and life.

Last week, I attended a team meeting. Pray for all those in work. Work is a conundrum. In work we can feel we have too much to do; out of work we can feel hopeless and downcast. Let us pray for those who struggle to find work. Pray too for those whose work is challenging or overwhelming. Pray for anyone who needs to make decisions about work.

All shall be well; and all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well.

I attended a physiotherapy appointment. For me it is unusual. Let us pray for those with chronic illness or disability who need to attend hospital or doctor’s appointments all the time. Let us pray for those in our community we know who are injured or sick……….we pray for…

All shall be well and all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well.

Last week it was the pushing up the daises festival here in Todmorden. I attended two workshops run by healthy minds. In one the subject was the afterlife; in the other we wrote letters from the heart to loved ones who had died. I was apprehensive. Would people trample on my faith; would I trample on theirs? In the event we were curious, open, accepting and loving in our encounter and conversations. I was comforted; some thoughts and feelings unexpected; and a relief to voice fears not spoken out loud before. As a Church community what is our belief of an after life? Help us to know whether to talk more about it so each of us might be prepared when we die?

All shall be well and all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well

I had the privilege of listening to and celebrating the life of Rev Jim at his Thanksgiving. Let us remember and pray for those who have died and those who are yet to take that journey and are left behind. Let us hold in prayer the family of Jim and especially his wife Rev Jill.

All shall be well and all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well.

Last week was mental health awareness week. Let us pray for those whose lives are stunted by addictions; disturbed by troublesome thoughts; blighted by obsessions or who are so downcast they think the only way forward is to end it all. Pray too for those on strong medications that limit their functioning. Pray for C’s youngest son J. Help him to know that unseen hands uphold him even in the midst of his distress.

All shall be well and all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well.

Yesterday was Todmorden Council Annual General Meeting. We have a new Mayor, Councillor Christine. The new Deputy Mayor is Councillor Andy. All ran smoothly; just a few minor hiccups. I am aware of tensions and conflict behind the scene. Especially there is disagreement about what we do with the centre area of town around the Church. On Wed 24 May there will be an extraordinary council meeting to discuss proposals for our town centre square. Pray for us in the town council. The centre of town is too important to fight on party political lines. We need to consider the whole town in its rich diversity and make it a place inclusive to all. In our debate, help us listen curiously, speak slowly and if need be to disagree well. Most importantly let us allow the people of the town have the last say in the Neighbourhood Plan Referendum.

All shall be well and all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well.

In you Father Almighty, we have our preservation and our bliss. In you Christ we have our restoring and our saving; you are our mother, brother and saviour. In you, our Lord the holy spirit is marvelous and plenteous grace. You are our clothing; for love you wrap us and embrace us. You are our maker, our lover and our keeper. Teach us to believe that by your grace, all shall be well and all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well. Amen.

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The hand with the nail embedded in it. (Good Friday Revelation (2))

This is a photograph of the left hand I injured with the nail embedded in my hand to hold the broken bone straight. The nail is under the dressings.

The broken little finger strapped to my ring finger.

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Good Friday Revelation

To all fellow bloggers


I am sorry that I have not written here for such along time. My life had become increasingly busy and had squeezed out any room for writing and contemplation. The pace of my life instead of a well-controlled stream became like a flooding torrent bursting out of its banks. I was stressed… and anxious and had no time to reflect.

By March I was well ready and in need of a holiday. We had arranged to go for a week to Majorca. Some old friends had been in touch at Christmas and invited us to stay at an apartment they rent out to close friends in Porta de Pollensa. We jumped at this fine idea.

The first day I was still wound up and even felt homesick. The next morning I woke up and relaxed. It was before the start of the main tourist season; not everywhere was open. Hotels, shops and cafes were getting themselves ready; there was building work; painting; cleaning and signs of preparation. I enjoyed the sense of anticipation and new places opening each day.


We were lucky with the weather and we gazed each day from our apartment into the blue sky and deeper blue sea. The evenings were cool and so Kevin and I snuggled together under a warm throw to watch TV. We ate a little too much and drank a little too much and strolled each day down to the harbour’s edge.


On Friday, 17 March, St Patrick’s Day we were hastening along the promenade to the hotel at the end. I had a very important appointment for a relaxing facial and hairstyle at 11 am. I was wearing dark glasses and in the shade of a tree did not notice roots projecting from the stone pavement. I tripped, ran forward trying to regain my balance; failed; and fell heavily onto the stone. I sat up shocked and dazed; I had grazed the left side of my face; the dark plastic glasses had bumped my nose breaking the skin; my watch face was smashed and blood spurted from my little finger.


Kevin was the hero and took charge. Despite loads of blood, he held my wrist and hand tight to stem the scarlet fountain. He asked a couple of English tourists for more tissues and a young Majorcan girl called the police and ambulance. We ended up in an ambulance having a police escort to the local medical Centre. In pigeon English we explained and had things explained to us. A young woman; a trainee I think, with an older woman supervising; stitched up my finger beautifully; bandaged it not so well; and I was on my way.


It hurt but I tolerated it until we came back home. It was the good old NHS who discovered the fracture, the day after our return. What happened next is another story! The bone in my little finger had not begun to set in a good functional position. So since then, I have had an operation. I now have wires that look like nails, inserted into my hand to stabilize the fracture and hold it in a better position while it heals.


The operation brought its own complications. I was told that I took a long time to come round after the general anaesthetic. All I remember is the female Consultant Anaesthetist shouting: “123, time to wake up Julia.” I don’t recall seeing her face again or remember how I got back to the ward. I felt very relaxed and comfortable though, just like I feel after a cozy night’s sleep. The staff nurse kept me in overnight to be sure that I was fully recovered. I was too sleepy to go anywhere.


The second complication occurred with the strong painkillers the following day. Morphine causes me to vomit. I will say no more. I was carrying a sick bowl on my journey home. I am sure you can imagine. Once home, I have stuck to paracetamol.


Myra, from Church rang me to see how I was doing. As we chatted Myra said, reflecting: “I think sometimes when we sustain a fracture, it can happen for a reason.” She cited her own example when she broke her leg. It forces us to stop.

My hand injury had certainly done that. I could not drive; or go back to work as by now my whole left hand was affected and had become increasingly weak and immobile.


I agreed. I need to stop and take stock.


However, even with this unexpected opportunity to have time on my own, I felt distracted. I read and watched TV and generally frittered away the time. Sadly my prayer life was even more bitty and distant. Where is God in this I thought?


Through Lent I had been re-reading the book “the heart’s time” by Janet Morley. It has a poem a day for Lent and Easter. I came to the poem: “Sheep fair Day”

“I took God with me to the sheep fair. I said, “Look

there’s Liv, sitting on the wall, waiting;

these are pens, these are sheep,

This is their shit we are walking in, this is their fear.”


And the poem continues like this until the end of the author’s day. At the beginning of the poem there is a quote: “The real aim is not to see God in all things, it is that God, through us, should see the things that we see.” Simone Weil


Janet Morley encourages us to write a similar poem inviting God into our lives and to see it from our perspective. I said to Mum perhaps that’s what I need to do. Perhaps I need to invite God through a poem to see things with me in this experience. I encourage you to do this too whatever you are currently experiencing.


It was on Good Friday it struck me. Of course, God is here in this. Jesus knows exactly how I am feeling; and so much more. I can feel the heaviness of a nail in my left hand after an operation-a nail to promote healing. The nail in the left hand of Jesus, a hand that was pierced for me, was to promote death. Jesus, my Friend and Saviour, perhaps you are inviting me to imagine a tiny fraction of Your physical suffering on that holy day of Good Friday and in so doing increase my awareness of Your Love. Perhaps that is how I can come closer to you and all that is needed from me at present- just to feel this experience.

Love and Blessings, Julia




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What is success and failure in God’s upside down Kingdom? (2)

Blessings from Failure:


Back in 2011 and prior to my discovery of dyspraxia, my boss tried to help me rectify my overloaded caseload. We worked together and I tried hard to please my manager. I never could. I fell down constantly. He was trying to manage me better. In the end the chronic stress was too great and I was signed off work for 5months with severe anxiety and medium/severe depression. It all happened at the beginning of Holy week.


This was not the first time I had been off work with stress. The first time was March 2002. This is when I had asked a previous manager whether I could change my hours to work part time. Even then the reason for my wanting to go part time was that work and the chronic stress surrounding it was taking over my life. On this occasion the manager had set up a meeting to confront me as to how I would manage my outstanding list of final reports, especially when working part time. The stress and inability to perform had made me ill. On this occasion I was signed off with work related stress but managed to return after three weeks. The stress I had suffered was not mentioned again in that work place.


This second time in 2011 was even more damaging than the first because a series of life events also had added to the mix and my depression was more entrenched. Still unknown to me was the real cause for work related difficulties. This was dyspraxia and a poor working memory and slowing than average ability to process information.


It was a picture of Jesus that rescued me. Literally!


In 2011, I had been avoiding Church services. We had moved house to the town where I had been born and brought up and I had never settled back into Church life. Despite this I was still loosely affiliated. Later that year there was a prayer day on a Saturday at the Methodist Church I had attended as a child. I decided to drop in. I came across the picture at a point of the prayer walk. It is a picture of Jesus crouching on the ground looking directly the person viewing the picture. His eyes are gentle and he is reaching out his hand. Behind Jesus people are standing. They stare with a mixture of expressions, some hard judgmental, openly hostile; others curious; some indifferent. The picture was placed above a bowl of water in which you could place stones symbolizing the burdens you were carrying. I placed my burden to be washed by Jesus in the water. This helped. The picture helped even more.


A few days later I asked the Methodist Minister if I could borrow the picture. She let me keep it. Over several weeks I found myself gazing into the eyes of Jesus, quiet and on my own at home. The picture reminded me of the story of the woman caught in adultery, naked and exposed. I was that woman. The shame I felt was a physical feeling in the gut. Yet Jesus’s eyes did not condemn me. I learnt to look at Jesus and forget the rest. If he did not condemn me, no other person’s views mattered.


Today, I know that our Divine Three- in- One God loves me. I know that deep down. Yet old habits die hard, and old worries and feelings of inadequacy get in the way, especially as my failings are found out yet again. I don’t want to fail, and let people down. I suffer from a stricken conscience when I fail.


Despite this I recognise blessing in failure. I have learnt worthwhile lessons because I fall down. It has taught me a measure of humility. It is hard to be proud and self-righteous when you know that you make mistakes and could be wrong. Failure teaches me to accept other people’s mistakes. Sometimes I think I accept other people’s mistakes more easily than I accept my own. I have discovered that being merciful and forgiving is an on-going process, especially if you have emotional scars. These scars, though unseen, are as real as physical ones and hurt when touched. Falling down has taught me empathy. Because I know what it is like to struggle I think I am a better therapist as it helps me to relate to my clients and their struggles. Finally, when I am less stressed and in a happier place, I have plenty of laughs at the daft things that have happened to me because of my dyspraxia.


I will end with the treasured words of Brother Lawrence in conversation and published back in 1692:


That he had no qualms; for said he, when I fail in my duty, I readily acknowledge it, saying, I am used to do so; I shall never do otherwise if I am left to myself.


If I fail not, then I give God thanks, acknowledging that success comes from Him.”



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What is success and failure in God’s upside down kingdom?

Six months ago I wrote a blog about success and failure. Here is a resume and an update.


Success and failure: I struggle with these two close cousins. You might be on the cusp of success, moments later it can turn into failure.


Three years ago I discovered I have a specific learning disability related to dyspraxia. It was January 2013 and I was aged 51. It is a complicated story. When I made the discovery, I was in trouble at work and on a capability procedure. The dyspraxia has a history; getting bogged down taking A levels; staying in the library over nights to make deadlines when doing a degree; after starting paid work, using my own time to keep on top of things. I am lazy, chaotic, easily distracted, my own worst enemy. I am also conscientious, well organised, focused, and a problem solver. The latter takes a considerable effort and time I haven’t got. My dyspraxia causes a poor working memory, and slower than average ability to process information.


The diagnosis came as a revelation. Suddenly I understood what was going on. It gave me back some power. Dyspraxia does not go away. It is how I am made. My managers were not easily won over. I had lost faith and confidence in myself. The struggle continued. I gained support of people who coached and mentored me, and I found strategies that worked. Over a couple of years, I persevered, step by painful step, and perhaps for the first time, I gained control.


Was it chance or serendipity that caused me to discover the dyspraxia or was it God’s gentle grace?


Yet this hard won control can easily slip. Something can change the equilibrium and again failure can be knocking on the door. Change is a risk factor for me.


In July 2015 everything changed. We were taken over by a new employer. I like the change of emphasis away from the medical model of care to social care. It is a subtle change. The employer is keen to make us as a team of excellence and is aware of my difficulties. Yet, I feared being in trouble again. I requested a new mentor to help me learn new computer systems and short cuts through technology.


Yet from July to November I had struggled on my own, knowing that I had let things slip. It was hard to catch up with the backlog and face fresh demands. There was respite when I talked to our Divine Mentor.  Despite those conversations, I lurched from one anxious moment to the next as I made mistake after mistake.


I tried to stay light, mask the rising panic and smile through the pain. I was like a duck, gliding on a flooding river, appearing effortless, only under the water; webbed feet paddled furiously in the torrent, in the effort to keep afloat.


In the words of Stevie Smith:


“I was much further out than you thought

And not waving but drowning.”


I finally fell down, the week before Holy week. I failed. My Manager discovered my plight and work incomplete. Then came my “dark night of the soul”. Have you ever experienced this? Sleep is elusive. In the wee small hours I got up and came downstairs to read or think or pray. I prayed aloud in whispers. Willow thought I was talking to him and purred. At least someone was awake. I trusted that God too was awake. I thought of Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane. I felt nothing but agony and failure. I wrote things down. I had so much to do the following day. I could not afford to remain wakeful. I went back to bed at 5:30am and fell into a dream filled sleep.


The next day, exhausted, I tried to concentrate in the open plan office. I was so distracted it took me an hour to do nothing. Close to tears, I went to my Manager, and again whispering because I could hardly speak I pleaded with her to let me work in a small office used for meetings. Fortunately it was free. Away from the rest, she talked to me and listened. My tears flowed. Then, I spent the day in my quiet space until the caretaker kicked me out at 7pm


After that I was on annual leave for two weeks. Initially the trauma was so great I could not talk about it. I wanted and needed respite. My Manager told me that when I return to work, she would have written a support plan to combat my stress and to include their expectations of my new role.


I felt embarrassed, grateful, ashamed, relieved, hopeful, and afraid.


Would I remain a failure or achieve success?


And this is my question to you: in God’s upside down kingdom what is the nature of success and what is failure? When we look at the people of the Bible, who is successful and who fails? Did Moses fail because he was unable to enter the Promised Land? It was said of Joseph, the dreamer that “success was with him”, and he nearly lost his life at the hands of his brothers and was thrown into prison through a false accusation. If that were success, what would failure look like? And what about Jesus? His life was taken by public execution. On a human perspective, surely that looks like failure?


I am still struggling. I would be grateful for your prayers, thoughts and constructive comments…






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Success and Failure

I have struggled with these two visitors over the last few months.

It stems from change.

Change at work; change in my position in the community; personal change following the death of my Dad.

Today I want to focus on the struggles due to the change at work.

My Uncle (my Mum’s younger brother) worked as a vet. He said:

“ You’re as good or bad as your last client consultation. If it goes well, you can feel on top of the world; if it goes badly, you can feel a complete impostor and not worthy of your profession.”

Our cat Willow is the known thug on our block, even though he’s neutered. During the summer we took him twice to the vet with infected bites following  a cat fight. Both times, as we waited outside the examination room, we realised the vet was having to put down an animal too poorly to survive. When it came to our turn, Willow was a kitten in that he responded well to treatment. The vet experienced failure and success in a matter of minutes.

Three years ago I discovered I have a specific learning disability related to dyspraxia. It is a complicated story which I won’t go into except to say I was in trouble at work and on a capability procedure. However hard I tried, in fact “trying” made it worse, I couldn’t get on top of my caseload.

For years I had struggled, getting bogged down when taking my A levels; working in the library days and nights to hand in an essay for a deadline when doing a degree; and at work I worked in my own time to compensate  and try to keep on top of things. I thought I was lazy, chaotic, easily distracted, my own worst enemy. I am all of these.I am also conscientious, well organised, focused, and a problem solver. It takes a considerable effort. For years I suffered work related stress, which affected my sleep patterns. Then a series of difficult life events  tipped me over the edge into severe anxiety and moderate to severe depression.

By pure fluke I discovered that dyspraxia was the cause of my difficulty at work due to a poor working memory, and slower than average ability to process information. It was January 2013 and I was aged 51. Was it a moment of serendipity that led me to that discovery or was it God’s gentle grace nudging me by putting me in the right place at the right time and then helping me to face my demons?

The diagnosis of dyspraxia came as a revelation. Suddenly I understood what was going on. It gave me back some power. Dyspraxia does not go away. It is how I am made. The struggles continued. My managers were not easily won over. And I had lost faith and confidence in myself. How it helped me was that I was able to gain the support of people who had my back, who coached and mentored me, and I together with them found strategies that worked. I began to win back my own self respect. Through months  which turned into a couple of years, I persevered, step by painful step, and I regained control of my caseload.

In July everything changed. We were taken over by a new employer. In many ways everything is good. I like the change in emphasis. The employer is understanding and keen to make us as a team of excellence. And they are aware of my difficulties. Time of change is a risk factor for me. I requested a new mentor to help me learn the new computer systems and guide me towards short cuts through the use of technology. I feared that if I get behind  I will be in trouble again.

The difficulty is that I still have not received the help. And like it or not, my caseload is creeping up. Like a circus clown, I have jumped through the necessary hoops. I asked my line manager; I applied to the coaching service; I waited for a suitable appointment. We met once and I signed a contract. We were due to meet again. Then I self sabotaged.

I was ten minutes late, classic for me, when floundering, even when highly motivated. My mentor did not wait,(I had broken the contract) and then did not return my calls for two weeks.This inexplicable lack of contact was when my stress levels were at their peak. Last week contact was regained and I am due to receive help the second week in December.

So far I have been struggling on my own. I know that I am not on my own. I have respite when I talk and listen to God  Despite those conversations, I lurch from one anxious moment to the next as I make mistake after mistake.

I have tried to stay light, tried to mask the rising panic and smile through the pain. I am like a duck, gliding on a flooding river, appearing to be effortless, only under the water, my webbed feet are paddling furiously, in the effort to keep afloat. As usual it is me and my nearest and dearest who suffer for my stress.

Not Waving but Drowning 

By Stevie Smith

Nobody heard him, the dead man,

But still he lay moaning:

I was much further out than you thought

And not waving but drowning.


Poor chap, he always loved larking

And now he’s dead

It must have been too cold for him his heart gave way,

They said.


Oh, no no no, it was too cold always

(Still the dead one lay moaning)

I was much too far out all my life

And not waving but drowning.


And yet, I am well off. I know that I am and I feel ashamed. My troubles are small compared to the people crossing the Mediterranean in their search for a safe haven. They too are searching for help and making a journey, step by painful step. They are at risk from the deep waters, the frailty of the boats and the enemy travelling among them.

I am well off compared to my clients. They seek help and have to jump through hoops of referrals, assessment, systems, money constraints, time, and sometimes things just not being possible.

I dedicate this post to all those struggling to find help, safety and success in their lives.

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