For people walking in darkness …

Working, as I do now, in a Catholic school, I am more aware than ever of the liturgy and rhythm of the church calendar.

The end of term (still a near memory) is always a mixed feeling of tiredness and optimism – waiting until the end of term for that elusive ‘holiday feeling’ to hit!  There is always so much to be done, to be finished, before … before … always before.  The meaning of Christmas, of Advent, can be so easily lost, amongst the busyness, amongst the (lovely) Secret Santa, the tinsel, the carol concerts, the wrapping and posting.


But I return to the advent wreath, the first candle of which was lit three Sundays ago (the next Sunday we were snowed in so I didn’t get to church), the second two weeks ago and the third last Sunday.


The first candle represents hope.  And who doesn’t need some of that in their lives?  Hope for people we know and love, hope for those whom we will never encounter or may feel we have little in common with.  Our own hopes and dreams.


Jeremiah wrote about hope in chapter 29 v 11 of that book:

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.

I believe that God does offer us hope – sometimes we can’t see how or when this will come to fruition – our job is to hold on.  Simple?  No.  Simplistic?  I hope not.


The second candle represents peace.  Again, looking at the world we live in, could do with some of that, huh?  Why does it seem so elusive?  In a world where country fights against country, creed against creed, brother against brother (metaphorically but sadly, sometimes literally too), peace seems beyond our reach.  But again, an old Testament prophet (this time Isaiah chapter 2 v 4) foresaw a time when that too would come:

He will judge between the nations
    and will settle disputes for many peoples.
They will beat their swords into plowshares
    and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not take up sword against nation,
    nor will they train for war anymore.

I don’t know if peace will come in my lifetime – but I know that peace begins with me.  As a wise teacher in my school once said, we are not called just to be peace lovers (for who doesn’t love peace?) but peace makers.  In our communities, where we are, to actively strive for peace.  Again, simple?  Definitely not.  But let it start with us and see where it ends.

The third candle represents joy and is often pink.  As a teacher, I am particularly struck by this as it seems that the generation of youngsters I have the privilege of teaching are among the unhappiest ever (see for example,  Was it always thus – or is this a particularly 21st century malaise?


Sometimes that is the hardest of all.  But it can be a choice.  Not to be Pollyanna and just to play the ‘glad game’ but to choose to be thankful.  And to strive to keep making that choice.  And to help those who cannot make that choice through no fault of their own – to just be there in whatever way we can and hold them up when they cannot hold themselves.

For that in the end is, for me, the message of Christmas.  Again from Isaiah (chapter 9 v 2, 6 and 7a):

The people walking in darkness
    have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
    a light has dawned.

For to us a child is born,
    to us a son is given,
    and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
    Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
 Of the greatness of his government and peace
    there will be no end.

It is not those who already have light who so desperately need it, it is not the hopeful that need hope, the peaceful who need peace or the joyful who need joy.  For those walking in darkness and indeed for all of us, I wish hope, peace, joy and above all love this Christmas.

Be blessed xx


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All Bible verses are from the New International Version.


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My top 10 favourite Shakespeare lines


This was the topic of one blog I’m following ( – and as an English teacher, a very good if rather tricky challenge!

In no particular order:

  1. ‘Let me not to the marriage of true minds admit impediments.’ (Sonnet 116)
  2.  ‘To thine own self be true.’ (Hamlet Act 1, Scene 3)
  3.  ‘If music be the food of love play on.’ (Twelfth Night Act 1, Scene 1)
  4. ‘We are such stuff as dreams are made on, and our little life is rounded with a sleep.’ (The Tempest Act 4, Scene 1)
  5. ‘All the world ‘s a stage, and all the men and women merely players. They have their exits and their entrances; And one man in his time plays many parts.’(As You Like it Act 2, Scene 7)
  6. ‘The man that hath no music in himself, Nor is not moved with concord of sweet sounds, Is fit for treasons, stratagems, and spoils … Let no such man be trusted.’ (The Merchant of Venice Act 5 Scene 1)
  7. Don Pedro: ‘You were born in a merry hour …’ Beatrice: ‘A star danced, and under that I was born.’ (Much Ado about Nothing Act 2 Scene 1)
  8. ‘My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground:  And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare as any she belied with false compare’ (Sonnet 130.)
  9. ‘My bounty is as boundless as the sea, My love as deep; the more I give to thee,
    The more I have, for both are infinite.’ (Romeo and Juliet Act 2 Scene 2.)
  10. ‘Though she be but little, she is fierce’ (A Midsummer Night’s Dream Act 3 Scene 2.)

Ok … not Shakespeare but still tickles me …

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#Slow Saturday

“We don’t do things at speed here in Valley Road.” My husband sometimes (often) comes out with immortal lines – that one just tickled me.

But it also chimed with my current thinking.  Having been off for two days this week with asthma-exacerbated issues, I need to slow down, to realise my own mortality.


In our Chaplaincy group at school, we have recently discussed teacher well-being and for me that is vital – how can we give out as teachers, as Christians, if we don’t look after ourselves first?  Note: that’s not JUST look after ourselves – but look after ourselves SO we can also look after others.  Isn’t that our mission here on earth?

So … HOW?

  1. Personally, I rather like Martyn Reah’s #teacher5aday (which would I hazard to suggest work even if you’re not a teacher!) That particular journey started (?) here:


2) I also like Mindfulness … not some random or possibly dodgy (depending on your worldview) Eastern mysticism and emphatically not something that, for me, conflicts with my Christian faith – nor something that demands it (I think that’s a whole different discussion for another time!) and have found the following sites useful – particularly the former as it’s so easy to do and his voice is so calming!:


For me, Mindfulness isn’t rocket science.  One of my former blog posts was essentially about considering giving up teaching – I didn’t.  Instead of jettisoning something I love doing (on my best days), I found a way to cope with it, to shift my mindset (another buzzword, another blog?!) rather than the essentially hard work that goes into being a teacher (and many other professions, before anyone shouts at me! And being a mother before anyone shouts at me that this is also a job … I fully agree!  And a father … with aforementioned caveats and disclaimers!  And a human being … ditto.)

3) Finally and certainly last but not least – there is God.  Never do I realise more than when I have come to the end of my own resources, that I need God in my life.  Fair play to anyone else who manages without – each to their own.  I am not foisting God on anyone who does not want Him / Her (oooh – contraversial … another blog?) just reiterating His/Her invitation:


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The Bridge


Further to my last post: in the morning of the conference, my friend and I attended a workshop run by Christian Foley (for more information, go to this link:                or watch this video:

A little more context: I have previously been something of a classicist when it comes to literature – you know, Jane Austen, Dickens, that kind of thing.  This workshop was WAY out of my comfort zone.  I’m English (and therefore chronically embarrassed), middle-class, (dare I say it?) middle-aged: I don’t DO slam poetry.  But the rhythm and energy of this kind of poetry was something else.

Christian took us through a number of exercises to build confidence, explaining that this is what he does with a number of the kids that he works with, who often see school / learning as a very negative place / idea indeed.  Their response to what he does? ‘That ain’t poetry, man, that’s LIFE’ : rather inspiring.

The last exercise was introduced by one of Christian’s own poems called The Bridge, where students / we in our turn were introduced to a bridge between our reality and somewhere else.  And the rest was up to us: what would each of us be able to see …?

(Cue more free writing.  This is obviously my ‘happy place’!) …


A beautiful world.  Full of sunlight,

Full of delight.  No night scares,

No stairs to climb.  I’m free.

A beautiful beach.  Just out of reach,

The palm-trees beckon. I reckon

They’re taller than a skyscraper,

Taller than me. I’m free.

The waves glisten in the light.  I listen

To the roar of oceann against land

As the water kisses the sand

That trickles through my hand

And now I understand: I’m free.

And I close my eyes, feel the rays with surprise

(This is England, guys!

But not as I know it.)  I don’t want to blow it.

Want to seize my opportunity,

Reach out to my community,

Not just do my ‘duty’.

Can’t escape my responsibility

And yet …

Inside my head there remains the possibility.

Is it real or is it fantasy?

And I close my eyes: it is still there.

Wind blowing through my hair;

I can go there


I want.

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Ok, a bit of context.

I went to a conference yesterday for teachers and writers – or for writing teachers – or for teacher-writers, or any combination thereof.  I went with a very good friend and colleague, both of us braving London town in the pursuit of inspiration and knowledge.  And we found both.

One of the starting exercises was essentially grounded in Mindfulness, where we were asked to focus on breathing / watch thoughts as if they were clouds, without judgement and without self-criticism.  And then we were asked to do some free-writing: just to write for 5 mins or so without stopping, without editing ourselves, just writing.

And this is what I wrote:


An archway opens into a curious mind. Imagination sparks; synapses firing                into the void. The connections ever flowing, flowing, unceasing. A spider web               of conection.


This is why I am a teacher: the thrill of discovery.  Words have power,                 multiplicity of meaning.  The joy of ambiguity: did I mean that? or that? or that?          or perhaps all of these in one. A never-ending road of words.  This should be         scary.  But it’s not – it’s exhilarating. Have I spelt that word wrong?


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Mind the Gap …

Wow.  It’s been a whole year (over) since I last posted and what a year it’s been.


Last time I posted (, I was at a crossroads and not really seeing the way forward.  Now I am (thank God) looking forward to a new opportunity, having accepted an offer of a position at a new school, continuing with what I have been doing but also taking up a new and excitingly different direction.

Which got me thinking (the fact that we started the Easter holidays over here yesterday also helps!): what is God doing during these gaps, these hiatuses in our lives?  What are we to make of this in the light of today, Holy Saturday, the biggest hiatus in Earth’s history, theseemingly blank (and black) gap  in between Good Friday and Easter Sunday.  Where is God on this day?


Imagine it:  you have seen your best friend and mentor die, in the most horrific of circumstances possible.  He told you it was going to happen, but you never really believed it, not deep down. And now, all you feel is numbness, overlaying the anger and betrayal – what about this Kingdom of Heaven that was promised?  What about this promise of  new life?


Jesus himself knew this anguish of abandonment, echoing the Psalmist’s words (Psalm 22) on the Cross:

1 My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
    Why are you so far from saving me,
    so far from my cries of anguish?
My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer,
    by night, but I find no rest.

Now Jesus’ sense of abandonment was a far deeper, far more all-encompassing one than we could ever know.  He who was God, separated from God for that one instant, feeling the whole weight of God’s anger when all He had known was the communion of God’s love.

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The first thing we can glean from this is that Jesus, above everyone else, understood what this gap, this sense of separation, of bewilderment felt like. As the writer of Hebrews says in chapter 4:15, ‘For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are–yet he did not sin.’  So we can have confidence both that we can express our thoughts honestly in prayer, as the Psalmist did, and that Jesus will understand rather than condemn us for so doing.

The second thing I take from Holy Saturday, is to ask what God is doing in the midst of this apparent bleakness and loss.

The Medievalists had a belief in something called the Harrowing of Hell (explained in this blog  – which states that in the time between Good Friday and Easter, Jesus was making something of a triumphant lap of Hell – coming in victory rather than defeat, showing his dominion over death.  I like to think this is true.  It certainly makes sense of the ‘time in between’, that time just before the Easter Dawn, when the world seemed most bleak.

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In my own life, I can look back over the past two years or so when it hasn’t always felt like God has been working through it all. Even though I’ve clung on to this belief, that there was purpose behind me being where I was, behind doors I was knocking on being slammed fairly firmly in my face.  And looking back now, I can see those incremental things God has been doing: the patience He’s been developing in me (still work in progress!), the new heart He’s awoken in me, the new vision He’s been preparing for me. All beneath the surface when things seemed apparently static, unchanging.  A bit like the time-lapse video below, when all seems dead on the surface, God is working beneath, in the quiet, holy spaces in our lives, to bring about new growth and new life.

Romans 8 v 28 states:‘And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.’  That’s in ALL things, not just in the things we enjoy or in the times we can feel His presence, but also in the times in between, the gaps – maybe particularly in those times, I would dare to suggest?


I pray that whether God is growing something fantastic in your life, or whether you have yet to see these new roots / routes taking shape, that you will experience God’s blessing and love this Easter and beyond.

Be blessed!


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All Bible verses taken from the New International Version on unless otherwise specified.

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Beginning of the end …. or end of the beginning?


Naomi and Job must have felt their worlds were ending.

In five short verses, Ruth Chapter 1 paints a picture of a family in exile due to famine, the death of Naomi’s husband followed by a brief moment of snatched happiness when Naomi’s sons find happiness with Moabite women, only to be succeeded by the death of both the sons, leaving all three women bereft. Imagine: not only your husband / father-in-law but also your son / husband dying.  Calamity piled on calamity.

Now Elimelek, Naomi’s husband, died, and she was left with her two sons. They married Moabite women, one named Orpah and the other Ruth. After they had lived there about ten years, both Mahlon and Kilion also died, and Naomi was left without her two sons and her husband.

The book of Job, if anything, paints an even bleaker picture.  From verses 13-19 of Chapter 1, Job is told by four separate messengers of the loss of his herds; his servants; and finally of all of his children, with every messenger repeating the refrain:        ” … and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!” (verses 15, 16, 17 and 19.)

As ever, I am in total awe of Job’s response.  Instead of railing at God for this manifest injustice, he simply acknowledges that everything he has is a gift from God anyway:

“Naked I came from my mother’s womb,
    and naked I will depart.
The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away;
    may the name of the Lord be praised.”

I’m not sure I’d have been anything like as sanguine!  Does it mean he didn’t care?  Hardly.  His response was to tear his clothes and shave his head – traditional signs of mourning in that culture at the time.  And even though I’m not an owner of vast herds of sheep, cattle, camels and the like; nor the employer of masses of servants; speaking as a parent, I could not even begin to imagine the heart-wrenching pain of my children being wiped off the face of this planet, at one stroke, just like that.

1c5a536371d7d9cb0a6cb6c7521380f2My point?  Nothing as catastrophic as happened to Job, or Naomi has ever happened to me (thank God!)  But sometimes we stand at crossroads, where something has ended or it feels like something has died within us.  And we don’t know why – or where we go from here. I’m not going to be flippant. Sometimes it is scary.  Oftentimes it is painful.  But I believe there are times and seasons in everyone’s life.  And while there is, necessarily, mourning for one thing gone out of our life, I have to hold on to the belief that God is standing there with us at those crossroads, whatever they are (end of relationship, moving to new area / job / house etc) and is guiding us / preparing the road ahead of us before we are even aware.

And I have to hold on too to the fact that God doesn’t take something away without there being something more promised to us.  On Mother’s Day, I remember my mum passing away a few years ago and the loss of that – but I would not wish her back in that frail, human body, when she is probably up there on a cloud somewhere having a healthy argument – sorry I mean debate (!) with a few angels and the like!

For Naomi and Job too, what seemed to have been taken away was repaid many times over. In Job Chapter 42 we are told that:

1The Lord blessed the latter part of Job’s life more than the former part. He had fourteen thousand sheep, six thousand camels, a thousand yoke of oxen and a thousand donkeys. 13 And he also had seven sons and three daughters.

Similarly, for Naomi, her daughter-in-law Ruth’s re-marriage to a distant relative and the subsequent birth of her first grandchild, paved the way for blessings of which she had only the remotest inkling (as the conclusion of the book of Ruth lists the family tree leading to David, and we know that this genealogy ultimately led to Jesus Himself.)

 14 The women said to Naomi: “Praise be to the Lord, who this day has not left you without a guardian-redeemer. May he become famous throughout Israel! 15 He will renew your life and sustain you in your old age. For your daughter-in-law, who loves you and who is better to you than seven sons, has given him birth.”

If you stand at a crossroads today, remember what is past but take heart from the fact that God is the Alpha and the Omega.  He knows where you started, where you’re going and will be with you every step of the way.


Be blessed!

Frances x

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