And yes, the intruder in the photograph is yours truly. I couldn’t resist!

[NOTE: This piece was written by Abi, our daughter, on the first anniversary of her Grandma, my Mum, passed away.] It took me years before I learnt that the beautiful pieces of art around the house were painted by my grandma. She was an artist, an aspect of her I don’t remember much of. And I’ve recently been thinking about my belief in the Great Artist. My grandma could create masterpieces from nothing, in the same way that The Great Artist created everything in existence from nothing…including us. Human beings are art work. My grandma was artwork.

I feel sad today that she could make such incredible art, art that has and will outlive her, art that has a place in my home, art that speaks. Yet she never saw herself as artwork, as a masterpiece. And she never saw others this way either.

Of course human beings are art. How can we not be? Our prayers are spells, our words are poetry, and our smiles are a fresh flick of the paintbrush, and our bodies are the frames we’re in. Our expressions, our frowns, our tears, our exclamations – even our clothing, our mannerisms, and our choices- are all communicating art. Our joy, pain, accomplishments, pain, conflicts, failures, disappointments, hope…do we not use these to create paintings and patchworks and sculptures all the time? We are complex and evolving and abstract. But isn’t that art? The painting in my grandma’s dining room that is vibrant and feels like spring, is just as much art as the broken ships on the shore that now hangs in my living room. The yellows in the first painting are not more ‘art’ than the blacks and greys of the latter. Of course, some people will prefer one painting over another- preference is part of art I suppose. The latter painting speaks to my soul far more than the spring painting.

Even on our darkest days, we are art. Living pieces of art.

I wonder if my grandma would, have lived differently if she knew was a masterpiece, if she knew she was art. I wonder how she would have been if she knew that every single part of her was a work of art and that she was communicating with other living pieces of art. I hope it would have helped her to pray honestly and sincerely, authentically from her heart – not worrying about what or who God wanted her to be and feel, or what others wanted to see; that it would have allowed her to be a masterpiece. Her joy would be understood by her as art, her depression would be understood as art. Instead she saw some things of her masterpiece as needing to be painted into the forefront and shown off, and other pieces as mistakes on the canvas that needed to be painted over or covered.

I wonder if it would have empowered her to be kinder to others – to see the art in others that she encountered, lived with and loved. I can only wish that she would have seen the art in people, regardless of the colours used for their frame, and the accent in which they shared their poetry. I can only wish that she wouldn’t have spent her life advising others on the sort of art that they ‘should’ be, but she would have learnt to appreciate the art they were in those moments, always evolving, always changing, totally abstract, but sometimes with beautiful clarity. When I wander around art galleries, there’s frankly a lot of paintings and sculptures that are wasted on me. I don’t understand them. I’m not sure I understand the language of their spells or the meaning of their poetry. I can look at a painting and wonder why that colour was used or that part thrown into the forefront. My lack of understanding doesn’t diminish the fact that it is art. And so, this goes for people too. Our lack of understanding of others doesn’t make them any less a masterpiece.

The thing that pains me the most when I remember my grandma is that of my first image in her last weeks at the hospital: old and frail, tired, lonely and terrified. I remember her telling me that God wasn’t ready for her yet, and she wasn’t going to die yet, and I kindly smiled and said, “Grandma, God is always ready for you, and you don’t need to worry about that. If it is God’s timing, then it is God’s timing and there’s not much you can do about that.” Gosh Grandma, don’t fight with The Great Artist. Don’t you see, that even in death, He is making art? He is making things new and making things beautiful. I can remember my sister sitting with her reading the Psalms, and others playing her hymns in her last days to bring her peace. And I mostly remember trying my hardest to love her and look after her and alleviate her fears – to see her art, her painful, terrified, exhausted art, and meet it with my own art: kindness and love and peace. When we see people as art, it allows us to stop for a moment and consider how we should reflect and respond to the art being presented to us. I didn’t present some of my other spells and poems and expressions of art for my grandma on those days in the hospital – my own grief and anxiety and pain for her. I shared that art with others, in the carpark outside.

My comfort today, a year on since she died in the hospital and not in her home, is that she is entirely and authentically a masterpiece, existing amongst art and able to see and celebrate art that her eyes wouldn’t allow her to see while she was with us: in a variety of frames, praying a huge host of spells and speaking poetry in accents and languages that will no longer make her feel uncomfortable.

The Repair Shop

Nestled deep in the British countryside is The Repair Shop, where a team of Britain’s most skilled and caring craftspeople rescue and resurrect items their owners thought were beyond saving. Together they transform priceless pieces of family history and bring loved, but broken treasures, and the memories they hold back to life. [Taken from the show’s website.]

There is a plethora of UK television programmes from a genre that has to do with antiques, usually owned by the public, who have no idea of the value that the pieces hold, except in sentimental value. When it was first launched on BBC1, late afternoon, I sighed. “Not another programme for old people! Really?” I chose to ignore the advancing years of my own life; I may not be old, but I am now sixty-one, and the aches and pain of that age remind me often that I am getting old, although I have no intention of behaving old… except for the frequent nap in the afternoon. It is necessary, combating my insomnia, caused by too many babies who didn’t like sleep. I digress.

I quickly got hooked, until today it is one of my favourite things on TV, even though it leaves me in tears far too often.

The Repair Shop reminds me of My Great Papa, the God of the Christian faith, who is often pictured as a potter, crafting pottery into something beautiful. The intention to detail as the master craftsmen repair items that I would probably have dumped; the joy they clearly get in working with such care to restore items back to something very close to their original glory; the patience it requires – nobody ever gives up, loses their cool or shows an ounce of frustration. And the pleasure shown by the craftsmen when the “customer” returns for their beloved old thing. The blanket is removed and the look on the owners face is always a picture. And the other craftsmen watch from their benches and join in the pleasure and joy, as though they have been part of the restoration – could that be a glimpse into the mystery that we call The Trinity, but have no idea what that means?

But The Repair Shop also shows what “church” should be and should look like. The world is full of broken people – sometimes simply from the wear and tear of life, but sadly often the result of neglect and abuse – people who need to be repaired and restored. If My Great Papa is the Master Craftsman, then surely church, whatever that looks like and is or isn’t, should be, at times, a repair shop? Sadly, for too many, and I am one, the church has become the place where much of the damage that we carry is inflicted, rather than where the damage is repaired.

The programme shows a group of people, all experts in their own field, but novices when it comes to what might be required at any time. They love their work – you can see the sheer pleasure they get doing the repair and the utter joy when the work is completed. Tired church has stopped enjoying those moments, probably we are no longer artisans in the role we play. And for too long, we have been fed the lie that pleasure and joy are emotions that Christians should not feel.

It is not unusual for one of the team to request the help of another to complete a job. The one drops everything to help the other, knowing that the one requesting will be the one who gets the credit. Oh, for church to be a community where there is no competition! And when the joy of unveiling the finished work erupts, the other craftsmen stop work at the bench to enjoy the moment. Church should always enjoy the success and completion of another.

And ultimately, “church” should be a place, a community, a family where the broken lives of both church and world can be repaired and restored, often to a greater glory and beauty than they had before. And while we celebrate their healing, My Great Papa smiles and sometimes chuckles at the great thing that has just been achieved.

I suspect there are conversations around the world, in churches of all shapes and sizes, about what church is going to be and look like, post-COVID19 and the lockdown. I don’t have answers, except to express the hope that church will become family, community – a place and a people where the broken and exhausted and lost can feel safe and loved; a place where somebody will draw alongside another, take their hand, and walk at least part of their journey of faith with them; a place where people, who are healed and restored, but still carry the scars, can administer the healing love of My Great Papa; an environment where the achievements and successes can be celebrated with others rather than competed against. And I could go on, but I suspect you get the drift.

The Repair Shop – a veiled image of heaven on earth? I hope so.


Hero = noun, plural he·roes; for 5 also he·ros.

a person noted for courageous acts or nobility of character:

He became a local hero when he saved the drowning child.

a person who, in the opinion of others, has special achievements, abilities, or personal qualities and is regarded as a role model or ideal:

My older sister is my hero. Entrepreneurs are our modern heroes.

I am thinking of making this a series of blogs about people who have impacted my life either intentionally or without knowing. Some I know, some are strangers; some come to stay for a while, fellow pilgrims sharing their journey with me and vice verse, while others are there for a moment and then gone. But all have changed my life in one way or another, and so I am very grateful for them. And every time I think of them, I am again inspired to press on, to keep going, to remember who I am and why I do what I do. They deserve to be my heroes.

The Old Man with a Young Heart:

I used to see them almost every day, same time, same place unless it was raining. He, a little old man, but pretty fit for his age and his wife, trapped in a wheelchair and dependent on her husband to create for her as much freedom as he possibly could. For weeks I would simply walk past them, maybe say “Good morning,” and then carry on. Invariably, I had a baby, disgruntled, sometimes screaming, who hated the pram with a vengeance, so conversation would be challenging. At least that is my excuse! Until…

In the end I could not resist! I never can! I said hello, and then started a conversation, that ended up with me saying to the old man, “I watch you every day and have figured out that you are amazing, walking your wife down to the beach every day.” To which he replied, “Oh, it’s nothing. The lady is worth it!” At which point, I could feel the tears coming, and moved on quickly.

These are those divine appointments, those God-created encounters with ordinary people, who do extraordinary things and become heroes without realising it, inspiring others to crack on, and press in, however tough it is. And in those moments with these heroes, I find renewed strength, courage and resilience to keep on doing what I do, because whoever it is, and whatever it is I am doing, “they are worth it.”

The Bible talks about us all being made in the image of God. Now that can mean a whole range of things, depending on your theological position, the journey you have been on and the kind of person you are. But, at the very least, it means that you are “worth it.” It places within each person living today an intrinsic value based on nothing other than you are alive and breathing and made in the image of God.

And for me, living in this moment and enjoying it, this intrinsic value must, by definition, impact the way I am living now, what I am doing and why I am doing it, how I relate to God – my Papa – and how I relate to the next one. For the most part, the next one for me is the little one in our care today; it is the birth parents with all their pain and darkness and wounds and their inability to care for their little ones; it is the social workers and other professionals, most of whom try to do the best they can while working in a broken and malnourished system. And all of them are worth my best efforts to be like my Papa, just because they are, made in the image of God. And, of course, it means those who are always my next ones – my wife, my own kids, my wider family, and my church family – they are all worth it.

And so, when I look back at where I started, admiring a little old man pushing his disabled wife down the beach because she is worth it, I am inspired to just maybe, be a hero and an inspiration to somebody else.

Welcome to the Journey

I am a son, a husband, a father, a friend. I am, a recently retired, local authority foster carer, a member of a crazy, creative, frustration and joyous “church” family. I am a pilgrim, a traveller, an explorer, an avid reader and novice writer.

And I am wounded and scarred, broken and damaged. And yet healed and loved beyond recognition. On a good day, I am Papa’s Little Boy and Papa to “the next one.”

On a bad day… I am self-righteous, self-absorbed, religious, judgmental, critical, negative, determined to be right and let you know that I am right, at all costs. On these days, my scars have been prodded and poked enough for them to hurt all over again. And when I hurt… here comes another bad day.

Why am I writing?

I have always dreamed of writing. So, when somebody prays that past dreams be fulfilled, including writing, and then somebody comments on my writing skills, it felt like a nudge, a heavenly elbow in the ribs.

I am certainly not trying to persuade, convince, convict or put right. I have had more than enough of that in my life, both as a giver and a receiver. Neither am I claiming some superior revelation and experience; it is my journey and my story, not yours.

I do want to explore and discover, provoke and stimulate, encourage and support… fellow travellers and storytellers. I am not looking to force our paths together, but if we should bump into each other? Well, let’s walk and explore together for a while and see where it takes us.

My Own Secret Place