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On Being an Older Father

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Having two grown-up children and approaching sixty years of age, it never crossed my mind that I might become a father again; but that was until I met Naomi and a loving relationship developed, with the full knowledge that she wanted children (astute readers will have deduced she’s much younger than me).

Just over five years later, we are happily married with three wonderful children, and I’m the age in the title of a well-known Beatles’ song! Some might question the twenty-seven year age difference between us, but all I can say is that it works for us and we are a very happy and loving family.

When people find out I have three young children at my age, they say I’m either brave or stupid – possible even both, and I sometimes think that myself. Seriously though, I’m truly loving having the wonderful privilege and sacred responsibility of bringing up a family for the second time. Whilst having three children close together is not easy at times, I especially enjoy seeing the interactions between them (this is new for me as there are six years between my two older children).

It’s said that age is just a number and that you’re only as old as you feel, but clearly my age will increasingly be an issue as the years go by. Even though tomorrow is not guaranteed for anyone, statistically I won’t be around for as long as most parents could expect to be in the children’s future. On the other hand, people tell me I don’t look my age and I keep myself fit (mainly by healthy eating and running), and both my father and his father lived in relatively good health until their late 80s.

I remind myself regularly it’s the quality of the time I spend with my family that’s important for their personal development and formative years, and I’m making a special effort to live in the present and make the most of every moment; although I sometimes wonder how they will react when they’re old enough to realise I’m older than most other fathers. I’m certainly not going to have a ‘normal’ (if there is such a thing) retirement.

They say that inside every man is a nine-year-old boy constantly trying to get out, and that’s probably true, but I like to think my ‘advanced’ years have given me a measure of life experience and wisdom I didn’t have the first time around. Having said that, nothing really prepares you to be a parent, and so even second time around I’m realistic (and hopefully humble) enough to recognise I’m still learning and don’t have all the answers. Mind you, if you want an expert on wiping bums and changing nappies – I’m your man!

This is me (Helen Austin)

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I’m pleased to share this guest post by my online friend Helen Austin. It’s a deeply personal story with an important message. This is my edited version (with permission and approval) of her original post that you can find by clicking here.

The iconic song This Is Me from the film The Greatest Showman performed by Keala Settle has partly inspired this post.

‘I am not a stranger to the dark
Hide away, they say
‘Cause we don’t want your broken parts
I’ve learned to be ashamed of all my scars
Run away, they say
No one’ll love you as you are’

My life changed forever 11 years ago, late afternoon, walking past a building site I had walked past SO many times before. It took me on a journey I had no idea about. The journey of being a victim. A rape victim.

I had no idea what to do, how to be, how to move forwards.
I just put one step forwards at a time and somehow managed it.

Looking back there are things I wish I had done differently. I wish I had told people, my friends, especially those in London who had no idea and no idea why I suddenly moved after deciding to settle there. I wish I had told my Mum instead of feeling this fierce sense of protection for her, and not wanting to expose her to my mess. I wish I had found other ways to cope without drinking and self-harming, and trying to die a few times. I wish what had happened hadn’t happened.

But it did, and despite now wishing I had done things differently, I have found peace with the fact that I did the very best I could at the time to survive. In 11 years I’ve learned and I’ve changed, I’ve changed from being a victim to being a survivor.

For years the darkness was present and often overwhelmed, as did the thoughts, the ones in my head that told me I needed to hide, to hide who I was and my feelings, because no one wanted to know or cared, or wanted me, this person in ‘broken parts’.

I spent years being ashamed of both my physical and mental scars. Yet, somehow deep in my soul was this ability to not be totally grounded down to dust.

‘But I won’t let them break me down to dust
I know that there’s a place for us
For we are glorious.’

I was fragmented, with lots and lots of different fragments (hence the name of the anonymous blog I wrote for many years), but I wasn’t dust, and I started to find my ‘place’. A place to be and belong, not as an anonymous person hiding behind my stories.

As me, Helen, the survivor.
As me, Helen.
I am bruised, for sure but I am also who I am meant to be.

I’ve learnt to laugh again, and love again, and find joy in life again. I’ve learnt to let people in, to accept support, to accept I am who I am, and that is who I was and am meant to be, shaped by my experiences but not beholden to them.

This last year, in particular, I have learned to embrace being a rape survivor as part of my story. It isn’t all of who I am, but it is a part of who I am and that cannot be changed. My rapist (and his friend who was there) didn’t beat me, they have not silenced me.

‘I am brave, I am bruised
I am who I’m meant to be, this is me
Look out ’cause here I come
And I’m marching on to the beat I drum
I’m not scared to be seen
I make no apologies, this is me.’

On social media I’m passionate about talking about sexual violence and violence against women. As part of that I sometimes share my story. I know some people think I’m mad and some people wonder ‘Why’ I put myself out there in that way…

Well…

I do it because I am not afraid any more.
I’m also not afraid (and never have been) of what people think of me.
I genuinely don’t care if people don’t want to read what I have to say, as they don’t have to, although I hope they do!

People with voices and the ability to speak out need to be seen and heard. It’s 2018 and despite the successes (?) of online media campaigns such as ‘Me Too’, society still needs to see and hear survivors of sexual violence.

It’s 2018 and stigma still exists. Prosecutions and convictions are abysmally low and victims/survivors are failed every day across the country by local services and police.

So (if we are able) we have to speak out, challenge and bring about change.

I do this so other people know they are not alone. Being a victim of rape, or any sexual violence can leave you feeling incredibly alone and isolated and I spend a lot of time in contact with other survivors who find life hard, supporting them as a friend, and as someone who understands.

So I hope by beating the drum loudly if just one person knows they are not alone, and that someone out there cares, then it is worth it.

I’m thankful for the women who went ahead before me, beating their drums, mentioning, in particular, the rather amazing Jill Saward who was a forefront campaigner on this stuff, and a close friend, who personally taught me so much. We miss you Jill.

So, here are, 2018 and its 11 years on for me…

I am happy (apart from when the health stuff gets bad). I love life and living. I’m loud, bubbly, outspoken, fiery at times, passionate about Jesus; and loving people. I’m not where I ever thought I would be BUT I am where I am meant to be, and it’s a huge privilege to be able to use my experience to support others.

I am Helen, and 11 years later this is me.

International Space Station

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Today marks 20 years of the International Space Station, with the launch of the first element (the Zarya module) occurring on 20 November 1998. From this initial launch, the station has been built up bit by bit to the structure it is today. It’s easily seen when it passes over your location (there are many apps that notify times and dates) as it orbits the globe every 92 minutes. British astronaut Time Peake has been a crew member of the ISS, and I’m currently reading his excellent book (pictured above). It’s an easy read and tells you everything you need to know about his life as an astronaut and the ISS, and would make an excellent present for someone (or yourself).

Speaking Generally

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I’m grateful to my friend Stephen Poxon (author and writer) for contributing this guest post about William Booth. You can find his books here.

William Booth: Founder of The Salvation Army, Christian evangelist, reformer, friend of royalty, champion of the marginalised, wit, entrepreneur, and master of the soundbite.

So far, so good, but we must remember that Booth was preaching his message and espousing his spiritual and moral philosophy before any of the advantages of modern communications technology could be exploited. His was an era of voice projection and oratory that went largely unaided except by, maybe, primitive devices for amplification.

All the more remarkable, therefore, is the fact that so many of William Booth’s quotations have survived into the present age. Granted, many were recorded by stenographers and biographers, but General Booth’s feat is still special, especially as much of his (prophetic?) wisdom retains a fresh touch.

Such as, for example, his utterance that there might come a time when the fires of scorching faith that burned within his bones would somehow become

“Religion without the Holy Ghost, Christianity without Christ, forgiveness without repentance, salvation without regeneration, politics without God, heaven without hell”.

Forgive the pun, but this is hot stuff; not for the faint-hearted (but then, faint-heartedness was a concept Booth never understood).

Was the old man right, though?

Take a look around. See for yourself a market-place swarming with pseudo-Christian philosophies (touchy-feely-feel-good mantras of consolation paraded in the name of some churches) and you might concede, he made a reasonable point! Denominations, I mean, that sometimes appear not to know their convictions from their desperate strivings to be ultra-relevant, and which, consequently (inevitably) dilute their ancient mandate to the point of it being nothing in particular and of little use to anyone.

And as for the penultimate utterance in Booth’s list of concerns, who can forget Alastair Campbell’s famous interruption of Tony Blair, reminding the then Prime Minister that “We don’t do God”?

How about this absolute corker:

“Don’t instil, or allow anybody else to instil into the hearts of your girls the idea that marriage is the chief end of life. If you do, don’t be surprised if they get engaged to the first empty, useless fool they come across.”

He wasn’t holding back, was he! Anyone voicing such opinions nowadays would be faced with any number of charges before they could say political correctness. Yet, allowing the dust to settle, we might just find ourselves agreeing with the outspoken warrior, albeit only grudgingly, on behalf of our children and grandchildren. Is it even possible we might only, eventually, accuse him of speaking downright common sense?

Try this one: “The greatness of the man’s power is the measure of his surrender”.

Notwithstanding the gender bias of the statement, how much does a contemporary age rail against notions of surrender, obedience, deference or conformity; in civil and legal matters, relationships, education, religion, societal structures, international political diplomacy, and the workplace (and so on)? Are we, can we honestly claim, the better for such prevailing tendencies and the tacit approval of creeping anarchy in the name of entitlement?

Read. Ponder. Agree. Disagree.

Don’t pay if it’s already yours!

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You’d never keep paying for something you’d already paid for, or would you? Well apparently, lots of people do continue to pay for their smartphones even after they’ve been paid off in full.

This has been in the news recently, and it was highlighted again today (click here). For example, you take out a contract for two years and at the end of this period you have paid off the cost of the handset – but, unless you change the contract, your provider will continue to charge you for the phone!

My contract has just ended, but I don’t need or want the latest handset as my existing one is working fine. I’m more interested in reducing my monthly phone bill. It was a simple process (involving just a few clicks) to switch to a SIM only contract and save myself money – I just hope my smartphone keeps going long enough to enjoy the savings!

Everyday Sexism

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A news item on BBC News caught my eye today: An “alarmingly high” number of girls and young women feel unsafe outside their home, according to annual research for Girlguiding UK. The survey of 1,903 13 to 21-year-olds in the UK found nearly two-thirds either felt unsafe, or knew someone who was fearful walking home alone.

It reminded me of the Everyday Sexism project which exists to catalogue instances of sexism experienced on a day to day basis. They might be serious or minor, outrageously offensive or so niggling and normalised that you don’t even feel able to protest. It encourages women to share their stories to show the world that sexism does exist, that it is faced by women everyday and that it is a valid problem to discuss.

It’s a sad state of affairs that millions of women and girls are sick and tired of constantly being treated with disrespect as they simply try to live their lives.

But what is the answer? Firstly, to take the issue seriously. Secondly, to listen to what girls and women are saying and feeling. Lastly, to teach boys (and remind men) to treat everyone with respect and not abuse positions of power.

Photo Credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/giuseppemilo/22951197762

Jumping from 10,000 ft at 94

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Commissioner Harry Read is a retired Salvation Army Officer who was my Training Principal while I was at the William Booth College in London between 1978-1980. Harry is also a D-Day veteran who parachuted into Normandy in 1944. At the age of 94, he made another parachute jump to raise funds for Salvation Army work to combat modern slavery and human trafficking. Amongst his many gifts, this fine Christian leader is also a poet, and I often use his insightful poetry while leading worship. Well done Harry!

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Note: I’m grateful to Margaret Ord for the photo of Harry preparing for his jump.