The only way out is through

If I had my time again I would not decide to unpick my life at the end of two years of lockdown. Lockdown 6 was brutal and damaging in a way all the others weren’t. It left me feeling anxious and lonely and on top of the two years of the uncertainty and change, it was not the best timing.

When I decided to see a counsellor, I thought it was just going to be a few issues that were causing me to be stuck emotionally, instead have turned into a process that has seen me plumb the depths of my soul to find the darkness that lurked there and bring it to the light. It’s not been pretty.

There have been some very dark days in the last few weeks, days when I didn’t know whether I had the strength to keep going. I was not suicidal but my heart beat so hard with anxiety, I felt sure it would fail.

When people checked in I’d say everyday is better but everyday is harder. For a few weeks, cooking a meal was beyond me, basic tasks were exhausting. I’ll be forever grateful to my parents who looked after me, checking in, helping with chores and keeping me fed.

The thing about going through something like this, is that the world sees all the bits you hide. It’s excruciating. No one wants to not be perfect or to hang their dirty laundry out to be looked at and judged. And yet I’ve had to because by telling people I’m not ok and I need help, I’ve been able to get the support I need.

People have said I’m brave and inspiring in how I’ve gone about facing these issues. I don’t know where that has come from. Most of the time I wanted to curl up in a ball and hope it went away. And yet somehow each day I found the courage to turn around and to face things and keeping working through it.

In walking this journey, I’ve had to put radical trust in God. I’ve had to relinquish control of not just the process, but my own life; I’ve never felt less in control or more safe.

I’m not yet able to give the testimony of what God has been doing. But from the moment I met with my vicar for spiritual advice on forgiveness to today, each step has been guided. I’ve glimpsed the power of God and seen miracles performed.

And I’ve prayed a lot, I’ve spent hours just talking to God, praising him and inviting him into my thinking, the memories, the feelings. He’s led me to information that has shown me new ways forward, he has used all of me, even my skills as a librarian to move me along in this journey.

I’ve been supported in prayer by my family, friends and church. The women of my bible study group have been such a comfort to me, never seeming to mind my endless requests for prayers. It’s been humbling and a blessing.

I’m not yet at the end of this journey and as far as I’ve come, there may be just as far to go. But the light grows stronger, the steps forward mount up and slowly joy returns.

A letter to a friend

Dear One,

Our paths must diverge for a while. I know this cleaving pains you, as it pains me but it is necessary Dear One, it is needed. We are not who we were anymore, our hearts whisper new secrets that ache to be heard. To hear them we cannot go on together, we must take different paths.

Understand Dear One, I do this not out of anger or blame but with love. I need to let you go for my own sake, for my own heart. I feel your loss like losing an arm; all our friendship was, and could have been. Yet my heart remains resolute knowing this is for the best, knowing that sometimes diverged paths may never cross again.

I send you on your way with great love, trusting the path you walk on is walked with God. Take care Dear One, you will be in my prayers, as I hope I will be in yours.

Love your friend.

Life in between – the final post

Life is back to normal (whatever that means anyway). I went to actual shops with actual people in them and bought things and didn’t have to wait to have them delivered. It was, well, so 2019, except for the face masks and the checking in.

When I’m back out in the world, I wonder if the last two years actually happened. Everything is just like we left it and everyone seems to have picked up where they left off. It’s a bit disconcerting actually, I’ve feel like I’ve changed so much but the world seems too have stayed the same.

I’ve seen a few friends since lockdown finished and most seem to say the same thing, they thought they were ok but they weren’t. And it’s only in going out and doing normal things that they realise how very not ok they were; how much we all missed people, and a sense of freedom.

We spent much of the last two years in survival mode; telling ourselves we are ok because we needed to be, we accepted all the hardships for the sake keeping each other safe and surviving the pandemic. Now lockdown has ended and we are not in survival mode anymore, we realise the necessity of all the things we were forced give up. Life was not just meant to be a series of endless days but a thing that is sustained and indeed nourished by people and things that bring us joy.

Lockdown 6 was devoid of joy. It felt like there was no light at the end of the tunnel, just relentless, monotonous days. The things that had got me through the previous lockdowns no longer helped. I knew I had reached the end of my rope when I started thinking that if I had to go for a walk in my area one more time I’d lose it.

Admittedly, I’ve had a few medical issues but my brain has felt on fire now for a while. It’s funny how in my last post I said I’d been ok but the last few weeks of lockdown and reopening, I’ve been distinctly not ok. There’s just been too much change to absorb and too much isolation to absorb it in. As a classic over thinker, this combination has been really damaging in the end.

If there is one good thing to come out the pandemic, it’s the recognition that I don’t want to live like this anymore. I want something else; I want to embrace the future and live fully in God’s grace. And if I want to do that I need to remove the barriers that are getting in the way. I’m pretty proud that I’ve taken myself off to a counsellor to work through all this, and miracle of miracles got into see one before I could talk myself out of it.

Counselling has been a revelation; I’ve found words for experiences I didn’t have before, I’m digging deep into my past; my thoughts, my feelings, so they are not part of my future anymore. It’s a blessing that sometimes doesn’t feel like one; it is often confronting, I feel both elated and like I’ve been beaten up at the end of the session. As hard as it is, it is the pathway through.

In a few weeks Victoria will reach 90% vaccination rate and there will be even less restrictions. This is a good thing for everyone. We need a nice summer and some return to normality to help ease the burden of the last two years. I’ve got plans to go to shows, concerts and the ballet before Christmas. I might even get to see colleagues and friends before the end of the year.

Melbournians have been through so much, and while the pandemic is still with us, we can safely move forward in 2022 with a little bit of hopefulness about the year ahead. This does not erase what we have been through or give back the two years of our lives that have been lost. Although maybe it makes us value all the things we will get to do and perhaps took for granted in pre-pandemic times just a little bit more.

So, to my hometown of Melbourne and to her resilient and community-minded residents, I say thank you, we did this because we care about each other and that IS something to celebrate. Oh, and I’ll see you soon. I’m going to dance, laugh and clap all the harder because of our time apart. I’m going to walk your streets, eat at restaurants, see a play and revel in the joy you bring me.

Go well friends, be safe, look out those around you. I’ll be praying for joyful things  in your lives and new starts for us all in 2022.

For mental health support contact Beyond Blue – https://www.beyondblue.org.au or Lifeline – https://www.lifeline.org.au

Life in between – 6

Lockdown in Melbourne ends at 11.59pm today – Thursday, 21 October 2021. We have had 262 days of lockdown since March 2020. A world record no one wants.

Tomorrow we will reach 70% vaccinated and around the end of October we will get to 80%. In the last few days 100,000 people have been vaccinated, which is brilliant. This should be the last lockdown of this pandemic. Fingers, toes and everything else crossed.

There’s still very high numbers of virus circulating in the community, which is scary. Opening up will be amazing but it does need to be done cautiously. This approach suits me, as it’s going to take some adjustment to remember what you do when you’re allowed outside your home for any reason you want.

After two years of  isolation and lockdowns, so many of my pandemic behaviours have become normalised. Working from home is the most obvious example – I can’t even imagine going to a physical workplace anymore but the sense that the world outside is a risk is not going to be easy to let go of either.

Besides catching the virus, I’m worried that I will have a very low tolerance for noise and crowds. I never exactly thrived in places with lots of noise (I was not a fan of nightclubs for this reason) and crowds were ok as long as I could get fresh air or see an escape route. Who knows now? Maybe all the noise and the people will send me into sensory overload or maybe when I am bumped into by someone I’ll cry because how amazing is it to be around people.

It’s been rough the few years – I’ve more or less been ok mental health wise, being a home body who likes their own company has helped.  But introversion has its limits – you can only spend so much time with your own thoughts before you need external stimulation of seeing new things and the energy you get from other people. And this has been sorely lacking in recent times.

We crave novelty, it stimulates our brain, helps us learn and makes us feel nice.  In the last two years there’s been little novelty – just working, staying home, worrying about case numbers, and whether we are all going to die. The lack of novelty lately has made me feel like I’m going a bit stir-crazy being cooped up at home, doing the same walks, not seeing new things. It’s not exactly boredom – more like stagnation, and its had physical impacts, as well as this overriding feeling of just not being able to do this anymore.

For this reason, despite my anxieties about re-entering the world, I need to start going back out there.  The outside world will be different now because we are all different now. Negotiating and finding my way in this new world will take some time. Working out what matters to me – what brings me joy, is both exciting and daunting.

The pandemic isn’t over but for now lockdowns are. And that right now is everything.

Life in between – 5

There’s been many hard days in the last 18 months; the day the pandemic was declared, the first lockdown, the second lockdown, lockdown three, the day with 725 cases, lockdown five and then lockdown six hard upon it. Perhaps the hardest day was last week when the CHO and Premier announced we wouldn’t get back to zero and while we could slow the spread, we now needed to prepare ourselves to live with covid.

Living with covid is a scarier prospect than lockdowns and the elimination strategy. If you have watched the news outside Australia, you know what living with covid means – lots of very sick people, some of whom with die of the disease.

That’s not a small thing to agree too. It’s not a decision we should take lightly because we are over the pandemic and want to go to the pub with our mates. The flip side of having our freedoms and so called “normal life” again means sickness and death to other people, particularly those who are unvaccinated. As a society is this something we want to agree to? Is going to a restaurant or seeing your family more important than another person’s right to be alive?

The argument is that you can get vaccinated and reduce the risk of getting covid. It really is a miracle that we have vaccines this early into the pandemic and as someone who is fully vaccinated I’m very happy to have done so. At the time, I didn’t think about this but by getting my vaccination, I was upholding my social responsibility to help protect others in the community as well.

Our social responsibility is what we agree to as societal norms and how we act together to live by them. At their most basic, they are the unspoken agreement to not do things that might harm each other – for example, not drink driving. They can also be actions that benefit society like picking up rubbish in your neighbourhood or planting trees in the park. Getting vaccinated is an action that fits into both of these categories because it minimises harm to others and allows us to consider safely reopening again.

None of our societal obligations are predicated on the fact we all agree or even like each other. They are purely an acceptance that all lives have value and everyone has the right to live. If you choose to act in accordance with your societal responsibilities then that choice benefits both the people you agree with and those whose views or actions you find abhorrent.

Opening up raises many uncomfortable questions for me around the belief in the value of other people’s lives and my obligation to minimise the risk to them. I’m going to repeat myself, opening up means some people will get sick and some people will die of Covid-19.

People die everyday, it’s inevitable and part of life. This isn’t to minimise its impacts; merely to state that it’s not something we can stop, and it is the end we will all come to. Accepting its hard inevitability is necessary and perhaps even healthy, though not welcomed or easy.

The question I keep asking myself is where does our responsibility to minimise harm to other people fit in with the plan to open up? For over 200 days, I’ve been in lockdown to flatten the curve, protect our health system and the most vulnerable in the community. If we open up and people get sick and die, is that just inevitable and the consequence of having to get on with life or is it something we should continue try to prevent?

In normal times these are not questions you would ask yourself. We already know the rules that help us to minimise harm to each other. Coronavirus has changed that equation. I believe it increases our obligation to act in a way that doesn’t harm each other. Of course the obligation runs both ways, but if you choose to participate in your social responsibility you do it even for those people who would refuse to do it for you.

We need to be very clear then that by opening up we are agreeing to an increase case numbers, hospitalisations and possibly deaths. These are difficult choices with life and death consequences. And we need to understand them and find a way to reconcile them as individuals and as a society.

While I’m sure I’m out on a limb here, I would personally rather stay in lockdown forever than one person die from this disease. My life is no more important than anyone else’s, so my right to see my family or go to the ballet can’t override another person’s right to be alive, even if that person has made selfish choices to not get vaccinated.

I also know it’s not realistic to stay in lockdown forever, it’s definitely not healthy or possibly even useful for lessening the long term effects of this virus on society. We do have to get on with life, whatever that means and looks like after all of this.

Getting vaccinated is the only way out, if you haven’t done so already please do. They are safe, and will keep you and your family, me and my family from getting sick and possibly dying. It’s the right thing to do for the sake of society that values your life as much as mine.

Life in between – 2

We are at the end of lockdown 4.0. Since the anxiety inducing 11 cases of two weeks ago, we have had zero cases for the last few days and no new exposure sites. This is good news even if they don’t all know the chains of transmission of how the Delta variant got out.

But the end of lockdown doesn’t mean the end of restrictions, which makes things hard. The arts have been particularly hard hit again because the restrictions mean theatres can only be partially filled. The Australian ballet June seasons I was so looking forward to have been postponed until later in the year and plans for concerts or other activities are on hold.

In Australia, the effectiveness of the virus suppression strategies means we became a bit complacent about getting tested and vaccinations. The latest outbreak in Melbourne was caused by someone who didn’t get tested and then spread it. That’s not to blame them, I had a cold recently and did not get tested either, but I should have.

Since the outbreak, it been great to see so many people getting tested and lining up for their vaccinations. A stat from one of the pressers the other day was that 1 in 5 40-49 year olds had gotten their first shot, that was within two or so weeks of it being opened up to that group. I’ve now booked in for my second shot.

Brett Sutton the Chief Health Officer for Victoria (who is definitely a doctor) said “there’s no doubt people are over this” and he’s right I think most of us are wearied down to our souls. Lockdowns are hard, the disruption is hard, the anxiety about cases numbers and exposure sites is hard, sickness and death, being bombarded by news and the would have, should have, could have are hard, and we are all so tired.

There are very few people who are thriving at the moment, most are just trying to get through and make sense of what has happened. It’s like we need to stop, take stock and find new ways of being now.

I think back to June last year after the first wave, after the whole of Australia had been in lockdown or 6 weeks and we were all so happy that it was over. It felt like we could just go on as before. But when case numbers started rising in Victoria and second lockdown loomed I got the distinct sense that nothing would be the same, there was no going back to life before.

A year later and the pandemic isn’t over, and a whole bunch of things have now been normalised, like working from home and remote teams. And for a lot of reasons it’s better with flexibility and proper work/life balance that businesses have been dancing around for years.

In my team, a few of us don’t see the necessity of going to the office, we are more productive and work is more enjoyable if we do it from home. And while the pandemic is still swirling around us and people have caring responsibilities it feels like they shouldn’t have too.

The arguments of about a workplace community and culture just don’t seem to cut it as reasons to go back, which is not a reflection on my colleagues because I really like them. Just that while it’s important, I think community has grown in a different way and being online has brought new opportunities, like collaborating with a wider range of people.

For me, the benefits of working from home have outweighed the bad – although it was a struggle to start. I can plan my workday and make time for things that matter to me – like going for a walk or taking a proper break at lunch time. I also have lots of thinking time to plan and make good decisions, which I believe makes me more effective.

There are lots of stories around at the moment about workers reluctance for going back to the workplace. And of course employers want people back. The flash point between workers and their desire for flexibility and organisations need for them to be back in an office is the most obvious example of the way the world has changed because of the pandemic.

We bandy the word apocalypse around a lot without understanding it’s real meaning. Apocalypse in Greek means a revelation of great knowledge. I think the pandemic was an apocalypse and it revealed (and perhaps continues to reveal) so much about how our lives were unsustainable.

One of the ways it did this was to reveal how miserable most of us were about how much time and energy going to a workplace took. My daily commute was usually over an hour each way and regularly more than that, by Friday I was exhausted but of course it was completely normal and part of having a job. Now it  just seems like a waste of time and an energy snapper that polluted the air and made you stressed.

The revelation I had and I think many others as well, is that work while important, a proper work life balance where there is time and energy for the things that matter is more important. Putting work into proper perspective and making it sustainable seems to now be at the forefront of people’s minds. Having the flexibility to make time for things that make life worth living is not just a want it’s a need. And one I hope we can hang onto.

Life in between -1

This is the first post of my new pandemic life series. Despite everyone wanting “things to be back to normal” and seeing the world as post covid, we are still in the middle of a global pandemic – 3.5 million deaths, 168.9 million cases, yesterday across the world nearly 13,000 people lost their lives due to coronavirus (source: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-51235105).

Melbourne is having another outbreak – at the time of writing we are in another seven day lockdown. A man became infected in hotel quarantine in another state and then as is the case with this virus infected a whole bunch of other people who then did the same. There’s about 15,000 people in isolation and about a gazillion exposure sites. It’s grim.

My workplace has just been announced as a tier one exposure site. So far a whole bunch of my colleagues are potentially exposed and need to isolate, and that’s not counting the students, academics or people grabbing coffee that might also have been there. It must be so stressful waiting for test results, and I’m worried for them.

Let’s face it the systems are not up to scratch and that’s why we are back here. Hotel quarantine has seen multiple breaches and is really just not suitable for this sort of airborne infection. Quarantine is a federal government responsibility but they aren’t really good at taking responsibility, so 18 months into this pandemic, there still isn’t purpose built facilities.

On top of this, the federal government’s vaccine rollout has been a bloody mess (to be nice about it). There’s been no campaign to encourage people to get vaccinated, many front-line workers, nursing and disability care home residents have not even received their first dose. The government has claimed that everyone who wants a vaccine will have their first dose by October but at the current rate it will be 17 more months before we are all fully vaccinated.

The Prime Minister has repeatedly said that it wasn’t a race and so with no community transmission no one eligible saw the urgency in getting vaccinated. The Victorian state government, growing weary of the federal government incompetence, has opened up the vaccination in state run facilities for everyone over 40. Chaos has ensued. It’s amazing how the prospect of another endless lockdown means that suddenly everyone wants to get vaccinated.

Walk in clinics are reporting up to 4 hour wait times and there’s only a hotline to book, which is weird given it’s 2021 (why isn’t there an online form?) but also has meant phone lines have been jammed. I probably spent at least 5 hours trying to call and waited for about 40 minutes before I got to speak to someone.  But yay I’m booked for Sunday.

There’s a certain feeling you have in the pit of your stomach when you know they are going to announce a lockdown – it’s anxiety and then resignation and just wanting to hear how long and how severe it will be. We were having a team meeting at the same time as the presser, and so we listened together, a deeply uncomfortable experience when I was already emotional from news reports earlier in the day.

I pulled myself together after a few hours, and while concerned for colleagues, I’m even finding things to enjoy in this lockdown. I had marmalade toast for breakfast this morning and it made me way happier than you can possibly imagine. I’ve also been chatting to friends, reading books and planning my vaccination outfit – because why not.

But let’s not pretend that this is anything other than terrible or that we are anyway close to this being over…

 

 

 

Life interrupted – 2021 edition (1)

Here we are again. Lockdown 3.0 – five days, masks everyone, four reasons to leave your home – which is fine because there’s no where to go anyway. I’m back to wondering what time Dan’s presser is, whether he’s in business casual or family hike wear, anxiously refreshing twitter to see when the DHHS daily number of infections have dropped.

If I thought this year was going to be less of a bin fire then 2021 has already proven that we are in for tough times. There was an insurrection on the US capitol and the former President has been impeached for a second time. Perth suffered massive bushfires. The number of deaths from Coronavirus is over two million, with the US death toll close to 500,000 people.

Coronavirus variants are wreaking havoc – the current lockdown is because the UK variant got out of the hotel quarantine program. This piece explains the worries with these variants and this one how much more contagious the new strain is, which is why we find ourselves in another snap lockdown. We are fortunate that we have vaccines that are effective when the virus seems to rapidly mutating.

Before Friday’s announcement, I’d been thinking that I need to make more of an effort to go out and do things. I mean I’m happy but there are worrying signs that I’ve spent way too much time alone – like writing bad poetry, so I probably need to get out of the house soon.

But the thing about this global pandemic – you have to pivot so swiftly from I had plans, too now I’m staying at home; wear a mask in all settings, you don’t need a mask now. It’s dizzying. Who wants to make plans when it’s all so uncertain? It feels like a monumental effort with the prospect of disappointment, so it’s easier to just stay home.

Of course you have to go with whatever is changing around you but processing takes a lot of energy and space. It’s been hard to find that because the rapid nature of the changes means there is always something else you need to respond to. It’s like you have 25 tabs open and someone is pinging you on messenger – so much stimulation.

In the beforetimes, activities outside my local area were something that required planning, I couldn’t just decide on the day. As a classic introvert social interactions, noise and lots of people can be exhausting – so I needed to prepare myself for that. Living an hour outside the CBD means there are practicalities of getting there and back to factor in, which adds to the emotional energy needed to go do the thing.

After a year of staying at home, I have lost my match fitness for going out – even locally. The energy needed to do things just isn’t there, so I’m being more picky than usual. It’s not that surprising; so much has changed, how you feel and what matters to you.

The upsetting thing about this new lockdown is that I was just starting to feel like things were maybe ok. Not the old normal, but the new one created by the pandemic. By normal I mean safe – that I’m not going to spend the entire time I’m outside my house stressing about if I’ve been exposed to a deadly virus. Clearly, this lockdown means that normal isn’t here yet.

Of course, I’ll get through the next five days, though I’m not going to pretend to be cheerful about it. But for all our sakes, I hope this is the last one.

Life interrupted – the last post…maybe.

It’s the end of the year, and I’ve gotten through it.  As I write this, there have been three cases in Victoria after 61 days of no locally acquired cases, it’s concerning, and we are all on tenterhooks, hoping this doesn’t lead to another resurgence of the virus in the community.

When the year started most of Australia was on fire. So much burnt, millions of hectares; so much death and devastation. I still can’t look at most of the news coverage of the fires without feeling sick. If you believe in such things, it was an ominous start for the year to come.

On the 12 March, the World Health Organisation declared a pandemic, a week or so later, Australia closed its international borders and by equinox we were under stay at home orders. The pace of change in those first few days of the pandemic were dizzying, emotions were all over the place as you suddenly faced a whole different world to the one you knew.

The rest we know – lockdown one, a short reprieve, a second harsher lockdown in Victoria; mask wearing, hand sanitiser, being restricted to an hour a day outside, having to stay within five kilometres from your home, Dan’s daily presser and through it all a sick feeling in your stomach that maybe, just maybe this was going to lead to something worse.

All in all for us to survive this year has been nothing short of a miracle.

It’s always good to do a bit of a reflection at the end of the year. What happened, what are you proud of, what did you learn and so on. But this year, there’s almost too much to process, my thoughts lack clarity about how to even begin to understand 2020.

And maybe that’s ok. This year has been something of a roller-coaster so lack of clear insight into what you learnt or felt isn’t that surprising. There have been a few thoughts swirling around mostly about work, which I’ve tried to articulate below.

-I don’t like working from home but don’t want to go back to one-and-a-half hour travel twice a day either.

-Replacing a repository during a global pandemic is like one of the Labours of Hercules. It was so difficult, and I have very complicated feelings about the value of it and my role in it. We lost key staff during the project and there was a huge emotional cost involved in just getting it done.

-Libraries are not good at tech projects. I’ve been involved in multiple tech projects in different library sectors and libraries really aren’t good at them. The issue is lack of adequate resourcing – often libraries are trying to do them on the cheap, meaning that no extra budget and trying to do complex projects as part of everyday work. There’s also a top down approach to project management ie senior leaders deciding the project means they are not adequately scoped or the complexities understood before go ahead is given.

-Expecting business as usual in a year where nothing was usual was weird.

-I don’t think I did a very good job as a leader. Leadership requires emotionally energy to give to other people, I didn’t have any spare this year. My team, some of whom were new, had a sink or swim a bit, I feel pretty bad about it but just couldn’t summon the energy most of the time. This year leadership came into sharp focus, Daniel Andrews showed what good leadership is, lots of other people didn’t but regardless it just hard work.

-Friends from MPOW, across the library sector and everywhere else were a godsend. Friends from twitter who I’ve never met and some who I have, called me, sent me things in the mail to keep my spirits up. Particularly friends who were single, understood the double edged sword that this year was, and together we circled the wagons to look after each other.

–After some passive-aggressive wellbeing nonsense from a newsletter at MPOW a friend dispensed this pearl of wisdom to get through the pandemic: don’t worry about how much you weigh, just buy stretchier pants. And honestly it’s the best advice for 2020. See also: is it ok to eat your own bodyweight in cheese?

-I like my own company and find god in quiet places. I haven’t missed going to church nearly as much as I should have. Instead it’s been in those moments where I’ve seen flowers bloom, or laughed at the cats, listened to Luka Bloom, received a care package from my parents or with the small group of women who met together every week to pray. I don’t know if I’ll ever want to go back to attending every week. I have, as it turns out, complicated feelings about organised religion, I will probably always feel a bit like an outsider and not be entirely comfortable. I’m ok with that.

-Never underestimate the life giving power of growing things, making things and doing jigsaws.

In this year of chaos and loss there’s been too many low points and not enough high points. We will hopefully never live through such extraordinary times again and while the pandemic isn’t done with us, at least there’s hope in the form of a vaccine. Because there’s always hope, always.

Life interrupted – 16

It’s advent, the christian season in the lead up to Christmas. Advent is the season of waiting; of looking forward, the glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel, the promise of new things in the dark.

Advent ties in well with endings and beginning, it’s what we need right now at the end of the 2020 hellscape as we hope for better things in 2021. For me it means taking a break, having time to reflect, to count blessings and regroup for whatever the next year brings.

Since April this year, I’ve been leading a prayer group. There’s mostly been just four of us, with a few others dropping in every now and again. Unable to meet in person, we have used Zoom, which has had the usual difficulties we have all come to know and love.

The weekly ritual of preparing for the group has been grounding in a year where events seemed out of control and time meaningless. The technology has sometimes been awkward and our words imperfect but said with great hope and conviction – it’s been a revelation and a blessing.

This Wednesday, will be our last meeting for this year at least. It’s time for a break and see the fruits of our prayers. It’ll be a wrench to stop, as you’d expect we have developed friendships over the 33 weeks we met together. I’ll miss seeing them.

In the middle of things you are so busy getting through that you don’t see what’s shifted. Indeed this year when things seemed to go from bad to worse it was hard to see if we weren’t just praying into the void. So, our break is a chance to pause and give ourselves space to look around us and see what has changed.

I’d like to explore prayer more in 2021 – its rhythms, practices and ability to change you. It’s hard to think about what next year might look like right now. No one had global pandemic on their 2020 bingo cards and I feel being too hopeful or forward looking could just lead to disappointment. Who knows what will come my way.

I have had to make some decisions about next year already, which has been hard when you are tired. I didn’t nominate for parish council again, for lots of reasons but mostly because I need space to do other things.

I was never felt entirely comfortable in that role. Despite loving traditional Anglican services, I have little interest in church laws or the proper way of doing things. Where I wanted to break down barriers, I often felt like I was part of a system that maintained the status quo, entrenched inequality and white voices.

This is not a criticism – all who serve in this capacity are good people doing their best. My fundamental issue is with the structure itself and it’s hard when you look at things a bit differently and feel like you don’t quite fit. But I made some good relationships with people and learnt a lot, which is never a bad thing.

Because of Covid, we aren’t able to have our usual Christmas services this year and the flurry of catch ups and busyness seem ill fitting under the circumstances. In a year where death has stalked us, and we have both literally and figuratively been on fire, I need this time of quiet waiting and preparation for what’s next.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this verse this year it was written for these dark times and this advent season of waiting… “The light keeps shining in the dark, and darkness has never put it out.” (John 1:5). For those like me who are wearied by this year and struggling to be hopeful about 2021, my prayer for you all tonight as we meet together for the last time will be that we see that light that never goes out shining in the darkness.