Looking back at 2015

I’ve started to write this on December 30th, sitting on a train in Lincolnshire at 7:30am, on my way to work. It’s still completely dark outside, and half the country is still on holiday. I feel slightly jarred, like the alarm clock went off, but no one else has had to get up.

Feeling disjointed is somewhat appropriate – it aids my reflections on the last 12 months.

2015 has been a year of experiences. We’ve lived in three continents; I’ve had an epiphany in healthy living, exercise & weight loss; my medical skills, for the first time, feel formed; and, as a family, we’ve started to have some clarity about how we want to live.

Home

This year has shaken my understanding of home. In many ways, “home” still means “Epping” to me. My parents live there, I grew up there – the streets feel familiar, comfortable and safe.

“Home” is any place that has touched your heart.
Leaving doesn’t stop that.

But in a much more practical way, our lovely house on Woodthorpe Avenue in Boston is home. It’s the place we can best exhale. We can kick off our shoes, settle comfortably onto a high chair on the breakfast bar, and watch the chickens, dogs and children flap around in the garden.

YEditedGroupPhotoet Restore Church, full of our friends, is also home. We seek the heavenly realms together, we drink moderately bad cups of tea together and we laugh about the projector turning everything purple again. This whole year has been a mess of realising that “Home” is any place that has touched your heart. Leaving doesn’t stop that.

If you’ve read Harry Potter, there’s a concept where Voldemort tears apart his soul and stores it into objects that have emotional value to him. That’s not quite how I’m feeling – home is not a horcrux – but there’s no doubt that putting roots down involves investing a part of oneself.

Now I’m coming home
I’m coming home to you again
I hope things haven’t changed
New Found Glory

Many homes

This year, “home” has been Mseleni hospital in South Africa. It’s been Sea Point in Cape Town. Jackson in Missisippi. Alterna community and Koinonia Farm in Georgia. QC Family Tree in North Carolina. Grace & Main in Virginia. The Simple Way and Inner Change in Philadelphia. A little bit of us still lives in the homeless shelters of the Catholic Worker movement in New York City

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Returning to the UK has brought us face to face with the contradiction of “home”: it means a state that is temporary and yet, somehow, extraordinarily enduring.

Our idea of home is shaped by the setting and society we live in. This year it’s meant our children sitting naked, in dusty mud, next to the road. It’s meant seeing giraffes on the drive to the shops. Getting excited about a visit to the town café that pretty much only sells chips. Friends who have never had – and will never have – the life opportunities that I take for granted. Patients who have never slept in a bed, and thus don’t know how to sleep when they are admitted to hospital. Evenings without a TV, without electricity, without water, spent cooking pizza on a wood fire, and laughing. So much laughing.

John M PerkinsAnd it’s meant eating sweet potato wedges with John M Perkins. Jugs and jugs of sweet tea. Contemplative silence in LaGrange, and board games late into the night. Cooking pizza for the entire residency of Koinonia farm. Shaving heads and eating chocolate.

In Charlotte, it meant reincarnation through recycling, through gardening, through relationship, through reimagining an unloved locality. And a little girl doing a poo in a public water fountain. It’s meant permaculture, community gardens, ultra thick milkshakes and sitting on porches in Danville. In Philadelphia it meant pizza (home == pizza), and gunshots, and an understanding that all of us need our home to be sustainable. New York meant $1 pizza slices, enjoying glorious mess surrounded by healing people, and my first ever visit to a board game cafe!

Returning to the UK has brought us face to face with the contradiction of “home”: it means a state that is temporary and yet, somehow, extraordinarily enduring. In common with many others who have crossed cultures, there will always be a discomfort in us, even in situations that have been familiar to us for years.

wp-1451644198031.pngHealth

Alongside learning more about the mental framework we use to fit into the world, I’ve also come to terms with my physical existence here.

For the first time, I can say I genuinely love exercise. I even hate running a bit less!

Sure, 2013 was the year I decided to start losing weight. And 2014 was the year that I realised healthy eating is going to be a life long commitment. But 2015 was the year I started to understand the link between health and happiness.

For the first time, I can say I genuinely love exercise – I even hate running a bit less! I’m more aware than ever how rubbish I feel after an episode of gluttony – Ben & Jerry’s, I’m talking to you here – and I’m starting to have the self control to just not go down that path.

I’ve hammered out a few personal milestones, such as my first Triathlon, my first sub 25 minute 5k, and consistently dropping below 70kg. I’ve also managed sustained periods of exercise, accountablity and weight management – see my blog series: six kilos in six weeks.

Medicine

babychris-800x817Working in South Africa was a privilege – a scary one at points. Having a baby named after me was a highlight, as was being signed off as competent to perform caesarian sections without supervision. It was also the first time I’ve ever worked with a degree of autonomy, and the only time I’ve been at a grass-roots level in the midst of the community I live. Being a doctor… at home.

When I was 17, I made a decision to apply to medical school. I’m now 29.

As I look towards the end of my training, I know that the only way I’m going to be able to sustain the enthusiasm and purpose I need is for my career to have integrity. When I was 17, I made a decision to apply to medical school. I’m now 29. It’s only at the end of this year that I will no longer be on a training scheme. I’ll actually be an adult, able to apply for a job where I get told in advance where I’ll be working, what hours I’ll do and how much I’ll be paid! I’ll be able to raise concerns and suggestions for improvement without putting my entire career at risk! Brill.

In 8 months, I’ll be able to choose my hours, select my workplace and start to explore my sense of vocational calling. Medicine needs to line up with our life goals, my heart and my sense of home. Who knows exactly what shape that will take, but its an exciting prospect.

Next

The bible is full of phrases like this:

“And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.”
Mark 8:34-35

When I read a passage like that, I think: “I’m not really doing that”. I’m not saying that I believe God calls us all to martyrdom; but I do believe a luke-warm 50% lifestyle simply doesn’t cut the mustard.

SAM_0952I’ve become certain of one thing this year: we desire to live out the gospel. Really live it. Not half live it, tacking on a bit of grace and love to a plastic Western lifestyle, but LIVE it. Our hope is to explore, sacrifice, pray and practice until “The Kingdom of Heaven is near” starts to resonate with us.

“Home” this year has meant common threads: friends, community, adoption, Jesus, vegetarianism, pizza, board games, fitness, laughter… shared values in others that reflect the hope we have for this life.

One of our mentors, Colin, recently said to us “You need to find your tribe“. As we continue to explore what and where “home” is for us, I think God will make it clear to us who our tribe is. Maybe it’ll be through pulling on some of those common threads, and more importantly, following back to the heart behind them, one that says “My God; my neighbour; our life together.”

Thanks for reading this, and thank you to everyone who has been part of home for us this year. Have a great 2016!

PS. I leave you with a song that is very much on the same page as us…

CMF Developing Health Course

CMF Logo

For years now, I’ve had a real passion about Africa, and, also for years, I’ve been in training as a doctor. They are passions that have grown together, and my excitement about them overlaps.

I’ve also been a fringe member of CMF – the Christian Medical Fellowship – since my first year in medical school, and recently I discovered that they run an annual course entitled “Developing Health“. It seemed too good to pass on, so this summer I managed to corral the required annual and study leave, and am attending.

I blogged about the course each day, and have each below as a record of the course. If you want to learn some bits and pieces about developing world medicine, the stuff I learnt on this course was solid gold!

Day One: Community Health
Day Two: Medicine
Day Three: Tropical Medicine
Day Four: HIV/AIDS
Day Five: Paediatrics
Day Six: Aspects of Mission Work 
Day Seven: Surgery
Day Eight: Trauma & Orthopaedics
Day Nine: Women’s Health
Day Ten: More Women’s Health
Day Eleven: Conclusion 

Being Judas

Picture of me, holding a sign saying "I am Judas"

This Easter I’ve been acting in the St Tim’s Passion Play. For those of you not familiar with the concept, it’s a reenactment of the biblical account of Jesus living, dying and resurrecting.

I was cast as Judas. This, of course, was treated with a great deal of humour from, well, everyone who knows me. There were cries of “type-casting!”, and I rather enjoyed pointing out that last time I was in a passion play, my role was “Second Demon”, so this was a promotion, of sorts.

And so the preparation began: there were lines to be learnt and countless rehearsals to attend. My wife bought a costume for me (by ransaking the bottom shelves of the least appealing charity shop in our high street). Jokes were made during practices – my favourite being Jesus getting everyone to flamboyantly clap, hands above head, during the buildup to the crucifixion.

Slowly, piece by piece, a sincere production was put together. Yet in the midst of it all, I rather failed to consider if there might be any deeper meaning to my role.

Soon enough, Good Friday was on us, our first performance begun, and, to a packed church, the birth and life of Jesus unfolding. I turned up, changed into my authentic 2,000 year old clothes, then waited behind the stage for my part. My only concern was the recollection of my lines, no deeper thought running through my head.

Then, my first scene came “Disciples chatting about Jesus”. Improvisation of some bible verses aside, this went well, and I moved onto “The Last Supper”, which played out without a hitch.

My final scene was an easy one – no speaking part; simply walk on with some soldiers, hug, kiss (and ultimately, betray) Jesus, then off again on stage left.

Our cue came, and on we marched. I hesitantly walked up to Jesus; crying, loving Jesus, who embraced me wholeheartedly. Then I kissed his cheek, his tears on my lips, and it hit me:

I am Judas.

Suddenly everything moved so fast. I stumbled back, and the soldiers swooped in. I walked off stage hesitantly, and stood behind the curtain, watching on as my Lord was thrown around, beaten, whipped and murdered. I weeped for a few moments, because it became very clear:

I am Judas.

Sure, my name is Chris, and I’ve never been near Nazareth, but the point remains: for me alone, Jesus would gladly have suffered the cross.

But he was wounded for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his stripes we are healed.

Isaiah 53:5 (ESV)

So, remember: don’t resent Judas, he is a reflection of all of us. We are Judas. Over the next two days, try to reflect on that, because it really is at the heart of Good Friday. And it will make Easter all the sweeter!

Religion vs Jesus (video)

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I don’t pretend to have all the answers to Christianity, but I often find church a distraction, Christians a frustration, and – more importantly – antithetical to many of Jesus’ statements. This video makes that point fairly admirably.

Also, from a purely aesthetic perspective, there is some beautiful flow and rhyme in this, with great visuals, and a subtle but supportive typographical underlay. If that’s your sort of thing…

Day One – Committing to an Arduous Task

The following post is from a series of emails I wrote to my girlfriend at the time, whilst on a trip to Africa. She is now my wife, so I did something right.

So I just drove home, we said goodbye several hours ago, and you left me thinking three things:

1. We are going to miss each other
2. I need to get you a good present, make you know I love you.
3. Too many battered quorn sausages, plus a weird battered cheese and onion thing, can make you feel ill.

I’m tired, so today will be short. Expect this to happen a lot. Expect me to fail you too. Even so, I am going to aim to write on here every day that I am away, and post on a lovely photo every day too. Good enough for you?

I hope so. I had the idea shortly after you left, and I hope you found the bit of paper quick enough. I might drop you some hints, to make sure you go to my house tomorrow. It will be interesting looking back to see if you realised.

Today’s verse, is taken from biblegateway.com – cos I’m too tired to do any other reading today:


“In my anguish I cried to the LORD, and he answered by setting me free.
The LORD is with me; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?”

Psalm 118:5-6
I think we are done here. I love you, mon petit tournevis Gallois.