Find Where You Belong

I was scrolling through the blogosphere when an advert came up for the British Army. I’m pretty open to their cause and have a strange affinity because I grew up with a parent serving in the British Army. But something in me winced at this advert.

You see, their advertising has always been targeted but now it’s reaching into the hearts of the many people who have a sense of missing something. It reaches into the heart of the person who feels as though they don’t belong by offering them the one thing they want: a place to belong.

What does it mean to truly belong?

Often people allow fitting in and belonging to become interchangeable, when they actually sit opposite to one another. Fitting in is about changing yourself to be accepted – to fit in you can’t necessarily be yourself. On the other hand, belonging is about being yourself and being accepted and embraced anyway.

It’s because of this distinction, I think, that so many of us have felt that sense of not belonging at some point in our lives. And, oh what sweet relief, when we finally find people we can be real with, be entirely ourselves with. The joy of true friendship has been when I’ve completely messed up. That sounds strange, but it is so freeing to have people who we can turn to and say, “I seriously screwed up here,” and know that they’ll stand by us anyway. And yet, the problem with finding belonging in the people around us, or in our jobs, or our homes, is that these things inevitably shift and change. I know that I’ve loved moving house and yet, I’ve struggled with the shift in relationships. My friends are still my friends, even 100 miles away, but it isn’t the same. I don’t belong in that place anymore and that is uncomfortable.

True belonging

For me (and for millions of others around the world), the truest belonging is found in relationship with Jesus Christ. It doesn’t matter how badly I screw up, I can always turn to Him. It’s not without challenge, as we constantly reflect on our lives and little by little try to live better. My relationship with Jesus has changed so much over the last 30 years, but not because he has changed. Rather, he’s changed me. I’ve shifted and grown, and yet Jesus has stayed the same. His constant unchanging presence and truth has enabled me to find a deep sense of belonging that isn’t on offer anywhere else.

At the heart of belonging is Jesus’ offering of grace. It is this grace which allows us the space to be imperfect, to love and live imperfectly and yet to somehow belong at the same time. The world is full of imperfect people, living imperfectly and yet trying to mask their imperfections through literal or digital filters. This is dangerous, not least because filters lead to a lack of grace for ourselves, but also towards others. It’s dangerous because we slowly view ourselves through that lens of judgement and shame.

“If only they knew what you were really like…”

“If everyone knew what you did…”

“If only they knew who you really were…”

When we view ourselves through this lens, there isn’t a lot of room for grace… and there isn’t a lot of room for belonging either. This is fitting in, holding up the filter, hoping it never falls. Brene Brown says, “Those who have a strong sense of love and belonging have the courage to be imperfect.” Today, it truly is an act of courage to openly be imperfect… but to do so requires the truest sense of belonging.

Belonging in community

The other thing about finding true belonging in Jesus, abundantly surrounded by grace, is that it roots itself in community. The church doesn’t always get it right, but at its best it is trying to create that grace-filled space for people to enter into and to belong. Unfortunately, many Christians are the harshest judges, refusing to extend even the slightest amount of grace they themselves have received. But my hope is we can do better.

My hope is that we might be people who accept Jesus’ invitation into relationship with him because, when we do, we accept his invitation for grace and love; we accept his invitation to find an eternal belonging. A belonging that doesn’t shift. A belonging that isn’t dependent upon life’s circumstances.

My prayer is that we might be people who extend that grace to other people so they might also find belonging, and learn to drop the mask.

Welcome. Please, come in. You won’t find perfect people here, but we hope you will find belonging.

Encountering God: An Ordinand’s Sermon Pt2

I call this An Ordinand’s Sermon Part 2, because it follows on from a sermon I preached to my formation group at college in February last year. It’s funny, because whilst this sermon is not on the same passage of scripture, it seems (to me, anyway) to be the perfect part 2. God’s funny like that, isn’t he?

Afterward Jesus appeared again to his disciples, by the Sea of Galilee. It happened this way: Simon Peter, Thomas (also known as Didymus), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples were together. “I’m going out to fish,” Simon Peter told them, and they said, “We’ll go with you.” So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.
Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus. He called out to them, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?”
“No,” they answered.
He said, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.”When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish.
Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, “It is the Lord,” he wrapped his outer garment around him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water. The other disciples followed in the boat, towing the net full of fish, for they were not far from shore, about a hundred yards. When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread.
Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish you have just caught.” So Simon Peter climbed back into the boat and dragged the net ashore. It was full of large fish, 153, but even with so many the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” None of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. This was now the third time Jesus appeared to his disciples after he was raised from the dead.
When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”
“Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”
Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”
The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Feed my sheep. Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!”

(John 21: 1-19)

“I’m going fishing,” says Peter, utterly fed up and craving normality. Life has not turned out the way he had thought, when he said ‘yes’ to following Jesus 3 years earlier. He had said ‘yes’ to becoming a fisher of men, ‘yes’ to being taught, ‘yes’ to an adventure with Jesus. And yet, here he was, despondent. “I’m going fishing.” Peter’s urge is to get back to normality, back to reality. So, he goes back to what he knows best. Fishing.

But God has other plans. As they are fishing on the boat, having caught nothing all night, someone calls out from the shore, “Put your nets out on the other side.” They do. And the fish fill the nets. And then it comes. The whisper. “It’s Jesus.” Overjoyed at the sight of his friend, his teacher, his saviour, Peter jumps out of the boat and rushes to meet Jesus on the beach. The others follow as quickly as they can. They drag their enormous catch ashore, but there’s no need… Jesus has already prepared some for them. He smiles and says, “Alright lads… fancy some breakfast?”

They sit and eat, and then we see the remarkable encounter between Peter and Jesus, with Peter’s reinstatement mirroring his denial of his friend. It is beautiful to see Jesus once again stretch out a hand and ask Peter to follow him. And nerving, no doubt, as Peter is told that one day he will go where he is led, and not where he wishes. Still, it’s clear. In the person of Jesus, Peter encounters God on that beach. And in that encounter he is transformed once more, before being sent out.

But this isn’t the first time. If we look back at John 20: 21-22, Peter encounters the risen Jesus and he transforms him with God’s peace and with the Holy Spirit. Jesus says, “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” Encountered. Transformed. Sent.

When I preached previously from Luke 5: 1-11, we saw how Peter had an encounter with Jesus, that led to his transformation and a sending out. There is no doubt, that Peter has already been called out of his old life, into a new one. It’s like an old pair of boots that have been worn out and are no longer wearable. We get a new pair of boots. But we can’t put the new boots on over the top of our old boots, nor can we put the old boots on instead of the new boots. They might feel comfortable at first, because we’ve worn them in, but our old boots are no longer fit for the purpose for which they were made. They’re broken. Our new boots, as strange as they might feel, these are the boots which are fit for purpose. Peter went back to the old, back to the comfortable, the fishing. But he is no longer a fisherman. His old life is no longer fit for the purpose for which he has been transformed.

Encountered. Transformed. Sent.

Of course, the same goes for us here today. We were all called to St Mellitus in September 2018. We could have gone to countless other colleges, or put training on hold a few more years. But we didn’t. God called us to train together at the same time as each other. And in that training he has been forming us. Of course, the forming and transforming continues, but this time together has been key to forming us for ordained ministry in the Church of England. The late night bar chats, the 2am McDonalds runs, the worship, the prayer, the tears and snot, the dodgy vegetarian options and the mind-melting bogglement of theological education have all formed us. And if just 1 of us hadn’t been here for the journey, it wouldn’t have quite been the same. We were called together for this time, we have been transformed, and now you are being sent.

So, as you leave college – some of us have another year, because we need that extra bit of formation – and step out into your new lives as ordained disciples of Jesus Christ, shake off your old boots and slip into the new ones. Your old lives are no longer fit for the purpose for which you have been called. And when the discomfort hits, as it usually does with a new pair of shoes, remember Jesus’ words to Peter: “Someone else will take you where you don’t want to go. Follow me.”

I would want a boat, if I wanted a
boat, that bounded hard on the waves,
that didn’t know starboard from port
and wouldn’t learn, that welcomed
dolphins and headed straight for the
whales, that, when rocks were close,
would slide in for a touch or two,
that wouldn’t keep land in sight and
went fast, that leaped into the spray.
What kind of life is it always to plan
and do, to promise and finish, to wish
for the near and the safe? Yes, by the

heavens, if I wanted a boat I would want
a boat I couldn’t steer.
(Mary Oliver, If I Wanted A Boat)

That is my prayer for us all. As we encounter God, he transforms us and sends us out. May we follow him, even to the rocks. May we get into that boat that is his alone to steer.

Amen.

Stepping into Freedom

Last week I wrote about freedom, which you can find here. Shortly after I’d hit the publish key, it all changed in the UK: our Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, put us into lockdown. Yet, our freedom to choose remains.

Yesterday evening, after a very long day solo-parenting, I went for a walk. More precisely, I put my coat on, grabbed my earphones, plugged them into some loud worship music, shoved my trainers on and ran out of the door. Before too long I reached a railway bridge and walked underneath, just as a train shuddered across above me.

It was strange. Here I was, singing along to the lyrics:

“I am chosen, not forsaken. I am who you say I am.
You are for me, not against me. I am who you say I am.”

(Who You Say I Am, Hillsong Worship)

Yet, I’d reached the evening of a day questioning all of that. You’ve chosen me, God? Really? You’re with me, God? Really? You say who I am, but who even am I? The reply comes:

“I’m a child of God.
Yes I am.”
(Who You Say I Am, Hillsong Worship)

How could I, even for a moment, question all that I know to be true? As I walked under the bridge, with the train juddering across, I didn’t doubt for a moment that the bridge would hold and not crush me as I walked beneath. It struck me, in that moment, that I trust human engineering readily and yet in the last week have not been entirely trusting of God.

Stepping into freedom requires us to let go of whatever we are holding on to, and trusting God to hold it for us. What has struck me since my walk is that I keep saying, “I’m just about clinging on.” Clinging on to what? It certainly isn’t God, in spite of my daily prayer and study of the Bible. Perhaps I am in mourning for the things lost? Clinging on to the what could have beens and what should have beens. Perhaps I am in denial around how little control I actually have over all of this? Clinging on to the control I do have. Perhaps it is something else that I am clinging to.

This week I’ve been on virtual retreat with some friends from college and we’ve been thinking about the idea of coming home with Jesus. One of the threads which has come up for us all is this idea that Jesus breaks all that binds us, in order that we can be free. In this new rhythm of life, I need to spend some time thinking about what it is that I am holding on to. And then I need to let go of it and entrust it to God.

Just as that bridge held as the train rattled across, God’s love for us all holds even as the impact and ripples of Covid-19 are felt in our lives. However you’re feeling right now, know that God is with you and for you.

“No one will be able to stand against you as long as you live. For I will be with you as I was with Moses. I will not fail you or abandon you.”
(Joshua 1: 5, New Living Translation)

Freedom

“Mummy, what does freedom mean?” asked my 4 year old last week.

We then had a good (long) conversation about being free. Free to do what we want. Free from people telling us what to do. Free from things that control us. She had many more questions, like can I wear what I want? Eat what I want? Do what I want?

That’s when the conversation went somewhere a bit deeper. After explaining that mostly mummy and daddy choose her food to make sure she keeps growing big and strong, I reassured her that she could mostly choose her own clothes. I then told her that soon we’d have to not leave the house. We wouldn’t be able to go to nursery, or church, or the park. Her response?

“Why aren’t we free?”

Wow. These questions have stayed with me all week. It’s tricky, isn’t it? Yet, I explained to her that we are still free. Even if we don’t go out of the house. We are free and we have freedom.

  1. Freedom of choice.
    Right now we have freedom to choose how we act as people in a society made up of the vulnerable and invulnerable. We can choose to use our freedom to gather in groups, go to work unnecessarily, travel on public transport for no reason, or spend time with friends in person. Or, we can choose to use our freedom to stay at home, play games, work from home, find ways to keep in touch with people. We can choose to use our freedom to stay at home and keep the vulnerable safe. We can choose to flatten the curve. We can choose to honour those who have no choice but to keep working in our hospitals, schools, police, energy services.

    We have freedom to choose.
  2. Freedom from fear.
    And secondly, regardless of current situation, we have freedom from fear. When he was alive and teaching on this earth, Jesus said: “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10:10, NIV) Right now, there is a lot of fear, anxiety and panic across the world. It has seeped into our homes and is the thief which Jesus refers to. This thief will steal, kill, and destroy hope. If we let it.

    We have freedom to choose. Freedom to chose hope. Freedom from fear. If we put our trust in Jesus, he will give us life in its fullness. If we put our trust in Jesus, he will give us true freedom. If we put our trust in Jesus, he will give us a hope and a peace which passes all understanding.

The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
(Philippians 4)

Fixer Uppers

“So he’s a bit of a fixer upper, so he’s got a few flaws…
We’re not sayin’ you can change him
‘Cause people don’t really change
We’re only saying that love’s a force
That’s powerful and strange.
People make bad choices if they’re mad
Or scared, or stressed.
Throw a little love their way
And you’ll bring out their best
.”
(Fixer Upper, Frozen)

It’s funny, isn’t it? ‘Let It Go’ quickly became the defining memory and feature of Disney’s 2013 film Frozen. Yet this song, ‘Fixer Upper’, is the crux of the story and its morale. It links back to the beginning of the film, when Elsa is told by Grand Pabbie (the chief troll) that fear will be her greatest enemy. Fast forward and Anna is being told by the same trolls that people make bad choices when acting out of anger, fear or stress. On the surface the story at this point is about Anna and her quest for true love to undo the ice in her heart, yet this song points beyond that to the end of the story.

It cleverly, if you’re looking for it, points past the obvious to the underlying problem which needs solving. Above all, Elsa needs releasing from the fear of her powers, in order that she might be truly free to live as she was created. We see this in subtle ways throughout the film (and its sequel). In ‘Let It Go’ Anna delights in her new found freedom, because the truth is out. But truth only does part of the work here; freedom is short-lived because, even though everyone now knows her secret, she still exists in fear. Fear, rather than freedom, control her and her actions.

The film ends with Elsa finally realising that love is the answer. Instead of fear, she controls her power with love, and finally the eternal winter thaws and Arendelle is restored. Frozen 2, without giving too much away for those who are yet to see it, is a continuation of Elsa stepping into the freedom of knowing who you really are. Freedom, it’s safe to say, is a key theme of the Frozen duology.

Where do we find freedom? Some find freedom in exercise, relationships, work, but I’d argue we only find true freedom in Christ.

“Only Christ can get rid of the veil so they can see for themselves that there’s nothing there. Whenever, though, they turn to face God as Moses did, God removes the veil and there they are—face-to-face! They suddenly recognize that God is a living, personal presence, not a piece of chiseled stone. And when God is personally present, a living Spirit, that old, constricting legislation is recognized as obsolete. We’re free of it! All of us! Nothing between us and God, our faces shining with the brightness of his face. And so we are transfigured much like the Messiah, our lives gradually becoming brighter and more beautiful as God enters our lives and we become like him.”
2 Corinthians 3: 15-18 (MSG Version)

Paul makes it clear that it is Jesus alone who can rid people of the veil which previously hid God’s glory from them. Since Jesus’ death and resurrection, there’s nothing behind that veil; God is a living presence, shining in our faces with all of God’s brilliance. Today the veil is all the things which stop us from seeing that Jesus is the one who brings true freedom. The veil is work, family, ambitions and goals. It is thinking that we have it within ourselves to find freedom. Elsa only realises that the solution is love because she witnesses the self-sacrificial love of her sister. So, we too must realise that the solution is love through witnessing the self-sacrificial love of God.

It is only in dropping the veil and allowing God to enter our lives that we find freedom. As God’s spirit enters our lives, we become more like him, our lives transfigured in brightness, we find freedom: “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” (2 Corinthians 3: 17, NIV)

We are all a bit of a fixer upper. We all have something we need to be set free from. We all make bad choices, when we’re angry, stressed or scared. But throw a lot of love our way, and it’ll bring out our best.

Olivia runs a mile

Recently a film has been released called ‘Brittany Runs A Marathon’, and I’ve heard it’s rather an emotional one for some of us runners. You see, not all who run are equal, not all who run did it at school, not all who run are fast.

I began running in April 2018 and was greatly enjoying it. My level of enjoyment took me completely by surprise (as it took everyone who knew me by surprise too!). I slogged away through the endless summer heatwave, into the autumn and winter. I went out in all weathers, including the pouring Lancashire rain and, when it was too hot that summer, at 10 o’clock at night. I was obsessed!

I loved the high I experienced after each run. I loved that I could see how I was getting better and fitter each week as my times came down or I could run for longer. I even ran an 11 mile fell run in the Yorkshire Dales. But then disaster struck…

In June 2019 I was playing netball and I landed badly on my ankle, tearing a ligament and putting myself out of action for months. After some serious rest and physio, I was given the all clear to run again (gently, slowly) at the end of September. This was a shock, as the initial examination with the physio in August had predicted October or November. I merrily skipped out of the physio, ran a handful of times, and then packed it all in.

You see, for once my mind wasn’t letting me down. My mind was telling me, yes, let’s go, you can do this. But my body was saying, nope, and prompting me to give up after just a few minutes. Suddenly, each run brought with it disappointment and demotivation, where it had previously brought elation and motivation. Instead, 3 weeks ago, I turned back to netball.

I took it very gently, no sprinting or jumping, but it was fine. My ankle felt good, and I enjoyed myself… except for the fact I was desperately unfit. I am desperately unfit. And so I told myself 3 weeks ago that I would start running tomorrow. The problem was, tomorrow never arrived. I always had an excuse.

Mainly, though, my biggest excuse was that I can remember the hard work I had to put in during those early months of beginning running back in April and May 2018. I can remember having to force myself out when I was shattered, when it was raining, early mornings or late at night. I can remember feeling ridiculous as I plodded along slower than walking pace as I ran up another Lancashire hill. I can remember all of the sore thighs and aching lungs. I can remember all of what it took to get myself to the place of being able to run 10.9 miles across fell land on my own. And I just didn’t think I could be bothered to put that work in again.

Last night though, I went to netball practice, and shared this with some of the team. Their response? Well, you’ll have to do it, if you want to get back to where you were. And, of course, they were right. What it comes down to is how much I want it. How much do I want to be able to run for miles and miles? How much do I want to feel that blood pumping runners high again?

Well, it turns out, I want it a lot, because this morning I went out and I did it. I put my trainers on and my headphones in, selected my music and ran 1.6 miles. Ok, so I ran for 8 minutes, walked for 5 minutes, and ran for 8 again, just as Jo Whiley told me to (I skipped to week 5 of Couch to 5K). But I moved forward for 1.6 miles. And it felt so good!

My lungs ached, my thighs burned (especially up that hill), but my blood pumped and my heart soared.

How much do you want what you want?

Don’t let anything stop you.

Backstage Help Required

“Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results.” James 5: 16

Backstage-Pass

It’s interesting, isn’t it, that so many of us think we are the only ones struggling with something. No-one else could possibly understand. And yet, this verse says otherwise. We are never alone in our falling short; we are never alone in our struggles. It is part of the human condition.

Yet, how many of us allow people into the backstage areas of our lives? Who are we accountable to? Who has permission to ask us those tough questions that require total honesty?

For me, it’s always been this fear of being ‘found out’ that has kept me from showing my backstage life to others. Inviting people in might mean they think less of me… but why would that ever have been my concern? People might think less of the me I’ve portrayed, but it isn’t even the real me. It’s just the front stage, polished act I’d grown into playing throughout years of collusion in my mind.

I say ‘I had’ because I’m trying to live this out in the present. I’m having the really tough, sometimes costly conversations. I’m letting people into the backstage who can pray with me, give me advice, or sometimes just hold my hand through it all. And wow do my shoulders feel lighter.

In his book on leadership, Simon Walker writes about the consequences of not letting people into the backstage: inevitably, the backstage starts to leak onto the front stage; or it just completely explodes. He says, “what lies behind the creation of a front and back stage is the sense that we can’t entirely trust our audience, and so we need to manage what they see of us.” And yet, where we trust, where we intentionally let people in to the stuff we are struggling with, where we make ourselves vulnerable, we find relief and freedom.

Though we risk rejection and judgment, it’s only of the false self we have put forward anyway. In reality, vulnerability allows others to be vulnerable; it breeds honesty, acceptance and respect.

Who are you vulnerable with?

Who do you let into your backstage?

The Long Run

10.94 miles, to be exact.

I don’t think I can adequately put into words how amazing the run was. It helped, of course, that the weather was on my side: sunny, for the most part, with a gentle breeze which kept me cool. The conditions were perfect for a long run / walk / climb up and down the fells, through brooks, streams, mud.

IMG_1163

I set off from outside one of the Sedbergh School boarding houses on Long Lane, with rucksack on and feeling well equipped for what lay ahead. 2 miles in and I wondered if I’d made a mistake: I’d already had to walk considerable amounts. At least if I turned back, I’d get a good 4 miles under my belt, and there’s always next year. I reached for my phone to text my friend, Emma, to let her know I was thinking of turning back… but then I knew what she’d say. So away went the phone and on went the legs.

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It was at this point that the first set of ‘elite’ runners came past me with great strength. These were the real runners, in my mind, their calf muscles flexing as they shot past me. I heard their “Well done!” and it pushed me on. As I ran on to Cautley, I met 2 members of the walking party who had set off before me. I stopped for a walk of around a mile, chatting to them, refuelling with Percy Pigs and water, and sharing how my training was going. I had a final stretch at the Cautley pitstop, chatting to more walkers who assured me that I was a proper runner, before I decided to head off towards Baugh Fell.

Within a mile I was walking again as I hit yet another steep descent, and then the real work started. I don’t know why, but I had made the assumption that it was a case of making the climb up Baugh Fell, and then it’d be straight forward: run across Baugh Fell, find my way back on to the A684, which would draw me back into Sedbergh. Of course, things are never that simple, and you should never assume anything. 

In reality, Baugh Fell was a series of very serious and sudden declines of 100-200feet (30-60 metres), a great deal of mud, rivers and streams to run through and very uneven soft ground. This was where my ankles took a real beating as they bent this way and that with each landing. At one point I decided a farm track would be the best route, rather than the uneven boggy terrain of Baugh Fell. It was more solid than the marshy fell-land, but I soon found both feet firmly planted shin deep in mud, a la Vicar of Dibley. The only way out was for my hands to go all the way in too. Thankfully there was yet another stream for me to stop beside shortly after to rid my hands of the majority of the mud before continuing on my way. Who wants to run 4 miles with dry mud caked on their hands? 

Shortly after my attempt to clean up a little, I realised I was at 6.5 miles. This was officially the furthest I had ever run… though I still feel a fraud for saying that, as I had been walking considerable amounts. An incredible feeling rushed over me. What an achievement! I was 6.5 miles in, out of 10. And the only way back now was to run on; the quickest way home to a shower was to finish the race. Before I knew it, I could see the car park at Danny Bridge ahead of me and I knew I only had one 70ft climb ahead of me before the 2 and a bit miles on the road back to Sedbergh.

Sadly, my hamstring suddenly gave out. It was less of a tight muscle pain, more of an injured feeling. Kissing goodbye to a sub 3 hour time, my running pace slowed to a 15 minute mile (I’d normally run an 11.5 minute mile) as I hobbled on down the road. I was rather alarmed when I looked to see I had run 10 miles, but knew I was still a fair bit away from the finish line. It turns out that this 10 mile run is actually just short of 11.

As I came down to the final 500 metres a message came up on my phone from my friend, Emma, asking if I’d finished. She must have taken my silence and non text back as a sign that I was in fact still running because, as I came running down the final strait to finish, I looked up and she was running down to join me. Just like that, 3 hours and 20 minutes had passed, and I’d run over 10 miles.

It’s only been a day and people have been asking how it was. Quite honestly I’m not sure there will ever be anything like it. To finally complete a run that I was always too unfit or scared to tackle feels incredible. At the end I ran past the teacher who often had to stop me at Cautley because I was taking too long and wouldn’t be able to complete the run in a quick enough time. He smiled and congratulated me. I wondered if he remembered me. I mean, there’s no reason he would. I didn’t run at school, and that was over a decade ago. So I replied, “Thanks! I wouldn’t have qualified though.”

What is incredible is that, year after year, 16-18 year olds run this gruelling route. Some train for it, some don’t, and they finish to rapturous applause and cheering. There is something of a determined and motivated spirit in these young people, that they would choose to complete something so outside an ordinary person’s comfort zone. Now I have done it, I can see why. There is something so freeing, something so exhilarating, something so life giving, about being on the open fells, surrounded by nothing but creation.

Next year the run will be in its 140th year. I’ll be there, chasing my sub 3 hour finishing time. What will you be doing?

The Night Before

And so it’s finally here. The night before. In the morning I take on 10 miles of mud, rivers, hills and a bit of road too. Am I ready? Absolutely not. I’ve had cold after cold, shin splints and the sort of tooth ache that makes you want to cut your own jaw off. (Seriously, I was in A&E vomiting because the pain was so bad.) And so, I want to call it off. Part of me wants to wait until next year. There’s always a next year. But no. Tomorrow I will run.

Back in 2006 I chose not to run ‘The Wilson’: a gruelling 10 mile fell race for 6th formers at my old school. Why? Because I was fearful. Sure, I blamed it on my bad knees, my lack of training and my previous chest infection, but I was really just afraid. I was afraid I’d come last or, worse, not finish; that I would finish so late that there’d be no one there to cheer me on along the finishing strait; that I would be a bit of a laughing stock amongst my peers. I told myself I wasn’t fit enough, or strong enough; that sport wasn’t my thing, music was. I believed the lies in my own mind, and I let them win. But the truth was, I could have done it.

Now, over a decade later and around 4 stone heavier, I am nowhere near physically ready for 10 miles on the vast and bleak moorland of the Yorkshire Dales. I am not ready for the hills; I am not ready for the mileage; I am not even ready for the 5k stretch on road at the end. I am not ready. Yet, mentally, I am. I’ve been telling myself that I will be doing ‘The Wilson’ since April last year; since I went on that first run and it felt like an impossible dream that I might get from running for 60 seconds to running the impossible 10 mile in just under a year. Yet here it is. The impossible will, tomorrow, be done.

It isn’t even the lack of physical readiness which puts me off tomorrow. It’s the emotional. I have built this up in my mind over the years. I’d run the whole thing, with the exception of Baugh Fell. I’d get round in a respectable time for a 30 something mum of 1. I’d have family at the end cheering me on. Tomorrow I won’t have any of that. I definitely won’t be able to run the whole thing – though I’ve made my peace with it. My time is irrelevant tomorrow, it’s about getting round in one piece. And everyone’s busy (as is the case when you go to run on a Tuesday morning), so I’ll finish that 10th mile in silence and alone. It will be my biggest physical achievement to date, but I will celebrate on my own, probably via social media. There’ll still be tears though.

And really, all of that is ok. There is still next year. This year I can get round, find my way, survive. Then next year, 2020, I can fly round, find my way, thrive.

Giving up would be easy

In April it will be a year since I started running. Following the NHS Couch to 5K program, I quickly began to see improvement. I was running faster, and further. I was feeling fitter, more determined. Each time I ran, I’d be sure I could beat myself in some way.

Since September, though, I have lost my mojo. I’ve been running, but I feel as though I’m really not getting anywhere. And with a pretty poor January record, I have come into February wondering whether I can keep going.

I mean, of course I can. But it all feels a bit rubbish right now. I’m thoroughly fed up of running at the same speed (or, indeed, getting slower) and it feeling hard. It feels harder now than it did when I started 10 months ago.

And so, giving up would be easy. Especially as I seem nowhere near ready for my upcoming 10 mile fell run in March. I ran 1 mile yesterday and it felt impossible. If 1 mile on a relatively flat road feels that way, how will I get through another 9, with mud and hills and, probably, rain?

I know I can’t give up. It’s just that it would be so easy to say, “I’m done.”