Happy Valentine’s – Scars in our Eyes

I have scars in my eyes. Particularly the left one. If I were to wink at you with my right eye, you would have no nose. You might argue that this is a good thing in a way, but I assure you however misshapen your nose (I have one nostril higher than the other), it’s better than having no nose at all.  Faces look like donuts , soft, featureless, with a hole. I see your hair,  ear, the pattern on the curtains, the edges of things but not the essence. I open my other eye, and all is normal again. To my relief your nose returns, in all its glory.


This doesn’t bother me at all now. When it first happened years ago, it was traumatic to say the least. But, after treatment for a very rare condition, my right eye was saved and I can still read the bottom line on the eye chart. People function perfectly well with one eye. After all, my right eye’s near-perfect, my left has peripheral vision, and my brain makes up the rest. The only thing I can’t seem to do is light candles. Apparently, watching this is quite hilarious.

When my nephew was small, apart from being blonde, blue-eyed and very angelic, he had this great party trick. My brother-in-law would say to him, “Now Little One, what do you love?” And he’d put his finger to his cheek, cock his head, think for a bit, and begin.

“I love cars!” His little eyes would brim with excitement, “And I love trains, and clouds, and sunshine and little cakes wiv icing on! I love Nanny, and the seaside, and ducks and chocolate…” Sometimes he’d pause for a minute and my brother-in-law would prompt, “What else do you love?” Then he’d be off again. “I love trees, and tractors and those lorries wiv milk bottles on and big fat rabbits…” It was an absolute joy to watch, because here was a child who was brimful with delight, and in love. And the recipient of his love was simply – Life.

I’ve never forgotten this, and I remembered years later when the treatment for my eyes began slowly to settle the watery curves, gaps and constant feeling of sea-sickness into something resembling normality. I watched the world from my bedroom window as I began to see detail again – faces, stars,  leaves on trees, and think how much I delighted in them, these tiny emblems of God’s love in the world. And as my vision returned, the scars left a reminder – there are gifts everywhere. Don’t forget to look. Past the thumbprint on the lens.

St Valentine was not a lover of women. He was a lover of life, of God, secretly marrying young couples when Emperor Claudius had forbidden it. When imprisoned for his deeds, it is said he helped and prayed for the blind daughter of the Roman who judged him, to such effect that Asterius became a believer himself. In 269, Valentine was sentenced to a three-part death (beating, stoning and decapitation) because of his belief that a Christian marriage should be available for those who wanted it. His last words were supposedly written in a note to Asterius’s daughter, signed “from your Valentine”, inspiring the romantic cards and gifts of today. But St. Valentine’s true gift to the world, was not cards but kindness.

There’s this great psalm that talks of the way God put us together in the womb, planning our days with infinite precision, forming physique and character – a love for trees or tractors (or in my nephew’s case, everything). You may not be serenaded with cards or roses today. There may be someone precious missing – a person, who adores you and is with you. You may not have been loved like this, or you may have loved and lost. In some way you feel you will never recover. It has scarred you and part of you has died inside.

But, you are loved  – by your world, whoever and whatever that may be – your family, your friends, God (who knows death and scars), the way the sun throws patterns on wood. These things are part of God’s Valentine’s to you, to the world. As Valentine the man was. as you are, a bringer not of cards but kindness.  (I have a colleague who is brilliant at this – always sharing helpful stuff, leaving chocolate on our desks.)


Dare to believe you could still live brimful with delight. Thumbprints on the lens but gifts to be found.

Don’t forget to look.





Shoes and Other Taboos

When I was a little girl, my dad used to line up all the family’s shoes on a Sunday night and clean them. So I had never cleaned a shoe in my life. In fact I didn’t even know where the shoe cleaning stuff was kept or where to buy it. My father just produced it, with a flourish, a tiny box crammed with tins and brushes, and having covered the kitchen table with newspaper, he’d lovingly work polish into leather. Then I went off to university and from there to my first teaching job. I was so happy when my husband proposed because, apart from having secured an actual man who liked me, I was really looking forward to having clean shoes again. The problem was, in the house where my husband grew up, a different person cleaned the shoes – him.  And he was really looking forward to having a break from all the shoe cleaning stress of his youth. I was dismayed to find he didn’t even possess a shoe cleaning kit. But it was too late – I’d married him.


My husband is a very nice man. He is kind to children and animals. He is patient. In nearly thirty years I have never seen him lose his temper. My husband works in an office at the end of the garden built by a company called Green Retreats (Is this product placement?) It’s not green though, it’s brown and it’s certainly not a retreat. Inside that office my husband writes sermons, composes emails, liaises with outside organisations, draws up rotas, plans meetings and does a million other things. He is the hardest worker I know. I have also never met anyone with greater integrity. All this in one slab of manhood. (I am honestly not angling for a jewellery-related anniversary present. Though I’m willing to accept one. Gracious, as always)


When I married this man, I’d read a book. It was called, “How to have a Perfectly Happy Marriage” or something like that and so I thought, naturally, that we would. Since we’d read the book and everything. So it came as a surprise to me that, although I’d married this near-perfect man, that there were things about our marriage that weren’t perfect. And most of it, unsurprisingly – since this is the basis of most problems in any relationship – boiled down in some way to communication.

According to the University of Kent, effective spoken communication requires being able to express your ideas and views clearly, confidently and concisely in speech, tailoring your content and style to the audience and promoting free-flowing communication. That’s all very well, I’m thinking, until you add in variables like a malfunctioning computer or a long hot day at work or corns. These things tend to influence the way you communicate so that instead of being concise and appropriate you just want to roar at everyone. Of course you can’t, because they wouldn’t like you, so you have to save it all up for when you get home and then you roar at your loved ones instead. Sadly we can do that because although they may not like it, they will usually keep loving us, whatever.


Then there are those things that you gradually stop talking about – the old chestnuts that come up again and again and send you round in circles until you’re dizzy with frustration and fatigue. Because nothing seems to change, at least not for long. Because human nature cannot be changed, at least by us.  And life, with its tendency to throw things at you out of the blue, if you are not careful, can squeeze the joy out of everything… How is it that sometimes the simple act of talking, the thing that draws two people together in the first place, can be the hardest thing to do? Maybe it’s the shape of what we say conjuring up things from the past, things that the speaker may or may not know about, that pull the familiar triggers of guilt, blame and anger. We are not free to react solely in the present, invaded as we are by past hurts and future fears. And so after a while, if we’re not careful, something inside us curls up and hides. It’s then that the most damage can be done if we remain silent. Because, as my mother used to say, what goes in must come out. One day it will explode. And the fall-out could be huge.

So, even though it’s always painful, we’ll keep talking about the shoes…





My story, The Evenness of Things, now for sale as an Amazon Kindle e-book, is about the effects of long term silence on a relationship. In the story, a woman buys a house without telling her husband, a  misguided attempt to deal with a tragedy from the past which now threatens to overwhelm her completely. But Daisy believes that the house will save her…

The story is about the unpredictable impact of grief on faith and relationships, the need for retreat, and how life itself can show us how to cope, “if we let it, if we listen.”