Category Archives: Personal

Relationship

This entry is part 20 of 20 in the series Fiona

I can’t believe it’s thirteen months since we lost my precious wife, Fiona. Time seems to have flown by.

And as part of my grieving process, I have been meeting with a bereavement volunteer; she’s a very wise lady who works as part of my local Hospice’s Bereavement Service.

One of the many interesting things that I have learned from my helper is that the way that the grieving process is viewed, by people who study this sort of thing, has changed over the last few decades.

In the past, it was usually considered ‘normal’ that, eventually, bereaved people ‘just get over it’, and esentially just pull their socks up and get on with life. Maybe that’s part of the British ‘stiff upper lip’ mentality; more likely it was simply a lack of understanding of the processes involved. And in any case, research should – by its very nature – change the way we view, and do, things, especially in the broader field of medicine. You find things out, so you modify your systems accordingly. That’s how progress works.

And so, the current thinking is that when we lose someone who was close to us, someone we had a deep relationship with; when that happens, we don’t actually lose that relationship – it’s just that it changes.

I must say that I can identify with that.

In so many ways, the relationship goes on.

Now, ok, I realise that this might sound like wishful thinking, like ‘she’s not really dead’, all that sort of thing. But no, it’s not that; of course, part of the grieving process is accepting that she really has gone. And, even bearing in mind my firm belief in Heaven, I have fully accepted that, for this life at least, she’s not here*.

But the relationship does indeed go on. You see, everything that Fiona built into my life just by being herself and being my wife, with her gentle wisdom and loving nature, everything is still there. Of course I miss not having her here to discuss things with, especially decisions and that sort of thing. I miss her knowledge, wisdom, her ways, her presence, her voice, her smell, her touch, and at this point it’s getting too personal 😉 . But in so many ways, what she was to me still exists even though she is not physically present. I find this difficult to put into words, so I hope it’s coming across.

One way in which this happens is that I  – mainly unconsciously – respond and do things the way that Fiona would have done. Some Christians use the concept of ‘What Would Jesus Do?’ (WWJD) as a guiding principle for life, and I like that. It’s a good idea, and if it works for you, go for it 🙂 Some people even have the logo ‘WWJD’ as a tattoo, hopefully the right way up so they can read it as a reminder… 😉

Well, in a similar vein, I suppose it’s as if I have the letters ‘WWFD’ tattooed on my personality, or that I wear a ‘WWFD’ wristband like this one here 🙂  What would Fiona do? Well, I could obviously never be a ‘replacement’ for her in the lives of people whom she blessed on a daily basis just by knowing them. But still I have found that I have taken over just some of the roles she had, and I have done this in exactly the same serving spirit that she would have had. And that’s because she made me into the person I am, just by being herself and transferring her attitudes to me, albeit unconsciously. And I’m sure it worked both ways; I know that she had attitudes and principles that were a result of her knowing me. We all ‘rub off’ on each other our whole lives, but this is especially true for people who are close.

There’s more. This is very personal, but about two or three times a week, I dream about Fiona in my sleep. Not just in the sense that I described earlier in this series, but now it’s different. In the dreams, I know she’s dead, but it’s like she’s just sitting there beside me, without necessarily saying anything, but just being there. She’s very solid, very real, and the really solid thing about her is her presence. Again, this is difficult to describe, but the take-home feeling and impression I get is that she is always there, and always will be, even though she’s not really here any more. Or is she? To be honest, the mechanics of this are quite mind-wrenching, even for a mind like mine, so I just let it be without trying to go too deeply into how it all works. But the solidity of her presence in those dreams, I am certain, is either my subconscious mind showing me that all Fiona’s influence is still solid in my life, or maybe it’s even something far deeper than that, but which I will leave to my readers to interpret in their own ways. And this whole thing provides me with yet another assurance that the person she was, and is, is still present with me in my life. In a very real way, that old adage of ‘as long as we remember them, they are not really dead’ is apparently true for Fiona in my life.

You see, Fiona and I had been together for 34 years, and married for just short of 33 years, and for all of that time we were inseparable. We had such a close relationship, it was almost like we could read each other’s thoughts. And a relationship like that is not broken by death. Sure, our marriage service included the words ’till death do us part’. And I believe that’s true, at least on a temporary basis, dreams notwithstanding. But, you know, there is a deeper truth here. As well as the ‘ongoing relationship’, there is also something even greater that the future holds. As I have said before, death is no longer the big deal it once was. Because of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, we have seen a foretaste of life after death. Jesus put it like this, ‘Because I live, you too will live’ (Jn 14:19), and ‘I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die’ (Jn 11:25). Because of the Resurrection, death has been given notice that it will no longer hold the tyranny of fear over humankind that it has held for countless centuries.

What we believe is this: If we get included in Christ’s sin-conquering death, we also get included in his life-saving resurrection. We know that when Jesus was raised from the dead it was a signal of the end of death-as-the-end. Never again will death have the last word. (Romans 6:8-10 Message)

On this mountain he will destroy
    the shroud that enfolds all peoples,
the sheet that covers all nations;
    he will swallow up death forever.
(Isaiah 25:7-8)

Do you see what this is saying? I am not using these as proof-texts; I don’t like using Scripture like that! What I am saying is that, because of the grieving process I have been undergoing, I have come to realise that the truth of the presence of Jesus in my life, the reality of His Spirit in my heart, the reality of His life-changing power at work within me, all point to the genuineness (is that even a word??) of the story of Jesus that we all know so well, but which is so often read like it’s still bound up in a dusty old book. No. This is real! And so, I give these texts as examples of things that I already know to be happening in my own life, and to show what the future has in store, not only for me, but for all humanity. Death indeed does not have the final say. Death is no longer separation from our loved ones for ever. Heaven awaits, and in that place we will indeed see again those whom we cherished so dearly in this life.

And on the other side of the veil waits my Fiona. Fe and I had ‘our song’, ‘Where you go, I will go‘. And when I die on this Earth, that’s what will have happened; I will have gone to be with her where she is. So I would hope that, when that time comes, people will be able bring themselves to grieve with joy, knowing that we are together again, forever, in the incredible place where we lived our entire lives longing to go to.

And the relationship goes on.


*I also believe in miracles, including that of raising the dead. I believe God can do that. But, as I have said before (I think, anyway; my mind is such a fizzing whirl of ideas that I have difficulty remembering things sometimes!), I do think that it was Fiona’s time, and there’s going to be no raising of Fiona before the Great Resurrection. Crazy talk? Well, this is my faith; I have no doubts as to God’s abilities in this regard, but He’s not going to do it. Plus there is no way in which I could ever selfishly ask for her to be whisked away from her heavenly reward. No way in the world.


Header picture shows Fiona at our beloved holiday retreat at Bolton Abbey, Yorkshire, in 2011

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Night Flying

A couple of evenings ago, I had an awe-inspiring flight that was a major first in my flying career.

I went for my first ever flight at night. With an instructor, of course.

At the moment, my licence only allows me to fly in daylight. In order to fly at night, I would need to add a Night Rating to my licence, which simply involves a short theoretical and practical flying training course and then five solo takeoffs and full-stop landings at night.

I have been thinking about going for my night rating for a good while now, shall I/shan’t I, will I like it, what if it’s really hard, what if I get all disorientated? The inspiration for the night flying came from one of those moments where I was standing in my garden at home and looking up at the brightly moonlit clouds above, and thinking, “I would love to fly up there in that sky!” And so was born the idea of training for my first additional rating in all my 20+ years of flying.

So I decided to go for a short hop with an Instructor and see how I liked it. As it was an instructional flight, I planned on flying the aeroplane for the entire flight, right from moving off from the apron to the final shutdown, as far as it was possible given that I had never flown at night before.

So, first, we had a little bit of a briefing, where Ollie (my Instructor) gave me some important points about the differences involved in flying at night as compared to daylight flying, and I asked a few questions. Then it’s engine startup and off we go.

The first thing I noticed was that it is really hard to read my checklist in the pitch black. I had brought my torch and used it, but I made a mental note that next time I would put a red filter on my torch so as to avoid loss of night vision.

So, engine start as normal, call the Tower, and then taxy the aeroplane to the holding point just short of the runway for the power and pre-takeoff ‘vital actions’ checks. The taxiways are lit with blue lights at the edges and green lights down the centreline, and there are two bright yellow flashing lights to mark the holding point. This wasn’t all that difficult although I did notice a tendency to overcontrol on the steering because of the lack of visual references. But essentially it was no harder than driving a car at night. Lining up on the runway, though, was a bit different because there were no cues at all apart from the white lines on the ground. All the lights on aerodrome surfaces are carefully aligned to cause minimum inconvenience by dazzle and maximum benefit for the different stages of flight. To be honest I don’t remember if I could see the main runway edge lights (the flarepath), but we were quickly cleared for takeoff so it’s off we go.

The takeoff itself was easy, not all that different from a daylight takeoff, but I think I would have found it hard in a crosswind, again because of the lack of visual cues. These visual cues are something that I have taken for granted in daylight flying, because everything is visible all around me and I don’t even think about it. At night, though, the default setting is that everything is black, everywhere, unless it’s a city or a road. But the wind was calm; a nice fine and quiet night weather-wise, just perfect for a night air experience flight.

In fact, the feeling is quite surreal as the aeroplane lifts off and I begin the climbout, just like I would in daylight, but relying on the instruments to maintain the correct airspeed and attitude. Everything is black, except for the bright lights of Exeter and its surrounding towns, and the bright car lights on the nearby M5 motorway, one stream of red tail lights, the other of white headlights. It’s rush hour so the roads are busy and easily visible even where there are no street lights, and the feeling is like climbing up into a huge black velvet coal sack but with all these islands and rivers of coloured lights (mainly orange, red and white) lighting up patches on the ground. Fortunately I know the geography of the local area really well so I am not fazed at all by thinking, like, ‘Where am I?’. That’s one major thing I don’t need to worry about.

The City of Exeter at night, seen from above Dawlish Warren at 2,500ft

I notice also that large water features, like the two major estuaries of the Exe and the Teign, actually reflect light from the sky that I didn’t even know was there; the Moon has not yet risen so the sky is lit mainly by starlight and a little bit of city glow, though not all that much as Devon is really very rural. In fact, I have read many times that water features are one of the best aids to night navigation, and now I can see why. Yeadon, my old home town near Leeds, has a lake near it that they had to drain during the War, because it is only a mile from a factory where they used to build Lancaster bombers. The lake would have been a major landmark that would have enabled German night bombers to attack the factory with some fair degree of accuracy. And the sea, of course, is a major feature around my current area, although it appears much darker than the rivers for some reason…but again it’s easily found because the coastal towns define the coastline really well. And there are all these little white lights dotted around that show where boats are located. You can see one just below the middle of this photo of Exmouth, taken from over Dawlish Warren at 2,500ft (photo is clickable for full-size image):

But the most striking feature, again, is the blackness. Everything is black apart from the towns and roads, and the rivers. In fact the feeling is like that of everything being almost abstract; it’s like I’m not really flying but instead I’m using a flight simulator or something. Because the aeroplane, once trimmed up, basically flies herself, all I need to do is to look out at the view and occasionally check the instruments for height, heading and speed. I know I’m above the MSA (minimum safe altitude) so I’m not going to run into anything. Other aircraft are easy to spot as they have flashing lights on them. In a lot of ways, despite the lack of a visual horizon reference, this is much easier than flying in the daylight. Quite a paradox.

And I can see. Although most of the ground is dark, I notice that there is actually enough light to see by due to the starlight, now that my eyes are becoming accustomed to the dark.

Straight away I notice that I am flying the aeroplane much more precisely and carefully, being careful not to risk disorientation by abrupt attitude changes, and paying much more attention to the instruments and what the aeroplane is doing. When flying, it’s really important to keep ahead of the aircraft at all times; to be proactive rather than reactive, so I am concentrating hard and thinking well ahead because at night it is so much more vital to be ahead of your game. Any tendency of the aeroplane to drift off course or change its attitude has to be seen and acted on early so that it does not ‘develop’. This is probably the most precise flying I have done in a long while.

Coming back to the airport, Ollie points out landmarks that will be useful for me when trying to find the aerodrome by myself. How does one lose a huge field with a 2,064-metre runway? Quite easily, actually 🙂 But the airport does indeed appear as advertised, and I position for a left-hand downwind join for Runway 26. Doing everything slowly, carefully and precisely, I fly a very nice downwind in all this blackness; several landmarks are available to help me in this regard but I also need to make sure that I am well clear of high ground to the east of the airport and below the place where I am going to do the base turn. Downwind checks complete, and turning base, then, at about 1,100ft, the runway approach lights gradually become more visible as a dim string of yellow dots as I prepare the aeroplane for landing. Turning for final approach, the runway is lit up gloriously – I have done dusk flarepath landings before, so the sight is familiar – but in between the flarepath lights, the runway surface itself is totally black.

Photo (not mine, credit goes to ‘Golfcharlie’ as signed on the picture) of the approach lights at Exeter as seen from a Beechcraft Duchess twin-engined training aeroplane. The main runway lights are actually white, not red as they appear in this photo.

I’ve been briefed by Ollie on when to ‘flare’ (the point where you arrest the descent); apparently it’s when the runway lights appear to be coming up around my ears. So I flare and prepare to hold off, but the aeroplane touches down straight away for a real greaser of a landing; almost perfect – except that it was pure fluke. I didn’t expect the aircraft to land so soon; normally she needs to be held off the runway until she stalls gently on from about 8-12 inches above the runway. Again, the lack of visual cues is something I’m going to have to learn to deal with.

I was surprised in that I actually flew the entire flight myself, with the exception of a minute or two where Ollie took over so I could take the two photos featured in this blog post, and the whole flight was easy, if a little surreal. But the precision flying I will have to perform will do nothing but good for my flying technique.

And so my training starts on Monday, weather permitting. For the first time in 20 years, I will be undergoing a flying training programme. I did have a lesson or two a couple of years ago, where I learned things like radio navigation and such, but this will be the first really new formal flying training program that I have done since completing my PPL in 1997. Once again, I will have to summon all my courage, discipline and determination to make this work. The courage to face new and potentially dangerous situations, the discipline of concentration and excluding all extraneous thoughts from my fizzing Aspie mind; and the determination to overcome all the obstacles to learning that I will likely encounter, and come through with my shiny new Night Rating. It will be really freeing to be able to not worry about whether or not I am down before sunset. And I love the flarepath landings; it’s all very pretty.

Outside the local supermarket yesterday evening, I looked up into the black sky and thought, “Crumbs, I flew in that last night!” Well, hopefully I’m going to be doing a lot more of it over the winter months.

Wish me luck!

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Fly to Jesus

This entry is part 19 of 20 in the series Fiona

Today it’s a year since I lost my wonderful wife, Fiona.

How does one mark a whole year since we lost such an incredible lady?

Well, I can think of no better way to honour her memory than to post a number sung by our beautiful and supremely talented daughter, Ellie Rosie (that’s her stage-name).

Here’s a picture of Ellie singing at Fiona’s and my ‘wedding’, in December 2014, when we renewed our vows:

Fiona had an astonishing singing voice, and Ellie’s is equally astonishing. Here Ellie covers a beautiful song – Come to Jesus, by Chris Rice – which Ellie discovered on Hillary Scott’s album ‘Love Remains‘. I think this song sums up Fiona’s life perfectly, from her initial salvation, through all she experienced in her life, and right up to where she is now – ‘On Glory’s Side’. Fiona has indeed flown to Jesus and rests in His arms. And she would have loved this song.

 

Take it away, Ellie:

 

Weak and wounded sinner
Lost and left to die
Raise your head, for love is passing by
Come to Jesus
Come to Jesus
Come to Jesus and live!
 
Now your burden’s lifted
Carried far away
Precious blood has washed away the stain,
Sing to Jesus
Sing to Jesus
Sing to Jesus and live!
 
And like a newborn baby
Don’t be afraid to crawl
And remember when we walk
Sometimes we fall, so
Fall on Jesus
Fall on Jesus
Fall on Jesus and live!
 
Sometimes the way is lonely
And steep and filled with pain
So if your sky is dark and coursed with rain,
Cry to Jesus
Cry to Jesus
Cry to Jesus and live!
 
When the love spills over
And music fills the night
And when you can’t contain your joy inside,
Dance for Jesus
Dance for Jesus
Dance for Jesus and live!
 
With your final heartbeat
Kiss the world goodbye
Go in peace, and laugh on Glory’s side,
Fly to Jesus
Fly to Jesus
Fly to Jesus and live!
Fly to Jesus
Fly to Jesus
Fly to Jesus and live!

 

– ‘Come to Jesus’, by Chris Rice

 

Vocals, piano and keyboards by Ellie Rosie

 


Header picture is of Fiona in 1987, at the age of 23, not long after our first child, David, was born.
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Dwelling Places

This entry is part 18 of 20 in the series Fiona

The heart of worship is to draw near to God; to see more of Him; to desire strongly His Presence, to kneel (literally or figuratively) before Him and tell Him how much we love Him.

It’s eleven months since we lost my lovely wife Fiona. And Fiona’s heart was always that of a worshipper. Worship was our way of life, staying close to God and singing His praises whenever the opportunity presented itself 🙂 As I said here, basically if there was any excuse for us to break into song, we’d be singing and making music in our hearts to Jesus.

As I have already shared in that article above, Fiona gave me this lovely Scripture from her favourite Bible translation, The Message – because she said it reminded her of me!:

“Don’t drink too much wine. That cheapens your life. Drink the Spirit of God, huge draughts of him. Sing hymns instead of drinking songs! Sing songs from your heart to Christ. Sing praises over everything, any excuse for a song to God the Father in the name of our Master, Jesus Christ.” (Eph 5:18-20 (Message))

And I love that – ‘Any excuse for a song….’ and that’s just what we were like together.

Fiona is, of course, now in that place where she can worship with the full, yet still increasing, knowledge of what God is really like. She is in His Dwelling Place – the place where He is – and likely worshipping her heart out. It’s what she did, and I have no doubt that it’s what she does. Worship is not only what keeps me going, but it’s what I believe Fiona has gone to. Have you any idea what a tremendous comfort that is to me in my bereavement?

And so, once again, the brilliant Terry MacAlmon comes to my aid. As I listen to this beautiful worship song, Dwelling Places, once again I am transported into God’s Presence. How lovely indeed is His Dwelling, because that’s where He is. So in a very real sense, as my heart rises up in worship with this song, I am worshipping with the angels and with Fiona in the Throne Room of Heaven. And there’s no place I’d rather be. Sitting at Jesus’s feet and basking in His Presence.

So, here’s the lovely song ‘Dwelling Places’, by Miriam Webster, sung by Terry MacAlmon, Shauna Chanda and Ruth Ann Johnson. Be blessed:

Lovely are Your dwelling places
Thirsty I come after You
Jesus, my joy, my reward
Your love’s restoring my soul
Now I’m Yours and You are mine
And from my heart a song will rise

I love You, I love You, I love You
I love You, I love You, I love You
I love You, I love You, I love You
And my heart will follow wholly after You

Jesus, there is none beside You
Righteous, ruler of the earth
Nations will come and bow down
Name over all names
I sing You praises
And all that I can say to You is

I love You, I love You, I love You
I love You, I love You, I love You
I love You, I love You, I love You

And my heart will follow wholly after You

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How We Met

This entry is part 17 of 20 in the series Fiona

Today, on the tenth monthly anniversary of my loss of the light of my life, my dear wife Fiona, I thought I would share a little about how we first met.

When people ask me where Fiona and I met, I try to play silly-buggers and I usually say,

“Actually, I was sitting on my bed at the time”

Of course, this doesn’t usually go down all that well with some Christians… but there is of course a ‘proper’ explanation 🙂

Would you believe: we met on the Citizens’ Band (CB) radio. And I was sitting on my bed as I was using it. Mystery solved 😉

It was in late 1981 that I bought my first, very basic, CB radio, using some of my student grant (we still got grants back then…) Funnily enough, back then, as I was in, shall we say, a ‘legalistic phase’ of my personal faith walk, I was really doubtful as to whether or not it was ‘God’s Will’ for me to buy it. But buy it I did (oh, the sin of it!), and I installed it in my Mini car. This is the type of ‘Harrier CB’ transceiver* that I bought:

And, despite my guilt-based doubts, it turned out to be instrumental in several life-changing ways.

Firstly, and quite unfairly I thought, the young lady I was dating at the time (and had been with for seventeen months) sat in my car and used my CB, while I was in prayer meetings, to meet ‘someone else’ and then dumped me. I laugh about it now, and we are still in touch and are actually good friends!

Secondly, because I personally always had to understand how things worked, I studied radio theory and eventually qualified for my Radio Amateur’s Licence, after attending night-school and also teaching myself Morse Code. That was in 1984-85, though, after Fiona and I were married.

Thirdly, and most importantly, I met Fiona on the CB radio.

But it wasn’t on my original Harrier CB that I met her… annoyingly, my Harrier rig (CB jargon for the radio transceiver itself) was stolen from my car while I was at a Leeds United match. And I think Leeds lost too, just to add insult to injury. Someone had decided that they deserved that CB radio more than I did, and so they helped themselves to it. And Leeds came out in sympathy 😉

So I replaced the stolen unit with a more mid-range radio (with a few more controls on it)  which I didn’t really like all that much as my voice was distorted on transmission. I therefore sold that rig and invested in a top-of-the-range ‘Harrier CBX’ transceiver, with lots more controls on it, and therefore it was much more flexible. Here’s a picture of the actual instrument, which I still have:

I not only installed it in my car, but I also set it up with a device called a ‘slide-mount’ (which you can see under the radio in the picture above). The slide-mount allows you to remove your rig quickly and easily so that you can put it in the boot of the car, out of sight, where thieves won’t see it. All the connections for the power, the antenna and whatnot, are done with sliding contacts, so basically you can just pull the thing out in a matter of less than five seconds. But it’s also really convenient in another way, because you can also set up another slide-mount in your house, and take your CB indoors with you and use it at home. So I installed a decent antenna on the outside of my parents’ house, set it all up, installed the slide-mount and power supply in my bedroom, and the job’s a good ‘un. Working CB radio in both car and home.

And so, to the story. One evening in the Spring of 1982, at about the time of the end of the Falklands War, I’d had my new ‘Harrier CBX’ radio for about six weeks, and was really enjoying using it. Just before going off to Housegroup that evening, I decided to fill in the last ten minutes before I left with a quick listen on the CB.

Funny how these small actions can change your life.

Sitting on my bed, I switched on the rig, and almost immediately heard a young man calling, somewhat plaintively I thought, for a contact (the phraseology was ‘One-four for a copy!’, meaning that the guy was calling on channel 14 for someone to talk to; a ‘copy’ in CB jargon) So I thought, ‘Oh, he sounds like nobody wants to talk to him’, so I took pity on him and replied, and we chatted for a few minutes. Then he said, ‘My sister’s here, would you like to talk to her?’ And his sister was of course Fiona, and the young man was Graham, who is now my brother-in-law. She’d just that day finished her last ‘A-level’ exam at school, and had wanted to relax a little after all the stress, so Graham invited her out to their dad’s car in which the CB radio was installed. After listening for a while, she decided that she’d like to talk to me.

But, of course, after a few minutes, I had to go. So I said, “Anyway, I’m sorry but I have to go now; I am going to Housegroup”

“Oh”, said Fiona, “That sounds interesting!” Thinking she was kidding me, I said, “What do you mean?” And she replied, “I’m a Christian too!”.

“Which church do you go to?”

“I don’t have a church”

“Well you could come along to mine”, I said. “It’s Guiseley Baptist Church”

“Oh, that’s just along the road from me!”

And so, we arranged to meet up outside the church that next Sunday morning. In the meantime, I had a few more radio conversations with Graham, and even went round to meet him (an ‘eyeball’ in CB jargon) at his house, but Fiona was out.

But on that Sunday in June 1982, I met her, sitting on a bench outside the church, and it was love at first sight, for me at least. Easily the most beautiful girl I had ever seen in my life. I write this with tears as the enormity of my loss hits me again. My first words to her were, “Oh, is it you?” And she said, “Yes!” And so we met. She started to come to my church regularly, and we began to spend time together; to go out for walks together. And we fell in love.

Here’s the front of Guiseley Baptist Church; the flower box to the left of the gate (as we see it here) is where the bench used to be, the one that Fiona was sitting on when I met her. That is the exact spot where I laid eyes on her for the first time 🙂

We were married in that same church in January, 1984. And we had adventure after adventure in the blessed time that we had together. We were inseparable for over 34 years; half a lifetime. And the adventures continued – children, jobs, travels, worship leading, church, friends, dogs, pets, poverty, sufficiency. We learned what life is like both in plenty and poverty, on the breadline, in abundance, with mortgage, with no mortgage, in vibrant health, in inexpressible joy, excitement, and peace; with disease, heartbreak and horror, suffering and bereavement; exploration, grandchildren, holidays, cars, food,  rainy walks, dogs, well, you know. Just Life In General. We went through so much together and we were so close, and madly in love, for all that time. I count myself thoroughly blessed to have shared life’s advenures with my amazing lady. And I loved her more than life.

So, I hope that this little story shows you just how awesome God is, at orchestrating a series of seemingly random events, and in so doing to change two people’s lives forever. Our three children, our two grandchildren, exist only because I bought a CB radio, Fiona’s dad bought a CB radio, I decided to just spend ten minutes on the CB that evening, Fiona needed to relax after her exams, I decided to mention Housegroup…all those factors came together and indeed were brought together as just a small segment of God’s Grand Plan that we are so privileged to have been a part of. All the people whose lives have been touched by our music, by our ministry, by our teaching, by our wisdom; it all came about because of that series of decisions and events that shaped the future so hugely for us.

Wow! It’s simply mind-blowing!


Header picture is one of Fiona that I took in August, 1982,  and just a month or so before she went off to University in Liverpool. This is the first photo I ever had of Fiona; she is eighteen in this picture (and it was taken on a Polaroid camera) and I kept it by my bed when she was at University.


More testimony of God’s timing, including some from our early married life, is here.


*A ‘transceiver’ is a radio that is capable of both transmitting and receiving radio signals. Transmitter/Receiver, hence ‘Transceiver’.

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Rest In Your Love

This entry is part 16 of 20 in the series Fiona

This post marks the ninth month since we lost my gorgeous wife Fiona. Once again, like last time, it’s another musical post, to celebrate Fiona’s tremendous musical talent and at the same time to take a look at more of the tremendous Love of God that has kept me afloat for three-quarters of a year.

Fe and I used to sing a lot of songs together, sometimes with both of us singing, sometimes with me just backing her on the piano or guitar. One of our favourite songs was one that ranked in our ‘personal memories’ scale nearly as highly as ‘our’ song ‘Where you go, I will go‘, and it was called ‘Rest in Your Love’, by Phil McHugh, and recorded by Mo James, a gifted Leeds-based singer whose talent was sadly never really recognised nor developed as far as it could have been. The song is from her only album. More Love, released in 1982*.

I must testify that, for all our lives, we have rested in God’s Love. I have especially rested in that Love since Fiona died, for ‘underneath are the Everlasting Arms’ (Dt 33:27). That’s why I chose the top picture for this post: firstly to illustrate Fiona’s stunning, radiant beauty, and secondly to show little Lucy, our grand-daughter, ‘resting’ in Fiona’s love as she feeds her. This picture is such a good illustration of what this song is about – resting in God’s immense, illimitable parental Love. Fiona and I loved singing this song, and, in so doing, giving the testimony of the words that meant so much to us and which were so real in our lives.

This is why I have shared it in this post.

Here we are, then; Rest in Your Love, sung by Mo James.

It appears that the tempter never sleeps
It seems my best is always just out of reach
But I take comfort from the promise of Your unending care
I will rest when I reach out and find You’re there

And I can rest in Your Love, I’ll rest in Your Love
It brings such a healing,
When life’s got me reeling
There’s no sweeter feeling than to rest in Your Love

It’s not easy to be human, You know that first hand
The flesh and the Spirit both make their demands
But here I am on this road of life, I’ve got to walk it through
And the best way is to walk it right beside You

Well I can rest in Your Love, I’ll rest in Your Love
It brings such a healing,
When life’s got me reeling
There’s no sweeter feeling than to rest in Your Love

I’ll always need You, I’ll always need You

Rest in Your Love, I’ll rest in Your Love
It brings such a healing,
When life’s got me reeling
There’s no sweeter feeling than to rest in Your Love

 


*Tragically, Mo died of a brain haemhorrage in 1999

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Piper Warrior Conversion

This entry is part 17 of 18 in the series Beautiful Destroyers

Well, when I first began the Beautiful Destroyers series here on my blog, I did say that I would not always be featuring military aircraft.

If you remember, the most beautiful aeroplanes are often the ones that are designed to break things belonging to other people, hence the title ‘Beautiful Destroyers’, and I said I would also feature civilian aircraft from time to time. I’ve already featured one of my favourite civilian aeroplanes last time – the Cessna 152 – and today I am going to feature another of my favourite aeroplanes to fly – the Piper PA-28 Cherokee, also known as the ‘Warrior’. And, although she’s not a ‘Destroyer’ (although actually there are some military versions), she’s still beautiful.

The Warrior exists in various versions, and the one in the title picture, G-CIZO (‘Zulu-Oscar’), is actually a PA-28-161 ‘Cadet’, incorrectly listed in Wikipedia as being a two-seat variant. It’s not; there are definitely four seats in Zulu-Oscar! And four sets of seatbelts and four sets of headphone jacks.

And this is the aeroplane that I flew a couple of weeks ago, in order to convert back on to the Warrior after nearly sixteen years away from the type.

But that aside, the Warrior is, in my opinion, the prettiest of the light aeroplanes that I have flown. I love the double-taper wing shape; here is a lovely photo of Zulu-Oscar showing off her beautiful lines really nicely:

Zulu-Oscar on final approach (note position of flaps just behind the main undercarriage)

In the past, when I have flown a Cessna 152, it always felt as if I was putting on my second skin, so familiar am I with the aeroplane type. The aircraft very smoothly becomes an extension of me, my senses, my body, you get the picture.

And I am thrilled to have been reminded that it’s the same with the Warrior. Even after sixteen years of not flying the type, I have to say that I took to it immediately. Having completed my hour and a half conversion flight with an Instructor, five days later I took the same aeroplane up solo for a skills consolidation flight and it was just like I had never been away from the type, so delightful is this aeroplane to fly. It was like putting a glove on; she instantly becomes a part of you. She’s smooth, steady and stable, responsive and light to the touch. A real pilot’s aeroplane.

The Warrior I have flown most in the past, at Plymouth (where I learned to fly) is G-BTSJ ‘Sierra Juliet’.

Sierra-Juliet on the grass at Exeter

Since Plymouth Airport closed a few years ago, Sierra-Juliet has lived at Newquay (where Plymouth Flying School relocated to) and I had seen her occasionally at Bodmin (where I flew after Pymouth closed) when she was there for maintenance. Now, however, she has been bought by my flying school at Exeter and I am looking forward to taking this dignified old lady up into the skies once again. She’s the aeroplane I was flying when we had the humorous ‘Forced Landing’ incident I related previously.

So, as I said, a couple of weeks ago, I flew in Zulu-Oscar, with veteran flying instructor Mike, for my type refresher conversion. Why? Well, unless you have flown it recently, you can’t really just jump into a new (to you) aircraft type and fly it, at least not safely; you need to know where all the switches are, how to handle emergencies, and especially what speeds to fly for climbing, gliding, cruise, final approach, all that sort of thing. These are what’s known as the ‘V Speeds‘. My instructor Mike is a great bloke whom I have known for most of my flying career; he was an Instructor at Plymouth just after I finished my PPL and he’s patient, unflappable and great to work with. So off we toddled up towards Cullompton and Wellington, two towns to the north of Exeter, for General Handling practice including steep turns, stalls and a PFL. Then across the moor to the busy local General Aviation (GA) aerodrome at Dunkeswell for circuits and touch-and-go landing practice. Because Dunkeswell were using their shorter Runway 17, I had to relearn very quickly about the Warrior’s acceleration/deceleration characteristics. The PA-28 is a very slippery aeroplane and, while she accelerates readily, slowing down is really not that easy. And so I had to fly four circuits of precision flying, controlling height, heading and speed accurately as well as communicating with the ground radio people, keeping a lookout and maintaining high situational awareness because of the busy circuit traffic at Dunkeswell that day. My first landing was admittedly more of a controlled crash; after raising the nose for the flare (just before landing), my airspeed fell off a little too quickly and I came down like it was on an aircraft carrier. Boomps-a-daisy. And to cap it all, on our last final approach, they decided to chuck a load of parachutists out over the airfield and they were coming down all over the place. But they kept to their area of the airfield and away from the active runway, so all was well, although Mike did double-check with the ground people to make sure they were happy with us continuing our approach (they were). So, a quick full-stop landing for refuelling, then it’s off to Exeter again, land there, get my logbook signed to say I’d requalified on the Warrior and the job’s a good ‘un.

Here’s a profile view of Zulu-Oscar:

Look at those lovely, clean lines and the beautiful curves on the tailfin. Also worthy of note is the ‘slab tailplane’. The entire tailplane – that’s the small wing-like structure at the back end – is what’s known as an ‘all-flying tailplane’, ‘stabilator‘, or ‘slab tailplane’. What this means is that, instead of the tailplane being fixed but with separate moving surfaces (known as ‘elevators’) as the part of the tailplane that controls the ‘attitude’ or ‘pitch’ (nose-up/nose-down) of the aeroplane, instead, with a slab tailplane, the entire tailplane moves as a single piece to provide this control. Because the slab tailplane has such a large area when compared to normal elevators, this means that this sort of tailplane confers excellent ‘pitch authority’, in that the aeroplane responds decisively and enthusiastically to pitch control inputs. This gives a very ‘positive’, yet also very light, feel to the controls when flying this type. In addition, unlike the Piper PA-38 ‘Tomahawk’ that I also fly, which has a high ‘T’-tailplane, the lower tailplane on the Warrior sits in the propeller slipstream – the ‘wash’ of high-speed air blown backwards along the aeroplane by the propeller – and this gives it even more pitch authority. Because of this, it’s virtually impossible for the tailplane to enter a dangerous ‘deep stall‘ condition, which makes for a much safer aeroplane.

So, there we go, that’s the Piper Warrior. I’ve not given much detail on performance or stuff like that, but instead a proper ‘pilot’s-eye’ view of a lovely aeroplane which flies as nicely as it looks. Here’s a final shot of Zulu-Oscar, taken just after my consolidation flight last week:

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El-Shaddai

This entry is part 15 of 20 in the series Fiona

Fiona and I always shared an irreverent sense of humour. And, despite having lost her, my sense of humour is still just as wacky 🙂 Our outlook on life has always been free and flippant! Because we were (and are) both completely secure in our relationship with Father, we felt free to make jokes about our faith, sometimes to the consternation of other churchy types who were nearby – although to be fair, we didn’t usually use that type of humour in the presence of those who would not understand, because it would have made them uncomfortable. I sometimes think that people are afraid of God, despite 1 John 4:18, which speaks about perfect love driving out fear… sadly, then, there are many Christians – and people from other faiths too – who declare that ‘God has a sense of humour’, but whose ensuing fake laughter usually belies that belief. Lolz.

But not Fiona and I. We were wacky all the way, in ways I won’t share here because, well, I suppose you had to be there…

Now, here’s another worship song from our youth – El Shaddai, sung by the legendary Christian artist Amy Grant. And, for us, this song has a wacky story behind it. We first saw this song in the Dales Bible Week songbook for the 1985 Dales Week, entitled ‘Enthroned on High‘. But we didn’t actually hear the song at that time.

The ‘foreign’ words in the song are just some of the Hebrew names for God, and because of the sense of humour Fiona and I shared, and in the way that we always made irreverent jokes about absolutely everything, we decided for definite that the song was put in that Dales songbook in order to enable people who didn’t ‘speak in tongues’ to sing something that sounded foreign enough to pass as ‘tongues’. Some won’t find that funny. We thought it was bloody hilarious. And this is the first time I have made that public knowledge 😉

And then we heard the song a couple of years later on a worship tape, if I recall correctly, and we loved it immediately.

I’ve put it in Fiona’s series on my blog, because it reminds me so much of the time we had together, the worship we shared, Fiona’s wacky sense of humour that complemented mine so well, and the great times we had singing it together, with me on piano and Fiona’s tremendous vocals. She was a lady of great talent and, over the months, I have sorely missed her pure, wonderful singing voice, and her gentle spirit coming through in her music.

And the song is indeed beautiful, and is well worth hearing. Released in 1982 on Amy Grant’s breakthrough album ‘Age to Age‘, this song was one of the numbers that made her famous. Here it is, with its lovely arrangement, great dynamics and excellent chord emphases along with Amy’s brilliant talent.

Enjoy!

El Shaddai, El Shaddai,
El-Elyon na Adonia,
Age to age You’re still the same,
By the power of the Name.
El Shaddai, El Shaddai,
Erkhamkha na Adonai,
We will praise and lift You high,
El Shaddai.
 
Through Your love and through the ram,
You saved the son of Abraham;
Through the power of your hand,
Turned the sea into dry land
To the outcast on her knees,
You were the God Who really sees,
And by Your might,
You set Your children free
 
El Shaddai, El Shaddai,
El-Elyon na Adonia,
Age to age You’re still the same,
By the power of the Name
El Shaddai, El Shaddai,
Erkhamkha na Adonai,
We will praise and lift You high,
El Shaddai.
 
Through the years You made it clear,
That the time of Christ was near,
Though the people couldn’t see
What Messiah ought to be
Though Your word contained the plan,
They just could not understand
Your most awesome work was done
Through the frailty of Your Son
 
El Shaddai, El Shaddai,
El-Elyon na Adonai,
Age to age You’re still the same,
By the power of the Name
El Shaddai, El Shaddai,
Erkhamkha na Adonai,
I will praise You ’til I die,
El Shaddai
 
El Shaddai, El Shaddai,
El-Elyon na Adonai,
Age to age You’re still the same,
By the power of the Name
El Shaddai, El Shaddai,
Erkhamkha na Adonai,
I will praise You ’til I die
El Shaddai.

– Michael Card/John W. Thompson

I’ll also relate another humorous story about this song. Fiona and I were once in our Church in Leeds when there was a guest lady who’d come in to perform an expressive dance, and she did it to El Shaddai. And she did it really well; it was very moving and expressive and spiritual and all that. Right up to the point where she slipped and did a spectacular comedy-accident fall, through the drum kit if I remember correctly, to the accompaniment of crashing cymbals et al. She was ok, but boy was it funny, and Fiona’s irreverent sense of humour came to the fore and I’m convinced she only narrowly avoided serious internal injury due to her attempts to suppress her laughter. I know it sounds bad to laugh at that sort of thing, but the young dancer was fine, as was the drum kit, and it was even funnier because of all the knights in shining armour who gallantly leapt to the young lady’s rescue, almost causing a further accident in their haste to render assistance.

And to the lady’s complete credit, she got straight back up again and carried on with the dance, bless her 🙂

Anyway, there we go. A lovely song with lots of happy and funny memories for me. Fiona loved it 🙂

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With Eyes For Only You

This entry is part 14 of 20 in the series Fiona

The other day I heard, for the first time, a song that has utterly blown me away: My God and King written by Shauna Chanda and sung beautifully by her on Terry MacAlmon’s worship album, The Sound of Heaven.

At the moment, I can’t listen to this song without my heart bursting with worship, and often even weeping with the sheer weight of glory that falls upon me. Only three or four times in my life so far has a song had this effect on me, (the main one I can remember being When I Look into Your Holiness in 1983) and this song, My God and King, is one of those songs. It’s been a long time since a song has had such a profound impact in me; I can feel the Spirit reaching in to the deep places of my heart as I sing or listen to it, and I feel Him minister His deep healing of the wounds I have received over the last three and a half years of Fiona’s illness and her passing. This song stirs up the deep spirit of worship within me like no other I have ever heard, and in that worship is my healing in God’s Presence.

Fiona at our son’s wedding, September 2009

I love how the song describes that, for the worshipper, to see God face to face and to be with Him would be their dream come true. And this is partly why I have included this in Fiona’s series – because indeed her dream has come true and she now sees God face to face, and worships Him there. Her heart longed to be with Him. She never heard this song on this earth, but I bet she’s singing it right now! I can imagine her lovely soprano voice singing it; she would have loved this song, it’s exactly the kind of song she loved best. A beautiful love song of worship where I declare, and live out, that I have eyes for only my Jesus, my God and King – even, and especially, through the storms of life.

So, with this in mind, here’s the brilliant Shauna Chanda singing her song, with the inimitable Terry MacAlmon on piano. It is my prayer as I write this that this song will bring healing to you too, in whatever area you need it:

 

My God and King
To You alone I sing
You’re the face I seek
For all eternity

My God and King
To You alone I sing
You’re the face I seek
For all eternity

You’d be my dream come true
Just to be with You
How I’d see brand new
With eyes for only You

My God and King
Through the storm I sing
Covered by Your wing
This song of love I bring

You’d be my dream come true
Just to be with You
How I’d see brand new
With eyes for only You

You’d be my dream come true
Just to be with You
How I’d see brand new
With eyes for only You

You are my dream come true
Just to be with You
Now I see brand new
With eyes for only You

With eyes for only You

With eyes for only You

I have eyes for only You

– Shauna Chanda

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Lucy’s Song

This entry is part 13 of 20 in the series Fiona

Here’s another spontaneous post about Fiona, my lovely wife who tragically passed away from cancer last October.

What makes this post really special is that I am featuring a song in which Fiona is actually singing. Fiona recorded very few songs, I don’t really know why we didn’t really record much music together; I guess we were both always completely spontaneous 🙂

So, this is a lovely little number called ‘Lucy’s Song‘, by Heather Pope, and we discovered the song on an obscure little tape called ‘Celebration – Things of Beauty’, (recorded in the 70’s) while Fiona was at University in 1982. The track I am presenting here is Fiona’s cover of that song recorded in July 1985. What’s especially wonderfully prophetic with this cover of Lucy’s Song is that it’s as if Fiona recorded it, half a lifetime ago, for our grand-daughter Lucy, who’s now 7. Lucy loved her Nanny Fe and was heartbroken when she died. This song is Fiona’s legacy to Lucy, telling her that despite life’s storms, and despite her Nanny Fe not being there for her, still her loving Heavenly Father holds her closely in His hands.

I think this is a song that Lucy will treasure.

I apologise that the backing track is a little out of tune; this is because this was one of my dad’s early forays into four-track portable studio recordings, as I said, in 1985, which back then was all done by adjusting the tape speed to retune the tracks, and it appears he got it a little wrong. But the vocals are the focal point here; Fiona’s voice is the higher, purer soprano while the lower, more smoky and husky voice is her best friend, Cath. Their voices always went so well together and it always amazed me that I should be so privileged to be able to make music with these two superb vocalists. Here we go then: Lucy’s Song, vocals by Fiona and Cath, backing instrumentals by Johnny Douglas (my dad’s stage name):

Lucy, when the sky is cloudy, smile
Lucy, when your mind is racing, rest awhile
For there is time for all you long for, time for so much more
And every day’s a new beginning for you

As the springtime turns to summer, so you’re changing day by day
And the rain has come to water all the land
And the drops of life fall heavy, sometimes they’re hard to understand
But your Loving Heavenly Father holds you closely in His Hand

Lucy, when you don’t know what you’re thinking
Lucy, when you feel that life’s too hard
Remember to give your cares and worries to the One Who loves you so
For every day He’s walking close to you

As the springtime turns to summer, so you’re changing day by day
And the rain has come to water all the land
And the drops of life fall heavy, sometimes they’re hard to understand
But your Loving Heavenly Father holds you closely in His Hand

Yes, your Loving Heavenly Father loves you and understands!

Lovely!

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