Big World Small Boat

Private Diary of A Priest. OK, so we're not all angels...Everyone needs a place to get things off their chest! And yes, I do talk to God about it all! Even He has a sense of humour! Want proof? Well, he made me, didn't He? Oh, one last thought-If you don't like what I've written, please keep in mind - it's MY diary. Go write your own!

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Location: England, United Kingdom

I've been serving children in crisis for over twenty five years. My goals are not to raise money, but to find organisations and individuals who can help change lives! What may be outdated equipment for you could change the life of a child in Eastern Europe! To learn more please visit our site at:


Finding The Right Words of Comfort

What does one say to distraught and grieving parents who have just buried their young child?

. Truthfully there isn’t much we can say that will help. We can express our sorrow and sympathy. We can offer words of care and concern and of course love. We can tell the parents that we shall pray for them. But for most of us the truth is that we don’t know what to say.

I stood a short distance from the family as mourners came to offer their condolences after the burial. And I watched and listened as people so desperately tried to convey their compassion over the tragic loss this young couple have just experienced.

Some fumbled with words then simply broke into tears. Others offered sentiments that some might consider to be inane or even cruel. ‘You’re both young, you’ll have more children,’ one woman offered. The couple were too lost in their grief to even comprehend what the woman had said.

Perhaps it’s because we don’t know what to say that we sometimes say the wrong things. In our distress with another person’s suffering we often feel that we must offer words that will somehow help move the grieving individuals along.

Personally, I feel there is much more of a spiritual connection and sentiment in the power of a silent embrace. No words are necessary to convey sharing the human emotion of pain and sorrow and loss. Especially when we all accept that there are no answers. And so we weep at what has happened. And so too - God weeps with us.

One elderly gentleman suggested that the child’s death was God’s will. I disagree. The God we worship, our God who watches over us, doesn’t will the death of children, or the pain of their parents. Many, many things that happen in this world are not the will of God. That is part of the price of the freedom we have been given by God.

I watched the couple stand in numb silence as an aunt told them that God wanted their son in Heaven with Him. While I am confident God has welcomed him into His kingdom, I am certain God did not want this child to die right now so that He could have him there.

Others continued to offer the same thought; that they were young and they could have more children. This may be true, but other children will never replace this little life. He was his own person. The empty place his death has left in their hearts will never be filled simply because they have another child. Nor should it be. Every child is unique and precious. I realise that people say such things with a desire to comfort the bereaved. They desperately long to find some way to help. May God Bless them for it.

But know that we are faced with a mystery - the mystery of life, and of death, in which there are no easy answers.

And for the grieving parents who may feel that no one will ever understand their pain?...

God understands. He has a son who died also.


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Exercise Your Freedom!

Finally, the day that most of Britain has been both waiting for and dreading-The elections! Our candidate’s voices are wearing thin as they traverse the great span of our country, hoping to engage those who remain undecided and especially to ignite a spark in those who may think their vote will not make a difference. 

This vote is arguably the most important voting event since the World War. And in the face of the grim spectre of terrorism in our country, our citizens are keen to elect leadership that will help to steady the course and work to protect the freedoms countless millions fought for and lost their lives so that we can live our lives in safety.
Whatever the outcome, it is clear that Britain's are keen to express how our government is being run. Just as with countries throughout the Commonwealth, this process is a core to our celebration of freedom. And whether it’s The United Kingdom, Canada, or Australia, we share in some core truths: 
We live in countries where priests, caretakers, and Librarians can get up early to open their buildings for use as voting centres. 
We live in countries where there are warehouses to store ballot boxes from one election to the next because they will be needed so often. 
We live in countries where local government officials will sit behind desks for long and boring shifts so that people like me can turn up at a time that suits us and cast our votes.
We live in countries where anyone who wants to is safe to vote without fear of intimidation. We'll be able to trust that our vote counts; that there will be no 'hanging chads' which could possibly make our vote not count. 

We live in countries where lots of essential people will work very late overnight to get the results counted as fast and as accurately as possible. 
We live in countries where we can be sure the result declared in our constituencies will be completely accurate. 
We live in countries where broadcasters will put a huge effort in keeping us informed throughout the night and aware of exactly what is happening and what are the implications. 
We live in countries where most of us will have sympathy for the majority of politicians because they have such an anxious wait until the final result is known early tomorrow.
We live in countries where none of the possible outcomes will remove our freedom of thought. 
We live in countries where we can look outward and see the injustice, the absence of freedom, the oppression, and the struggle others are enduring to have what we have. 
We live in countries where we can gather together and pray to God for those who have less than we have, and discuss our faith, and share our views, and help. 
Whatever corner of the world you're in, perhaps today is as good as any to give thanks to all who have gone before us to help build these freedoms we have.
And here at home, today's the day to get off our bums and make our opinion count!


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Celebrating Easter Twice

I received an email from my friend Natalia in Moldova this weekend, asking me why did the Easter dates she and I celebrate often differ.

All throughout the Commonwealth and the Americas, this year the Anglo/Catholic Easter will be celebrated on the 16th of April. And for the first time in several years Easter will be celebrated on the same date in the Christian Orthodox churches around the world.

Natalia asked an excellent question. She remembered my telling her last year that I had already celebrated Easter and I was joyful that I was in Moldova to celebrate it again with the children. 

In Western Christianity, the date of Easter is based on the Gregorian calendar and can fall between March 22 and April 25. The Eastern Christian tradition bases its calculations of Orthodox Easter on the Julian calendar, which differs from the Gregorian calendar by 13 days. This results in a possible date range of April 4 to May 8.

At first, I was first going to write Natalia and jokingly blame Pope Gregory for just wanting to keep us on our toes. But the more I’ve thought about it, the more I feel she deserves an accurate answer and perhaps there might be some here who are interested.

So for all my friends here in Eastern Europe, I hope this helps. And to our friends around the world, I hope this makes sense. (and my usual apologies for being so loquacious!)

On the 16th of April we celebrate the most important date in our Christian calendar. Hopefully, churches will be overflowing. People jokingly say that the CofE (Church of England) also refers to Christmas and Easter – the only days you’ll get a Church of England member into a church. Sadly, that can hold more fact than fiction, sometimes.

But for those who aren’t attending church, and for many who go to church out of a sense of ‘well, we’ve always done it before, so we’ll keep on doing it, although we haven’t a clue what it’s all about,’ they will most likely be celebrating the original pagan festival of ‘Eastre.’ Eastre, ‘ the goddess of springtime and birth,’ or the literal term ‘offspring.’

In early times, missionaries who spread the Gospel, were compelled to blend Christian theology with the then currently practised pagan celebrations. This way, it prevented communities, who would have interpreted the message of Christianity to be detrimental to the growth of crops, from revolting. They would have also seen the promulgation of Christianity as a threat to the villages and health of the residents.

Eventually, the locals came to believe that by adding Christianity to their practices, it ‘might’ help their prosperity. However, at the same time, they held close to their original pagan rituals. Over time, the name Eastre morphed into Easter as more and more became converted.

The ‘church,’ which increasingly gained power over societies, continued to allow the use of pagan rituals so as to avoid anarchy among the people.

During the first centuries of Christianity, there was great disagreement over the true date of Easter. The first attempt at resolution was made at the First Ecumenical Council meeting, in Nicaea in AD325, which produced an acceptable calculation measured by the position of the moon.

It was agreed that Easter would be celebrated on the first Sunday following the first full moon, after the spring equinox. This was decided as it maintained a close link between scriptural records and the yearly celebration of Eastre/Easter.

However, there continued to be disagreement over the exact dates that Easter fell upon due to the fact that the four Gospels did not provide the actual date of the Resurrection. They only allude to the fact that it occurs in relationship to Passover, and on the first day of the week (Sunday). However, there still remains confusion.

At present Western churches still calculate the date of Easter using the Gregorian calendar, which was introduced in 1582, It remains today as the worldwide standard calendar.

Interestingly, most Orthodox churches, including the Russian church, maintain the older Julian calendar to calculate Easter’s date. Unfortunately, the Julian calendar does not sustain alignment in measuring solar years, such as keeping months in alignment with the seasons.

There has always been agreement that the celebration of the Resurrection should not be a sign of division among Christians. Unfortunately, that consensus was broken when Pope Gregory XIII reformed the calendar in 1582, thus again changing the dates for Easter. Most Orthodox churches refused to alter the method for calculating Easter.

In 1998 the World Council of Churches and the Middle East Council of Churches, representing the majority of the world’s churches, agreed to set a common date for Easter. They agreed to use the current formula, but would also adhere to the most accurate astronomical scientific knowledge available. It was felt that this would help overcome any division that existed, whereby both traditions insisted upon retaining their old methods for calculating the date.

This is despite the fact that the formula actually isn’t entirely faithful to the original formula laid down by the early church. The formula, or algorithm, used today is known as the Nicaea formula. Unfortunately, a definitive decision regarding which calendar would be followed still has not been agreed.

So, during this decade there are actual dates when both calendars do fall on a common date. They included 2014 and now 2017.

Despite this decision, there have been occasions when the world churches have had to resist intense pressure from governments, which were presumably pressured by highly paid lobbyists, and businesses, to hold Easter on the same date every year. (Sorry Hallmark, Nestlé, and Hershey).

The churches have been resolute in their determination to remain faithful to the Nicaea formula. The Resurrection is a divine event that keeps check with reality, rather than the convenience of world governments and its’ powerful businesses.

With all the discord that exists between churches, we pray that in the coming years there will be an agreement whereby we can all celebrate together.

In America, Britain, Australia and a few other countries, the ‘Easter egg’ and ‘Easter bunny’ stand as the commercial understanding of Easter. The bunny also originated with the pagan festival of Ēastre, and again, through the goddess
Ēostre, Anglo-Saxons worshipped the goddess through her earth-bound symbol the rabbit.

It was German settlers who brought the symbol of the rabbit to the Americas. In fact, it wasn’t embraced by the Americans until shortly after the Civil War. It may come as a surprise to some, that even the Resurrection itself wasn’t celebrated in America until the mid to late 1800’s.

The ‘Easter egg’ dates back to the earliest of time when it was a symbol of rebirth in most cultures. It was introduced to the Americans just after the Civil War.

In Eastern Europe the egg holds similar symbols of rebirth, but the spiritual attachment runs much deeper. To Orthodox Christians, the Paschal egg became the sealed tomb wherein the body of the Lord had been placed after His crucifixion.

Traditions state that the custom of the egg had its start with Mary Magdalene, who is often depicted in icons holding a red egg. She may have been aware that the Romans would know the meaning of the egg as something that brings forth life from a sealed chamber.

After Jesus was crucified and ascended to Heaven, Mary was in Rome. When she met with the Roman Emperor Tiberius, she gave him a red coloured egg and announced, 'Christos anesti!' (Christ is Risen!) She then went on to preach to Tiberius about Jesus. It was an intelligent choice on her part because it was something the Romans would have understood.

In the early days of Christendom, red was the only colour used in colouring the eggs, as it signified the sacred blood of Jesus which had been shed on Calvary.

During our Orthodox Paschal services in Moldova, the priest will bless the eggs. They are then distributed. The worshippers greet one another with the words ‘Christ is risen!’ (Hristos a înviat). At the same time they hit their egg against the other person’s as they respond ‘He is Risen Indeed!’ (El a înviat cu adevărat!). This supplication symbolises a mutual prayer for the breaking of one’s bonds of sins and misery. It also stands for entering the new life we receive from Christ’s resurrection.

Eventually, none of the eggs will remain unbroken. The breaking of the egg emphasises that our Lord had conquered death and is risen, granting new life to all. The egg is then consumed as a symbolic breaking of the Lenten fast.

There are many variations on the use of the egg throughout religions. Even in Iran, the egg is used during Nowrooz, which is the Persian New Year. It too celebrates new life.

I consider myself very fortunate, in that I have the honour of celebrating Christ’s resurrection twice; in England, and with my friends in Moldova, Romania and The Ukraine. Regardless of where I am in person, I will certainly be in spirit!

He has Risen Indeed!

CHRIST our Passover is sacrificed for us: therefore let us keep the feast, Not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; * but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. 1 Cor. v. 7. BCP '28

How blessed is this day, when earth and Heaven are joined and humankind is reconciled to God! May the light of Jesus shine continually to drive away all darkness. May Christ, the Morning Star who knows no setting, find His light ever- burning in our hearts—He who gives His light to all creation, and who lives and reigns for ever and ever. Amen. BCP '79

Írásos Bill atya gyűjteményéből. Imádkozunk az egészsége. LR

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The Book In The Attic

You would have thought I had asthma. I nervously inhaled several times and my pulse quickened as my son rummaged through the attic for me. I have good reason to be nervous when he’s up there. Heaven knows I have good reason! Six months ago I created a new access point to the attic when I fell through the ceiling. Believe me, it wasn’t a pretty sight!

I wanted him to find a book for me. Considering our attic, that’s not far from asking for the proverbial needle in a haystack. Kudos to Willem though, he deftly moved among the rafters and extracted the exact book I wanted from beneath layers of Christmas ornaments, general khazeray and dust.

For anyone under the age of 16 who may be reading this, a ‘book’ is something that people used during the Neolithic Age for learning, or the conveyance of information.

And it was the book I used for writing to my daughter Mary, when she was first born. I’ve written to both my children all their lives. I still do. Poor souls.

The book contains nothing spectacular; it’s just one of many now. And it contains thoughts that I wanted to save for her, or observations I had during different times of her life. Today is Mary’s birthday and I thought it would be nice to see where my thoughts were on the day she was born.

Although the dust critters have done a rather good job on the cover of her first book, the contents still leap out at me as if they had been freshly written.

This child is not my child
She is God’s gift and God’s charge
I may give her my love and share my experiences
But she will mould her own life
with my guidance

For the moment we rejoice in the birth of our children
God has danced with us and we have all joined hands

I shall celebrate, sing, and nurture your soul
for it is the greatest responsibility of my life

Miss Mary, God has danced with you
Always follow in His footsteps
And you will always hear His music

Happy birthday sweetheart. May you continue to hear His music for the rest of your life!


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The Best Waitress In The World

A Friend and I had tea at one of Eastbourne’s seaside hotels this weekend. We hadn’t seen one another in many months and I had missed seeing her. We had lots to catch up on. Unfortunately, many of the local seafront hostelries are of the ‘Fawlty Towers’ variety. But the one we chose was actually quite nice.

The sea-front room we sat in wasn’t busy. I wouldn’t expect it to be during off-season. There were no more than 14 guests in the entire dining room. In one corner stood what appeared to be the matriarch of service staff. She looked to be in her sixties and the lines on her face certainly had stories to tell – the most revealing one was that she did not want to be there!

I watched her amble up to her customers, shoulders slumped forward, as if in submission to whatever demon it was that haunted her. And with no movement of her elbows, she’d shove a menu card onto the table and walk away. It was an amazing sight.

To our fortune we had the other waitress. She couldn’t have been any older than 17. There was a sparkle of youth in her eyes and she was actually a bit ‘over-chatty.' As she moved back and forth from the diners to her prep table, she’d glance back several times, as if she were repeatedly taking a mental inventory of the number of people at the table.

There they were, the yin and yang of wait staff. And the scene was not unlike many we witness in Britain’s service industry. Bearing in mind that in Britain salaries for wait staff are deplorable; customers don’t generally tip, and we don’t tend to rate very high on motivating staff. This symbol of age diversity appeared to have just been left to it - to get on with what they were hired to do: distribute teas and cakes and collect the money.

Our waitress’ name was Fiona. I only know this because I asked. She had no nametag. But I always prefer to address staff by a name rather than the anonymous ‘Oh miss!’ You would have thought Fiona was from America. It was less than five minutes before we had a complete dossier on her life, right down to the number of days she had been ‘going with’ her new boyfriend, Bryon. (14 days).

What I found unique was in how Fiona would methodically work through her tasks. When we ordered, she’d repeat it, not write it down. And you could see her point her eyes upwardly, as if she were gazing into her forehead, to ensure that her brain was connected and paying attention. And after she brought our simple order of tea and scones, she quietly but audibly called out the items that were on the table. ‘Spoons, cups, tea, clotted cream, jam, extra hot water.’ ‘No, there wasn’t any extra hot water.’ Fiona said this, not me. And off she went to fetch more water for the teapot.

When Fiona returned with the water I asked her if I could ask her a question. ‘Sure,’ she replied. I told her that I didn’t recall seeing anyone go through such strides before to make sure everything was in place.

Fiona half sighed and half smiled. ‘That’s my Nan over there,’ she said, as she pointed her thumb backwards over her shoulder towards the other waitress, whom I had now bestowed with the name ‘Gloom monster.’ ‘She raised me up on account of my mum couldn’t cope with me. My Nan says I’ll grow up to be nothing, just like me mum. She’s in Brockhill (a women’s prison in the Midlands). But I never see her.'

Fiona went on: ‘I don’t want to be a failure; I want to make something of myself. I like this job and I want to work in one of the fancy hotels in London, but they say you got to have good training.’

I told her I was impressed. I asked if she had received training that taught her to name out the items on the table. ‘No,’ said Fiona, ‘I just hear people complain all the time about my Nan because she never brings them things, so I decided that I would make a list for myself to go through.’ And at that point she pulled out of her apron a crinkled folded sheet of paper and put it in front of me. ‘See,’ she said proudly, ‘this is my list of things I make for myself and I put it on my work station when I start work so I can go over it. Do you think this is the right thing to do?’

The list consisted of roughly written, and badly misspelled words; but the point was clear: Smile, say Hi, ask if they like it, get the order right, ask if you can bring more things. There were other words on the list, but I couldn’t quite make them out.

Her eyes were wide as if she desperately needed someone to validate her creativity. ‘Well done!’ I told her. ‘Who taught you to do this?’ I asked. ‘Nobody, I just want to make sure I do things right,’ she said confidently.

I told her I thought she was doing a lovely job and she should be proud of how hard she was working. Fiona left the table smiling.

She came around twice and asked if there were anything else we would like. Rather than focusing on our originally intended chit-chat, my friend and I continued to watch her. She had regimented herself in the way she served her guests. And my friend noted that it was almost as if Fiona intentionally distanced herself, as far as possible, away from her grandmother.

We didn’t need to ask for the bill. Fiona watched to see when we had finished. She came up and asked if there were anything else she could bring us. And when I said ‘no, thank you,’ Fiona asked if she could leave the bill on our table and she would come collect it whenever it was convenient for us.

I smiled at her. Her demeanour was lovely and I have no doubt, with the determination she showed us, she will rise above the obviously difficult life she has already endured.

But I had a surprise to come. Fiona looked at us and asked, ‘do you mind if I ask you two something?’ I said ‘sure,’ not knowing exactly what was coming. ‘ It’s kind of personal,’ she added.

In that instant I had a sudden surge of adrenaline, as I was preparing myself to be asked if we could either adopt her, or fund some home-study course on hotel management. Shame on me.

‘How long do you think it will take me?’ My friend and I looked at each other. My friend asked, ‘how long will what take?’ Fiona looked at us both. I’m sure she was looking at my friend a bit longer than she looked at me; perhaps she was sizing her up as potential mother, or older sister material. ‘How long will it take me to learn to be the best waitress ever?’

We all encounter moments in our lives that we instinctively know we will never forget for as long as we live. I had to stand up. I smiled at Fiona as I rose from my chair and I placed my hand on her arm and looked intently into her eyes.

‘Fiona,’ I said, ‘You already are the best waitress in the world. Your commitment starts now, this very second. It doesn’t mean you won’t make mistakes. Mistakes are opportunities for learning and doing better. But as long as you are determined to be the best, you will remain the best, forever.’

I think she wanted to hug me. It was quite cute watching her body language as she smiled at me, then looked at my friend, then back at me. She didn’t, but I know she clearly understood what I had shared with her.

There are lots of Fiona’s in this world. And there’s an equal number of Gloom Monsters about as well. But it’s the Fiona’s who will prevail.

So, whatever it is you are striving for; be it a medical degree, a relationship, or the field of hospitality, it is today that you are the best.
Now, leave everyone behind in a trail of smoke!
May God bless you Fiona, wherever life takes you.

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Fast Tracks To Hell

I stood with the nurse looking at the body of this young girl. Still attached were the NG tube and the somewhat unusually placed intravenous line. The emergency team had to use a point in her neck, as they were unable to find a vein that hadn’t been abused or collapsed from her injecting drugs elsewhere.

They’d worked on her for almost forty-five minutes, attempting to resuscitate her heart. But her body was too far beyond being able to help itself any more.

The girl had either overdosed on heroin or the concoction she bought had been mixed with something even more lethal. This would be for the coroner to determine.

It was a tragic sight, and one that is all too common these days. At nineteen years old, this child had only experienced sadness and misery throughout her life. According to her long medical history she had been in and out of hospital most of her life; the earliest notations reflecting that she had been a victim of child abuse ten years earlier. The nurse, Rachel, pointed out that her medical history indicated there was no emergency contact, along with a note that her mother had died the previous year from a drug overdose. Her body had already remained there for a couple of hours as the nursing and orderly staff were quite busy.

Every month there’s a small trickle of young people who try to escape their lives by heading south to the English coast. Sadly, the problems they are running from most often become compounded when they discover that their real crisis comes from within.

This wasn’t one of the hospitals where I generally serve. I had come to visit with the nurse to discuss arranging an interment service for her mother’s cremains. Rachel’s shift was at night and it was easier for both of us, for me to come visit her during her break, and then I could visit a family who lived nearby. But I knew that any emergency would take priority over her break schedule.

I asked Rachel for a favour. I wanted to bring someone to see this girl’s body. I was quickly thinking of an idea that I hoped might bring some light from this darkness.

She didn’t mind, but said I would have to do it immediately, otherwise, the porter would take the girl’s body to the morgue and she would no longer have authority to let me see her. I promised her I’d try to be back within the hour. It was a long drive to where I intended to go and I wasn’t entirely certain I’d find the girl I wanted to see.

I met Laura last October in a supermarket. She was trying to pay for her groceries but was so high she couldn’t sort the coins in her purse. In addition to the strong stench of alcohol, Laura had the drawn skeletal features of a drug addict.

Over a period of months I came to learn about her life. I didn’t see her regularly. On many occasions she’d send me text messages, asking me to come see her, but when I’d get there she was either not there, or had chosen not to respond to my knocking. This went on for almost four months. Over time, however, I began to piece together bits of information about Laura. Even in the hot summer sun, she always had her arms and legs completely covered.

One day as I sat with her in a park I noticed her ankles. They had horrific welts on the back, slightly above the heel. Although she had continually insisted that her problem was with alcohol, my suspicions were confirmed and I encouraged her to be truthful with me. She had been injecting heroin with her husband for the past two years.

But over the past couple of weeks there had been some dramatic changes taking place - some positive, and some frightening. Laura now has a place to live on her own. And she’s free of her drug addict husband. I physically carried him and his meagre belongings to the train station and purchased a one-way ticket to the town where his mother lived. And I prepared an application for a court order, on Laura’s behalf, to prevent him from coming near her.

A constable friend of mine helped by explaining to Laura’s husband, in the most graphic terms, what would happen to him should he come anywhere near her new home. Honestly, I think the only thing that really frightened him was the constable’s ‘aide memoire’ that he’d be unable to have access to any drugs at all.

It was with a mix of relief and caution that I was even able to get him on the train. I don’t think I would have been successful without him being high on whatever it was he was taking. I know he had been injecting himself with a mixture of heroin and amphetamines, so his behaviour was, at best, unpredictable.

I eventually found the small bedsit Laura had been given by the local council. There was a single bed, a miniature fridge that couldn’t hold much more than a pint of milk and some cheese, a chair, and an extremely old radio.

When Laura opened the door she was happy to see me. She put her arms around me and kissed me on the cheek. I actually shuddered as I felt the icy kiss of near death from her lips on my face. Her eyes had shrunk deep into their sockets, and as I put my hand on her arms to slightly guide her towards her chair, all I could feel were her bones, enveloped with loose tissue. It was truly as close as I could imagine to dealing with a deceased body several days old. And I noticed that she now looked quite jaundiced; suggesting possible hepatitis and liver disease, or worse.

I told Laura I wanted to take her somewhere with me this very moment and she’d have to leave now. She asked me where I was taking her. I told her it was a surprise. She didn’t argue. In fact, she was high from something. I noticed beneath the small fridge, several squares of aluminium foil, which is often a sign that someone had been burning heroin.

As we headed west towards the hospital, Laura told me how pleased she was that she now had a chance for a new life. During the drive she shared many stories about her husband and his addiction. But each time I asked her about her own addictions and her own participation in using heroin she tried to obfuscate the truth.
Laura constantly fiddled with her hands, picking at the stubs of her fingernails. I noticed that the right sleeve of her shirt had pulled up to her elbow, revealing her forearm. It looked as if acid had been poured on her arm and even in the dark of the car, each time the car passed under a street lamp I could see the necrosis that had begun to engulf her arm, as a result of the injected heroin burning her capillaries.

As I pulled up to the hospital's A&E entrance, Laura momentarily panicked. I quickly calmed her, explaining that I wasn’t kidnapping her and wasn’t going to try to admit her. I told her I just wanted her to meet a ‘friend.’ She asked me if it was someone I ‘visited,’ which I took to mean in the context of the way I visit her. I responded truthfully, no.

I asked at reception for Rachel. It was just a few short minutes before she came out. Rachel hugged me, which was nice because I noticed that Laura seemed to calm somewhat by seeing this gesture. I introduced Laura to Rachel as my friend. Rachel asked if we wanted to go in now. I said, ‘yes, please.’

Laura asked where we were going. I only said again that I wanted her to meet someone. Before Laura could respond we were standing directly outside the curtains surrounding the dead girl’s bed. I parted the curtains and gestured for Laura to step in.

I had thought about this moment as I drove to get Laura and I asked myself whether I was doing the right thing. I tried to imagine how much further the process of rigor mortis would have progressed over the hour I had been away. It was sufficient.

The girl’s mouth had expanded wide open, as if she were gagging. Her left eye was open and her right eye slightly so. Her body had ever so slightly begun to arch. Her head was turned in such a way as if she were looking directly at Laura as she stepped inside the curtained area.

I watched Laura’s face intently. At first I could she was trying to comprehend what she was seeing in the darkened area and her mouth opened to form the words to say ‘hello.’ But before she could utter a sound, the realisation overwhelmed her. She recoiled in fright. I stood directly beside Laura with my left arm behind her so she couldn’t back away from the bedside.

I introduced Laura to ‘Tina.’ I explained that Tina was a heroin addict ‘just like her.’ And tonight she died from taking heroin. I lifted the side of the bed sheet to reveal the girl’s arms. ‘You see, Laura,’ as I pointed to the girl’s arm, ‘she has track marks, collapsed veins, and rotting flesh just like yours.’ I left her arm uncovered and then pulled hard at the bottom of the sheet to reveal the girl’s ankles. ‘And you see, Laura, she has the same track marks that you have on your ankles and arms.’

Laura was trembling and her mouth was locked open, almost as if she were cruelly mocking the dead girl. But it was more of a silent scream. I told Laura to sit down in the chair beside the girl. She did as I told her, but then instantly jumped up when she realised that the girl’s head was tilted in her direction, as if death were staring directly at her.

I told Laura that I was going to step out for a moment to see the nurse and I’d be right back. Again Laura jumped up. She didn’t want me to leave her there. But I spoke to her forcefully and told her to ‘stay seated until I return.’

Rachel had been standing at the nursing station. I don’t think she had been able to hear what transpired. But I went out to thank her. I asked if I could come back later this week to arrange her mum’s memorial. She agreed that it had been too hectic a night and she wasn’t in the mindset to do it now.

I went back to Laura. Before I moved the curtain back, I heard Laura sobbing. As I opened the curtain Laura turned from looking at the girl to me. She asked me why her mouth and eyes were open. I explained that this was often a natural process of death. She asked if ‘Tina’ could see her. I told her not in the way she imagined, but yes. And I added that she could hear her as well if she would care to say anything to her.

Laura started crying again. She repeatedly spoke to the girl saying how sorry she was. I asked her if she would like to say a prayer for ‘Tina.’ Laura said she didn’t know how and she had never read ‘any book’ about saying prayers. I told her God never uses books anyway – He’d much prefer her to say what she felt. I asked Laura if she would like me to step out. She said ‘please.’

It wasn’t intentional, but I did hear what Laura said. Her tear-choked voice carried through the empty darkened resuscitation suite.

As I drove her back to her room, Laura asked me what would now happen to ‘Tina.’ I explained that ‘Tina’s’ mother was dead and as best I understood, the hospital had no one further to contact regarding her death. She pressed me to tell her what would become of Tina.

I asked Laura why she wanted to know. She said she was afraid that ‘Tina’ would be forgotten about. I asked her if she thought she’d forget ‘Tina.’ Laura looked at me with a mixture of incredulity and anger. She blurted out ‘I know why you brought me here tonight.’ I asked her ‘why did I then, Laura?’

She began crying harder than she had at hospital. I pulled over and stopped the car. I quietly asked Laura if this was how she saw her life ending. She wept uncontrollably. She said she was frightened. – and that ‘what I made her see was the worst thing she had ever seen in her life.’ I told her that all I had done this evening was to hold up a mirror for her.

She wept bitterly and between her sobs she kept repeating that she didn’t want to die like this. I asked her what would ‘we’ need to do to make certain this didn’t happen. Laura said she needed to ‘see someone.’ I asked her if I could take her to a drug addiction centre the following morning. She said ‘please.’

It was close to 2am when I dropped Laura off. I told her I’d come for her at 9. I sent her a text message at 0830 this morning, reminding her that I was coming to collect her. When I arrived she was standing outside waiting for me.

As we made the long drive to the drug crisis centre, Laura asked me if I would sit with her when she first spoke with someone. I promised her that I would.

I should imagine when someone is trying to save a sinking ship, they’re not going to bicker about how the ship is saved, as long as it remains above water. I’m not necessarily at odds with myself over the methodology I’ve used in this instance, especially as I believe, without reserve, that Laura’s life is in precarious balance. Only time will tell how far into the abyss she has fallen.

And now, I can find hope believing that ‘Tina’s’ life has left a powerful memory for good, rather than sorrow.

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When We Need a Little Help

If you’re a parent who works you most likely rely upon someone to help you with your children. It could be a relative, or it could be a paid carer. If you travel for a living you may leave your complete trust with your partner to compensate for your absence. And there can be times such as flight delays, illness, or even death, when you must have faith in people outside your typical circle to help you.

I too am grateful to so many who help me. This past year I’ve had some frustrating challenges with my health and it's that circle of friends who tirelessly do so much to help who often keep me energised. I even receive help in my email communications at times. And to those who work so hard to decipher my scribbled thoughts for my diary from time-to-time, I’m not only eternally grateful, but in awe over how they’re able to make any sense of my chicken-scratchings.

But there are times when you have to leave your trust in God and God alone to help.

Several years ago I boarded a night flight to Johannesburg. I was dreading the trip. I was facing a seven hour journey to Dubai, plus another eight hours on the next sector to Johannesburg. I was tired and really wasn’t looking forward to the flight. Although I had a book with me, I knew my eyes would be staring at the back of my eyelids long before the aircraft pushed back from the gate at Heathrow.

Dreading the journey so, I held back until everyone else had boarded. I was the only one remaining in the boarding lounge and the gate agent was piercing holes in my head with her eyes, as if she were frustrated that she couldn't close out the flight because of me, so I grudgingly presented my boarding pass, apologised, and sauntered down the jetway to the aircraft.

I worked my way through the cabin to my seat row and was delighted to discover the seat next to mine was unoccupied. The rest of the cabin was full. I immediately decided to nick the spare pillow and blanket, once the doors were shut, so I could prop them under my arms as I nestled in for my sleep.

But as I was doing my typical reconnaissance of my surroundings-how many rows to the nearest emergency exit, a quick glance at who was seated in my vicinity and digging out the eye mask from the amenity kit, I noticed a police officer come on board, followed by a girl, who I would guess was in her early twenties. Behind her was another officer.

I watched with curiosity as one of the officers briefly spoke with the senior flight attendant. She pointed to the girl to head down the aisle to find her seat; the officers left and the door was shut. Before the girl had moved past me my attention had already turned to making myself comfortable. But just as I picked up the pillow and blanket, she was standing beside me. She didn’t say anything. Her body language said she was to be seated beside me. I have no idea why I just assumed she’d be going into the cabins behind me. I later learned from the crew that an airline employee had been given the last seat in economy.

I apologised and mumbled that I didn’t think there would be anyone sitting beside me. As I stood up to let her move into the window seat she briefly said ‘ The hostess told me to sit here.’ I again apologised. I allowed her to get her seatbelt on and then handed her the pillow and blanket, again apologising. And at that my mind went back to my planned activity of going to sleep.

‘Are you going to Sydney?’ she asked. I replied that I wasn’t. I don’t recall saying where I was headed. I had answered her question, politely, but I didn’t wish to engage in any conversation. In fact, I closed my eyes at that, hoping to make the polite point that I was going to sleep.

‘Did you see the police come on with me?’ she asked. I had, but I thought it was more polite to say I hadn’t. ‘I was told I had to leave. I exceeded my visa. And if I stayed any longer I was going to get in a lot of trouble.’ I told her that must have been a frightening experience. And I added that I had hoped Her Majesty's Government had been, at the very least, polite about the whole experience.

The girl began talking. And to be honest, I don’t recall her stopping from that point. She had met a boy from England when he came to the Northern Territory in Australia two years earlier. When he returned home she had flown to England to be with him. But apparently the relationship didn’t last a month, especially when she discovered that he already had a girlfriend-something he had accidentally forgotten to share with her.

The girl, like so many who come to Britain and become part of the patina of London’s multiculturalism, didn’t want to return. The outback town she came from offered nothing but an endless open cattle range of dust and loneliness. She had found herself a job as a waitress in one of London’s many anonymous café’s.

She told me that her father was ‘mean’ and that her mother had wanted them to leave him for ‘a long time.’ She was ‘caught’ in London when two Home Office Immigration Officers came to the café to check the paperwork of all the staff. She was very emotional about what might await her once she arrived in Australia. She had the (wrong) impression that she would be arrested for having overstayed her visa in the UK.

I asked her how she was going to get back to her town, which was about 200km north of Alice Springs. She said she didn’t know, especially as the least expensive ticket she could find only took her to Sydney. She didn’t know anyone in Sydney, but was more concerned over what might await her because she had stayed beyond the date HM Customs had stamped in her passport.

During the meal (yes, I ended up eating) and throughout the flight I reinforced the fact that nothing would happen to her for overstaying her visa. She seemed to physically calm over this and then her concerns turned to what she was going to do in Sydney. She told me that she really didn’t want to go back to where her dad was and she wistfully mentioned that perhaps her mum could come to her.

I remembered how many youth hostels there were in the areas of Kings Cross and Wooloomooloo and told her how easy it would be to get there and suggested that she stay in one for a few nights and she could check the boards for part-time jobs. This seemed to have sparked a more positive attitude from her. Her demeanour slowly changed from the frightened and nervous passenger, to one who was now clinging to a mustard seed of ideas.

As the morning sun was cresting over the Arabian Sea we prepared for landing in Dubai. Seven hours had passed and I don’t think the girl had once stopped talking. I looked at the headset, with its wires still wrapped into a neat little bow, poking out of my seatback pocket and imagined how nice it would be to get on the next flight and go to sleep!

As the plane taxied to the gate, the girl, (I never knew her name, nor she mine), said something to me that I shall never forget. ‘Thank you for talking to me all this time. I had actually said a prayer to God that it would have been nice to have a priest, or someone like that, sit next to me to talk to, but I’m glad it was you instead.’

'Perhaps I was meant to be here too,' I replied.
I rise before dawn and cry for help; I have put my hope in Your word. Psalm 119:147

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A Bedside Prayer for Death of a Child

I was honoured to have attended a child’s passing last night. Kayleigh was nine years old. She would have turned ten in November. Leukaemia had ravaged her body and she was extremely weak from both the illness and the aggressive treatments she had endured over the past few months.

Several hours earlier, the doctors had worked determinedly to resuscitate her when her heart failed. I didn’t need to ask in this case, I instinctively knew that Kayleigh’s mother still had not moved to acceptance that her daughter’s body was failing and thus had refused to sign the ‘DNR’ order, allowing Kayleigh’s spirit to pass on without further interference with her body. But you could see in the eyes of the kind doctor and nurses that they knew what the inevitable outcome would be.

In the early afternoon Kayleigh was talking with her seven-year-old sister Justine and mother. I sat in a chair far in the corner of the room. I could still just barely hear them speak, but couldn’t always clearly hear what was being said. Justine had been devotedly swabbing Kayleigh’s lips with a small sponge on a stick to provide moisture to her lips.

It was just before 5 when Kayleigh’s mother said she needed to take Justine home where her grandmother was preparing dinner. She would return within the half-hour. I promised I would remain with Kayleigh while she was gone.

As I walked with the mother and child to the doors of the ward, Justine looked up at me and said ‘ Kayleigh said she is going to send each of us a card.’ She said it with that beautiful conviction that only children can show, as if they were speaking of Father Christmas arriving the following morning. ‘That’s wonderful Justine,’ I said. ‘I’ll look forward to hearing from her.’

I said goodbye at the hallway and watched the pitiful figure of the mother move down the hallway, with Justine half-skipping, half-running beside her. I could hear Justine cheerfully chatting away about something as I turned back into the hospital ward.
When I returned to Kayleigh’s room, she was still. Her eyes were open and in any other setting, saving the pale grey appearance of her skin, you might have thought she was just gazing at the ceiling. It had only been a matter of minutes from when we had walked out the door to my return and Kayleigh's body had taken its last breath.

I felt the tears welling up in my eyes, but I also felt myself smiling. She was at peace. But there was something much more powerful in the moments that had passed. Kayleigh had fought hard to remain there for her mother and sister – to impart that powerful message to Justine – that she’s only going on a journey, not that she simply wouldn’t exist anymore.

And for both her mother and sister, Kayleigh’s passing occurred at a moment when little Justine would not have been subjected to a repeat of her mother’s frantic and poignant fight to try to protect her daughter from a disease that had ravaged the child’s body.

One of the nurses named Betty, came into the room and saw me standing at the end of the bed. It only took seconds for her to realise that Kayleigh had passed. I was deeply touched because without any words she put her arms around me and hugged me. Betty removed the IV line whilst I closed Kayleigh’s eyes and together we straightened the bed and turned down the lights. I didn’t really think about it, but I took a floppy eared sock rabbit that Justine had brought her sister from the nightstand and tucked it in beside Kayleigh.

I asked Betty if she would like to stay with me as I offered prayers for Kayleigh. She held up her finger to indicate ‘just a moment,’ and she left the room. Seconds later she returned with another nurse and one of the ward assistants. We gathered around Kayleigh’s bed and prayed:
Christ Jesus, most merciful Saviour,
Hear our prayers as we gather in Your name
We commend this child into Your arms of mercy.
Kayleigh has been a blessing to all who knew her.

She brought laughter, warmth, and comfort to many
And in the moments when her mother and others showed despair
Kayleigh provided a noble message of hope and promise,
in her unfailing conviction that her life here may be limited
but is by no means final.

Grant comfort and strength to those who gather here now,
dedicating their lives to the care of others,
who often must face life as it moves to shadows.
Embrace them with Your eternal love
through everything they do.

Thank you for the love we would never have known,
but for Kayleigh’s brief days with us.

May the angels surround Kayleigh
and the saints welcome her with joy.

Lord God, we commend this child to Your everlasting care.

In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen

One of the staff very sweetly offered to remain with Kayleigh as I walked to the entrance of the hospital to await the return of her mother.
Now Lord, You let Your servant go in peace. Your word has been fulfilled. Support us O Lord all the day long of this troublous life. Until the shadows lengthen and the evening comes. The busy world is hushed, The fever of life is over and our work is done. Then Lord, in Your mercy, grant us a safe lodging, A Holy rest, and peace at last. Through Christ our Lord. Amen


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