The Making of Us: Who We Can Become When Life Doesn't Go As Planned

The Making of Us: Who We Can Become When Life Doesn't Go As Planned

by Sheridan Voysey

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780718094232
Publisher: Nelson, Thomas, Inc.
Publication date: 03/19/2019
Pages: 240
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 1.25(h) x 9.00(d)

About the Author

Sheridan Voysey is a writer, speaker, and broadcaster on faith and spirituality. His other books include Resurrection Year: Turning Broken Dreams into New Beginnings, Resilient, and the award-winning Unseen Footprints. Sheridan is a regular contributor to BBC Radio 2 and other international networks, and has featured on BBC Breakfast, BBC News, Day of Discovery, and 100 Huntley Street. He is married to Merryn and lives and travels from Oxford, United Kingdom.

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CHAPTER 1

A SOUL ADRIFT

The traffic lights flashed yellow, and I slowed to a stop. That's when it caught my eye: a white plastic grocery bag floating in the air, stuck in the middle of the freeway. Rising and falling, it blew this way and that, trapped in the whoosh of the traffic. It danced and swirled and curled and did somersaults, ballooning like a parachute, then collapsing flat. That bag flittered like a spirit, like a shirt without a body, drifting and directionless, prey to each gust of wind.

This spectacle continued for some time until a sports car raced past. And with a sudden flourish, the white plastic bag was ripped from the air. It rushed to the car's side, swept up into its slipstream, and began following it down the freeway. And there it stayed, fluttering behind the bumper, in the grip of an unknown driver, getting carried somewhere far away.

* * *

SEPTEMBER 2013

Sprawling countryside rushes past my window — fields of tan and paddocks of green, sheep-peppered hills and hay bales dotting tractor trails, old barns, stone walls, wooden gates, and streams. It's gray outside, but the scenery still inspires.

"Welcome to the 1:15 p.m. service to Edinburgh," the conductor says over the speakers. "Our next station is Newcastle upon Tyne."

The girl sitting next to me has her earbuds in. The guy across the table stares into his laptop. A grandmotherly soul sits across the aisle to my right. She gives a little smile to each passenger as they board, makes friendly muttering noises as they find their seats, then returns to her crossword puzzle once they've settled in. Bless her.

My wife, Merryn, and I have been in England two years now, long enough to have seen its faults yet still love the place. For this is a land of rolling hills and winding rivers, of castles, cathedrals, and cozy towns. There's history in every brick, a story on every corner, as a visit to our home city of Oxford shows. Handel premiered his oratorios in Oxford's Sheldonian Theatre, and Shakespeare used to lodge at the nearby Crown Tavern. William Penn studied in Oxford before founding Pennsylvania, and John Wesley once preached in its churches. John Donne, Oscar Wilde, and Dorothy Sayers lived here for a time, and C. S. Lewis wrote his books in a house up the road. I never tire of wandering Oxford's old streets, wondering in whose footsteps I'm walking.

But two years is enough to miss what you've left behind. And I don't just mean the family and friends we've left in Australia, or the blue skies and sunshine, or Sydney's glistening harbor that's always so full of life. I mean the sense of knowing your place in the world. The sense of knowing where you fit.

The grandmotherly soul looks up from her crossword as an eccentric couple walks through the carriage. The man is probably in his eighties, the woman a little younger. He wears a yellow shirt with mauve stripes, hiking sandals with tennis socks, and white suspenders holding up corduroy trousers that are too short in the leg but too wide in the hip. His wild gray hair points in all directions and is trying to escape out his nose and ears. Her sand-colored hair is pulled back in a bun. She wears blue trousers, supermarket sneakers, and a sweater as pink as the rose of her cheeks. They slide into seats opposite the grandmother, who approves with much muttering.

The rose-cheeked woman pulls from her bag two small fruit juices, the kind with the little twisty straws stuck on the side. A plastic-wrapped stack of jam sandwiches comes out next, which the man eyes with interest.

"How many of these are mine then?" he asks, a little too loudly.

"Three halves," she says. "But wait ..."

The woman rummages in her bag and finds some napkins. They're printed with bright blue cupcakes with red icing — the kind you get at children's parties. She places one in each lap, he scrunches a third into his collar, and they begin to munch and sip and drop their crumbs. I almost expect party hats to come out next. Maybe you reach an age where the fear of looking ridiculous dissipates.

I have my journal out, attempting to scribble down what's going on within me. The rocking of the train makes it hard to write, and, if I'm honest, the words I scrawl aren't just messy but blurred. I must face the truth: I need glasses. Gray flecks have appeared in my dark blond hair, too, and after years of being skinny, my waist has expanded. It's becoming obvious to all that I've passed the age of forty.

Friends further along the path tell me the forties can be a time of reckoning. With mortgages to pay, children to feed, expectations to meet, and aging parents to care for, one can feel constrained by responsibility. The dreams of our twenties may not have come to pass; the failures of our youth may be catching up with us. And with time rolling on and choices hard to change, disillusionment can set in.

But my friends also tell me the forties can be rich — a time to lead and flourish and make one's mark. We've honed our skills and have expertise to offer. We've faced a few battles and have wisdom to share. Our bodies can still keep pace with what our minds can imagine. It's also the age, they say, when we begin to stop worrying about what others think of us.

I'll find out soon enough how right my friends are, but I'm pretty sure I'm not in some midlife crisis yet. The restless feelings I scrawl in that journal haven't come as some slow-rising tide of middle-age disappointment. They've come quickly, like a crashing wave — the result of one life-defining event.

"Arriving at Newcastle upon Tyne," the announcer says as we begin to slow.

In total, today's trip will be over seven hours long. I'd gotten a bit lost in London this morning, looking for the right Underground line to reach this train, zigzagging the passageways beneath Paddington Station with another guy to find the platform.

"What do you do?" I'd asked him as we walked together.

"I'm a software engineer," he said. "And you?"

"Well, I guess I'm a writer," I said, looking for words. "But I used to be in radio."

Why do you do that? I wonder now. Why do you always tell people what you used to be?

Because I don't know who I am now, I reply.

For years I'd had my life figured out, with a settled career and a clear sense of purpose. Now I have neither, and I feel directionless — like a plastic bag I once saw floating along the freeway. It rose and fell, blew this way and that, tossed about by the whoosh of each passing car.

* * *

It doesn't take long to wind through Newcastle's bridges and buildings, slip past its terrace-house suburbs, and get back into farmland. From here we cross hills, valleys, meadows, and pastures. If you were to look down from the sky, you'd see how they all join up like a patchwork quilt — each field a patch sewn together by hedgerows.

"The next station is Berwick-upon-Tweed," comes the announcement.

I've ridden this train just once before — a dozen years ago during a holiday to the UK when we'd visited a friend in Edinburgh. Merryn and I had talked about our dreams on this train — about writing books and having kids and starting national radio shows. So much has happened since. One of those dreams has been fulfilled, one has been broken, and a third has come and gone.

I've been on the radio a lot recently, but as the guest, not the host — doing publicity for a book I wrote that came out a few months ago. A phone interview last week on an American show comes to mind and makes me smile.

"I have to tell ya somethin'," the host had said in her deep Southern accent as we waited to go live. "You have given me one of the best quotes of my week from your book. Ya know which one it is?"

"Is it the one that goes, 'A greater tragedy than a broken dream is a life forever defined by it'? People seem to like that one."

"No, not that one," she said. "It's where you say, 'You're never as old as you once were, and never as young as you think you're gonna be.' Do you remember sayin' that?"

I was silent for a few seconds. Not only had I not said it, I didn't even know what it meant. My host must've been quoting another author, which wasn't a great start for our interview. I tried to let her down easy.

"Perhaps you're paraphrasing me and I can't recognize it ..."

"Yeah, perhaps I'm paraphrasing you."

The show had begun and my host had been funny, friendly, and proven soon enough that she'd read the right book. "You and your wife tried all those years to have a baby," she said, recounting the story. "And you tried everything, I mean everything, to start your family — in-vitro fertilization, adoption, special diets, prayer. You pursued that dream for so long ..."

"Ten years," I said.

"And toward the end it looked like you had what you'd prayed for," she added. "I have to tell ya, Sheridan — when I read the bit about the phone call on Christmas Eve, and them tellin' your wife she wasn't pregnant after all, and her puttin' the phone down and curlin' up on the bed in tears ... well, that had me in tears."

"You're not alone," I said. "Few people get through that chapter with dry eyes."

"And here's what I don't get," she added. "You and your lovely wife tried all those years to have a baby and couldn't. And me — well, I just spit them babies out!"

I nearly choked on my glass of water.

"I mean, Vince only has to look at me a certain way and the next thing I'm bein' wheeled into the delivery ward. Ya know what I'm sayin'?"

"I get it," I said, laughing now. "It's an unfair world."

"But then came your Resurrection Year. Tell the listeners about that."

"After that call on Christmas Eve, we decided to start our lives again," I said. "Merryn really only had two dreams in life: to become a mother and to live overseas. When the first dream died, it was time for her to have the consolation prize. And when she was offered her ideal job at Oxford University, we took it as a sign to leave Australia and come to England."

"But that came at a cost to you, didn't it?"

"Well, I had this radio show by then —"

"A national show, which was your dream job. And you gave it up for your wife ..."

A point like this came in most interviews, and I had to navigate it carefully so as not to appear the hero. Yes, that radio show had been my dream job — a God-given dream that had taken a decade to materialize. Yes, that show had been special — exploring Christian faith with secular people in creative ways. Yes, it had broken my heart to leave it — that show was my baby.

"But don't think I gave it up with saintly joy and unwavering faith," I told the host. "I wrestled and doubted and sulked about it. And it wasn't like Merryn hadn't made sacrifices for me. Besides, when you've held your wife every night as she's sobbed over what she can't have, and an opportunity comes up for something she can — well, only the most callous person would stop her having it."

"But it shook up your writing career, too, right?"

"British publishers turned my books down because I wasn't known here like I was in Australia. This book ended up with a US publisher. Thank God for you Americans."

"You can get a pizza to your door here faster than an ambulance," the host chuckled, "but at least we give folks a chance. Hey, we're runnin' outta time, but I gotta ask you this: how is your wife doin' now?"

"Those ten years were like wandering in the wilderness," I said, "but for Merryn, coming to Oxford has been like entering the Promised Land. A job is no replacement for a child, of course, but it's been the new beginning she needed."

"And you? Are things looking up with this new book an' all?"

I had a book contract with a major publisher, something every writer wants. But strangely, this had only added to my confusion. I'd spent years giving people reasons to believe in God, and now I was writing about broken dreams and unanswered prayers. It was very different territory. Was this the new direction my life was to take, or just a momentary diversion? If only I could look down from above and see how my past and present fit together.

"I'm definitely on a new path," I said, "and I'm not sure where it's leading. But unexpected journeys can take you to good places."

* * *

The sky is more dramatic now. Full of contrast, full of might. The ashen blanket that covered us all day has rippled into waves, then parted into pillows of deep gray cloud rimmed in white. Fingers of light break on the horizon, and I can see the ocean now. Drops of rain hit the window and make little trails across the glass.

It's time, I think. I'm ready for this. Abram embarked on his sacred trek and found his place in history. The Israelites walked their wilderness path and reached their Promised Land. The wise men took to their sandy trail and found where to lay their gifts. Cleopas's eyes were opened wide as he walked the Emmaus road. Scripture is full of sacred journeys — from heavens to earth, from graves to skies — and as countless saints have proven since, a walk with God can bring clarity.

Yes, it's time. I'm ready to go on pilgrimage.

My backpack sits in the luggage rack by the door. It's as light as I could make it and holds only the essentials: T-shirts, underwear, water bottle, raincoat, Band-Aids, painkillers, toothbrush, Bible. I've brought my camera, too (an essential in my book), and a small packet of cheap dark chocolate.

Like those pilgrims of old, I won't journey alone. My good friend DJ will join me for the trek, and another, historical, figure will be "present" as we walk. Revered as a saint, a miracle worker, and a holy man, the famed medieval monk Cuthbert is as integral to this land as its wind and its waves. Consulted by kings but a friend to paupers, a hermit at heart but a missionary by calling, a healer of bodies and a revealer of mysteries, Cuthbert traipsed this land with the Gospels in his hand, praying through his tears and preaching up a storm, baptizing thousands, and changing the face of Britain. Through Cuthbert and other saints like Aidan, Hilda, and Bede, Christianity took root in the north English heart and changed the course of history.

This is new terrain for me — spiritually, I mean. I have never attempted a pilgrimage before, the concept being quite foreign to the average Australian. And I've never had much interest in saints, let alone Cuthbert. But the more I've looked into pilgrimage, the more I've felt drawn to do one, and the more I've learned about Cuthbert, the more I've wanted to know. And there's a good reason to explore his world now.

"Look out there," the wooly-haired man says, jam on his fingers, pointing toward the sea. "Past the castle on the hill. See it? That's Lindisfarne."

And there it is, barely a smudge on the window from this distance — the cradle of indigenous English Christianity and the starting point of my journey, Holy Island Lindisfarne. Founded in the seventh century as a place of spirituality and mission, the gospel flames tended here by Cuthbert and others spread across the land and to the four corners of the world.

"That's where I'm going," I say, breaking the great unwritten rule of keeping to oneself on British public transport.

"To Holy Island?" says the eccentric gent.

"Ooh, it's lovely there," says the grandmother.

"What takes you there, then?" says the guy with the laptop.

And I wonder why I haven't spoken up sooner.

I manage to explain the basics of my trip before the train slows down and I must gather my things, hoist on my pack, and leave. I'm sent on my way with nods and farewells and the wave of a half-eaten jam sandwich, while my once-silent travel companions share their childhood visits to the island with each other.

* * *

"I thought about emigrating to Australia once," the taxi driver tells me.

"Really?" I say, enjoying his Scots-tinged accent.

"Aye. I even rang the Australian Embassy for details. They asked me if I had a criminal record. I said, 'Why? Is it still an entry requirement?'"

I've heard the convict joke before, but it's still funny coming from him. Rob tells me he was born in Berwick and has been a taxi driver for years. His punch lines come subtly, with just a smile and a wink. There'll be a few of them as he drives me to Beal, the little mainland village near the crossing to Lindisfarne.

"So you're walking from Holy Island to Durham," Rob says, his r's softly rolled. "That's not a wee trek."

"About 115 miles," I say.

"And how long have ye got to do it in?"

There's some time pressure on our trip. After Cuthbert's death in 687, the Lindisfarne monks crafted one of the era's most precious works of art in his honor — the Lindisfarne Gospels. Now thirteen hundred years old, this exquisitely illustrated book, so luminous in detail but fragile in page, is on display at Durham University. It's a rare event — the frail gospels barely leave their vacuum-sealed box in the British Library. And the display is ending soon.

(Continues…)


Excerpted from "The Making of Us"
by .
Copyright © 2019 Sheridan Voysey.
Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Author's Note, xi,
1. A Soul Adrift, 1,
2. Sand and Stars, 16,
3. Caves and Crossroads, 31,
4. Visions and Whispers, 47,
5. Castles and Ashes, 64,
6. Rivers and Streams, 83,
7. The Space in Between, 100,
8. Losing and Birthing, 120,
9. Gifts and Graces, 136,
10. Pathways and Providence, 152,
11. A New Creed, 176,
Acknowledgments, 189,
Reflection Guide, 191,
Notes, 205,
About the Author, 215,