Adventures in a red coat

If you wear a red coat be prepared for comments (and jokes and suggestions….)img_5590

I once had a young friend ask me ‘Pauline do you know where my granny is?’. When I said I didn’t think I knew his granny, he said ‘Oh sorry – I thought you were Little Red Riding Hood!’.

In church one day, a deacon came up to me with a letter and said ‘Oh sorry! I thought you were a letter box!’.

And just yesterday afternoon in Belfast city centre, a complete stranger accosted my husband and me in the street saying, ‘I hope you don’t mind – but you’re so cute! I love red coats!’ As he left us, he shouted ‘Happy Christmas! And God bless!’

I don’t think I have ever had an item of clothing which produced so many comments, from the many who have simply admired it to the more jovial comments above.

What is it about a red coat?

A life lived with terminal illness – and with hope

Yesterday I had the privilege of attending an extraordinary thanksgiving service for the life of an extraordinary man – although he would never have allowed anyone to call him that.


Douglas Mark’s desire was that his thanksgiving service (which he planned himself) would be ‘a time infused with joy and thanksgiving’ and that is exactly what it was – just as his life had been.

Douglas had lived with cancer for 10 years and had been through more than 40 chemotherapy treatments, but he refused to say that he was ‘battling with cancer’ or ‘coping with cancer’. He ‘lived with cancer’, fully accepting that this was part of the journey which God had chosen for him. He demonstrated joy as he trusted God with every detail of his cancer.  One of his favourite sayings was this:

 Life is not waiting for the storm to pass – it is learning to dance in the rain.


Douglas trusted God and that was clear right till the end of his life. He believed that it is more important to trust God than to understand Him. I am sure that it was that unshakeable trust in God which gave him the joy which characterised his life as he lived with cancer.

At the seminar which he and his wife Alison gave at New Horizon this year – which they called ‘Living with terminal illness, and with Hope’ – he said this about joy:

Joy is a self-assurance that God is in control of all the details of my life, a quiet confidence that ultimately everything will be alright and a determined choice to praise God in all things.

Douglas had chosen to praise God in all things. When asked how he was, he used to reply, ‘I’m thankful to be as well as I am’. His prayer was that he look for signs of God’s faithfulness every day.

Douglas and Alison were passionate about encouraging Christians to model to the world what it’s like to live with the hope of heaven in the face of death. They spoke in many churches and other places, encouraging Christians to live out their faith in this way.

Alison gave a very courageous tribute to Douglas yesterday, in which she said this:

Don’t allow what you don’t understand about God to destroy what you already know about Him.

As Douglas’s health declined in recent weeks, Alison refused to talk in despairing tones, choosing rather to say that Douglas was ‘edging gently home to heaven’. What a beautiful picture. And that is exactly what he did. There’s no doubt that he has heard his Lord and Saviour say ‘Well done’ as He welcomed him home.

He leaves a legacy: not just a life well-lived, but the challenge to us to live our lives well. For Douglas and Alison, that meant living their lives in the light of eternity and through the lens of eternity. It was that perspective which gave them the courage and faith to live with cancer and hope, at one and the same time.

To download a copy of the seminar which Douglas and Alison gave at New Horizon, go to

Three P’s….

There were lots of really kind tributes paid to my dad when he passedadd away on 5 August:

A gentle giant who impacted my life….

A true elder and a man of God. To know him was an honour….

A true friend, counsellor and encourager….

We all were blessed as a result of knowing him….

There was healing for us as people shared their memories of the man dad was – because in the midst of the dementia of the past few years, we had almost forgotten that man.

We heard from people who remembered him as a bible teacher; others who shared memories of his care for them when they lived in the home for missionaries’ children which my parents had for several years in Belfast; others who described dad as their mentor.

But for me, he was my dad. Simply my dad. But completely my dad.

Someone reminded me today that there is a special bond between a father and a daughter.

Here’s why the bond between my dad and me was special.

He was a Provider

(Of course I have to start each one with a ‘P’ – dad was famous for the Seven P’s of Bible Study which he taught to all of us who studied with him at El-Nathan!)

Growing up, I took it for granted. Whatever I needed, dad would provide for me. Not always what I wanted – but certainly always what I needed. Sometimes I wondered how much he earned, but I never asked – probably because I knew better and probably also because it didn’t concern me – I knew that, whatever I needed, he would provide. That could range from everyday needs of food and drink to special needs like pots and potions when I was sick (how he loved to prescribe home remedies for us all!) to more exciting things like Christmas or birthday presents.

I have very fond memories of Christmas morning growing up. Dad would make us all breakfast, which we had to eat before anything else happened; then he would line us up according to age (I was number three!); then we could all go into the room where the presents were and start opening them.

He was a Protector

The instinct to protect their offspring is powerful to more than the human species – but I saw it beautifully lived out in my dad.Image 006

One vivid memory is when I was a schoolgirl of about 8 or 9 years old and suffered from hives which were all over my body, including the soles of my feet. They were incredibly itchy and grew into blisters, necessitating bandages to cover them up. I remember my dad carrying me into school so that I wouldn’t have to walk on those itchy feet.

He was a Pastor

Dad had a few different jobs but one of them involved him working as a salesman for an animal feeds company.Image 037.jpg

That meant he travelled all over N.Ireland, visiting farmers and getting to know them and their animals. He loved animals and I remember him taking us to the zoo as well as to farms, encouraging us to touch and feed the animals. Here are my 3 siblings and my mum – I’m not sure where I was!


dad and lamb

This photograph was taken during the last stages of dad’s life when he was practically unable to communicate in any meaningful way because of the dementia. The nursing home had very creatively introduced animal therapy to the residents. They told us later that dad caressed the lamb for a long time and when eventually they took it away, he patted his chest as if to say he had felt its heartbeat.

I wonder if that experience evoked memories for my dad of times when he would have held a lamb for a farmer? For me, the photo evokes the nurturing side of dad – the fact that so many people have talked about how he cared for them, nurtured them, counselled them and encouraged them. He cared for many sheep – not just the 4 in his own little flock.

Raspberry and Spinach Salad

Almond topping:rasp and spin salad

1/2 cup flaked almonds

1/4 cup sugar

2 tsp water

Combine ingredients in frying pan. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly until sugar melts to golden brown and coats almonds (about 5 minutes). Pour out on to greaseproof paper. Allow to cool, then break into small pieces and use to sprinkle over salad.


1 bag fresh spinach

2 cups fresh raspberries

Wash and dry spinach and place in large salad bowl with raspberries.


1/4 cup sugar

1-1/2 tbsp poppy seeds

1/4 tsp paprika

1/2 cup olive oil

1/4 cup raspberry vinegar (or cider vinegar)

2 tsp onion, finely chopped

1/4 tsp Worcestershire sauce

Combine ingredients and shake well to blend.

Pour dressing over salad (you don’t need all of it for one salad) and sprinkle with the caramelised almonds.




Mediterranean Chicken Casserole

Serves tuscan chicken

900g chicken fillets

2 cloves garlic

2 red chillies, finely chopped

2 dsp olive oil

2 red onions, sliced

900g ripe plum tomatoes, coarsely chopped (or 2 cans)

2 dsp red pesto

570ml chicken (or vegetable) stock

200g tinned chick peas

55g black olives

55g pine nuts

2 dsp sundried tomato paste

handful coriander

handful flat leaf parsley

1.Cut the chicken into long ribbon strips and place in a bowl with the garlic, chillies and half of the olive oil. Mix well and cover with cling film. Leave to marinate for at least one hour.

2. Place the other half of the olive oil in a large heavy-based pan and, when hot, add the chicken in batches if necessary. Cook until golden and crispy. Add the red onion and continue cooking for 3-4 minutes. Add tomatoes, pesto and stock and simer gently over a low heat for 45 minutes, keeping the lid on.

3. Add chick peas, pine nuts, olives and sundried tomato paste and heat through for a further 8-10 minutes.

This casserole is even better the next day! So you can complete steps 1 and 2 ahead of time (the day before you need it). Make sure you heat through completely and then add step 3 just before serving.

Garnish with coriander and parsley and serve with rice.

Yoghurt Loaf

Easy to make and easy to measure as you just use the yoghurt pot!

1 carton yoghurt (whichever flavour you prefer)IMG_4476

3 cartons self-raising flour

2 cartons sugar

1 carton vegetable oil

3 eggs, beaten lightly

Mix all the ingredients with a wooden spoon.

Pour into a greased 2lb loaf tin and cook at 190ºC for one hour.