Saturday, 20 August 2011

My Strength and My Song

Due to some issues dealing with two conflicting Google accounts, I couldn't get into this blog until now, so I have started a new one, which replaces/supercedes/stomps all over this one!

Join me there!


Natasha, now blogging at Strength and Song.

Thursday, 30 June 2011

Next time I'm taking my camera.....

Things we saw here today:

1) An almost flying, swooping, Jesus, suspended from the ceiling, crucified, on the cross, but arms about to gather, in shiny metal that glinted in the light

2) A carved, wooden Jesus, with a barbed wire crown of thorns

3) An area to light candles and write prayers, where we held Uncle Vic with the broken hip (and Imogen with her bruised hip) up to Jesus

4) The Stations of the Cross, in a series of grey metal sculptures, which we were encouraged to touch, and could view on an upward trajectory as Jesus struggled up the hill with his huge burden

5) A wooden sculpture of Mary holding Jesus - very minimalist - reminded me of African tribal art

6) A carved wooden pulpit, one of the panels containing a traditional English depiction of 'Mary holding Jesus' - Imogen was keen to be lifted up as she wanted to stroke the baby Jesus' head.

7) A corner of stained glass windows by Kempe, who also has windows in our Parish church ("I knew it was by the same person, because they are the same" said Imogen.)

8) An altar tapestry of sheaves and grapes, meeting a wafer and chalice in the middle.

That wasn't all we saw - we definitely missed the (carved wooden) mice this time, as I forgot, and the guide asked on the way out if we had seen the statue of the person scratching their behind (!), plus I didn't want to jostle the buggy down the stairs into the Chapterhouse which has famous 'leaves' on the celing - there is a multitude of iconography, light, ancient objects like wooden pews, new artwork, as well as a feeling of holiness. The Minster is definitely God's sacred space - and of course can also provide an education - a variety of ways to absorb Jesus.

I thought with a 5 year old and a baby I would struggle to use it, but it would have been possible - so I just wish I'd taken my camera!

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Daybooking in the Month of June

A June Kind of Day Book*

Outside my window: It's blue and dark. I rarely write when it's late evening - for the first time in a long time I can see silhouettes and street lamps.

Thoughts: What time will I be awake tomorrow, how will things be at our visit to Southwell Minster (Church of the Blessed Virgin) in the morning.

Thanksgiving: For the sunlight on fields, husbands who help out incessantly, and a way to see miracles amongst the mud.

Kitchen goings-on: Not so much. I have to cake bake next week for a couple of days away with friends, so I've been taking it easy and besides, it's been the end of the month so we've been living out of the freezer. Pasta tonight, curry tomorrow.

Reading: 1,000 Gifts by Ann Voskamp.

Listening: Electric dreams of my laptop. Shuffling children in their beds.

Wearing: Pyjamas and robe. Glad to be snuggly; it's been too hot to be snuggly lately.

Around the house: I HAVE A NEW PURPLE KETTLE!!! My excitement knows no bounds. Seriously.

A Favourite Thing: Besides the kettle? Music. This week - Bach and Handel. And Atomic Kitten ! - great memory of driving back from strawberry picking with all 3 girls singing it in the back of the car :-)

* Thanks to Peggy for hosting

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Our Imogen

Oh, Imogen. I said on Sunday (after a particularly hilarious time involving your distended reflection in a mirror that it is difficult to convey in words) that God sent you to me to make me laugh. Other things besides, obviously. But how you make me laugh. Not through being the class clown. Through silliness, yes, but mainly through seeing the happiness and joy in life, and laughing at things with your big chuckly laugh. Not (yet) for you the existential angst of your elder sister. Although you are, as your teacher concurs, a drama queen. You see things in extremes. If someone is experiencing pain or sadness on a TV show, you will cry for them.

You also have that extreme-sense-of-smell-thing going on - the peculiarity that makes you hide from people eating stinky blue cheese and that probably contributes to your ridiculously bland taste in food (macaroni cheese and margherita pizza are your favourite foods.) You can tell when a parcel arrives from somebody, because you can smell the scent of them or their household on it. You know when someone has been in a room because you can smell their perfume. Goodness knows how you will experience a visit to the chocolate factory!

You are five now, and learning to read and write. Initially reluctant, and preferring to run around in a pack with the boys, you are now coming into your own and discovering a new world opening up to you. I think you've had a hard time these past few months, as the boys bunch together in the playground, finding your feet in a gendered world. You've swung between independently striding into the classroom, and needing me to come in with you holding your hand. You are reluctant to play alone and find it difficult to entertain yourself (again in complete contrast to your elder sister who loves to sit by herself and read or draw - the fights this causes!), often calling on us to play, to socialise, to give you the attention on which you thrive.

You love a party, love to be around people and take pleasure in handing out cakes on plates so people get enough to eat. In company you may be initially shy, which people find at odds with your noisy personality - but you are wary, especially with people you don't know, or are asking you questions. You don't yet get that this comes across as rude - a big part of you doesn't care, and will be chatting away ten minutes later without needing any encouragement.

You love to dance, and seem to have quite a talent for it - it ties in with your love of music, and the chance to express those feelings you possess. One of our favourite family videos is a version of your younger self singing 'Squash It' to Salt n Pepa;s 'Push It'. It has me in stitches just thinking about it. You weren't being intentionally funny, but somehow you were striving to entertain. In this year's dance recital, you stood stock still on stage, but soon recovered and loved dancing and dressing up.

You love like it has no end. You are fiercely loyal, and would hurt your baby sister with the power of your kisses and cuddles if we let you. You love to snuggle, and for months slept, winter and summer both, in your fleecy Tweenies dressing gown. You are tactile and huggy; you are also boisterous, noisy, shouty, screamy, tearful and prone to those bursts of laughter I mention.

I've been looking back on early photos recently - from when we were in Disneyland, Paris, or at your Aunty and Uncle's Spanish wedding where you were a flower girl - and you look so *little*! There are glimpses of how you look today in the pictures, but so much of the baby. Now you are so grown up - a proper girl - loving glitter and pink and nail polish and princesses. As well as Peter Pan, Ben 10, green, play fighting, running and climbing trees. I think you have the best of both worlds there.

I don't know why I woke up inspired to write this, but I'm glad I did. It's a treat to capture the early memories and reflect on the person you have become and the one you are going to be. You fill our days with laughter (and frustration!). There are many more aspects to you, but these are the ones that spring to mind, now that you are five years old. Our Imogen, our Modger Moo, our Immy, our Idger Pidge, our classic second child but your own distinctive self - we love you!

Monday, 30 May 2011

Lord of the Dance

There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord.  There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work. (Corinthians 12.)

God skills us. He makes us. He gifts us with talents. Sometimes we are born with amazing skills that can be nurtured. Other things, we are not so great at - but we ENJOY.

My two elder girls belong to a dance school. We've spent much of the months in rehearsal, and were up TOO late last night for the last show. The girls are different in their attitude to dancing, and their aptitude. One does ballet, the other modern theatre. They both had the moves down, pretty much. They enjoyed it in different ways. One froze but picked it up later on. One is the youngest in her group but holds it together nevertheless. They both loved being in costume and having 'proper' makeup (actually quite subtle but necessary with those stage lights.) There are friends backstage they know from dancing, most who are at church and school too, but with whom they have a special camaraderie.

One girl (young woman, I should say) gave a special performance last night - a sequence of 'flashbacks' to when she was 3, then maybe 8, then 12 perhaps - the dances she has performed over the years. She's now off to study dance professionally at a prestigious school, and her performances last night were faultless. But she was one amongst many, and the company worked together as a team. Eldest to youngest. Most professional to most amateur. Largest to skinniest. Most capable to just holding it together. They come from many different backgrounds. No one who tries hard and turns up for classes is excluded. Not everyone looks fantastic. But as a whole, they put on an amazing show.

People have been reminding me about Paul's 'parts of the body' speech in Corinthians 12 this past week in terms of my own contribution to community and ministry. But the dance show said it all, really. Not everyone has to be blessed with the most amazing natural gifts to succeed at and enjoy something. Nor do we don't need to be Tiger Moms and drive our children crazy making them practice at something they hate (my 6 year old loathed the rigidity of ballet but embraced the freer modern dancing; she may give this up in the future too, but it's given her improved posture and confidence.) But God wants us to have something that we enjoy, that will challenge us, stretch us (and our parents!) and teach us new skills - how to be patient, focused, how to get through a quick costume change, how to help others get ready and on stage. How to appreciate each others' talents, work together as a group, learn to love music more, and see how taking instruction can bring out the best in us.

And I think it's the same the world over, really. God has an image of how we can be, how our potential can be drawn out, so we can be the person He has in mind. But this doesn't necessarily mean focusing on one vocation or career. We are all given multiple talents, to multiple or lesser degrees.  They can all be nurtured, enjoyed and used, even if we never get much better at them.

So let's celebrate them. The people who like to bake even though their cakes may be wonky. The singers who love to join in but may be a bit shy or need encouragement to realise they don't need to have the strongest voice. The children who are shy going on stage at first but are helped on by a selfless elder girl. 

God wants us all to step up and try, to make use of our abilities. Just because we aren't the best at something, it doesn't mean we shouldn't do it. Let's take the Parable of the Talents literally. He doesn't want us to hide our light under a bushel. Even, I think, the lights within in us that shine a little dimmer than the rest. The things within us we daren't do because we don't do them perfectly. He wants us to try, even if we fail a few times. And I'm not even talking about it getting us into the kingdom of heaven yet - it's about being who He wants us to be, here on earth.

Friday, 20 May 2011

3 Small Successes Vol 7*

Thank goodness for small successes! I could've been wallowing without you. Today I asked God to just be at my side and help me get through. And now I am celebrating:

1) I got a week's groceries delivered and have the next 7 days meals in hand. This is AMAZING considering that I made an amendment to my online order which effectively cancelled everything. It got pretty much reinstated and delivered this morning before it was even due. (So what if there wasn't any semi-skimmed milk or bread?!!)

2) I had a semi-sort out of what we 'like' to call round here, The Cupboard of DOOM. It's the space under the stairs where we house dried foods, craft materials and a million other bits and bobs. Things have a home in here, but they kind of slip and slide around, fall on the floor, and get sucked into the vortex. So, okay, maybe the plan for today was to find the stick on name labels I need prior to the girls' ballet show, but this is something I have wanted to get started on for ages. I even did a bit of decluttering. Yay!

3) I'm managing not to be overwhelmed. Not by loads of laundry or dirty dishes. Not by the sewing and labelling I have to do for the dance show and the dress rehearsals I have to attend. Not by the lots of things I know need doing. I'm managing to focus on priorities (like groceries and name labels!) and flying by the seat of my pants on everything else, and I'm not panicking - success in itself!

Thanks to Sherry at Chocolate for Your Brain for hosting. Check out others' small successes!

PS - I actually wrote these successes on Wednesday, when I thought it was Thursday. Today it's Friday, and I'm getting around to posting them. I'm not sure if that meets your definition of success, but it's good enough for me!

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Where we're at - all over the place!

So....where did all that Holy Week fervour go?!!! Search me! I feel like I'm going through the motions at the moment in terms of my serving Him. A bit on autopilot, if you will. There are lots of aspects of joy and blessedness that I'm noticing (especially the birth of people's babies). But life is ongoing; its myriad trials can trip us when we least expect them. I'm doing a lot of throwing my hands up and giving up - on assignments, on family responsibilities, on new activities that are on offer for the kids, even on church services.

So...I'm especially pleased I was able to take the time to attend the Holy Week services on offer, as at the moment, getting to Church once every Sunday feels a challenge....which I'm not beating myself up about. That's why we have the special times, to carry us through the 'ordinary'. Not that I discount the specialness of 5am mornings and the daily grind. And it's not like I felt I put in my time last month and now I can coast. In fact, I feel that God completely understands and knows I find Him where I need Him. And that He too is amazed and pleased when I succeed with something, whether spiritual or domestic.

Sometimes I think expecting respite from everything is a little presumptuous. But we can't serve without being refreshed - I need to keep recharged; grab my Sabbath when I can. Which I do. With prayer and with music, when I can. With life's moments seen through the eyes of little ones. Although I'm not trying hard to get things done, things are happening. We're enjoying books and the piano. Watching the baby stand and tumble and stand again, and tumble again, and stand again. I got shouted at last night for forgetting to read the girls their Bible story. I may not be joining in communal worship, but I can drop a bag of supplies off for the homeless. I may struggle with feeling comfortable fielding my family into church, but I'm still buzzing from last weekend's concert which raised over £500 for Christian Aid.

I'll get back in step with the rhythm of church services in time - I see the Eucharist as so necessary, I can't see me staying away for long! Besides - I'm going to my first Catholic service on Sunday, the baptism of my nephew. I'd be surprised if I fail to find the holy on that day.

Saturday, 7 May 2011

7 Quick Takes: The Birthday Edition*


Not really about MY birthday, but about my middle daughter's. She turns 5 on Wednesday, when the family will have pain au chocolat for breakfast, pizza after school, and a quiet night together. But as well as a party tomorrow,  TODAY she has persuaded her Gran to take her to make a birthday bear at Build a Bear (well, Gran did ask her directly what she wanted for her birthday!). Now I'm not sure how I feel about the place. My girls love it, and I don't mind paying for the materials to make a bear, but the cost of accessories can be extortionate. Luckily we have a £10 gift card to contribute to the cost. I suspect the best part of the trip will be getting the bus with Gran and having that special time together, rather than having a new bear to bring home :-)


As I said, tomorrow we are taking 20 children to a soft play centre to celebrate with running around, party food, and cake. Imogen also wants to take a cake to Church to share after the service. It sounds a lot, but we have money set aside. Imogen is my most extrovert, social child. Doing things and playing with people is pretty much her love language. It's going to be a party week!


As well as speaking the party language, Imogen loves to give and receive. She is so excited that a parcel arrived from her Godfather in London. She has chosen cakes for her party that she thinks her friends (mainly boys) will prefer. I have advised anyone who asks to buy her something that she would most appreciate a small plastic toy to unwrap as a gift. But while we can host a party and feed others, we will. The notion of hospitality is important to our family. It's not exactly Jesus at Cana, but it goes side by side with things like having tea and biscuits or cake on hand for when people drop round - giving the best that we can in the name of relationships.


Speaking of cake, I made a sponge cake with glace cherries Friday morning - nom nom nom. I try to take some 'me' time, and me & God time, on Fridays - I also posted a religious blog entry, and completed my part of the application form for a lay ministry specialism in the Diocese. But c'mon - cherry cake!!! There's something so satisfying (even spiritual?) in baking all those wet ingredients into something....cakey :-)


I've put all the blogs I follow into Google Reader this week, which can make the feed overwhelming, but does make things easier to find. It also reminds me of the people to pray for. And who to rejoice for - this week I got to share in Courtney's Special Needs Prom, and learn how someone in the USA might celebrate our Royal Wedding. Although I have to say the week's online highlight was Jen sharing the existentialist Star Wars video.


The Royal Wedding itself was wonderful for us. Most of the people in the UK don't seem to be particularly royalist, but were happy to celebrate the happy event. I thought seeing Kate in that frock, and watching the children wave flags, was a beautiful moment. It also reminded me of the marriage vows I made with my husband. I was a little teary! Afterwards we went to a church party to celebrate, and I even had a little time to myself while the baby slept in her buggy and the two big girls enjoyed the disco. Just a few simple pleasures. A lovely way to remember the day. 


Although now I do find myself looking at what Kate Middleton (sorry, the Duchess of Cambridge) is wearing. She went to the (gasp!) supermarket wearing an olive green shrug and if I were the kind of person who popped to the boutique every time I wanted something, I'd have wanted it. As it is, let's celebrate that I purchased some long overdue new underwear this week and got to fling some  existing specimens . (Why is it I get the kids socks, pants, shoes and school uniform sorted but neglect my own underwear drawer?)


There's another reason for celebration this week - my 36th birthday. A few months ago I was overjoyed to read Sarah Reinhard's post about how she didn't enjoy birthday attention, as I feel the same. I don't publicise my birthday - I'm more than happy to be growing older (and hopefully wiser!) but receiving birthday wishes and gifts and celebrating my birth and existence just seems a bit much to me, somehow! (Who knows, maybe my 5 year old will feel like this one day....although I doubt it.) Many posters on Sarah's blog suggested we be a bit more gracious in accepting birthday love from others. I promise to try....

*Love to all and thanks to Jen @ Conversion Diary for hosting.

Friday, 6 May 2011

The Fleur-de-Lys

As you know, I've had a bit of a humdrum Lent. Nothing majorly revelatory - small, quiet changes that might bring me closer to God if I let them. But I wasn't ready for Holy Week - short, reflective evening services that I could attend by myself and whose contemplations almost brought me to my knees. I certainly wasn't ready for Maundy (or Holy) Thursday - the Last Supper as Eucharist, foot washing, and a two hour vigil where those of us staying were 'abandoned' by the rest of the congregation as they quietly left. I was off someplace I can't describe. Even during the service my emotions took over and I couldn't sing for tears.

There have been moments in my faith journey where I have doubted, not that I believe, but that the things I experience, feel, hear and say aren't necessarily God driven, but merely products of an over-productive imagination. We all do this, right? We don't trust our senses - we rationally dismiss anything supranatural. Then there are moments when I have absolutely NO DOUBT what I am experiencing. I don't often speak about these - I feel they are private, and will make people think I'm a crazy person, even though sometimes I want to be shouting from the rooftops. But sometimes I need to make sense of these things, and write.

Our priest had meditatively taken us to the Garden of Gethsemane on Maundy Thursday. I spent the next hour or so in perpetual prayer - something I rarely make the opportunity to do without distraction, so everything came out at once. As I sit here, I can't remember the themes that ran through my mind, even though they were important, crucial prayers. But I do remember one moment, where time just seemed to stop and into my head popped an image - the fleur de lys:

Until today, I only thought of the fleur de lys as something on a UK 2-pence piece. It's part of the Prince of Wales' emblem (and we did have the Royal Wedding, don't you know!). But it's not something that jumps into my head when I'm meditating on the death of Jesus.

Now, with its three petals this flower could be seen as representing the Holy Trinity. Others have seen it as such, and it would make 'sense' that I envisioned The Father, the Son and the Spirit on that night. 

But there is another symbolism of which I was seemingly unaware, which resonates more with my heart.

Although I joyously inhabit some of their online communities, I'm not an Catholic (although there are such things as Anglo-Catholics, I've discovered!) But I do venerate Mary, and we've been singing Bruckner's Ave Maria (basically Hail Mary in Latin set to the most beautiful music) with my vocal group. And perhaps my subconscious knows all about the signs and symbols and links them up - recognises them in a stained glass window and brings them into the forefront of my mind. I don't know. But today I was absolutely shocked, I have to say (after finally giving into the niggle and Googling!), that the Fleur de Lys is the Blessed Virgin herself. It has symbolised her and been connected to her for like, only thousands of years. As a bit of a history geek with an interest in artI  honestly don't know how I missed this! After the initial pictorial experience in my mind I was thinking I would one day come across a fleur-de-lys symbol (or architectual moulding, or something) and its meaning would click into place with me. But no, I truly think I may have glimpsed the presence, the love - and perhaps the suffering - of Mary.

It obviously makes complete sense that lilies themselves, symbolic of purity and virginity, are associated with Mother Mary. I did know, from the words of hymns, and stained glass windows in churches,  that she is perceived as Heaven's rose. But a fleur-de-lys? I had no idea.Wikipedia tells me that the flower has many associations - France, Italy, various European royalty, the Scouting Association, Wales. And that it is actually based on an iris flower, although lis means lily. Of course, there are many available interpretations. To some people, it might mean absolutely nothing that I could not dismiss this image from my mind when deep in prayer in Holy Week. Me - I just know. There IS no doubt. She was there. She understands suffering. She cares.

Since I began writing this post there have been various things unravelling around me - not in our immediate family, but further afield, with friends, cousins, and churchfolk. I've been knocked a little bit, and actually scared by the trials and tribulations of others. And since the enormity of my Holy Week experiences, the comparative lack of Alleluia in my Church life has confounded me. The closeness of God has eluded me. I haven't felt like writing, or talking about my feelings. But I thought I would finish and publish. And revisiting this image helps me remember that even in the darkness, we can remember our nearness to Jesus at other times. It reminds me there is Holy Mary and a vast array of saints and theologians that help take us to God; it's not up to us alone. God sends us things to draw us to Him, bring us near Him, and keep us with Him even when he feels far away. I'm so glad I saw that picture in my mind. May I remember it, always.

(The St Dominic window in St Anthony Catholic Church, Wichita, Kansas
Spot the fleur-de-lys at the top.)

Sunday, 24 April 2011

He is wonderful!

I woke up singing this today. We sing it at my music group, in a round, and it sounds awesome. My nearly-five year old came down the stairs singing her alleluias first thing this morning! I like this version on YouTube but it might not be everyone's cup of tea. Still, the words can resonate with everyone:

Great is he who's the king of kings
And the lord of lords, he is wonderful
Alleluia! Alleluia!Alleluia!
He is wonderful
Alleluia! salvation and glory.
Honour & power. He is wonderful!

We had friends over yesterday to start the Easterweekend. Today the 3 girls are all dressed for Church in new clothes from their grandmother. The chicken is already roasted for lunch (we aren't having a hot dinner, the heat in the UK at the moment is unreal for this time of year), I have a strong feeling the Easter Bunny might have already hidden some chocolate eggs around the house for our return from Church, and we're going to have some family time. Alleluia!

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Giving thanks

Thank You, that my nearly-5 year old didn't fall and break her neck when she fell from the table she was standing on yesterday. Or give herself a brain injury. Or something similar.

And that the car had literally just enough fuel to travel to the hospital and back.

And that I happened to be carrying cash for the car park, for the first time in ages.

And that I happened to have a jar of baby food, beaker of water and fresh plastic spoons in the bag.

And nappies. (Who needs wipes, huh?)

Thank You that I had been meditating this week on the importance of being on my knees caring for the children, as it barely registered that I would not be back in time for the Holy Tuesday reflection.

I give thanks too that the hospital emergency department was equipped with kids' books, jigsaws, funny mirrors and games.

I'm not so convinced about the nurse giving my brave patient a chocolate Easter Egg with jelly beans, but it meant she had something to eat too :-)

Thank You for these people who devote their lives to healing.

Who have an aptitude for helping sick and injured children.

Imogen had no broken bones this time, and is already shaking off her sling. She's pretty sad it hurts her right hand to write still, but by the time she heads back to school in 2 weeks her shoulder will have mended. We thank you for medical care, transport, education, and the resilience of children.


Tuesday, 19 April 2011

A slow Lenten realisation...

This is kind of a Lent update, but it's also a general realisation of where I am at the moment - some navel gazing, but also a journal of the sort of journey we've had over the last few weeks.

I hadn't thought that Lent was going particularly well for me, or the family. I'd fell down on my prayer time - neglecting even my one Lent prayer a day, most days. We've started to incorporate more treats - ice lollies, cookies, chocolate cake - into our meals. I've been trying to shovel fruit and veg down me, but I've not found it that easy! I only went to the first of four ecumenical Lent study sessions. And so on. I felt a bit spiritually adrift, to be honest. Instead of praying more, I was praying less. I was raising my voice to everyone. I certainly didn't feel I was learning anything.

But even before our church hit me with a powerful Holy Monday service yesterday, things were slotting into place; the Holy Spirit got me. There are a few things that my mind has begun to focus on. They aren't what I thought I would learn during Lent. But they are huge lessons.

The first thing is that, like Danielle Bean encourages us to do, busy mothers need to celebrate their successes. The fact that I pray AT ALL, or get the girls through the church door at 10am on Sunday, is a major success in itself in our family life. I'm doing a theology course once a week that pulls me closer to God in so many ways. Our recent Palm Sunday service was meaningful on several levels, despite - actually, largely because of - three little girls to juggle. I've kept up a weekly swim session. And I'm trying. I'm willing things to work. The children know that treats have mainly stopped for Lent. They have been colouring in Lacey's Lenten Path and won prizes in their school's Lent Challenge for creating pictures on the themes of thankfulness. Their knowledge of Jesus has widened. I think, often, that it's all very well to have the ideas about what Lent can bring, but it's the Holy Spirit who is going to get all transformative on us. It's not so much sweating with human effort, but opening ourselves up to change. My theme this year was Keep it Simple, and we actually have.

Second, Lent is not just about getting all contemplative and meditative and transcending the cares of our material world (although all that is definitely important.) But it's also about making changes in our immediate environment that we can take onward with us during the post-Lenten seasons. I'm astounded at how it pretty much doesn't matter whether I cook a mouthwatering new recipe or serve up something simple - it's food, and we have a family meal, and I will continue to use this knowledge and keep weeknight suppers easy in the future. Prayer-wise, I have always managed what I can, and now the baby has joined her big sisters in the kids' room, I can have some evening reading and prayer time before bed without disturbing her. Oh, and the children have heard more scripture at bedtime this Lent than ever before, which is a development I didn't even consciously make. Lent can help us break out of a rut. It gives us hope for the future. It helps us to try.

Thirdly, Lent is about learning to recognise what elements in ourselves have been transformed - perhaps quietly, going unnoticed for some time - while we've been trying desperately to get closer to Jesus. Reading one post about the value of domestic drudgery suddenly clicked into place the attitude of servitude I've been trying to achieve. I suddenly get why order, space and cleaning up after every meal is important to the family unit. I've also lost my resentment that sometimes it's me returning to the same tasks, seemingly without respite. Our recent Vomit-thon kind of made me happy to be on my knees, having to care for someone's most basic needs. I have come round in a circle and realised that caring is a gift. We are defined by our actions more than our words, I think. I have always been eager to say 'I love you', but slower to engage in tasks that gift my family with time, sleep, beauty and joy. And I have also come to recognise that at times a person simply can't give anymore, and that's okay too.

Finally - it's that Jesus will meet us where we are. God will give us what we need, not what we ask for. I may be craving solitude, space and solace, thinking I will learn from them and more meaningful prayer time. But it's the other signs and symbols we need to tune into that show us what can help us develop and grow. Of course God is in the details. We can be so busy trying to get somewhere that we forget to look at route markers; we can forget how to take a step back, before moving forward. The Holy Monday service last night helped remind me of that. Hopefully by Good Friday, the message will really have hit home.

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Sing, Sing a Song!

I love to sing. I always have. Church songs drew me closer to faith; even as an atheist, I'd sit in the college chapel and feel spiritually connected when the notes fell around my ears. From the age of 5 I loved singing in school, in assemblies and concerts, and joined a little community choir for fun. Sadly, because I also played the clarinet, and didn't have the strongest voice around, the focus ended up on my instrumental mucisianship, with my main opportunity to sing as part of the congregation in church.

As we know, though, things happen in mysterious ways, and although a recurring hand problem stopped me performing with a local music Ensemble, I joined their singing offshoot and cannot properly describe the feeling of togetherness, fellowship, fun and achievement recent practices which include Vivaldi's Gloria, Bruckner's Ave Maria and the Lachyrmosa from Mozart's Requiem has brought. (We also do more lowbrow stuff!)

But this post isn't really about me. There's a situation I was emailing about the other day which sounded like it had turned into a blog post, so it had :-) I kind of feel I should be trusting in God a little bit more about my children's gifts and how they will be used in their future. But also that I am responsible for currently discerning what to do with 2 little girls aged 5 and 6 who love to sing and make music. Should I be a Tiger Mom and enrol them in music lessons as they have expressed an interest in piano and violin? Should I take them to a Saturday morning theatre school? Should I be champing at the bit for school to lower the age for the choir so my elder daughter can start participating in practices and competitions?

I had a chat with my singing leader about this. She is from the 'anyone can sing' school and is awesomely talented at making amazing noises emanate from a bunch of amateurs (as well as other things.). She is also of strong faith and says she and her husband regularly consult with God for discernment about the extra-curricular activities their daughter takes part in. But she didn't provide me with a definite answer, because, in discussion we concluded that we didn't think that there was one. Yes, you can follow your child's talents and desires by providing outlets for them to develop. It's a parent's choice what path this will take. And it's not necessarily an easy ask.

Shortly after our conversation, an opportunity came up for my daughter to take part in a new music group for 3-8 year olds that is being established locally. She was invited to 'audition', which made me suspicious immediately, but I was assured it was a process to meet the children, rather than a competition. (I did wonder what would happen if someone without a good enough talent for them auditioned.) As a professional singing teacher was involved, I thought it might be good for Sophie to get rid of the Bieber-isation she currently brings to everything, including faith songs. (She has only heard one Justin Bieber song, I hasten to add, but it's enough!) We ran through Doe-a-Deer on the piano. We arranged an audition time, and one for her little sister.

I was actually relieved on the day when Sophie decided she didn't want a part of it after all, even if it meant missing out on something good in the future. I still went, to apologise in person that Sophie felt daunted and didn't want to participate, and took Imogen along as she was insistent she wanted to sing. But going in to the (non-)'audition' room was intimidating in itself, and I'm a grown-up! The singing teacher explained that one of the things they would be doing was seeing how nervous the children were about performing in public. Obviously Imogen took fright and refused to sing, so we left pretty soon-ish! I ended up giving a speech about how I didn't think young children needed to be put through a process which was so daunting to get to join a singing group, and that my music group doesn't put adults through that. I didn't mean to offend - I think the people running it have their hearts in the right place.

But they underestimate the joy of singing every child can have, not just the uber-confident kid who will belt out pop hits on demand. And I think I have my answer to what a parent should do with a musical gift - entrust it to God, who was pretty much in on it in the first place. The day after the auditions, Sophie sang all the hymns sat up at the front in Church at the Family Service while Imogen was singing with me in the pew and even managing to read along with a bit of the chorus. They beg for their favourite songs to listen and sing to in the car on the way to school. Yesterday I had to Google clapping songs for them for the playground. This morning they were managing I Hear Thunder in a simple round (instigated by Sophie not me I hasten to add!) Some of the best fun the girls have had playing with the baby (8 months) recently has been when I get down the percussion instruments and they all make music together - such a leveller! And I feel this is what music should be about.  The pure, simple joys of making music for enjoyment's sake - because it (over)flows out of them.

What I have learned is, if they are born to sing, they will sing. There will be numerous opportunities in their path to develop talents if it's meant to be. There's no point putting them through pressure at such a tender age. I'm aware that being involved in music involves having the confidence to perform, but if that confidence is needed, it will be there.

To conclude, we're progressing the musical education in the same way we are Sophie's interest and talent for art, where visits to the city art galleries open her mind to possibilities. I've begun a simple piano scheme the girls can dip in and out of at home, with no pressure to practice, but the chance to learn where the future might take them. I'm trying to introduce more family singing, and get them to hear a wide variety of music and comprehend some music history. As an over-achiever myself, I know that a focus on doing what one is gifted at can be a curse as well as a blessing. For now, as with academic learning in the classroom, as long as they enjoy it, we'll go with it. As caretakers of these children and those responsible for drawing out and nurturing their talents, we're not going to be pushy parents and suck the fun out of music. If the 'right' music group comes along (and I suspect the school choir, when Sophie is old enough, will be just the ticket) they'll embrace it and feel comfortable...(and maybe, with God's help, and if it's the right path, toughen up a little for the competitions and examinations ahead.)

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Wordless Wednesday: Excerpts from a Baptism

Leaving for the Church


Some people in this picture are smiling!

Tired Rebecca finally getting to sit down and have a quiet bounce once the party had finished.

Thursday, 7 April 2011

3 Small Successes Vol 6*


1) The main one is, I think, that during the past week I Kept On Going. I didn't get too angry, or impatient, with physically below par girls and a sick baby who just required constant cleaning up. I just got on with it and laughed where necessary. (Yes, I probably moaned, and worried, but I got through.)

2) I may have had to hand the reins of the roast dinner to my husband on (UK) Mothering Sunday, but I have got a chilli con carne simmering in the pan today. With corn, carrots, onions, tomatoes and kidney beans providing a picture of colour. (It's lovely how excited I can get over a meal like this - which is not complex in itself - in amongst our simple Lenten meals.)

3) This may sound ridiculous, but I've been trying to keep pace with the dishes this week. I was inspired by an old Jennifer Fulwiler post about how much time some nuns, and now her, devote to mealtimes and cleanup afterwards. I used to think all that stuff cut into *my* time but, now I see it as helping the family and the end part of that lovely/bickering/screaming family dinner we have together, I see it in a different light and am beginning to embrace the mundane tasks He has us do!

What a week :-)

*hosted by Danielle Bean at Faith and Family Live

Lent update: hopefulness!

I'm having an interesting Lent...

It feels like it is a long endurance test just waiting until Holy Week to me!

And I already fell 'off the wagon' in terms of cutting out chocolate. (Raiding the Easter Egg box even. Heck, I never said I *was* Jesus.)

Yet, I have experienced profundity and change, and am still learning.

Our theme was Keep It Simple, and we have. We've eaten soup and baked potatoes A LOT. And other simple meals, so when we had a fuller meal, we appreciated it much more. We have sneaked in treats like ice lollies here and there, but in general, the children know we aren't having sweet treats in the house because it's Lent.

I haven't managed to up my fruit intake as much as I had hoped, but I did make a dental appointment and have been taking care of my teeth a lot more; I have kept exercising even though my instructor has a broken ankle. I do feel like I am waiting for a celebration, when we can crank up the treats and have a little party, but without having an ongoing season of gluttony.

But the main thing is, I have learned to just dig in and carry on in the face of adversity. Many people I know are mourning loved ones and dealing with serious illnesses in their family at the moment. My trials do not compare, just as I am different to Jesus (for example, my giving into temptation doesn't have disastrous consequences, it merely demonstrates my humanity and weakness.)

Yet, we have had sleep deprivation in my house this past 10 days or more. We have had a little girl with an ear infection, a bigger girl with a sprained ankle. We have had the small slices of 'my' time I am used to perpetually diverted back into serving others. Girls have had nightmares, and sleeplessness. We have had the baby teething, then being very sick with a virus for FOUR DAYS SOLID. On Mothering Sunday (the fourth Sunday in Lent, in the UK) I didn't make it to Church with the girls. It meant I didn't receive the Eucharist for two weeks running. It also meant I missed out on the bunches of narcissi traditionally gifted to mothers. Instead, I was up at 5.30am with children, and by 2pm I had been vomited on twice and sprayed spectacularly with liquid diarrhoea when I changed the baby's nappy. It was the pits.

However, I had hope. God's grace meant I knew, and know, these trials will end. One day when there are no small children around we will miss these times. They are exhausting, and require humility, patience and servitude, but they are our life. I am lucky enough to have these creatures to nurture. I am blessed with these particular trials and pitfalls.

And the baby got better. I finally got a bit more sleep last night. I craved some time alone, refreshed, and it has come. One of our church elders delivered 3 bunches of flowers to our house on Sunday evening as he knew I missed out. The sun is shining. It feels a little like I got a piece of Easter early!

(Yes, I know that's no excuse for chowing down on those eggs....)

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

10 Facts....about my husband and me

Inspired by Betty Beguiles


When I was 14 I started hanging out with a boy in the year above at school. He'd been dating another girl. Not long afterwards he started dating her again. Yes, pretty short-lived! But our time was to come...


I was 21 when we met again at the opening of a local pub/restaurant where I was working as a waitress. We had both just moved back home after finishing our university degrees. He told his friend that night that he wanted to marry me. I believe this amused me no end!


He got a job where I worked and after a couple of weeks finally asked me out on a date. I had sworn off men big style but after our first couple of dates I was absolutely smitten. Within weeks we were inseparable. That was almost fifteen years ago.


He supported me as I continued my studies and moved job and home to be with me for the duration of my PhD. Now he is supporting me in my path to ministry. I am utterly convinced God made us to be together.


I actually, officially, asked him to marry me on February 29th, 2000. (Traditionally women are 'allowed' to propose on that date. Not that I was a traditionalist then!) We were married that same year.


I feel like we've grown and grown up together. I remember renting our first place, buying our first house. Songs, stories and movies that we've shared. He let me learn to drive in his car. He's held my hand in so many ways. (Not least me digging my nails in during labour!)


There are too many songs that mean something to list here. But we walked down the aisle to Suzanne Vega's 'World Before Columbus'. I still feel like everything in life was given colour when we started our relationship. And more so as I came to know God and motherhood in the context of our marriage.


There is not room to describe all the things he does for me. The main thing is, he does them uncomplaining, just to help me.


We never even thought we would be blessed with one child. Now we have three. Girls. (Pray for him during their teenage years, will you?) And that may not be the end!


Last year we celebrated our tenth wedding anniversary. Not with fireworks, a party or a trip to Paris. But with a quiet lunch together at the place of our first date while the newborn slept in the buggy next to the table. Happiness.


Post your own ten facts over at Betty's.
There's such joy in remembering these moments.

Saturday, 26 March 2011

7 Quick Takes


Okay, technically it's Saturday and all of my family are around but Jen did namecheck me and all so I thought I should post :-) We're having spring weather in the UK now, so I've been appreciating the sunshine and warmth and cherry tree blossom. But no, we don't have a porch, and I guess I do have this idyllic image of sitting on a southern porch drinking iced tea in the sunshine. (Where the kids are in this image, I don't know!) My husband and I did a flydrive around California-Arizona-Utah-Nevada for our honeymoon, and I think our love of the Little House series will take us to the prairie someday, but the images I have of the southern states from books, theatre, film and TV have a special allure.


Although it's both spring and springlike here, we've still been sticking to a simple Lenten dinner menu which this week has included Mexican wraps, omelettes and soup. I was inspired by one of my favourite blogs the Little House That Grew to make minestrone soup for the first time, and it was delicious! There's just something about a warming pot of soup with a hunk of bread that says home, I think.


We also held baby Rebecca's baptism on the first official day of spring here in the UK. It was a tad odd rejoicing in Lent (especially having a supper of delicious christening cake as obviously I forgot to eat any of the buffet) but as I've said before, her godfather also happens to have his own church services to host so we were limited for dates. It was an amazing day; our extended family are largely non-believers but we had so many of our church family there, plus friends from other churches (Methodist, Baptist, Catholic.) As someone posted on my Facebook, it was a church full of love!


For my assignment this month, I'm writing on Calvin, the Trinity and the Eucharist, transubstantiation (and otherwise). It's a tricky fish. Calvin's 'Institutes' are online and whether you agree with what he writes or not, you can't say he doesn't put forward a detailed and intricate argument! For me, it's of huge interest to read where Protestant reformation thinking began to diverge from existing church beliefs. I really hope to finish the essay before the school term finishes!


I had a whole day without the girls this week. I was so excited! More so than somebody should be about visiting 5 English churches on a bus tour. Lots of people were laughing at me. But I'm a history geek. Not to mention a church geek. And we saw some amazing places, inside and out. The oldest part of one building was from Norman times; an old monastery from the 11th century. And there was a vast Methodist building with school and community rooms and a seating area like a huge boat! I'm looking forward to doing the assignment on this church history module.


My husband and I have been exhausted this week. After a teething baby and her baptism at the weekend, we've had our middle daughter with an ear infection and our elder daughter sprained her ankle so badly it needed an x-ray to check it wasn't a break. I made singing practice (we're doing Vivaldi's Gloria and Bruckner's Ave Maria, which is a lovely sung Hail Mary - so restorative), but missed my Lent group. Though pulled it together to enjoy a meal at one of our favourite restaurants - a shared cold meat platter, 2 boeuf bourgignons with garlic mash and a shared piece of chocolate and chili cake with coffee. Nice to splurge; it's our first time we have had babysitters at home with our 8 month old baby! I fell asleep sitting up three times on the sofa after we got back though :-)


The meal described above isn't something we'd usually have during this Lent, especially on Fridays which are always fish days (we do Meat Free Mondays too.) Whether it's a prawn stir fry, fish pie or scampi and fries, on Fridays we have a fishy meal. Sometimes as a treat we go to the fish and chip shop and have takeaway fish and chips - I hope to do this on the last Friday of school before Easter. Now, I was always under the impression that fish and chips was a peculiarly British phenomenon. But it strikes me, after reading Rachel Campos Duffy on the popularity of it in Wisconsin, that the US fish fry is remarkably similar, especially due to its popularity on Fridays. Here in the UK, despite increasing secularism, hordes of people still flock to the chippy for their fried fish and chips on a Friday. Going to a restaurant for fish fry on a Friday night is less of a tradition, however. MMM...perhaps I'll have to take the kids out on occasional Fridays from now on, especially during Lent!


Thanks to Jen @Conversion Diary, including for the drive of blog traffic!

Friday, 25 March 2011


Today we celebrate the Annunciation - an angel comes to Mary and tells her that she's going to give birth to the Son of God. As I've written elsewhere, Mary had the grace to say - well, sounds a bit odd, but thank you for blessing me and yes, I will, because I'm your servant, Lord. That always throws me. Most things God asks me to do, I run a mile.

But we're not Mary, and we're not equipped as she was; thank God, we don't need to be. So I like to think God trickles in little bits of His grace for other mothers as and when we need it. If someone had said to my younger self, by the age of 35 you will be married, have 3 young children and be studying for Church ministry, I would not have been able to say, like Mary - sounds crazy, but I'll go with it. I would have run that mile (or marathon!).

But, not only He is a God of Surprises, He knows what makes us tick. And many times he knows we are capable of things that we would not have formerly considered in a million years. And He gives us the means to deal with these things, little by little. Marriage itself is daunting. Birth can be brutal. Dealing with the shock of a first child, difficult. Dealing with two?!! And then another? While simultaneously helping out others in our path? While looking after ourselves, spiritually, physically, emotionally? Who'd have thought it?

Nowadays the main thing I take from the Annunciation is not that sometimes God asks us to do something and we are expected to say yes, straight away, and be Marian about it, because we think that's what we should do. The main thing is, the words (taken from Luke 1):
"For nothing will be impossible with God."

Because, however impossible we think a task may be, God can help us. He knows the potential we have. He tries to direct us to use this potential. He opens up new windows/ wardrobes/ horizons to us at every turn. We just need to believe. In ourselves. And trust. In Him. Which, to some, seems impossible in the first place. But the seeds of possibility have been sown. And even/especially by taking babysteps, and starting to make small changes, we are able to give that Marian response and say "Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word." (Luke 1.)

Friday, 18 March 2011

7 Quick Takes Vol 10


I went to my Lent group last night. I could have done with the time at home, as there haven't been many evenings around here, what with a teething baby and my commitment to my lay ministry course and (gasp!) the start of some socialising. But I was so glad I went. It's an ecumenical effort this year, with Anglicans (UK equivalent of Presbytarians), Methodists, Baptists, Wesleyans and so on. (No, I don't know where our Catholics were, either; they are part of our Churches Together initiative and were invited.) There were 3 people there from the Lent course I did a few years ago; it felt like coming home! My spiritual advisor and her husband were also there. We had fun discussing things and also were very reminded about why we do groups like these - not just to come together, intra-faith, but to take time to revisit our ideas about worshipping, sacrificing, and helping. The course we are studying is called Square Mile and is basically calling on us as Christians so just help others in our community - no ifs, not buts, just do the mission - and there was some truly provoking stuff on the presentation. If Africans in poverty themselves can set up initiatives for AIDS orphans and widows, what is stopping the first world doing this???!!


This one's related to my evenings being a little bit more busy - babysitters are booked so my husband and I can go on a date! Now we just need to book the restaurant. Actually, we've been managing to carve out some proper talking time in our evenings, even if it's 30 minutes before we head up to bed. But I feel we're both putting an effort into getting to know each other's thoughts on things, rather than just talking about what needs to be done the next day, and I feel the benefit.


I posted earlier this week on how my sugar cravings have been a bit of a nightmare! I didn't intentionally give up anything for Lent, but now that I'm in the arena of denial, I'm embracing it. The children seem to be managing fine! It's made me realise how much I relied on handfuls of junk to propel me through the day. I'm getting past that. And yes, it's made me realise that I could offer up arrow prayers at those times instead :-)


I don't have as many materials for Lent as I do for Advent, so I ordered a couple that will be good for next year (this year's theme was keep it simple.) I also splashed out on my favourite purchase of the year so far (with my new Bible cover a close second) - a CD of music for Lent and Easter. I listened to all the extracts before I purchased, and got chance to listen to just the first two tracks yesterday, but was instantly uplifted and on that Lenten path. I recommend that everyone go out and buy it; it's worth the money.


I actually *am* due my period now (apparently the lack of sugar binges should do me good, but I'm not feeling it!) and I've downloaded a temperature chart and ordered a basal thermometer so I can learn what's going on with my body more. I did try this when we spent 2+ years trying to conceive the first time around (not to much success, evidently; as soon as I stopped focusing on when my fertile days were, I got pregnant.) But I've been doing some reading and would like to give it another try. Watch this space.


It's Red Nose Day here in the UK, which in a nutshell means people entertaining others in the name of charity, with money going to needy in places like Africa. My two big girls are interested, but my favourite things has been watching Comic Relief does Glee Club on the BBC this week. Two of my favourite Christians, Carrie and David Grant, are on the judging panel, and the groups of youngsters performing have been genuinely amazing. One of the groups sang a gospel number and I actually cried!


Finally, two things to pray for - our friend who is a journalist has been deployed to cover the crisis in north Japan. We're praying for him and his wife and two young children at home in Hong Kong. Please join us. Also, on a more celebratory note, baby Rebecca will finally be baptised this Sunday - probably with a teething temperature, red cheeks and a snotty nose if this week is anything to go by, but Jesus does meet us where we are, after all :-)

Have a good week, everyone, and thanks for sharing and thanks to our host Jen @Conversion Diary.

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Wordy Wednesday : Lent, a week on

So, everyone, how are you all doing with your Lent challenges, or whatever you have taken on, given up, or strived to do?

Absolutely the best thing we have done as a family, in my mind, is to get the kids to colour in a step of Lacey's Lenten Path every day. It's keeping me and the girls focused on the journey.

And at that moment the journey seems to be going on forever!

I purged the house of sweets and chocolates (and biscuits) because of the girls - I dictated this one, that the family is giving up having these in the house, and they can do something extra than this, but they are doing this at least :-) But, this one came back to bite me on the bum because I've been suffering the most. MY Lenten challenge was to eat more fruit and veg, keep fit and look after my teeth. Verdict:

  1. I started off really well, but we need to make sure we have a plethora of fruit around the house at all times, and be bothered to peel and chop it for myself, not just the girls;

  2. My pelvis is pretty bust because I did a post-birth exercise DVD when my aquaaerobics was cancelled. And overdid it. Typical over-achieving, over-enthuiastic, rise-to-the-challenge me. Don't I know that God likes babysteps, not overblown successes?!

  3. I made a dental appointment. The next one my dentist has free is over a month away, so I am so glad I made it now!
But as for the sweets and chocolate.... I think I forgot what I do to carry me through the day. Last Lent I was pregnant, and didn't even try fasting. Even eating well and healthily since the birth, I would sneak in a square of chocolate, some midget gems or Haribo Starmix. The baby is now 7 months old, but I'm still in the habit of that little sugar rush to propel me through the next hour or two before I boil the kettle for my next caffeine rush. I find myself suffering in a way I never expected. (And chomping down on other things instead, which aren't necessarily healthy either. Like adding sugar to my tea!) By the weekend my mood was low because I'd had so much less sugar than usual. Today, when the baby has been up with a temperature what feels like all night, I want the comfort.

But do you know what? This ain't suffering. Suffering hasn't even begun. Suffering is my friend holding up the due date (today) of the child she miscarried last year. It's a baby who doesn't understand where the pain in her head is coming from, and screaming in agony. It's a mother who can't soothe or comfort her child (and obviously there's a religious analogy in that). The father who knows the things h/His child will have to go to achieve so much to help the suffering of others (ditto.) The sister and friend who slowly watches someone age and die from leukaemia, begging God's help. It's the lost and the injured, the bereaved and the dying, in Japan and other countries in need. It's the wife of the journalist who has to leave his young family to travel to a disaster area. It's many other things. And it's so much more than craving chocolate. I get this. I KNOW.

And I think, it's only been a few days, and I am getting over the worst. It is teaching me patience, humility, how to deal better with frustration, and the importance of my needs being satisfied. It doesn't compare to the real suffering that people endure, but it's still a lesson. I haven't binged on chocolate. I wouldn't think of raiding the sweetie tin. My husband did ask if my period was due, but largely, the family are helping me with this. And I think the days will get easier.

So, first part of Lent - a learning curve along the Lenten Path; a pilgrim's progress if you will....wonder what's around the next corner?

Thursday, 10 March 2011

3 Small Successes


1) I'm just rejoicing in the simplicity of Lent at the moment. I'm savouring the taste of food more and already realising how many luxuries I used to stuff in my mouth. I'm getting those 5 minutes with God in the morning and evening, and not worrying its not enough. It may not last for the whole season, but it is a wonderful start.

2) I blitzed the filing pile. There were things in it from our trip away last October. AND, I finally took the 3 Christmas CDs out of the car CD changer! It only has room for 6 CDs. We have not been listening to the Christmas ones for months now so our listening has been very limited.

3) Do you know what, I can't think of a third. This week is less about celebrating how awesome I am, and more about realising that it's okay when I fail. So I'll finish by posting this excerpt from the Lenten prayer for today:

Please, Lord, remind me that "perfection"
isn't the crazy, "successful" way I try to live my life,
but a perfection of my most authentic, real self.
My "perfection" might be holding my many flaws in my open hands,
asking you to help me accept them.

Amen to that.

Thanks to Danielle and all those others who post their successes.

Friday, 4 March 2011

7 Quick Takes*


I finally ordered the cake! For Rebecca's Baptism, I mean. They seemed a little concerned about the size of it compared to the decoration but I wanted to keep it simple - just a cross in the corner, and 'Rebecca Mary', in the middle. I am focusing on simplicity for Lent, after all.


I also realised that the Baptism is also the first day of Spring, which says all sorts of things! I am so fully immersed in baptism being the sacrament which opens up all sorts of possibilities to us, including the reception of God's grace. I guess this is due to my being baptised as an adult, at which point everything started changing for me in amazing ways.


I'm holding in my thoughts this week all the would-be mothers I know who are hoping for children in the future, that this will come to be. Miscarriage and fertility issues can make it difficult for people to keep trusting in God. For me, my impatience to conceive helped bring me to Christ, but for others, it can work the opposite way, and I pray for them now.


I'm still really excited about the date my husband had at Cafe Rouge when we were on our holiday. I made a promise to myself that Friday date nights, at home or out, would be resurrected. So, um, tonight I'm heading out to the (Women's) World Day of Prayer service at a local church with my friend Mary. And the Friday after I have a singing rehearsal. Must try harder.


Husband and I have started to become like ships passing in the night again
due to both our voluntary commitments since nights with the baby got easier. I am thankful that we are able to do simple things like lunch together and have to discuss things about the business we run. It's often difficult to communicate above the cacophony of girls' voices!


About the Women's World Day of Prayer. Some women over from Chile are hosting. Our vicar is speaking too. And there will be cups of tea served afterwards. And that's all I know. Men are invited along too, although it's women who organise the thing. But I am holding the world's women in my heart today, especially those who have a hard time being a woman in their culture. This includes my friend who gets commented on by her husband if the house isn't up to his standards of cleanliness or if she leaves the house in jogging bottoms to take the kids to school.


OK, I want to bring some joy in here today! I'm still smiling about Betty Beguiles' new couch so thank Hallie Lord for hosting the Quick Takes today. Let's give thanks for those friends - and strangers - who go the extra mile for us, who pray for us, who help give us a break when we need it and listen to us without judgement. To me, this includes the online community of blogging moms who I thank profusely. Have a good week!

*Thanks to Jen @ Conversion Diary and Hallie @ Betty Beguiles for hosting 7 Quick Takes.

Friday, 25 February 2011

Lenten preparation

I'm really relieved to be getting to Lent soon. On the one hand, it seems like it was only just Advent. But the fact that Christmas and the first part of 2011 have whizzed by so fast tell me that we're ready to slow down, strip down the layers and start with Lent.

In previous years I've done plenty of research to settle on the 'right' Lenten theme. Well, this year's came to me without the thought processes - we're going for simplicity. I added in 'calm' and 'peace' but we rarely get any of those in our family. So I'm going (with so many others, I'm sure) to keep it simple.

This is easier said than done. For me, it means focusing just on one or two things, and trying to connect with God and get to know Him more. I'm even hoping to strip back Easter - asking the people we always ask over for a simple buffet meal, rather than roast lamb and rich desserts.

Last year, I followed the Love Dare, with the focus on my husband and kids. I'm not saying I've got that all wrapped up, but this year I'm focusing on Loving Myself. As I follow FlyLady, I've had this drilled into me for the past five years, but recently, I've got out of the habit. Yes, I've been going to AquaAerobics on a weekly basis, fitting in some walking every school day, ensuring we all eat together as a family. But my diet has been all over the place. I haven't been focused with exercise. I've been consuming things I know are bad for me, and although I've still been going through the motions, I could do with a figurative kick up the butt. We all need to remind ourselves to take care of ourselves as women, as mothers, from time to time. So....keeping it simple, of course:

I'm going to up the fruit and veggies. Not even thinking about '5 a day', but just getting more fruit and veg into me. And the family, because they eat what I eat, but starting with me. Trying to eat healthier. Cut out the junk. Make that dental appointment, and brush my teeth before bed every night. And perhaps a little more exercise. But not to set any big plans or high standards. Just to get back to treating this body God gave me like a temple, so I can serve Him better. Not so much penitence or penance. Not self-denial or abstinence. But keeping what happens with my body simple. Free of indulgence. Humble. Free from. Prepared. Healthy. His.

A relaxing break in the forest....

Yeah, relaxing, right! Although I *do* feel relaxed in some ways. And I wasn't planning to write about it, but when I sat down to blog about planning simplicity in Lent, loads of wireless network bobbins meant that I only have about enough mental capacity to list a few things that will remain in me after our Sherwood Forest break.....

  • My 6 month old Rebecca resolutely tried (and failed) to fight off a cold, and was below par for the entire holiday, sleeping more and eating less, but was ecstatically happy for about one hour, bobbing about in her inflatable seat in the pool with her family.

  • Getting 3 girls ready in the busy pool changing rooms at peak time (it's school holidays in the UK) was crazy, even with husband's help; the one we managed to get changed in didn't have a changing station for the baby, and afterwards there were no family rooms so we all squeezed into an 'adult' changing room....which was not fun!

  • It was partly due to this and partly due to Rebecca's cold that once the grandparents went home, the big girls only went swimming one at a time with their Daddy. It did strike me that if we had gone to the pool with Mum, Dad, a 6yo, 4yo and 6 month old, we would have been breaking the rules - apparently you need one responsible adult for EACH child under 5 (and one adult per 2 kids over 5 - if that makes sense.) Although taking them altogether isn't straightforward, it would be doable, without those rules - I don't know what bigger families would do (not that I saw any - where do bigger families go on holiday - do they go on holiday? and if they do, maybe they go camping like we do?

  • All this aside, one of the best bits of the vacation was being told by my 6 year old that I had to go with her to the outside bit of the pool and swimming through to a steamy, outdoor, forest setting with a pretend waterfall and beautiful view. It was pretty awesome.

  • The other best bit was the two bigger girls getting on really well. Obviously we paid for it when we came home today but, compared to the two weeks at Christmas when they fought like cat and dog every minute, this was blissful. They played, drew, listened to stories, watched TV, cycled, swam, talked, sang and danced together. TOGETHER.

  • I love to cook and bake, prepare food for my family and take care of their needs. But I loved not having to cook this holiday. I loved being able to order the fish special and indulge myself with takeaway.

  • I especially loved the date at French restaurant with my husband, with jazz playing in the background, a beautiful platter of cheese and meats to enjoy, while the grandparents babysat. This was our first date since before the birth of baby Rebecca. It was long overdue.

  • Finally, as a way of leading into the Lenten preparation, I will comment on the simplicity of it all. We didn't really budget strictly, so parts of it were indulgent. But others were focused on living simply and on simple pleasures. We lived off leftovers for lunch. We appreciated the squirrels, mallards and swans that came up to the french windows to visit. We stuck with early bedtimes (and early mornings.) We just did one activity a day, and some hanging out. The girls enjoyed drawing together, and separately, on the long chalkboard in our accommodation. We read stories. We read the baby stories. We enjoyed each others' company. We didn't have the use of computers or WiFi (although I still dipped into Facebook and Twitter on my BlackBerry.) All in all, it was a family holiday. And I feel pretty exhausted, but I know that part of me is very much refreshed.

Yeah, spot the camera flash reflecting on the windows :-)