Love Finds Me 2

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Sometimes life is made up of big things. Big events that shake us and sift us. Like moving, changing jobs, changing schools, changing relationships, or sudden shifts economically, politically, socially. Times when your faith is tested and tried and the true bedrock of life comes under scrutiny. You are aware of riding a huge wave that is terrifying and thrilling in equal measure; for better or worse, life is going to be changing drastically, and there is no way of knowing the ripple effect this will have on the future. Times when you feel truly alive. I have definitely experienced a lot of really big events in the past three years. And it has been both thrilling and terrifying.

Sometimes, however, life is made up of little things. Endless seemingly insignificant and unimportant moments that string together and suddenly before you know it, a whole week has gone by. A week of chores and laundry and driving and running errands…. Emails, conversations, churning out plans, organizing volunteers, cooking and cleaning and staying on track of friends’ birthdays and community events. Discussions at home about where to put what piece of artwork, and how much the water bill was this month (much too much!). Discussions about pocket money, and why we clean our rooms, and where God lives (yes but how did he get there?) and why we tell lies (it wasn’t me it was my brother). My life is sometimes overwhelmingly full of apparently small, insignificant details.

Planting a church, and endeavoring to implement God’s plan for a community in a large city, is a fairly big thing. So many lives are at stake, and people have given up jobs and homes to come with us. I yearn to “make a difference”, to see those who are lost and hurting saved from their lost-ness and hurt. To see the kids’ school transformed and our city become a place which is safe and happy for all. But I am constantly surprised and sometimes vexed by how many small and little things consume most of my time. Like pixels on a screen. 

Dinner parties, games nights, friends coming and going, plants growing in the garden, barbecues smoking and neighborhood projects humming with volunteers. There are times when I fall into bed late at night, exhausted and spent, vaguely aware that we were mostly happy in our spending, but hoping that in the grand scheme of things, it was not all “smoke in the wind”.

Even here, in my busyness with small things, love also finds me. It seeks me out, like a persistent vine, spreading and finding the tiniest crack to hold fast. I read my bible on the run, sometimes with a cup of coffee, my soul so craved and needy it gorges on every word. I hear the whisper, I sense the call, to stop and meditate more on what I have just read. So, as I weave around the streets of our neighborhood, kids loudly conversing in the back of the car, water bottles being passed back and front and “look at that kitty, mama!” Yes, yes, such a cute kitty. So, I rehearse in my mind what I have read: faithful is he who calls us in him we are the righteousness of God because of his great love he died for us every good and perfect gift comes from our Father in heaven I am no longer a slave but free this is love that he lays down his life for his friends… And love blossoms and fills the space.

This is our faith: That as we come and go, as we strive to be the hands and feet of God to a hurting and broken world, he would heal us and love us and fill us to overflowing. I am always guilty of being a Martha rather than a Mary, as in the famous line of Jesus quoted by Luke : “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things, but Mary has chosen what is best”. To sit and receive at his feet is a splendid thing, and a necessary thing. But before long my feet get itchy. I must move. I must give what I have received. To me the needs of the world, my neighbors, my family, my friends, clamor so loudly, that when I look deeply into his face, I cannot but think of how he poured himself out, not even stopping short of giving his life. And I am compelled to move. To move and love and love and give. To exhaust myself in his service.

And I am careful to listen. Careful to weigh my time, my commitments and my agendas against the soft, quiet whisper that comes to me in the still moments. Yes, or no, this one or that one… like a tuning fork I feel myself yield to the slightest vibration. Why is this so important? Because I don’t want to waste a minute. Not one single minute of one single day doing something which is meaningless or eternally insignificant.

And you know the funny thing? It is never straightforward. I find myself sometimes gently nudged to spend more time with my family, sometimes to listen more deeply as I catch up with an old friend or to stop and observe the purple leaves of our cherry tree blowing in the wind. Sometimes to abandon the washing or the dirty dishes as my six-year old begs me to paint with her. Sometimes to fold the washing as my tired husband will need more socks tomorrow and clean the dishes because it is necessary for order and harmony in our home. To serve at our school when really I would rather be tinkering in my garden. To joyfully tinker in my garden when I struggle with guilt: should I be unpacking another box? To roll up my sleeves and work hard and push hard, but then to pull back and relax; the tension between being and doing.

There is no formula, no system that can achieve this: an awareness and understanding of a life FULLY lived and eternally significant and yet fully at rest in him. And I teeter on the brink of making unhealthy choices every day. Of missing the mark, of neglecting my family, avoiding my neighbors, over-engaging at church, under-engaging at church, being too busy, being too lazy, being too selfish in my personal pursuits, or too much a martyr to my duties.

Only love, only love can find me in this and safely steer me to the other side. Only through perfect love (his not mine), can the big things and the little things come together to find ultimate meaning and purpose.

In him we live and move and have our being – the Bible

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Love Finds Me

I am here. Here I am. Portland, Oregon, the Pacific Northwest coast of America. Before that it was Corvallis, Oregon, and then again before that Visalia, California, and then a half-breath before that, London, England. Wait… How did I get here again? I feel like half of my stomach is still left in its place at Chiswick, London. The merry-go-round has been whirling so fast my innards have not yet caught up with my outside. That is how I feel, spiritually, emotionally, physically. Like a plant that has been planted, then transplanted, then transplanted again, over and over.

I give my new friends I meet a big disclaimer: I am tired of making new friends. But you seem nice. And I force myself to, to be brave, to keep pressing forwards, to keep an open heart and a gay outlook. In every new place, everything is possible. For the kids’ sake, for Simon’s sake… For my sake.

I have found myself crying for my past houses every time we move. And every time we move, it is like I say goodbye to each of them, all over again. The big white damp house in Chiswick. My very first garden, huge and overgrown. The old but immaculate craftsman-style house in Visalia. The ugly brown house in Corvallis that oddly enough turned out to be my very favourite. Like a bulldog – brown with a snub-nose but comfortable, sturdy and loyal. And our most recent  house here in Portland on Richmond Street that I could never really get on good terms with, with its funny angles and strange proportions.

I loved it though; the kids racing up and down the sidewalks playing carefree; casual yet rich conversations with the neighbors as we mutually tend our growing gardens; the roses along the side of the house wooing away the fact that the garage hung like a backside out into the street. I would stand at the kitchen window, doing dishes, looking out over a patio filled with my flowers, to the sunny grassy patch that was always dotted with children. One rolling down the slope. Two fighting a light-saber duel, disappearing and reappearing from behind the garage. Yet another bending over to examine something in a bush, deep in her imagination. I miss it so, it is still so fresh.

None of these houses were all that special. But we lived in them, and breathed our lives into them, and I feel that they could speak, crammed with our loving and being and hurting and laughing and coming and going. I cannot think of our lives but in terms of where we were when things happened. The house which held the moment becomes for me the frame that holds the memory.

Now we are in our latest house, our very own first house. It still feels strange, as though the previous people haven’t quite left the walls and bathroom mirrors yet. We unpack slowly and everything finds its place. I am overwhelmed with excitement and at the same time a sense of dread. To start over…again.

But, I am confident that love will continue to find me, in this, as in every house we have made pilgrimage through. We are here because we answered a call, following we knew not where… but we knew Who.

Faithful is He who calls you, and He will also bring it to pass – The Bible

Of Mountains and Mosses

I am climbing a hill. The air is fresh and clean, the morning light still new. The landscape I am walking in has changed dramatically over the last 9 months. We have moved continents and cities and states. Sometimes I feel like my head is spinning with all the faces, climates and scenery we’ve experienced. From London, to California, to Oregon, God has been taking us on a wild adventure. The kind where you’re treading lightly and fast, trying as best you can to keep up, while the path twists and turns and often you can’t see around the next bend for all the bushes and brambles. I’ve never felt more alive.

The hill I am climbing is lined with massive trees – oaks, firs, maple. They are all draped with the most wonderful trailing moss, the angular rays of light distorting the shapes and angles so that I feel lost in ancient forest. The stillness and quiet of their massive old trunks seem to absorb the noise from the city below. I press on, eager for higher.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt is a new thing, this regular time away every week, unencumbered by children or school bags or grocery lists or time constraints. For that I have to thank my husband, who for the sake of his own sanity and general health has banished me from the house every Friday morning. So I go, and I search… for stillness and quiet… climbing hills, drinking coffee, or reading a good book.

Without this time of searching, reaching out and up, something within me begins to shrivel. Within a week or two the cracks begin to show. Here I am getting shouty at the kids or resentful at Simon or hopeless and despondent at the never-ending list of list of chores and things to do and people to love and needs to serve. And the never-ending laundry basket. I swear I saw the bottom of it once. It was a weird sensation. I think there might be a dirty sock monster down there, so I threw in some towels to be safe.

Life is a very fast train that starts before dawn and doesn’t stop until late at night. It is fulfilling and stretching, extremely so, and yet every now and then my soul craves silence.

So yes, it is Friday morning, and here I am, surrounded by forest and grassy fields. The sunlight is warm, the grasses golden and speckled with seed heads. I want to run and jump through them wildly, prancing and leaping like our Cinnamon unleashed.

What is it about being in nature, so close to God’s creation, that elicits such peace and rejuvenation? I guess perhaps part of it is that it is just so still, and so peaceful, with majestic moss-draped trees and stretching blue sky, that it is almost as though nothing can shake it. It has been here for thousands of years, whereas I am simply a blip on the timeline.

As I plod upwards, revelling in muscles burning and stretching, the size and immovability of the hills, trees and nature around me is calming. I can hear the sounds of the city below…traffic humming, the occasional beep and siren. Always hurrying, hurrying, always building, conquering, achieving, doing. Such industry and bustle.

The hill does not care. These woods are unmoved. And they invite me up, up, to a perspective far above the small and claustrophobic parameters of daily life.

To feel the sun on my back and to see the birds flock from the trees so vibrant and free is to enter into the God-made world. To remember that all our building and planning and scheming is small compared with the vastness and majesty of the order of created life.

I sigh deeply, remembering how to still and quiet my soul. I am not the mover and shaker, not the one on whom it all rises and falls, not the maker of my or my children’s fortunes or any great enterprise. But I am one with the Creator of All and I feel him close. And to be known this way is to forget all else.

The trees know this…. Quiet and still, drinking in the sun, limbs outstretched to its life and light. In turn they give life to the birds, creatures and mosses that swarm up their branches. They cover the hills in beauty and lush greenness.

                              Chip Ross Park

                            The earth is the Lord’s and all that fills it,
                               The world and those who dwell in it.
                                                                                Psalm 24:1

To London, With Love

I promised I would write again when the leaves started to fall. There are still some on the trees, so I guess I still have time. I didn’t think, however, that when I started writing again, it would be hailing the end of a major chapter in our lives. In some ways, very little has changed, the kids are all 6 months older and so are we, the leaves turn gold and brown just like they did last year…except this year will be the last time we see them in London.

The change is bittersweet, we have much to look forward to, moving our lives and our hearts Westwards…to Simon’s home-ground, California. There will be sun, new adventures, new places to fall in love with. But I am finding it very difficult to say good-bye to London, this dear old city that has come to mean so much. When words fail, I find everything else does too. So I MUST write….

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To London, With Love

Thank you, London. For all you have given us. Your heaving streets and wizened buildings seem impervious to time and change. Imperious Paddington. Bubbling Bayswater, Lighted Leicester Square. Your magic surpasses. How many faces have you seen? How many days have happened that have left little behind but the dirt on the streets?

The Thames churns in your midst, a vein of muddied water threading through. Standing on Embankment Bridge, the river would be just a river, were it not for the beautiful buildings along the sky. St Paul’s Cathedral, London Bridge, the Oxo tower, St James and Old Scotland Yard. The Aquarium and Parliament Buildings best appreciated by night.

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But by day the South Bank holds its own. Buskers warbling and bookstalls bustling beneath the bulwarks. Eateries spilling out onto tables in the sun. How many times have I sauntered through the crowd, admiring crazy skateboarders in the graffiti maze beneath BFI and budgie-whistler with his cast of yellow and green?

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I had my first encounter with life-long love along this river, Blue-Like-Jazz lights flickering in the trees. Cautious handholding, dreamy first kiss over the Trafalgar fountains. Pieces of my heart forever melded with the scene.

 

Fresh off the plane, in my too-thin jacket freezing, my African heart thrilled at the endless age and mystery of this greatest city-town. Watching the river beneath, the bewildering buses on the street alongside, I dreamed of the years to come. From my first pub plate of chips and beer at the rusty-red Sherlock Holmes in Charing Cross to the quiet Chiswick Coffee shop I find myself at today, I have felt at home in this strange and dirty city.

I love the mould and ancient grime dusted over rock and stone. I imagine some of it is soot from centuries before – how many vehicles have added their layers? The newly washed edifices look oddly naked to me. Even St Paul’s, newly restored, seems blushed and blinking in its cleanness. I know I am heading for a land of sanitised whiteness and space and sun, place for my heart to grow and skin to breathe…. But how I will miss this old city-town with its stoic, load-bearing populace and layers upon layers of old and new.

 

Each memory is a polaroid stored away for nostalgia in days to come. When my kids all have West-Coast accents that sound of sun and sand, if chance may be that I happen across that gruff, guttural “all right, luv?” my heart will still be glad.

How does one say goodbye to a place so rich in so many ways – so diverse and peculiar in range of experience? So many cultures have added to this spice-mix of eccentricity, grandeur and commonplace. I love them all.

I can still remember being on the tube at Piccadilly, sandwiched within a whirr of languages I did not know. Pieces of German, French, Italian, Yoruba?? The patchwork of sound and colour amazed my farm-girl heart. Anything seemed possible in London. From the busy bookstore keeper rattling things off at the till to the lazy museum security guard at South Kensington content to yawn away the day. From the beautiful West-End dancer dazzling in the lights to the sweating pedicab cyclist, cheerfully ignoring the traffic rules. From the remote grandeur of the royals and super-wealthy, tucked away behind glossy railings and tinted windows, to the bored vendors selling doughnuts and tourist brochures nearby in Green Park. There is something for everyone here.

london-metal-exchangeAll I would ask as you move through this dear old place is that you see. See without prejudice, see without fear, see its people and beauty without avarice and superficiality. See as though you are receiving a gift…for who knows how long you will have before you, too, are just one of the millions of faces passing by and long forgotten.

I hope I have given as much, if not more, than I have taken. I hope I have not been critical with a failure to love as well. I hope that when I come back again one day we will not be strangers. Farewell, crazy old city-town, with your thousand gifts and a thousand characters on your streets every day. I was proud to be one of them.

Piccadilly

 

Lessons from a Three-Year-Old

This blog is dedicated to Evie, our sweet, funny, feisty little pumpkin-pie who is now three.

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We had Evie’s third birthday party last weekend. It was a festival of princesses and pink…. Lots of pink, which hurt the eyes a little but absolutely delighted her. There was cake, there was garlic bread, there were balloons and there was Minnie Mouse; everything Evie’s little heart could desire. Two little friends with their families joined us for the occasion, and we had some honorary adults present (her special Aunty Jillo, of course). It was simple, but it was magnificent. At one point we had all three princesses decked out in their sequins, satin and sparkly netting, mouths generously smudged with chocolate, bouncing up and down on the trampoline and shrieking at the tops of their voices. Isaac watched in awe and trepidation from the side.

Cake and party delirium aside, Evie’s birthday brought with it a bittersweet ache this year. I found myself realising that her adorable and clumsy toddler years have finally slipped away, and a beautiful, self-possessed little girl has emerged, one who seems impossibly grown-up at times, and yet is still full of the sweetness and silliness of toddlerhood. When I think of how just six months ago I felt like that phase would never end with all the conflicts, tantrums and the many, many times we seemed to be at loggerheads with each other, I find myself now wondering how it went so fast.

There are so many things that I have learnt through the last three years as a privileged care-giver to this marvellous (and sometimes impossible) little creature.

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I have learnt the value of telling people you love, often, how you feel about them. At random times in the day Evie will pronounce, “Mommy, I love you.” And then go on about her business. It’s almost as though she is reminding me, or perhaps she senses something in my mood and feels I need to know. Sometimes it will be in a silence in the conversation that Simon and I are having in the car. We’ll all be still for a second, looking out the window, and Evie will pipe up, “Daddy, I love you.” The randomness and frequency of these outbursts has become somewhat of a laughing point in our family. There is no denying we have a very loving and expressive little girl.

She is so generous with her affection, too, always needing lots of hugs and kisses to make up if she gets in trouble, or coming over to plant a “mooch” on your arm or leg at random points in the day. She’ll pronounce, “Daddy I ‘mooch you,” as Simon is doing something in the kitchen, then flounce over and proudly plant a kiss on the back of his leg.

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She loves to cuddle, or “wrestle”, which is really just cuddling disguised as wrestling (I suppose wrestling sounds less wimpy so one can preserve some dignity). Her favourite thing is to “wrestle” Simon, and I’ll often hear shrieks of laughter coming from the lounge. Essentially it is just an excuse to be close, and to experience meaningful physical contact (while punching the ribcage). I read something a few years ago that said how people needed a certain number of “meaningful touches” a day, something like seven. Evie reminds me how valuable it is to make sure that we hug lots and play lots and and get up in each other’s personal space. It’s not something that Londoners do very well. Unless you’re on the Tube at rush hour and you’re shoved up in someone’s armpit, there generally isn’t very much reason to have much physical contact with people.

Evie loves her friends, and talks about them all the time. She asks to pray at mealtimes or at bedtimes, and it will be a soft mumble interspersed with people’s names, like “Oscar” and “Liya-Jean” and “Kate”. Almost every day she will ask, “We going to [insert name of friend]’s house a-day?” She also LOVES to make “presents” for her friends. These usually consist of a complicated piece of artwork made with marker pen, stickers and cellotape, and shoved into a recycled gift bag. I have strict instructions about where to write their name, and am given a long diatribe about how this is Martha’s present or Pippa’s present and must not be lost.

This completely puts me to shame, as I have become more and more useless at staying in touch with my own very special friends in recent times. I may think about them often, but I cannot count how many times I have forgotten a birthday or neglected to call when I said I would. Friends are so important to me, and yet this does not reflect itself in my day-to-day reality at present. “Ah well,” I sigh to myself, “One day….One day I will be out of this craziness of nappies and cooking and cleaning and refereeing and helping and feeding and clothing….” Then I will call friends every week, send them cute cards and happy emails to say I am thinking of them, make them presents and see them for coffee. But for now, I can hardly remember how old my baby is (is he six months or seven months, I was horrified to realise??) or whether I put my keys in my bag, or even managing to keep in touch with people I see every Sunday!

But, I guess, this is another thing I need to learn from Evie – the complete absence of the burden of guilt and “should have’s” and “ought to’s”. She wakes up every day and it is a completely new day. There are no assumptions about what the day will bring, no hurts and worries from the day gone by. She is completely caught up in the present, and can only think of pleasant things that might be forthcoming (Whose house are we going to? Can I have a chocolate biscuit? Do I have swimming today? Will I have a party? Please can we make cupcakes?) It is simple, it is lovely and it is inspiring.

This will be my last blog for a while, as we are about to embark on a family holiday to the States for three weeks. And I have also realised, what with all the beautiful spring weather we have been having, and longer, sunnier days, more time should be spent doing outdoorsy things like gardening or walking or soaking up the sun. So I think blog-writing will be something to save for when the leaves start to turn and life gets colder and indoorsy again (which will happen soon enough). For now, I am going to take a leaf out of Evie’s book and fully immerse myself in what is happening now – and not miss a moment of the glories of an English summer.

Enjoy something simple today, and go find someone you love to wrestle.

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Ah, Friday

Ah, Fridays. They’re always good, especially when the sun is shining. It seems we have a bit of a respite from the deluge we’ve had over the last couple of weeks. The daffodils are in bloom and all sorts of spring-like signs are shooting up.

Fridays are good for many reasons, mostly because they are supposed to be our “day off”. The one day of the week that Simon takes off completely from work and we try to rest. Although, of course, with little kids it is pretty hard to get any kind of rest, even on “days off”. The work of looking after them, teaching them, training them, cleaning up after them, preparing food for them and keeping them alive is pretty much the same as any other day. It can be hard to feel like there is any sense of a break, even though with Simon home that work is halved.

In some respects I find Fridays a little bit of a let-down. Throughout the week, in the mad scramble to get to the end of the day, and the tiredness and mental strain of getting so many things done and figured out, Friday is the light at the end of the tunnel. Somehow just having the knowledge that there is a day of “nothingness”, where nothing is planned and there are no expectations and nothing to “get done”, is like a glimpse of heaven that keeps me going.

Unfortunately, though, sometimes I can have such a glowing expectation for how awesome and wonderful Friday is going to be, that when it finally comes it can be a bit of a damp squid. I am too tired to attempt any of the creative projects that I have been looking forward to all week. I try not to do any unnecessary work, other than the bare minimum of food preparation and cleaning up after ourselves. So I sit on the couch and try to read, or to relax….But just being still and looking around our lounge for five minutes without distraction makes all the things that I need to do but haven’t gotten around to during the week jump out at me. Arrrgh! The admin pile. Arrgghh! That letter I forgot to post. Arrgghh! The carpet is changing colour from olive green to grey. One needs blinkers to be able to rest in your own house.

Still, it is a discipline that is most necessary. I HAVE to stop at some point. Even though the stress and mental noise from the week is very difficult to turn off, and it usually takes me until lunchtime before I feel like I can let my thoughts wander in a productive way. If I can’t stop at some point in the week and press the reset button, it’s only a matter of time before things derail.

Every Friday Isaac and Simon sit down together and spend a couple of hours playing games on Simon’s laptop. It is a special treat that is looked forward to all week (by both boys!). Every other day Isaac asks Simon if it’s Friday. Usually this is communicated as, “Papa, let me tell you a secret…” Then he comes in close, and in a hot, breathy whisper says in his ear, “Papa, it’s Friday?…’Pluter games?”

Having a rhythm of rest every week is certainly not a new idea. Back in the old days it was highly frowned upon to break the “Sabbath” and some families even ate cold food prepared the day before so that absolutely no work was done on Sunday. (hmm….there might be something to that, actually!) For our family, Sunday is the busiest and most draining day of the week, so there’s no point in being pedantic about that sort of thing. But, we think a day of rest is a good idea, so we rest on a Friday. We do ‘pluter games and read and write and do lots of “nothing”. Sometimes it’s boring, sometimes it’s bliss, but it’s always essential. Speaking of which, I still have a whole lot of nothing left to do, so I’d best be off to go and do it.

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Something’s Gotta Give

The rain is raining all around,
It falls on field and tree,
It rains on the umbrellas here,
And on the ships at sea.
– Robert Louis Stevenson

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If January is blue, then February is probably dark-grey. Maybe even charcoal. And wet.

Tis the season of coughs, colds and sniffles. Braving the elements on the way to and from school has become the biggest part of our day. The kids absolutely love it – armed to the hilt with waterproofs, rubber-soled wellies and oversized umbrellas, they lean into the wind with glee. While my anxiety levels are never as low as they should be even on calm, sunny days, given the current weather conditions they are now entering the red.

What it takes to get out of the door! Judah is bundled into a cozy cocoon at the bottom half of the buggy. He usually protests strongly, a dummy is perfunctorily shoved in his mouth. Rain cover half over the buggy. Isaac and Evie do the coats, hats, scarves and gloves drill. (“Coats, hats, scarves and gloves! …Did you hear me? Coats, hats, scarves…yes, hats…and gloves, don’t forget the gloves! ….Come ON, Isaac! ….Coats, hats, scarves, gloves! ….Coat, Evie!” It’s a bit similar to Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Toes except with less enthusiasm)

Finally, everyone is ready. Then I realise I don’t have my shoes on. Or my coat. I turn my back for a second. I come back to the buggy and find that Isaac has thrown his gloves across the room and Evie is pulling Judah’s hat off. “What are you doing?! Open the door! Let’s go!” We are about to cross the threshold. “Mommy mommy, I need a wee!” Sigh….

There are some good things about this weather – like now, when Isaac is home after a long week of school and busyness, and we are all snuggled up inside. I can hear some wrestling going on in the lounge, as well as Judah-smooching and the gentle pops and whizzes of computer games. Our house is cosy, warm and dry, while it looks positively awful outside. The contrast of grey, wet misery with the warm, bright, happiness indoors is very pleasing.

The whole of the UK is glued to the weather channel, as we watch evidence of severe flooding and flood warnings creeping closer and closer to London. The news teams are using phrases like “weather attack” and “military deployed to help” which makes it seem like we are battling a deadly foe. Which I suppose in some cases we are. There are countless pictures of cars and homes awash, and others with sandbags piled high. Here, even though we are very close to the Thames, things seem relatively unchanged, and the worst disruption to our day is the gale-force winds that seem perfectly timed to meet the school run.

While this time of year can be quite a challenge, as extra levels of mud and wet make extra laundry loads, and the constant coughs and colds drain energy and I feel like I am constantly trying to catch up with myself, seeing the scenes of disaster on the TV and in the newspapers make me very grateful that we are all safe and we are all together. I realise that Judah is already 6 and a half months (!) and I need to try and spend less time doing things FOR him, and AROUND him, and more time simply enjoying him.

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So, this last paragraph is dedicated to Judah:

Dear Judah, with your adorable bendy ears, your chubby cheeks, chubby legs and your funny little friar-monk hairdo…. You are so sweet, so precious and so cuddly. I love your shrieks that you make for no reason at all but to hear the sound of your own voice. I love the mmmmmm sounds that you make while you eat. I love the little foot stamp that happens when you are hungry, and the little bottom-bounce you do when you are angry. I love the way you laugh at Evie, and the way you giggle when Papa smooches your tummy. All of this will only be a blurry memory in just a few months, when you are onto the next exciting stage. I will probably get busy again tomorrow with laundry and chores and lists and pureeing food and washing dishes for you….but if something’s got to give I hope it’s not this – time to simply enjoy you.

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“In seed time learn, in harvest teach, in winter enjoy.”                                                                                                 – William Blake

Small Expectations

january-blues

It is the end of January, and I can’t help but take a sigh of relief. There is something about the weeks after Christmas and New Year, when winter really starts to set in and the days are short, wet and cold, that get me all in a muddle. And I think this year, I was hit with a double-whammy… The January Blues happened to coincide with my baby blues.

For some reason, every time I hit around the 4-5 month stage, I find myself feeling a little blue. Quite tired, stressed, a bit down and overwhelmed by it all. And I think, now that I seem to have come through the other side (some things you only see with the benefit of hindsight), I have finally realised why.

You see, the first 3 months of your baby are full of the newness, excitement, awe and wonder of it all…call it the honeymoon phase. Every day you marvel at this perfect little being that has come into your life, and the euphoria spills over into all other areas of life. Tantrums by older siblings fail to frustrate, because the idea that you get to be the one to shape and mould these little lives explodes your brain all over again. Cleaning, cooking and chores are re-infused with meaning, because you are providing clothing and shelter for these divine creatures.

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But, even more importantly, your expectations are SMALL. “Yay, we got out of the house, all clothed and fed (for the most part).” “Yay, we made it to the shops and back without anyone getting lost or fatally hurt.” “Yay, I managed to make lunch, breastfeed and get a load of laundry in.” “Yay, for five minutes everyone has been QUIET.”

Then, as you slowly get the hang of things, adjusting to the new family size, different routines and figuring out what time you need to get up in the mornings to have five minutes in the shower, you get braver and bolder, and your expectations increase. No longer is it enough to just get everyone fed and clothed and then to bask in the joy of your little brood. NO, now you need to get the floor swept as well, and all the breakfast dishes in the sink BEFORE leaving the house.

No longer is it enough to enjoy the fact that everyone is busying themselves quietly with books or puzzles or toys for five minutes. NO, now you need to make sure that you get an interesting art project in at least once a week, and good heavens but Evie needs more tights and Isaac really could do with a haircut.

Stress mounts imperceptibly, and before I know it my to-do lists are running off the page. Also, with the better sleep and longer evenings comes the feeling that I really ought to be taking on more responsibilities outside of my little home. I itch for something different, something bigger…something more ‘impactful’, I feel.

So I take on more mentoring roles at church, I become more involved in the school PTA, I volunteer to bake, I volunteer to help decorate Santa’s Grotto (side rant – is there anything more lame than Santa’s Grottos?? Even the one at Westfield failed to impress). I go crazy with the calendar, inviting all sorts of people round for tea, for dinner, for lunch. I cut myself less slack around the house; one healthy meal a day is no longer enough, dust on the coffee table seems to indicate personal weakness of character and organisation.

Before I know it, I am too busy, tired and stressed. I end up feeling incredibly frustrated with Judah for needing to be fed right at the moment I am trying to make a call. I end up barking at Isaac and Evie to hurry up and get their coats on because we’re running late because I felt I absolutely must make the beds before we leave. The penny drops, and I realise I have it all backwards.

It reminds me of Dickens’ devastating book Great Expectations, where a young boy called Pip is ruined of enjoying his life as a humble forge apprentice by the promise of a great increase in his fortunes, and the tantalising lure of a life and a love far above his current expectations. He is set up for a crushing disappointment by the cruel and haunted (and slightly insane) Miss Havisham, who intends him to feel the pain of her own heartbreak and disillusionment by not delivering all she has promised, and marrying off her beautiful daughter to another man. All is resolved in the end, but the lesson is clear: be happy and grateful for what you have – you can never have it back once it’s gone.

So now, having taken a few steps back, (and realising that I still have a very little baby for crying out loud – 6 months today, actually!) I am committed to smaller expectations. Smaller expectations that make sure the important things of life are what really matter. Time to exclaim at pretty reflections in the puddles on the way to school. Time for smooches and wrestle-cuddles, no matter how busy and hectic the day is. Time for impromptu tea-parties. Yes, it is lovely to be able to invite more friends over for dinner, and yes, I do like having all the washing done at the end of the day. But not at the expense of enjoying my little brood.

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The things that are seen are temporary;
The things that are unseen are eternal.

Circle of Trust

 

“Jesus is a stinky-bottom.” Isaac giggles, a cheeky grin on his face. We stare at him, open-mouthed, across the dinner table. Only for a second, though, as soon we are laughing too. It would seem that Jesus has finally received the ultimate seal of approval. He is thoroughly part of the Bardone clan now, part of our inner-circle.

Circle of trust

We have all been christened with this privileged title at some point in time, along with various prefixes and suffixes along the lines of “Papa-poop” or “poopy, stinky-bottom-mama” (a particularly expressive spurt of affection). I don’t know what it is that is so amusing about bodily functions, but it seems to feature heavily in life under the age of 5.

The fact that Jesus has been called a “stinky-bottom” might seem irreverent or inappropriate to some people, but to someone who understands Isaac’s world, it is a sign of deep admiration. Only a precious few have been given this title. While he is incredibly funny, goofy and rambunctious at home, outside of it and our family he can be quite shy and reserved. People who know him from school or church or out and about are always amazed at how talkative and welcoming he is when they come through our front door. He’s a bit like the King of the Castle welcoming humble peasants.

I remember how pleased my Mom was when she came to visit us at Judah’s birth, and after about day two or three she was greeted at the bottom of the stairs by a, “Stinky-bottom-granny!” before scuttling off to the kitchen. While I gasped in horror, she said, not to worry, she knew now she was accepted.

To us, it is a wonderful thing to watch our children grow more and more aware of God as a reality, an unseen, vibrant, personal force right at the centre of our family. A person’s journey to knowing God is such a personal, inexplicable thing that we could never force our children to be religious. However, we do feel that it is the most wonderful, beautiful thing in the world to know God and to know His love, and because we love our kids so much, we hope and pray fervently that they will eventually get to that place.

So, it has been so lovely watching them absorb and process faith in God – from bedtime prayers (“Please bless Bumba, Bumba, Bumba and Bumba Fred” – the Grandparents) to watching a silent film at the back of our small 6pm service on a Sunday while Simon speaks, or even down to asking God to help us find the Lego lightsaber!

Lately they have started requesting to be the ones to say the prayer at dinner. Isaac’s went something like this: “Dear God, please help us to be strong, to wrestle, to be strong and to play. Amen.” Couldn’t have said it better myself.

While I do hope that the terms of endearment in our house become a little more polite and sophisticated in the years to come, of our small number of special friends and family that are in Isaac’s circle of trust, I am pleased to say that Jesus is one.

 

Purple, Rabid Minions

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I don’t know what it is about bath-time. Every night, no matter what time it is or how tired Isaac and Evie are, this miraculous transformation occurs as soon as their dripping feet hit the bathmat. In the short space of time it takes for me to throw the towel around their shoulders, they become these naked whirling dervishes who shimmy around shrieking at the tops of their voices.

Usually this ends with them disappearing underneath one of the duvets, naked rear-ends whisked out of sight. Oblivious to my orders to get out and get dressed, a quivering, giggling mass under the bedclothes, I realise I have to join their little game or be thoroughly beaten. So I sigh, assume a ferocious growl and pounce….

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Eventually they are all sitting sweetly, pyjamas on, while Papa reads them bedtime stories, with no trace of the energetic performances only a few minutes previously. It never fails to amaze me how quickly they can transition from one state of being to the next. Although their antics are very funny and entertaining at times, on the whole it is thoroughly exhausting!

They remind me a little of the minions in one of our favourite animated movies, Despicable Me. Those cute little yellow guys who speak in gibberish and laugh at silly things like gurgling water fountains and photocopied bottoms. They encapsulate the innocence and capriciousness of childhood to a ‘T’. The second film, however, which came out just recently, showcases a type of super-minion who has been transformed by an evil superhero into a rabid, purple, and indestructible monster who quivers uncontrollably and says, “Bah!” I fear my offspring are more reflective of this latter stage of minion evolution than the former.

This week I felt like I, too, have assumed some of the “purple-rabid-minion”-esque qualities. Although mine has not been induced by some powerful concoction being injected to me, but rather from the simple fact that I have not allowed myself to drink tea or coffee. Our church has gone on a fast this week, in order to “consecrate” ourselves to God for 2014. I thought I was being clever by fasting tea and coffee, instead of food. It has not been pretty.

Evil-Minion

I don’t often do well on fasts. Generally it seems that the inner beast is revealed, as I am either extremely grumpy from being hungry or craving something, or having a huge headache from my body detoxing. Like this week, by the end of day one I was so desperate for a cup of tea that I was shoving chocolate down my throat and lying down under a blanket in an attempt to placate my deprived body. Woe-betide the poor person who wanted to wake me for something and got hissed at. There is something wrong with this picture, I thought to myself, surely the point of a fast is not to deprive yourself of one thing so that you can comfort yourself with another thing? Surely it is to remind oneself that “man cannot live by bread [or tea] alone”?

Well. Point proven. I am utterly useless without tea, and, for that matter, without God. Thankfully I have taken most of today to redeem my horrid behaviour this week, and it has been much better. Hopefully all purple minions have been banished from the house…. At least until after bath tonight.

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