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

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Flamenco: Beauty and Passion

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We just spent a week in Madrid for a Pastors’ Bootcamp. Although it sounds intimidating, it was actually a phenomenal time of training, learning, prayer, lots of eating and (a personal favourite) lovely Spanish red wine! I think Judah was delighted with the amount of food I consumed, as milk production at the mama-factory was at an all-time high.

The Spanish have quite different rhythms of life, as lunch is only eaten at 2pm, usually consists of four courses and lasts for two hours, and supper is only at about 9pm or later. We heard life outside our hotel windows well past midnight, and everything is dead until at least 10 or so in the morning. And I felt like I was on holiday, because there was no cooking, no cleaning, and no laundry! (although now I am still trying to clear the backlog)

The Spanish people are wonderful – warm, passionate, strong and gritty, yet sensitive. I got the feeling one would not like to get in a fight with a Spanish person, but if one did, it would be quite possible to kiss each other soundly on the cheek afterwards and end up at a Tapas bar somewhere drinking copious amounts of wine and slapping the table together.

Probably the highlight of the trip for me was a visit to see a Flamenco dance on our last night. It was a special treat organised for us by the church in Madrid. After a short walk through bustling streets, we were ushered into a dimly lit, large upper room of a restaurant. It seemed impossibly old with exquisite wood carvings and mosaics all around the walls and ceilings. There was a great sense of history and majesty, rather like walking into an old church, except here there was a busy hum of conversation and a crackle of something electric in the air.

Then there was a hush as a small group filed onto a high stage in the middle of the room. A guitarist, a singer and three dancers. We all fell quiet, sipping our drinks, as the guitarist began to play and the singer leaned into the microphone. He sang, a wonderful husky, haunting sound, the notes tumbling and falling over each other and mingling with the plaintive, sweet melody of the acoustic guitar, racing up and down the scales like water. Then a dancer appeared at the edge of the stage.

Poised like a lioness, she moved slowly and deliberately, her hands fluttering and fluid, and her face contorted with pain and deep emotion. Then with a flash of hands and a violent stamp of her feet the guitar broke into an agitated strumming, and the pace accelerated. The other dancers clapped and stamped their heavy shoes, as she flew and twirled and twisted and stamped. The power in her feet was incredible – their staccato on the floor sounded like thunder, and every time she twirled to crash them down, it felt like the air was vibrating with explosions. Faster and faster she went, the musicians sweating to keep up and the other dancers clapping and shouting their pleasure.

When she finished, with one final crash of her shoes to the wooden floor, her immaculate headdress was quivering with exertion, and her face was covered in a glowing sheen. The audience applauded and shouted rapturously. Then the next dancer got up, and the next. I was blown away by the strength and power these men and women showed. Tightly controlled and sensuous, with the hands fluttering and rippling around their bodies like birds trying to break free, it was as though something deep was working its way to the surface and releasing itself in the power of those crashes of the feet to the floor.

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Tanya, a missionary in Madrid, was sitting next to me, and she leaned across to show me some writing on her phone about the Flamenco. Apparently it was a peasant dance originating from the Andalusian mountains, a personal expression of poor people groups and oppressed ethnic minorities. It has a wide range of influences from all over the world.

It struck me, as I watched these impassioned dancers, living and breathing this wild Flamenco, that the deep emotion they were expressing was part of the dance’s beauty. The fact that centuries of history and human experience could be so caught up in a dance was mesmerising.

It spoke to me of how much beauty can be borne out of pain, and how, channelled in the right direction, even the most negative experience can result in great depth and richness of expression. Much like many of the African-American spiritual songs sung by the slaves on cotton farms in America, there was something about the Flamenco that spoke deeply to my soul.

I thought about how the pain of having children (not only literally, as in childbirth, but figuratively, as I sacrifice many of my pleasures daily) has wrought so much character and spiritual formation in me, and also how much joy and pleasure our children bring us day to day. It also reminded me to channel my frustrations, and to find a positive expression for the deep things that lurk beneath the (sometimes) superficiality of my busy life.

I love Spain, the people, its culture and its dance. I hope to go back there someday…. And maybe, just maybe, I’ll have the courage to buy some shoes and learn the Flamenco.

Rediscovering Tchaikovsky

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I love music, I always have. But for some reason in the last couple of years I haven’t really been listening to much of it. Perhaps it is because life gets so busy and noisy at times that when the house is quiet I can’t bear to contaminate the silence. Or perhaps it is because my poor old laptop a) didn’t have a CD drive and b) used to take so long to buffer music from any website that most pieces sounded like Schubert’s “Unfinished Symphony” or as though the conductor ran out of steam every 15 seconds. Anyway, a magical thing happened recently – my mom came out to visit us with the arrival of Baby Judah, and got so frustrated trying to contact folks back home with my old laptop (which incidentally didn’t have a working keyboard either) that they bestowed a new laptop on us as a present before she left. Pretty spectacular, huh?! Well, long story short, I can now listen to as much music as I like.

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So I swan around the kitchen to the sounds of Mendelssohn and Chopin, Tim Hughes, Bach and The Beach Boys…oh, and Tchaikovsky.

I discovered (via my husband, Simon) a website called Grooveshark that lets you listen to music for free online, which is tolerable if you ignore the annoying advertisements that stream across it. And it was in my search for a particular piece of music that I stumbled upon Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto. The famous one.

Somehow I had never put that wonderful theme, which I had heard before, together with Tchaikovsky. I am hopelessly ignorant when it comes to anything beyond the classical basics, or things that I used to play at school or university. So it has been absolutely amazing to discover that so many of the beautiful pieces of music that I like are by Tchaikovsky. And Grooveshark is kind enough to list hundreds and hundreds of his compositions! I feel like a child again, discovering a whole world of something fantastic, something magical.

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I can remember dancing around the lounge as a little girl to some of these tunes, and listening to them again now while I have Evie-pie dancing around my legs brings some of the happiest feelings I’ve known. Rediscovering Tchaikovsky has reminded me of the beauty of surrounding yourself with things that you truly love, the joy of learning, and the magic of discovering whole new worlds of creative experience.

As a special treat, here’s a link to Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No.1.  http://grooveshark.com/#!/s/Piano+Concerto+No+1+Tchaikovsky/3sfd04?src=5                I hope you enjoy it!