Love Finds Me: A Short Story

At the beginning of 2017 I was nearing burnout: fatigued, tired and stressed. Simon and I were supposed to be going away for a leaders’ conference hosted by our church network over days, and two lovely friends, Kate and Jess, were going to be watching the kids. We were excited to be going away together. The location was in Whistler, near Vancouver BC, which is supposed to be one of the most beautiful areas in the Pacific Northwest. Also, we were going to be travelling with some of our very good friends, as well as having an opportunity to touch bases with other quality leaders in our movement. So it was going to be good, I knew. However, I was also slightly dreading the major social exertion that these conferences entail: usually lots of networking, lectures, discussions, and of course, plenty of meals with conversation around the table.

The only problem was, that Whistler was in Canada, and I was still waiting for my green card. And, without a green card, it was impossible to travel across the border and be allowed back in. We had already discovered this, painfully, after my trip to South Africa the previous summer, where I had a nearly disastrous encounter with the border officials.

It had been a long, arduous process, but my green card had finally been approved. It had been weeks since my final interview, and still we were waiting for the official document in the post. We had had to confirm our hotel room in Whistler about three weeks ahead of time, so in faith we did, trusting that the Visa would come with time to spare. Weeks went by, with nothing in the mail. Eventually we had just a few days to go before the trip. Even down to the last morning, we still checked the mail, hoping against hope that I would be able to go with them.

I had arranged a very comprehensive schedule for Kate and Jess, who were to be watching the kids. Playdates had been organised with friends for after school, dinners had been prepared in advance, ingredients for school lunches were in a special tub in the fridge, and extensive lists and directions for what they would need each day had been written.

I sat on the bed with a heavy heart, watching Simon pack. Kate and Jess arrived, and we stood in the kitchen, mulling over the situation. They looked at each other, and then looked at me, and one of them (I can’t remember which) said, “Well, you should go away too, by yourself somewhere.” The other chimed in, “Yes, please! We’ve been planning to watch the kids, it makes no difference to us.” I thought it over, and nodded slowly, “Yes, I suppose. I don’t think we can afford for me to stay in a hotel somewhere, but I suppose I could go camping.”

Tentatively, the idea grew. Being out in nature by myself sounded wonderfully appealing. I felt a small flicker of relief; although I was very tired, and fighting a cold, and camping could be a lot of work, I would not have to gear myself up to be conversationally engaged for the next 72 hours, nor would I have to be stuck at home struggling with the kids by myself.

By the time our ride arrived, I had made up my mind. I was sad to say goodbye to Simon, but the thought of being able to go on an adventure for a few days kept my spirits from falling too low. It felt too good to be true, and I kept asking Kate and Jess if they were SURE they didn’t mind. They assured me, so I started to pack, throwing things quickly into a box in the back of the car, and filling a small backpack with clothes and toiletries.

I looked on Google Maps for a campsite along the coast I had seen a few weeks previously while researching for our summer holidays, entered the coordinates and drove off.

Weaving along Highway 26 towards the Oregon Coast felt strangely familiar, as though I was weaving along the old coastal highway towards Kenton-on-Sea in the Eastern Cape, South Africa. Plenty of dairy and livestock farms. The only things missing here were the potholes and poverty. In Africa the countryside was dotted with makeshift shanty-towns, and the roadside full of makeshift enterprise: women selling pineapples, prickly-pear fruit in buckets, long bright pockets of oranges. Here there were only the occasional luxurious homestead tucked away, tidy little towns and rustic farm stalls. For a brief moment I felt homesick.

I passed Tillamook, a ghastly sprawl on an otherwise pretty plain, and entered the misty hills hugging the coast. The place I was heading for looked wild and untamed on the map: Cape Lookout. And it definitely felt remote and removed (thankfully) from the plains. The forestry left gaping holes in the thick wooded hills, but otherwise human signs were limited. After wandering along the little shoreline road for a few miles, passing lagoons and fisheries, I entered the Cape Lookout State Park. It was raining slightly, and I was anxious to see where I could set up shelter.

A U-shaped piece of land stretched out from the mountains in a long spit parallel to the coast, pointing towards the town of Netarts, creating a long lagoon called Netarts Bay. And right in the middle of the U, where it curved around to meet the hills, was the location of Camp Lookout.The campsite was nestled up against the sand dunes, in a little copse of trees.

I remember feeling slightly disoriented, getting out of the car. There were other campers around, a few vehicles dotted beneath the trees, but the foliage provided a lot of privacy and for all intents and purposes I was alone. I had no one else to think about, or talk to, no one to take to the bathroom and no one with whom to discuss where I should set up camp. It was just me. It was beautiful.

I had to set up my campsite in the rain, and although I was feeling slightly sick and extremely exhausted, the focus on the task helped to keep my body going. After all, this work was purely for my own comfort, not anybody else. Warming up my dinner on the little cookstove took a long time, and I sat in my camp chair, huddled under the tarp. I had no energy to think about anything, and although the weather looked miserable I felt fairly snug in my thick Karoo jacket sent from my parents that year. So I just sat and waited for my food, enjoying the stillness and the peace of not having to think or plan or anticipate.

After eating, and struggling and failing to get a campfire going, I finally got ready for bed. I crawled into the narrow, one-man tent and snuggled up with a book. Where I felt strange and alone out in the dark by the car, getting my backpack, I felt comforted inside the tent. Even though it was only a very thin piece of parachute cloth between me and the wild outside, it felt safe and warm. Before I could read even one page I fell fast asleep.

*       *       *

The next day I woke up to find a slow and steady drizzle moving over the sand dunes. I slowly made coffee under the shelter of the Toyota’s open trunk door, using hot water I had boiled the night before and put in a thermos. I ate some cereal and milk out of a square plastic tub, sitting on the carpeted interior of the trunk of the car, my legs dangling over the edge, looking out at the campsite road and the trees and hedges in view. I nodded to a few campers walking to get water from the faucet. They nodded back. It seemed they were like me, not needing to chat, just content in the early morning silence.

I breathed in the peacefulness, delighting in the simplicity of my hatchback breakfast. Life revolved around bare necessities – making food, eating it; cleaning the one dish, one cup and one utensil I had dirtied; getting teeth brushed and bare ablutions done; tidying up my small campsite. It was still gently raining, so I decided not to do any bible study just yet; I headed towards the beach to take a long walk.

Being so alone made my thoughts slow down; all I focused on was my slow and steady footsteps, the sounds of the waves hitting the sand, and the seagulls screeching overhead. The steady plod-plodding, and the constant surging of the waves back and forth were like a soothing rhythm. The very fact that it was by and large a very pointless activity; the only goal being to walk and breathe and look, I felt my body starting to relax. I was aware of my muscles and their lengthening and extending. The wind, blowing my hair. My eyes, crinkling against the rain.

The large cliffs of the Cape Lookout peninsular were faint through the mist ahead, and everywhere around me was just vast space and air. I passed a few brave surfers in their wetsuits. Here and there a dog ran, chasing the seagulls. The simplicity of just walking, walking and walking along that beach was like a great big gulp of air when you have been under water for too long. I felt like my mind was ringing in the silence. I realised now, when everything was so quiet, that I was feeling numb. Like exhaustion had crept into my bones.

Not a single thought ran through my mind, all through that long, long walk. All I can remember is being: being in the wind and the rain, and watching the sand steadily disappear beneath my feet.

It was only the next day, a good 24 hours of silence later, when all my ragged endings had started to weave themselves back together, that I heard God begin to speak.

It was not words or coherent thoughts at first, just impressions. The first was while I was sitting back at campsite, having just made a cup of tea. I was slumped in my camping chair, holding my thermos flask; too tired to actually do anything. Staring blankly into the dense foliage behind the firepit, I began to notice the leaves and flowers of all the unfamiliar bushes and plants. I was too tired to string coherent thoughts together, I was just looking. Which is quite unusual for me. Usually my thoughts run something like this: “That bush is so interesting, I wonder what it is called.” “Look at the funny stripes on those stalks, I’ve never seen those before.” “Those leaves are really beautiful. They remind me of the tree I saw when…” I was not thinking. I was just looking.

A little bird was flitting through the branches. Now looking at me with his head on one side, now hopping down to the ground to peck at something. Now back in the branches, now preening himself. I began to be aware of other movements in the bushes. A few larger birds in the bush over on the next campsite. A little spider climbing its way up a tree trunk. Ants moving across a twig. But I kept seeing the little bird.

It struck me how delicate and fragile it was; gently flitting through the branches. Tiny eyes, tiny feathers – a little marvel of art and engineering. I had quieted myself to where I think he began not to notice me. I shifted, and in a flash he was gone. I stayed as still as I could and he reappeared a few minutes later.

I did not know how to put words to what I was experiencing, but I think that the simple fact of just being…surrounded by life and activity that was gentle and methodic and free…was deeply healing to my burned out soul and body.

What it makes me think of now, is that verse in the bible where it talks about man being like wildflowers – one puff of wind and then they’re gone. All our striving, all our working, all our doing, does not affect these little creatures in the least. The little bird, the ants, the spider, did not need my presence at all. I was simply privileged to be a witness to their little quiet miracle of being.

As I felt the weight and burden of responsibility and the cares of life begin to lift, I heard God begin to speak. This time it was words. “I want you to write. And I want it to be a book about my love. My love finding you in all sorts of places and carrying you through all sorts of things.” I saw that everything we go through, is really not at all about us…It is about HIM. His faithfulness, His ability, His grace and His purpose.

So, I AM writing, as faithfully as I know how. But it is not the words on the page so much as the life that I am living: a life that I hope simply demonstrates what it looks like to receive from and flourish under His “Never Stopping, Never Giving Up, Unbreaking,  Always and Forever Love.” I will never forget that long, lonely walk on the beach, or the vision I saw as I watched the birds flitting against the background of ocean mist.

His love will find us and sustain us wherever we are.

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Love Never Fails

If there is one thing I will have put on my gravestone it will be this: God is faithful. He is faithful in the seasons of struggle, seasons of doubt and anxiety, and the seasons of weakness. I cannot express how grateful I am for the strong anchor that His love and grace provide for me.

     On mornings where my anxiety and emotions are running high, and I feel overwhelmed and burdened by my own weakness, I turn to the favorite, well-worn passages of his steadfast promises to me. I read, and the words settle in my gut, warm and steady. I feel my frayed soul begin to ravel itself again. Thankfully, this story is not about me; it does not rise and fall on my strength and abilities.

    I am continually blown away by how patiently and gracefully God teaches me, leads and guides me. It would seem my natural bent is to self-destruct. Years of muddling through a broken and insecure world as a child prepare me to be a broken and insecure adult. And I had a better childhood than most, I am sure. I did not know homelessness. I did not know hunger. I did not know abandonment by a parent. I was well-taught and had many opportunities afforded to me.

     And yet, and yet…. My heart has been deeply broken on many occasions. By friends, parents, teachers, systems, institutions. Long car journeys taking me away from home; long nights feeling lonely; long bewildering days at school. I am not special. My brokenness is no more than yours. This is the human condition. We are born into a broken world; the pain of our parents and communities becomes our own. We pass the pain on to our own children who in turn will pass it on to theirs. 

    The hope I find is this: Jesus enters into our brokenness. He knew what it was to experience betrayal and insecurity. Homelessness, hunger, pain. And by some miracle, he drew down from God the unshakeable faith and strength he needed to finish what was started. This shows me the way: I must also draw down unshakeable faith and strength. The same promises that held true for Jesus hold true for me. I am loved. I am part of something incredibly beautiful; the story of a world made for love and needing to be rescued. And I am never alone.

    So I will pick myself up again, on mornings where everything seems black and grey and all I see is the pain. I will bask in the knowledge that I am loved, deeply, profoundly, truthfully, faithfully. Love finds me right here. And that love will never let me down.

Worship and praise

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

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.

London Bridge

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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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.

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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.

 

Of Sunflowers and Yorkshire Tea…. “Now is Good”

This blog is an attempt to win back a few moments from each frantic 24 hours that seems to whizz by….Primarily it is to savour, reflect and enjoy the fleeting moments of beauty that are sprinkled throughout the day. Too often they get lost in the whirlwind of chores, cooking, cleaning, budgets, admin, wiping noses and bottoms and all that goes into keeping everything ticking over in a family of five. I tend to count it a good day if we’ve gotten to the end of it and everyone is fed, dressed, generally happy and more importantly, still in one piece! Secondly, this blog is so that I can share our lives more freely and openly with friends and family, most importantly, the kids’ grandparents, who live so far away – so often I feel lost without having these kindred spirits to look in on our little world. And thirdly this is an opportunity to claw back some creative time as I dedicate a little sliver of my week to writing.

Of sunflowers…I love them! Of all the flowers they seem most vibrant and full of life. They are so unashamedly big, bold and bright, almost as though they revel in the fact that they are ALIVE. Sunflowers are also a symbol of beauty that only lasts for a short while – there are three sunflowers outside my kitchen window that remind me of this. A lot of work went into planting the seeds, watering the seedlings for weeks and weeks, tying up the stems and protecting them from slugs and snails. I had almost given up hope that these big stems would produce anything when finally some glorious burnt-orange heads started appearing. Big, vibrant splashes of colour that I could admire through the window whenever I chose.

But, it was a whole spring and summer’s work to enjoy these three big blooms, and now, just a few weeks later, they are sadly wilting – it seems quite disproportionate. I think raising kids can sometimes feel a bit like that…a whole lot of work for perhaps just a few, fleeting, glorious moments. But those moments are so precious and meaningful that you have to catch them and savour them and be present in that moment for all its worth. Like Evie’s cuddles at church on Sunday – I could so easily have missed it because I was tired and grouchy. Or catching a glimpse of Isaac playing so happily in his school playground as I was walking Evie to her music class. The sun shines so brightly in those moments.

Another thing that helps me to enjoy the NOW (and keeps me sane) is a good strong cuppa of Yorkshire Tea. Preferably in my strawberry mug. With plenty of milk and a guilty sprinkle of sugar. Ahhh…. Speaking of which, I should probably pause to make myself one right now **. The thing with tea is, you have to drink it NOW – it is unacceptable and, frankly, just plain disappointing if you warm it up later. Drinking tea is a ritual, an opportunity to relax for a second, regain your strength (and sense of humour). A great reminder to pause and gain perspective. Even if just for a second, taking some sips while gazing out the window (look at those gorgeous sunflowers!) or, a real treat, sitting down on the couch with my bible or a magazine for a quick read. It is such a simple pleasure, and cannot be underestimated in the daily battle for joy and sanity in life’s challenges. 

I love, really love, the life that I am leading at the moment. I consider myself most blessed to have three such wonderful children, and a supportive and encouraging husband (who has one of the world’s hardest jobs I think). It is somewhat of a roller-coaster ride… a roller-coaster with a few wheels missing and quite a bit of track – most days I am so tired I can hardly see straight and just getting everyone out the door in the morning feels like a major victory. BUT, I am learning to appreciate every moment, every bright, sunny, good moment, and taking lots of mental sips along the way of that piece of wisdom which really keeps me strong: “This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.” Sunflowers and Yorkshire Tea remind me that now is good.

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