Sunday, 24 April 2011

He is wonderful!

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

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

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

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Giving thanks

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

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

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

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

And nappies. (Who needs wipes, huh?)

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

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

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

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

Who have an aptitude for helping sick and injured children.

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


Tuesday, 19 April 2011

A slow Lenten realisation...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Sing, Sing a Song!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Wordless Wednesday: Excerpts from a Baptism

Leaving for the Church


Some people in this picture are smiling!

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

Thursday, 7 April 2011

3 Small Successes Vol 6*


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

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

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

What a week :-)

*hosted by Danielle Bean at Faith and Family Live

Lent update: hopefulness!

I'm having an interesting Lent...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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