Monday, 30 May 2011

Lord of the Dance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, 20 May 2011

3 Small Successes Vol 7*

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Where we're at - all over the place!

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

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

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

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

Saturday, 7 May 2011

7 Quick Takes: The Birthday Edition*


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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

Friday, 6 May 2011

The Fleur-de-Lys

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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