Monday, 29 August 2011

New Handbook of Pastoral Liturgy - 1

I'm unsure whether this book is on my reading list, but something has jumped out at me straight away:

Worship is to enable us to reach up to grasp the hand of heaven, to glimpse, albeit fleetingly, the life of heaven, to plug in, for a moment, to the worship of the angels and the praises of the saints. (Perham 2000: 4.)
As someone who gets more than a tad riled up by imperfect music, an uninspired sermon, the difficulty of engaging with the church community when caring for children's needs, liturgical change and so on, I need to remember this. Worship is more than the total of all the things you struggle with in a service. It's those true glimpses of God that are there - in the place, in the singing, in the intercessions; it's that engagement with the Holy Spirit, hugely powerful one week, quietly experienced the next. As Perham continues:

"Of course it will rarely be a vision of God in all his beauty, and nearly always grasping the heel is the nearest we shall get. But we must not settle for less than a yearning to be touched by the glory, and to sense the angels and the saints." (Perham 2000: 5.)

He also makes an illuminating point that clergy (and others) who are aware of the rules by which a service is put together, are much more likely than 'ordinary' members of the congregation to be annoyed by aspects that they do not like. Studying theology over the past two years has made the content, structure and aim of church services much more transparent to me. I'm not yet at the stage where I could either a) identify an ideal service I should like to worship at or b) identify an ideal service I should like to lead as a minister. But I do have preferences fed by study and experience that shift my focus from what is happening to what I would like to be happening. Learning that this has possibly caused me to be more picky and detract from my worship (and possibly my relationship with the Spirit) is a good thought for the week.


Perham, Michael. (2000) New Handbook of Pastoral Liturgy. London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge. (NB - the author is an Anglican Bishop in the UK and the liturgy he refers to is that of the Church of England.)

Ministry Training: The Getting my Head Round It Entry

OK, so I think I have my head round the (academic) year ahead.

I ordered some books, entered the dates of each session into my electronic calendar (Wednesday evenings and one ENTIRE Saturday, woo-hoo!) and read through the course folder again. It's not half as scary as the first peek at The Folder seemed. Obviously. (Once again, I praise God for enlightenment on this topic.)

I am also (as befits someone who is trying to balance mothering and ministry) mired in shopping for school shoes, ballet shoes, a fish tank, toddler pyjamas and bread for dinner. ThirdSister has her vaccinations tomorrow, we are cleaning the Pram Service toys on Wednesday, then it is new books & singing time at the Library on Thursday. Swimming lessons on Friday, picnic with friends on Saturday, church on Sunday. Then - back to school next week! (I'm trying to realise I don't need to be overwhelmed by these feelings of being overwhelmed. Prayer helps.)

Because it's been the summer holidays, I haven't been around the people I usually minister to - the mums in church and the playground, the people I work with. It has all been about the children, and then some. Making the transition from home life to school/work/study time has been huge this time around. I feel that over time, with practice, it will get easier, although I do want to keep that home/work boundary intact for now.

My husband usually works at home Monday evenings so I'm hoping to use this time to do some reading and journalling. Wednesday nights will be study nights. I'll also have singing practice some weeks, some months I will have a Baptism Preparation session to help with and there is always Pram Service planning and leading to do. (Somewhere I will fit in sewing on swimming badges, arranging babysitting, and a date night.)

I thrive on routine, though. And over the past week, although the summer holidays have definitely not been about routine, I have been able to slot little things back in. Reading St Augustine while the girls are settling at night. Praying (REALLY praying.) Actually reading those Bible verse emails rather than letting them just pile up in the folder.

And as it's Monday, I am going to open a book. I'm not sure whether it is going to be something from the actual course material, or something I ordered while I was ordering the course material from Amazon, but I am aiming to get further in it than I did with the last pastoral care book I opened (which I will return to soon.)

Snippets: The X Factor

I had one of those moments the other day, explaining to FirstSister why people competed on The X-Factor, where I felt my age. We still say 'record deal' don't we - well of course she doesn't know what a 'record' is. A CD, yes; a DVD definitely, a video sometimes. Vinyl, a record or even a cassette tape - these are things of my past, it seems. Things from the olden days :-)


The girls don't really get the whole judging thing, mind you. FirstSister's favourite from the first episode of the (UK) series was a fifty year old shaking her booty, badly, sounding like a Tina Turner impersonator. A BAD Tina Turner impersonator. (I'm being objective, here.) It's kind of nice my girls don't agree with the professional judges. They like brash, shiny and loud. The ones that move a lot. Although equally they don't get that a lot of the people auditioning are broken and need love, not to go and perform and be laughed at.


I recorded the first two episodes of X-Factor because I can enjoy sitting through people singing (sometimes badly) even though the whole concept irks me, and the kids have heard about it and showed an interest. But we were watching yesterday and first SecondSister brought her reading books to me on the sofa with only half an eye on the singing, and then FirstSister wandered off to write a journal entry about the life of the bean plant she has grown over the past couple of months. Again, this is kind of nice, that they would rather do their own thing than watch other people do theirs. (For now, at least.)

Sunday, 28 August 2011

Premier Inn - 7 Quick Takes

7 quick takes sm1 7 Quick Takes Friday (vol. 140)

Oh, my ears and whiskers, I'm late! Our family has been at Legoland UK - and while there, I wrote my 7 Quick Takes in my head - a pretty different type of Quick Takes, but it deserves to be written nonetheless.

In order to visit Legoland we stayed at a Premier Inn, a popular budget hotel chain in the UK. It has a purple and yellow colour scheme, which somehow works. I think. I used to stay in it for work, and have until recently stayed up to 5 to a room for family holidays. Our family is getting a bit too big and noisy to sustain this arrangement so here I have, in 7 Quick Takes, the Top 7 Premier Inn stays of my life!

1. Premier Inn, Norwich. I stayed here for work when I was doing very occasional freelance research when First and Second Sister were young. The girls were ill with a sickness bug while I was away, and I missed them so much I ended up paying for the entire meal of a family dining in the restaurant nearby to try and compensate. (It was the last time I worked away.)

2. Premier Inn, Dover. We drove down south to a very cold and windy Dover beach before catching the ferry boat to Calais, France and continuing the rest of the way to Disneyland, Paris. I love the sea. I remember pebbles on a cold beach. It was a wonderful holiday.

3. Premier Inn, Hull. I remember this as a very tall building with a lift, and we visited The Deep submarinum on an extremely rainy, and windy day. It was the first (and only!) time to date we took a taxi as a family , after a very tiring walking tour of the city. I used to work in Hull - lots of driving around with FirstSister in utero playing classical music on the stereo of my little Nissan Micra, interviewing children from deprived areas - but this was the first time I had stayed in a Premier Inn there.

4. Premier Inn, Manchester Airport. I remember running a really deep bath for the girls in the morning before breakfast! My husband was away at a conference so I madly took a very small First and Second Sister to visit a friend, meeting up for a meal and then retreating for an early night. The drive back through the Peak District was very windy - little SecondSister was literally almost blown off her feet when we stopped for a toilet break in Stockport. (I don't see this friend often enough these days; a lovely memory.)

5. Premier Inn, Boston (Lincolnshire). Not really much to say about this place other than that there is a play area outside the attached restaurant, which keeps the kids occupied while the car gets packed up. We've stayed here a couple of times and driven to the Lincolnshire coast for seaside holidays.

6. Premier Inn, Ipswich. I stayed here for a snowy week in January while working on an evaluation. Over the course of the week I realised that I was having a very strong nauseous reaction to the cleaning products used in the hotel. I had thought my period had arrived, but it had disappeared again. My husband and I had been getting used to the idea that we may never manage to get pregnant. Over the course of the week, I realised that I really should have had a proper period by now. After leaving the hotel, I purchased a couple of pregnancy tests. And sure enough, I was pregnant with FirstSister.

7. And so to our latest (and last for now) hotel, at Heathrow Airport, London. Soundproofed from aeroplanes, which we could see, large as life, outside. The children got balloons! Not far from Legoland. There was even a quiet booth where my husband could take his laptop in the evenings. (But I tell you what, dear reader -  it was the first time in a Premier Inn where I could not walk in, drop my bags and make a cup of tea - we arrived to a hotel room WITHOUT TEABAGS!)

Join Jen @ Conversion Diary for more Quick Takes every week.

Monday, 22 August 2011

Caring Pastorally

For those of you with an interest, my specialism as (I hope) a Recognised Lay Minister will be in Pastoral Care. I consider this specialism a crucial and integral part of both lay and ordained ministry, and there was absolutely no question that it was marked out for me on this journey. As members of my interview panel volunteered, there are some incumbents who would benefit from pastoral care training! 

For me, it is the next (small? huge?) step on a path that may lead to ordination; it is a desirable skill and vocation in its own right, as well as a necessity if I am ministering to a flock/hospital/prison/insert appropriate God-decreed situation. In the Church of England we use words like priest, deacon and vicar, but I love the term pastor as it's what a leader SHOULD be, tending to the broken lives of a congregation and community (oh, as well as helping them in their relationships with God and scripture, of course.)

Still, at this stage I remain a little sceptical about the intrinsic value of Christian pastoral care from a ministry perspective. Christian counselling? Surely that won't have a professional basis. People have to study for years to earn 'true' counselling qualifications. One of my friends sniffed at the idea that I would be taught how to counsel people, although the course is designed and written by a fantastic counsellor (who happens to be ordained.) And can/must we always bring God into it? Surely pastoral care is a gift which can't be taught; or is it something that everybody should be doing or is able to do? I have all these questions!

I was hoping some of them would be answered by doing a little preliminary reading, but starting this book has only confirmed my fears:
"professional help can never be a substitute for the healing and supportive relationships provided by friends, family and colleagues, nor for the pastoral care which should be an inherent part of the life of a Christian community." (Litchfield, K 2006: xi.)
Now, I am sure the minister writing the book is being careful to big up the existing support people have, but I wonder if she is doing professional, qualified counsellors down here. Because yes, although if you have all the beneficial professional counselling in the world, yet don't have pastoral community care and healthy relationships around you (outside of the counselling context), this doesn't mean you can necessarily function any better. BUT I know from a variety of personal experience that sometimes if you don't get professional help, and this can be counselling, medication, or a combination, you are going to break completely. No amount of religious comfort and community is necessarily going to help that. It reminds me of the people who think that you only need to pray right to get through depression, or think that feeling detached from God due to mental health problems is a sin. Sometimes professional help is the only thing that will get people through.

Still, that's only the foreword to the book which I haven't dipped into otherwise and has good reviews, so we shall see! And there's always that Course Folder to get down from the shelf and delve into, and a book list to order from Amazon. I just wonder where that amateur/professional boundary lies....and what are the real differences between Christian and secular counselling....and look forward to learning the answers to my questions as my course progresses.

Reference: Litchfield, K 2006 Tend My Flock: Sustaining Good Pastoral Care. Norwich, UK: Canterbury Press.

Sunday, 21 August 2011

Why do you persecute?

This post will probably be very naive, but the enormity of the persecution of those of Jewish faith is too much for me to comprehend at times. I'm not talking about Nazism or the contemporary Middle East either - these are incomprehensible situations, but I've learned enough to know and even understand a little about them. But I'm talking further back, to the Spanish Inquisition, and the pervading negative attitudes towards Jews in history.

I've grown up realising that Jews have had an extremely rough ride of it, from the early Hebrew slaves, through the Jews blamed for the crucifixion of Jesus, to their problems today. Now I'm sure Hitler was a very bad man (= understatement.) The Palestinian-Israeli conflict (a complicated situation I don't feel qualified to comment on) are usually presented as an Islam versus Judaism problem. But realising just quite how much hate, violence and fear has been doled out to people of Jewish in the name of  Christianity makes my blood run cold.

I can only ask - why? (Well, first of all I would ask the question why all this war and terrorism was ever done in the name of religion at all, but that's another - huge - topic.) Fanaticism and hysteria may be rolled out as an excuse but ultimately, whole empires (particularly British and Spanish, as I understand it) attempted to wipe out any other belief system than Christianity over sustained periods in history.

At first I thought it was perhaps a cultural thing - see how Dickens portrays the greedy, criminal Fagin in his novel Oliver Twist, for example, and how entire communities of Jews were distrusted (and displaced.) But ultimately, the stereotypes of Jews as bad, greedy, physically unattractive and not worthy of anything, could boil down to one thing - these people, like Muslims, 'merely' accept Jesus as a prophet rather than a Messiah; they don't believe what Christians believe. (Oh, apart from the Old Testament.) And, yes, that some people hold the Jewish race as responsible for the death of Jesus (although, wait a minute, wasn't that all pre-destined, anyway?).

But I hadn't realised that Jews hold Jesus responsible for the persecution of their faith, people and culture.

I was watching the fantastic celebrity genealogy show Who Do You Think You Are (which SecondSister's godfather writes music for, incidentally) and in a programme focusing on Jewish ancestors, learned that rather than sign their name with a cross if they were illiterate, Jews would draw a circle because the symbol of the cross represented so much devastation to them. We're talking about Jews no longer in Israel who were trying to find a home being constantly moved on, mistreated and expelled. In Jesus' name!!

I should add that I also struggle getting my head around Zionism and am obviously ignorant about so many of the issues which I am thinking about here. And I know that we don't have to revisit our troubled Christian past every day. But how do I accept, as a Christian, that we should cause harm to people because they don't believe what we do. If I have encountered Jesus, surely this should inspire me to Love those who haven't, rather than abuse them for it. And sadly, this is one of things that stops people being open to God.

Let's pray for a better future.

(Also - I went to this page on Wikipedia which gives some further information on Christianity and Anti-Semitism. It's a start, and any more comprehensive sources people can pass my way would help also.)

Where my readers come from!

Now then, it's very early days for this new blog of mine, and to honest I'm still amazed/excited/confounded when people stop by and maybe even linger or  (*gasp*) comment! Particularly as I am more doing this as a record for myself rather than trying to encourage blog traffic my way, and especially as I know I don't even have time to view all those pages I have lined up in my Google Reader. I am not therefore concerned with my blog stats that much, but when I do look and see I do get pleasantly surprised, particularly when I see that my audience this month included readers from:

United States

United Kingdom





As someone who deliberately chose to learn more about the world by studying people in different places and cultures, I like the idea that people overseas are stopping by. Sometimes we may feel that the only people who would understand our family situation are those in the virtual community rather than the neighbourhood where we live. As well as quiet time and childcare, I truly believe that mothers benefit from sharing experiences with other mothers, whether they live round the corner or across the globe. As long as we remain fully present in our families most of the time, the internet and the blogosphere can definitely be a blessing.

Friday, 19 August 2011

7 Quick Takes Volume 4

With thanks as ever to Jennifer Fulwiler at Conversion Diary for hosting.

7 quick takes sm1 7 Quick Takes Friday (vol. 139)


Well, FirstSister has identified the type of fish tank she wants (the Aquaone 620 - and we're talking aesthetic design choice, not sturdiness or capacity or size - the grown-ups are taking care of that.) Sadly the guy in the aquatic centre couldn't spare us a single moment of attention during our visit as he was serving another customer - FOREVER - so once the three children's interest in all the different kinds of fish and watching me discover exactly how wobble-proof the aquarium cabinets actually were had finally waned, we left. I really hope we can find somewhere to purchase from where a family wishing to invest in a whole tank-and-fish set up is paid a little more attention. Because FirstSister really doesn't suck her thumb to sleep anymore, and neither does she wail that she wants to suck her thumb, and it's only been a week, and she deserves those fish!


Jennifer Fulwiler, is that one oversized, enormous teddy bear, or are my encounters with scorpions influenced by giant-sized ones in computer games?! Either way, I am a) surprised how small the critter seemed to be, and b) thankful we don't have even small (killer, death-inducing) scorpions trying to invade our house in England.


It seems I have sprained my ankle just in time to hobble around the expanse that is Legoland UK. I was even thinking about taking the Sisters to see Kate's wedding dress at Buckingham Palace while we are down that way, as well. But doing anything is not a priority right now. Sitting, resting, elevated leg is my plan for the near future.


I am really pleased CNN have picked up the Lydia Schatz story. I simply cannot understand the Pearl method, or how people can actually inflict it on children, let alone justify it biblically. I am also thankful for bloggers like Permission to Live and Elizabeth Esther who DESPITE (and perhaps because of) the way they have been raised, they want to put things right, and publicise the tragedy of Lydia's death, and also publicise the tragedy that persons who purport to be Christians inflict child abuse in God's name, WHICH. MUST. STOP.


The girls and I watched Free Willy the other night. I thought it was a cute movie about an orca. I had no idea it was a story about an abandoned kid who was living on the streets and got placed with a foster family. The sisters were a bit fazed, but I think they enjoyed it! I cried....


Similarly, I am having difficulty reading aloud ThirdSister's bedtime story. Along with stuff like the Little House series, E B White, Enid Blyton and the Bible in various versions, we've been exposing her to some of Jacqueline Wilson's canon. Not the really serious stuff, but still stories with a good amount of realism including tales of children in foster homes or families experiencing debt. I think it's helping her understand how privileged she is, and she loves to read them. But the latest, Hetty Feather, is about a poor family in Victorian England to get paid to take in foundlings from the local orphanage, help them thrive, love them, and then GIVE THEM BACK TO THE ORPHANAGE BEFORE THEIR 6TH BIRTHDAY! Hearts break within the fictional family and within this house. Mainly mine. My husband has to read it while I cry. (Not that I would rule out fostering children, mind you...)


ThirdSister is saying MA-MA now! How excited am I?!

Have a good week, everyone (anyone?!) who reads.

The Folder. And the Unfolding.

My lay ministry course folder from the Diocese of Southwell arrived a short time ago, the same day as a book on Pastoral Care I had ordered from Amazon. I got that 'new school year' feeling immediately. A lovely shiny hardcover folder including some preliminary course material! A textbook! How over-exciting!

But I was just getting over a cold at this point in the school holidays, popped the things on a bookshelf, and turned my attention Rachel Balducci's book about raising boys (yes, I know I have three girls.) And there it has stayed. Yes, I've been busy with the children (dentist, playdate, swimming, shopping, playcentre, looking for a fish tank) and now I've sprained my ankle, making fetching and carrying anything tricky. But there was another, psychological reason the exciting material remained on the shelf.

I had idly flicked through the folder before consigning it to the shelf, and one thing instantly shot out at me (of course it did). It was amongst a list of questions we will be asked to consider during the course - and it wanted to know whether, when we listened to people to whom we are offering pastoral care in our church/community life, we can give them our full attention.

This came a few days after a Reader friend of mine expressed her delight that I could potentially be a licensed lay minister employed by the Church of England within twelve months - that I would be part of the staff team and able to attend  meetings and help with their work, perhaps visiting the young mums in the community in need, and any other needs that are identified.

And how I ran from this.

Because the short answer is, no, I NEVER give my full attention to ANYONE, because I am always ministering to three girls first and foremost, in church and in the community. Last time I spoke to someone about her elderly mother suffering from Alzheimer's, and was able to give some counsel and comfort (I hope), we were in the church car park, the baby was wriggling in her buggy and I had to hand the car keys to the girls to let themselves in because they were equally fidgety. (And rightly so. They are good to a point about my responsibility to others, but at the end of the day, they are children, with children's attention spans, and children's needs.) Even when I went to Church without ThirdSister, SecondSister was tired and shy and any interaction I possibly could have had with others wasn't possible that day; I certainly couldn't have gone and prayed with someone in the Chapel of Our Lady and left her there.

And this brings the conflict between mothering and ministry into sharp relief.

I have always said my first priority is to my family, but have over the years felt called by God to wider ministry. The past couple of years I have been putting in groundwork, studying theology, and fulfilling commitments with Pram Service and Baptism Preparation team. Being blessed with another baby threw things a little bit into a spin  but life -and study - went on. However, I don't have the childcare set up whereby I am ready to enter the workplace and counsel people in a formal way. I have felt excited that there are positions out there such as hospital-chaplain-who-also-helps-prepare-bodies-in-the-mortuary (yes, really), but I have a baby girl who just turned one and who I struggled to leave with grandparents even to get my Monday morning aquanatal workout in. (And who knows, we may not be done with the baby thing yet!)

So look at me, panicking away about the future. Look at me, whittling about what would happen in a year's time and what would be the expectations on me and how am I ever going to qualify and fit in parish work with being a stay at home mother and so on. So freaked out I just packed the study folder away on the shelf and filed away my anxiety in a little corner of my brain.

A few days later I warned my husband I had to talk to him about something to do with my career. (You know, the career I am going to have in official church ministry, rather than the career in academia I abandoned.) And put off the inevitable for a few days longer. Eventually I caved and spoke to him about my concerns. And do you know what this man, my supportive spouse in our Christian family who doesn't 'get' church but who gets me, do you know what he said? He said:

 "But you know, it will all be alright."

And in the utterance of those words, I know it would be alright. Not because he said so, but because we have been here before, about many things. And after going round the houses and worrying for a while, I always realise that - this is God's plan, so it must be alright, and He will equip me and my family with whatever we need to do whatever work He has in store for me, without them and their needs being neglected, if it is what He truly wants.

I remember a previous incumbent explaining to me that I needed to seek out one small part of God's plan for me at a time; it is impossible to see His bigger picture, but it is possible to see it unfold and realise that each babystep at a time is utterly possible, and can lead to a giant leap. I myself had previously visualised God's story for me appearing like words being written on an empty page ready to be filled, and it's true - there is no point reading the ending, or skipping a chapter, or even a few paragraphs, before one is ready to get there. There is a whole journey to go through first, and you get to the right bit at the right time, and IT IS ALRIGHT.  Of course I am not currently prepared for the next bit of the plan. Because I AM NOT THERE YET!

How blessed am I to have a husband who helped me shortcut back to the trust-in-God-it's-His-plan mentality. I did have to pray as well. And stop feeling sorry for myself. And realise that things are the right fit for ME at this time, and will be so in the future. I am sure I will go through a cycle like this again (and I am not discounting spiritual attack for increased occurences of distrust and self-doubt, because they usually occur the further I journey down my route to ministry.) But I will try and remember the solution!

The folder and books are still on the shelf. (Did I mention I'd sprained my ankle?) But I started thinking about things I AM able to do in my life as a mother, and asked about joining our church's Prayer Team (as one of its leaders said, "You can do that while pushing the baby in the buggy.") I also realised this week that I am now ready to approach our local hospitals to find out more about the chaplaincy team - after all, hospital chaplaincy takes place 24/7, and I do have some evening capacity. Sometimes when feeling we are blocked in, drowning in responsibility and confusion, it's because we need to learn to look at something in a different way. And to remind ourselves to remain patient.

So I am mentally preparing for the new academic year in September; but we are enjoying the last few weeks of school holidays now. There is a right time to grab my books and dig in; I may take little dips in with my toe, and get time to read an entire book before term starts, but I am not rushing the present, and certainly not the future. I get to watch ThirdSister grow, and sort out opticians' appointments and have girls' friends round to play. I suspect there will be subtle shifts in the way things are done around here in subsequent years (it honestly won't be that long before ThirdSister will have a pre-school place), but I don't need to think in terms of everything turned upside down quite yet. 

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

A Box of Books

ThirdSister gets Brown Bear, Brown Bear, for her recent first birthday

We missed going to the library this week, and I'm a bit lost. FirstSister still has a book she's in the middle of, but SecondSister (who is learning to read) is bored of what's in our library box - and besides, we're getting behind on the Summer Reading Circus Initiative we have here during the UK summer holidays. As a trained academic and a lover of fiction to boot, a lack of new books (different books; library books) is quite troubling to me, and I'm glad we have things around the house that are great for reading practice other than books because SecondSister is getting quite the thirst.

Granted, the two eldest sat in front of two (relatively short!) Barbie films this rest time (both about how not fitting in is okay, and you don't have to run with the crowd to be a fulfilled person, for the record) - how else would I have been able to rid the 79 layers of grime from the bath with the aid of my vinegar-water pump and tub of bicarbonate of soda (thanks, Kathleen Basi). But a couple of weeks ago we landed in a hotel where the restaurant didn't take dinner reservations. My husband patiently queued (with a beer) for over forty-five minutes while I unpacked a little and all three girls, including ThirdSister in her travel cot, entertained themselves with books. I am blessed.

So could I take a minute to moan about government funding cuts which mean that our library is closed today and every Wednesday? Today I had time to go (well, yesterday I had time, but I didn't want to venture out on 3 hours sleep, so sat and watched them perform shows instead.). But it's the wrong day. Okay, we practised reading (and telling the time) with this fantastic Orchard Toys game. But no new books are in the box. And, with the opticians and visits from friends, no opportunity for the rest of the week. Maybe we'll have chance this weekend. Library closures, sheesh. No wonder so many teenagers are rioting....

Friday, 12 August 2011

7 Quick Takes Volume 3

7 quick takes sm1 7 Quick Takes Friday (vol. 138)


Finally, we are planning to get pet fish. A fish, or some fish? Freshwater fish, or tropical fish? I don't yet know. (Advice welcome.) Possibly in a stand-alone aquarium, as we don't seem to have shelf or surface space for a tank. I cannot believe the range of aquariums (aquaria??) out there. And this is even before we get to the fish itself, or themselves. But, prepping the aquarium is the first thing, as I understand it. (And my first priority is ensuring it is toddler-proof, believe me!)


The girls have been promised pet fish for what seems like forever. (My husband's allergy to short haired furry pets has proved a convenient deterrent to bringing in other kinds to pets, but I've always been enthusiastic to have some fish in the house).  I think we originally said last Christmas, but that was when I had morning-noon-and-night-sickness...then maybe Easter.....and look where we are, summer! We were almost jettisoned into the decision by FirstSister's attempt to give up sucking her thumb to get to sleep. She has been waiting for a fish for a long time. Both of her best friends have them. So, it seemed like a good idea to reward her efforts for going cold turkey after 6 years of self-soothing to sleep.


We have as a family tried to discourage the thumb sucking for a couple of years now - we had managed to persuade FirstSister to cut it right back, so she was only sucking to sleep. But after thinking about my child and doing some internet research, the only one who I figured would get through to her was the actual dentist. And the dentist did speak to FirstSister directly about it, but only after I refused to be the person responsible for insisting it stopped (and/or painting the thumb with yucky stuff.) The dentist wasn't happy. "I know you have your hands full" (indicates my three children) "but you are the parent, and sometimes parents have to guide their children," she chastised me. In front of my brood. Yeah, thanks for that. I also happen to know the best way to get through to the eldest, and that's often by having an authority figure explain things so that by sheer force of will, based on her own decision, she will take responsibility for her own actions, and act accordingly.


And what is that "having your hands full" malarkey about anyway?!! The dentist and the mother of SecondSister's friend both spoke those words to me on two consecutive days (and not because of any witnessed bad behaviour or other challenges - just, I think, because I have three children including a new toddler.) Now I'll be the first to admit I do have my hands full raising three spirited girls, but a) that's my choice (ahem, I mean God's plan), b) if my hands weren't full, I'd be depressed because they were empty and c) aren't everyone's hands full, in some way, these days?! Thankfully, I came across this piece of writing which now gives me the response I need to give to people: MY HANDS ARE FULL OF GOOD THINGS!!! HALLELUJAH!!!!


While I'm referring to other bloggers, I must thank the wise Betty Beguiles whose personal shopper postings have given my wardrobe a new lease of life. As I'm UK-based, I haven't used Betty personally, but her words of advice about clothing and sample pictures of outfits she has put together for other people have inspired me to get my wardrobe equipped with all the basics, and try something new....


....and I shopped at People Tree, which happened to be having a sale, so my new clothes are all fairly traded! Normally I find the costs of buying Fair Trade clothing prohibitive, which is ironic given that cheaper clothing is usually only lower priced because it's unfairly traded. But I found some nice pieces, both for this season and next, which were affordable, stylish and a little bit different. Thanks to Kristen at We Are That Family whose post reminded me about the true cost of clothing. I find it easy to spend a little extra on tea, coffee, rice and bananas, but with clothes, I try to cut costs. Must. Try. Harder.


In case anyone was wondering whether I am living in a little bubble (fish? fashion?), yes, there have been riots in our country (in our city, in fact), and it's unsettling and devastating. Whether they are a response to racial tensions; economic downturn; corrupt politicians; the prominence of wealthy celebrities and footballers; a consumerist society; an increasingly secular society; or a combination of all these things, the jury is still out. But my soul was relieved this week to learn about the Riot Wombles, who came out equipped with their brooms to clean up the physical mess, at least. 

See more Quick Takes hosted by Jennifer Fulwiler here. For some reason my comment wouldn't post on there last week but I think we should - especially me!) heed what I wanted to post - we don't need to be on top of things, sometimes we just need to be - be present for our children, our spouses, our God and our selves, without striving for the control and order over our situation which may prove elusive for a time yet. Have a good week all.....

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

A visit with the Methodists

First of all, I should say that I don't really feel qualified to say I partook in a Methodist service this week. I did not attend the Chapel service - instead, my children and I went to the concurrent Hall service where I spent most of the morning chasing after my 1 year old, and FirstSister and SecondSister took part in activities. There was no scripture, not really, and as it's the holidays and everything is a little different, there was no music. I'm not sure whether Holy Communion took place in the Chapel, but there was none in the Hall.

That probably won't sound like a service to many of you, and it doesn't really to me, but you know what? That didn't really matter. It gave me enough of a feel for the place and the people. The theme was prayer and numerous prayer stations around the room gave any adult or child enough to work with. Two good and holy people I knew were on hand to pray with anyone who wished. Plus there was a separate activity for the kids, who got a lot from it. Also, EVERYONE was given a piece of clay to mould (OK, I lied, there was scripture - the potter & the clay reference that has been chasing me round this past month.) And, did I mention, there was a whole range of ages at this service? Not just, the older folk are at Chapel and the kids and parents are in Hall. People were mixed up. I commented on this, and realised that some weeks the older folks do go to Chapel, but some weeks they like to go to Hall. There's a choice of how to worship, that doesn't perpetuate such a kids/adults divide as we currently have at our home church.

So really, given that it wasn't even a typical Hall service, I don't think I'm qualified to comment. But I can say that people were friendly (but not scarily so), and I knew lots of people there, but the ones I didn't were welcoming too (but not scarily so.) Oh, and the big girls loved it and want to go again (and this was a service without cake...!)

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Comparing, comparing

Some of my thankful Quick Takes this week demolished within a matter of days - I cried Friday night because I wasn't pregnant, and right now I feel like a bit of a prisoner within the family, and also excluded from attending events like New Wine because of our family situation. It doesn't help that I've been stricken with a cold virus which has made me weak and wobbly, and really able to only sit or lie and think depressive thoughts, it seems. I've been trying to pray, but it's mainly a 'Help Me, Lord', which seems a bit indulgent when so many are dying in Somalia and certain unsatisfied elements of British society are burning down parts of the country.

I know what I'm doing of course. I'm COMPARING. I've done this all my life, and I'm generally happier when I don't. It's not that I want what others have, really - I just want to moan about the fact I can't have what they have. I wouldn't leave my family to go to a worship conference. And my first ministry is to my family. Yet, it's been a difficult week and a hugely difficult day today hearing from someone how wonderful it was, and how it encouraged their moving into an area I too feel called too.

So, God's grace, get this chip off my shoulder and let me appreciate what's mine!

I am ME, God's unique creation, and he has given me many wonderful gifts and experiences so far, including a third baby who makes the word joy echo around this house. I can't be expected to appreciate them 100% - but I can look at what they allow me to do, rather than what they prevent. They educate me, make me laugh, draw me out of myself. They show me God on a regular basis. ('Fanc you for You' wrote SecondSister at a prayer station at the Methodist Church on Sunday.) They are exactly the right provision for me at this stage on my spiritual journey, because God has planned it that way. I learn from them in different ways than a Worship Conference, but I am still learning.

So help me be happy for others who have tasted the new wine this week, who truly needed that injection of spirit-led worship and time with others. I'm blessed that the Spirit visits me in other ways, and how my family nurtures me. If I am ever obligation-free and able to take myself off for days at a time without being missed or needed, I know I'll be wistful for the times when I was surrounded by questions and sisterly love and fighting. I think Ann Voskamp's 1000 Gifts has to be helpful here. I need to be thankful for what I am given at this time, in God's time, for they are the things I need; I need to be wary of asking for what I want, especially if what I want are someone else's special gifts. Teach me, O Lord, not to resent or envy, but to accept, and honour, the gifts you make available to only me.

Girl kisses because I feel unwell
FirstSister taking care of SecondSister with tenderness
A room scattered with books and musical instruments
Times of peace and quiet
Friends who care
Times of wellness and whirlwindness
Group singing
A surplus of fruit and vegetables
A Family


Friday, 5 August 2011

7 Quick Takes Volume 2


My baby turned one yesterday (a little more on that later) but the most profound thing of yesterday was an unexpected visit from a 9 year old Belarus girl who has been staying with Rebecca's godmother for two weeks. The stay has been challenging for them all, and I could not begin to comprehend how huge it is for a child that young, who speaks very little English, to be here without her family, in an alien environment, amongst people chattering on around her. She did smile at my few words of (very poor) Russian, but ultimately struggled acclimatising even to the play with dolls, dominoes and colouring pens that was going on at ours. I know that my 40 year old Japanese friend struggles to adjust when she visits England every summer, and her English is great! Ultimately, the provision of summer holidays for children from disadvantaged and contaminated areas of Belarus still suffering post-Chernobyl is a wonderful idea, and I am assured that when reunited with her friends for days out the little girl chatters incessantly. It also reminded me that as well as the very real and immediate problems in East Africa, that there are areas of the world whose post-disaster environment still requires attention, funding, and care.


Similarly, over at Elizabeth Esther's blog are frequent reminders that in every pocket of every land, there is poverty, addiction, violence and pain that we may not know about, or may turn away from. I can comprehend that the visceral, up close suffering that Elizabeth is experiencing wants her to mobilise everyone to help in this specific situation in Bolivia, and get frustrated that contributions aren't coming. Most of us don't feel able to give to everything that calls out for help; we know we can't fix the bigger picture, and experience helplessness in the face of something that hasn't touched us personally. But I think this is why God calls people like Elizabeth to act as mouthpieces for the disenfranchised - so they can move us, and get us to ask ourselves, "Can we find it in our family to sponsor (another) child?". What's the true cost of providing hope?


On a lighter note (because we need lighter moments to navigate us through this broken world!), one of my favourite bloggers, Permission to Live, alerted me to something new, and I was entertained by the Top 8 Crappy Laws of Parenting today. Somehow they really resonated with me!


Yesterday was a wonderful parenting day however - ThirdSister, my littlest girl, the delightful Rebecca Mary (who is already toddling) turned ONE YEAR OLD! I think the best part of the day is that it drew expected and not so expected visitors - we had the opportunity to see all four grandparents together, feed them cake and let them enjoy the girls. One of FirstSister's godparents also dropped in with her 7 month old and it was an amiable atmosphere. Nothing big or showy but a lovely celebration of a first year.


I also discovered a quick and easy way to get some digital photos printed out by Truprint (UK) so I can put them in a photo album Rebecca received as a baptism gift (and she has her first year documented in the same way First- and SecondSister do!). Such an easy way to do things - no added costs such as VAT to surprise me at the checkout, and I could easily pay by Paypal. The prints have been dispatched, so if they are as good as the service, I would recommend them!


As a holiday update, over the past week we have been: handwriting; reading; visiting the library; been to one of favourite haunts, Newstead Abbey, with our cousins for a picnic; seen Cars 2 with the prize tickets my sister-in-law gave to us as she is in Spain; had a pyjama day; learned about Ramadan; and seen an exhibition and an animated film by children at one of our favourite galleries.


Finally, I don't know quite what to expect, as an Anglo-Catholic, from our first visit to a Methodist church on Sunday. Learning about other denominations is part of our family's Christian education every summer (we visited a local Baptist church last year) and yes, I am hoping to go to Mass as part of this very soon. Some of my best friends are Methodists, we attend a Carer and Toddler group there, and our singing group performed a concert for Christian Aid at the church in May. I have loved learning about the Methodist traditions as part of my ministry training. They are amazing at outreach work - many of their summer services involve work and worship at their Tramstop Garden, a community enterprise, but we are attending a more traditional service this time. So I look forward to taking the children to see their friends' church, and learn more about what goes on there (after I've been to our Anglican 8am spoken Eucharist service) - I'm excited but a little apprehensive as it's a new thing - and something I'm sure I'll blog about.

Have a good week, everyone! Thanks as always to Jennifer at Conversion Diary for hosting.

Tuesday, 2 August 2011


The kids are off school, and it's hot. The entire month of August holds a promises of parks, visits to an art gallery, theme parks and the city of London; of calming the pace so we aren't rushing to dance lessons or hastening out of the house for school; of eating together at lunchtime instead of me hurriedly packing lunchboxes and filling water bottles before we leave in the morning. At the moment I am embracing the rest - in fact today, the girls are having an entire day free from scheduled jobs and activities, and staying in their pyjamas for as long as they want (I'm already dressed and showered of course; I won't stay in pyjamas for long, especially when it's hot!).

Although we regularly attend our home Church during termtime, and at Christmas and Easter, the summer holidays also allow us to go church-hopping; as long as I fit in Holy Communion, it gives us a bit of leeway to try something different, or watch VeggieTales - face it there is no shortage of religious education in this house! Next weekend we are visiting some friends at our local Methodist church, and then later on in the month there is the opportunity for sung Eucharist or Evensong at the oldest church in our city. That's my/our Christian education for the holidays!

But we are also re-learning about Islam, another of the Abrahamic religions, because the entire month of August is the holy month of Ramadam for Muslims, prior to the celebration of Eid-Al-Fitr. It's probably doing Ramadam (and Christianity) a disservice, but I have compared Ramadan/Eid to Lent/Easter or Advent/Christmas to simplify things for the girls, who do learn about other faiths at their Church of England school, but don't come into direct contact with other Muslims. The period of self-denial, giving something up, trying to get closer to God and thinking more about giving to others is something that they can identify with, even if their education is currently through children's books.

Although Christians usually respect the Jewish faith (and certainly the Torah) despite their refusal to recognise Jesus as Messiah, skewed interpretations of Islam, particularly through the perpretation of terrorism in recent years, have caused us to be fearful of those who speak of Allah, and wary of their traditions. Yet, it was a friend's devotion to Islam, and her devoutness in following cultural and religious rules coupled with an intellect and a desire to embrace aspects of the Western world, that helped further my realisation of opening up to believe in God. The friendship of Muslim girls from Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Lebanon, who were prepared to take me on my own terms and accept me, British and godless, as a person, still resonates with me. So, along with learning about different aspects of Christianity, this summer we are reminding ourselves that Muslim children will be fasting; we will be teaching ourselves about Islamic countries and their traditional foods, and recognising the importance of Ramadan to others, as well as worshipping Jesus Christ ourselves.

Monday, 1 August 2011

Bread of Life

OK, so it struck me that many recent Gospel readings in the Lectionary have been about food, one way or another - seeds growing, plants being sorted, Jesus feeding the five thousand. It may be coincidence, but this sits uncomfortably with me in the light of the East African crisis. In the parables that we have heard recently from the book of Matthew, it's clear that harvesting sustenance from land and sea were resonant metaphors for peoples of the New Testament. Two thousand years ago, people often lived hand to mouth, relying on the vagaries of climate to provide them with nourishment. Many of us in the Western world rarely think about food production. The importance of bread as a physical source of fulfilment, of course, still resonates through the Eucharistic expression of spiritual nourishment by Christ himself as he taught His disciples, to take and eat - "this is my body." Praying "Give us this day our daily bread" refers to asking and thanking God for both physical and spiritual fulfilment.

The emphasis on this metaphorical depiction of Jesus as the bread of life, and our disconnection from our food sources, may have also lead us to neglect the Old Testament histories that tell of peoples who were starving, searching for a fertile area in which to settle. Yet, it's important for us to underpin the spiritual dimensions of the Eucharist with the real physical hunger of the wandering Hebrews, for whom God provided manna to sustain their bodies as well as their souls. Revisiting the story of Jacob's family in Genesis reminds us that Jpseph was God's instrument in alleviating the problems caused by famine at that time. Then, as now, being unable to access food and clean water was a matter of life or death. People trusted in God to provide.

It is this sort of faith in God controlling the elements, of choosing to bless (or punish) with the provision or lack of sustenance, that some people (including some Christians) associate with Christianity. Do good deeds, and you will be fed. Trust in Him, and you will be safe from drought and famine. Similarly, many wonder where God is in a time of crisis. If so many are dying, where is He in this? Many of those who are starving will also be praying. Does the persistent failure of crops and added complications including civil war in a region mean that God has abandoned it and its people, as the Hebrews wrote in the Old Testament books of Kings?

But reading this through a New Testament lens, things are absolutely clear - God IS here, He IS doing something about the crisis, because He is working through humanity -  we are doing His work, here on earth. When people fail to donate to famine relief, are unable to see what a difference even a small amount can make or think that it is up to someone else (God or otherwise) to sort out these problems, they need to think again. Jesus, as God in human form, showed us how it is possible to help others in the world simply by loving and taking care of one another. Whether in the form of a divine miracle, such as feeding the five thousand, or a small act of kindness, such as giving what we can to charity, it can still be enough. View every meal we eat as a gift from God. And pass it on. BE God's instrument in this.

After attending two church services yesterday which referenced the loaves & fishes, Exodus & other lines about to the bread of life/heaven, and partaking in the Eucharist, I felt powerless myself. Other than throwing money at (another) seemingly insurmountable East African crisis, I felt there was little else I am unable to do, which frustrated and saddened me. PRAY, said a friend, which is one answer. But I think another answer is - we need to get past frustrated. We need to get past our feelings that things like this keep happening, and that we can't fix them We just need to PERSIST. We need to persist in promoting taking care of one another as a familial, local and global responsibility. We need to recognise that we can't do it all, but that all of us can do something. We need to self-educate, and hope, and pray, and continue to hope. And we need to ACT.

I'm not saying that God has passed the buck and that He isn't hard at work in East Africa right now. Nor am I suggesting that Western politicians or charities have it sussed and that their attitudes and policies towards dealing with persistent famine always work - they don't, and there needs to be more research, and more long-term investment, and yes, possibly these areas where people and their ancestors have lived for thousands of years may not be viable places to live. But the fact is, people are living - many barely living - in harsh conditions and they need help. And we CAN do something to help them.