Thursday, 29 September 2011

In which God reminds me to be humble!

It's a funny thing, this ministry lark. It requires to be taken very seriously, with years of academic and theology study, practical experience, and a deep understanding of God and how to lead others to Him. It's simultaneously a blessing and a burden - it's a calling from God, yet can require almost as much dying to self as parenthood does. God has gifted me with innate talents, which He, humans and learning can help draw out and mould me into someone worthy to do His work on this earth. I am simultaneously part of the church body, with my gifts no different from anyone else, yet set apart in a hierarchy of holiness established by church elders, who discern, with God's help, who will be chosen to undergo ministry training and be awarded the certificate, the pin, the robe, the privilege. I lurch from feeling overawed that God has blessed me in this way, ready to fall down on my knees, to realising that, oh my word, I really do know more than I knew this time last week due to the hard work I have put in on my learning and spiritual journey.

I emerged from an encounter with our new curate relatively unscathed, amused, and reminded that I need to seek humility on this journey at all times. I had returned some books to the vestry; I had borrowed them from two of our qualified lay ministers during the course I have just finished. Our curate examined one of them, whichhe did not recognise, and asked about it. Myself and a colleague discussed it with him, explaining its themes and usefulness. Although he has seen me leading the Pram Service, I'm not sure the curate knows about my/God's plans for my widening ministry (why would he?), so when he asked permission to pose a question, I assumed it would be about my status and role in church, what was around the corner, or something equally important in the spiritual scheme of things.

And this good man, whose sermon that night was amusing AND inspired, turned round to me and said to me in his still-Russian way:

Would you mind telling me what is it, the perfume you are wearing?

Now, don't worry, I know the man's wife and he knows I'm married with 3 kids, it wasn't that kind of question! But it was a gentle reminder - that when my mind is on the Big Things, or what I think are the big things, in life, someone else is seeing the superficial. 

And that's okay. Because I don't need to have ego or status to be doing God's work in the world; I just need to be doing it.

Friday, 23 September 2011

7 Quick Takes Volume 7

7 quick takes sm1 7 Quick Takes Friday (vol. 144)


Last Sunday after I'd taken the girls to church my brother in law came over with my nephew, and the family had fun on the trampoline and then we went to the park. Turns out my sister in law (who is pregnant with her second baby) was on a spa day. A spa day! I think I've forgotten what one of those is. I did go on one when SecondSister was 6 months old, I seem to remember. (FIVE. YEARS. AGO.)


And funnily enough, Jen's Quick Takes reminded me that I harbour an inner me who may like to have a spa day and lie by the pool reading a book, rather than congregating in a family pool. Getting splashed. But when I described what you do on a spa day (have a little swim, eat a little food, get a pedicure, lie by the pool reading a book) my 7 year old got incredibly excited. Turns out it's her perfect idea of a day too. (She'd probably also enjoy all that talk about exfoliating when she had her facial or discussing favourite pop music with the manicurist.)


Second best to a spa day, though, is singing, and I was privileged enough not only to begin learning And the Glory of the Lord from Handel's Messiah, but to start practising Christmas carols! Yes, there is plenty of time until our group's concert at my home church, but we needed to check how well we can do them - and we are already sounding great! So lovely to think ahead a little to celebrating the birth of Jesus (and, ahem, be picking up a few stocking stuffers here and there.) (I promise, come Advent, I will go quiet on the subject; I will be waiting.)


I watched Downton Abbey this week. Maybe Anglophiles are what it's made for, but I just didn't get it. There were high production values, but it seemed like every other UK period drama I have seen before. Certainly no Brideshead Revisited. But I have set our machine up to record it every week. So wait until I have watched a few more episodes before I am addicted to a show I am underwhelmed by at first (just like with Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Mentalist and, oh, every show I've ever watched.)


My course started this week. It was hugely positive. And hard work. As was the homework we got. Still, I love this early Autumn/beginning of the school year time. Even if I am still driving to pick up school shirts in a bigger size because FirstSister grew. Again.


Tonight is usually Date Night in our house. But, tonight, I had singing rehearsal and my husband is out participating beer and skittles with some of the men from our church. Luckily, I at least got a night of making packed lunches for school. And we have family movie night with a KFC scheduled for tomorrow, to look forward to :-)


Speaking of which...K.F.C.- what is it about you? (To be sung to the tune of NYC, from the musical Annie. Of course.) I don't think KFC takeaway went down well last time we had it in our house a few years back. The girls don't like baked beans or sweetcorn. Or coleslaw. I'm not that keen myself; I'm meant to avoid fatty foods because I'm prone to gallstones. But, I have this thing about getting a family bucket that contains a certain number of portions of fries and so on. (I remember being astounded I couldn't get fries there in the USA. Biscuits and gravy, but no fries!) And they have also spearheaded a donation to the United Nations' Food Fund. So it's off to KFC we'll go!

Have a good week everyone. Take an Autumnal walk over to Jen's original Quick Takes at Conversion Diary. 

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Stripping It Bare

It was the First Session of my ministry training last night. Eleven of us, called by God to learn more about how to understand, talk to, listen to and help others. It was obviously going to be intimidating getting to know one another, but thankfully, the course tutors had coupled our introductions with an exercise in listening and remembering, so icebreakers weren't that difficult. It was still a little anxiety-making, as well as exciting. But that wasn't what made it so exhausting.

Our first few sessions are to teach us how to not merely listen, but also hear - to practice paying full attention to what someone is saying, how they are saying it, what their body language says, discerning what is the most important thing they are trying to communicate. And so on. For this first session, we were asked to strip it bare - to participate in an enforced exercise where we ONLY listened - we were instructed not to interrupt, engage, interact or converse.

It's not too much to ask me to keep the empathetic looks and noises to a minimum - I consider those an extremely important part of listening to people and didn't cut them out entirely. But, this lesson was to teach us how difficult we may find it to stop jumping in with a response, an opinion, a criticism or a piece of advice. I had to bottle my thoughts up, put them to one side, and merely focus on what was being said. The artificiality of the situation brought home how natural it is for us to banter back and forth, and emphasise that we need to think about the way we respond to what others are telling us. I found this challenging, but recognise it as an important part of going back to basics, before we learn and practice the best ways to respond when people are telling us about their problems.

The worst bit about all this though - and the thing that exhausted me, and everyone else I think! - was that we were asked to RETAIN the information we were told, and repeat the details we remembered to others. It became a bit like Chinese whispers. Some people felt what they said was misrepresented. I had difficulty focusing on the key facts - like how many children someone had - when surrounded by lots of detail. Most of us felt that we were not remembering at all well. My memory fails me at the best of times, particularly, I think, since childbirth, and especially, like now, when I am experiencing pre-menstrual symptoms. It really felt as if I had a mental workout! Our course leaders reminded us that the memory is a muscle - well it looks like mine really needs whipping into shape, because as I progress along my training I will need to recall the important information AND the details. I won't be able to take notes during conversations like I did when I conducted interviews in my former life as a consultant. I will have to rely on my memory.

But, no one said this was going to be easy and I certainly feel that this course is challenging me in a good way. As we were reminded at the start, we are learning how to listen and talk more like Jesus' did; to follow his example in helping others. This is quite a road to follow, and not one that will be without struggles and failures along the way. But I feel now, more than ever, that I am going in the right direction at least, and I have the help of friends who have been praying for me and what looks to be a supportive and understanding group. 

One complaint, though - tea was served, but without biscuits! I will have to rectify this and go along with a large pack next week :-)

A Strange Interview!

We were reminded last night at my new course about the importance of confidentiality and anonymity, but I just remembered this little incident this morning and had to write about it - I'll try and be gentle!

I was staying in a county in the UK conducting interviews on behalf of a government evaluation (if that's not anonymous, I don't know what is - there were hundreds of these things going on during the last decade.) One of these sessions was a telephone interview with a woman who happened to be pregnant. It was a fairly long interview. She mentioned at one point about her need to pee frequently.

"Oh," I said. "If you want to take a break, we can finish this later."

"It's okay," she said. "I just went. I've been talking to you for the last ten minutes sitting on the toilet."
I'm still not sure what I found stranger. That she had taken a loo break while still conducting a telephone interview....or that she admitted the fact. (Or does everyone do this on the phone?!)

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Be swift to hear, slow to speak

Be swift to hear, slow to speak (James 1:19.)
My Listening Skills module begins tomorrow. I hope to learn a lot from it - mainly, I think, how to put the theory into practice! I have the potential to be a good listener, possibly counsellor. I possess empathy, intuition and understanding. People are comfortable opening up to me - about life, death, illness, children, infertility, miscarriage, pregnancy, sexuality, work problems, money problems, I suppose the list is never-ending! When I went for the Ministry selection process, I was taken aback when my interviewees emphasised that one of the most important things I can do as a confidant is to be myself - to use the raw skills God gave me, that people are already drawn to. I hope not to lose sight of these natural qualities as I begin my course of ten taught sessions, lots of reading, and some listening practice.

But I also need to put myself aside in certain - and perhaps all situations. Not the listener self, but the TALKER. Now, I could probably talk the hind leg of a mule. But a lot of it is truly meaningless chit-chat... not that I don't enjoy and engage in more profound discussions . But, as someone who was formerly shy and can be introverted, many of my responses to people who are either talking to me, or just being there, are often unnecessary words. Words to fill a silence, to ensure they know I understand, to try to give an example of something similar that I or someone I know has experienced, to be friendly, to be polite, to stop feeling nervous or anxious, to be liked.....and this is not the way things should be all the time, whether personally or professionally.

So I am looking forward to learning more about the rules - which, as I understand it, emphasise the being Swift to Hear part (as my book by Michael Jacobs begins) and teaches why it is important to be slow to speak. I have been trying to practice this for the past few years - putting my own agenda and interests aside, not referring to 'helpful' examples, ensuring there is plenty of silence for someone else's voice to fill, someone who is hurting and has something to SAY, rather than dribble my trite words into the world. But at what point does this process become learned and intuitive, rather than something I have to think about doing? How much of myself should I put in, and how much to leave out?

There has to be a balance, and I need to learn it. Not all of my pleasantries and connecting words will be inane; some of my contextualisation may be necessary. There may be times when I need to direct and guide. But not to proffer unsolicited advice. Some of this may occur without realising it, but a lot has to be learned. It's about HOW to speak, WHEN to speak, when NOT to speak.....being slow to speak, responding carefully, in a considered way, often informed by prayer, often channelling God's wisdom into that moment.

Roll on Session One - let's see if I can REALLY listen, and HEAR what others are saying, without my own (internal and external!) cacophony getting in the way!

Monday, 19 September 2011

That's all

We've had tricky times at home since school started back. Perhaps I should have expected it, chucking an introvert back into the mainstream schooling system after a couple of months out. But not to this extent. The vitriol, the viciousness of her angry comments - never directed at anyone AT school, but unleashed in a fury, usually to me, her mother, in the home, where she feels safe, I guess.

We've been dealing with FirstSister's anger management issues since she was tiny, they are certainly not easy, but her temper is a part of her development and we aim to deal with it lovingly. Never mind that I cannot bear the noise of wails and screaming, that having insults screamed at me gets my adrenalin pumping and I want to respond in kind. Each new phase that evolves (and she is a wonderful, pleasant, amazing girl most of the time) requires new ground rules and an action plan by my husband and I on how to react to and discipline and deal with the problem.

I won't go into detail about how we do that, but I will say that any punishment we decide to dole out for anger - that hurts others with words or flying fists, or causes damage to the home in which we live - is not physical. Having learned to bottle up my own anger when young, I didn't want to go down the fear route. We reinforce that it's OK to be angry, and to need time alone to calm down. But there are of course consequences if a child's anger impacts negatively on others.

I remember looking at the Michael and Debi Pearl's website on how to train children to behave, just to find out about why many consider it abhorrent. (I do not wish my website to link to theirs, so you won't find the address here.) I looked for an example that was pertinent to our family - how would you stop a young pre-schooler who screams. Their answer was unequivocal - such a child merely needed hitting with a switch every time that behaviour happened, and it would soon stop.

That's as maybe, but I would never use or advocate such a method. I'm choosing to love my angry child, however exhausted my patience or self may be, and I believe if you love someone, you do not deliberately inflict violence upong them. She never gets to think that behaviour that damages others is acceptable, but she doesn't have it whipped out of her. It distresses me no end to think that children similar to her in temperament are punished with violence for the way that they are made. I thank God that we as parents were sent a child who may not be easy to raise, but has parents who understand her anger issues, rather than responding unquestioningly to them with smacking or hitting.

That's all.

Saturday, 17 September 2011

1, 2, 3...

Heather and Christina. Haidee and her sister. Julie and Joanne. Sarah and Christian. Debbie and Andrew. Dominic and Edward. Andrea and Christian. Kirsten and Eve. There were exceptions, but this tended to be the rule. Where I grew up, people tended to have two children. It was the same at school.

As an only child, I longed for a sibling. Being only one felt not only unusual, but made me unhappy.
But as my parents freely admit today, having two children would have "stretched them" too much (emotionally? physically? financially?). After I had my first child (prolonged labour, emergency c-section, postnatal anxiety&depression) I could understand this, really I could. But I longed to gift FirstSister with a sibling. And so we did. The joys of this (oh yes and the fun we have pulling them apart when fighting of course) are indescribable.

But what I want to know now was, why (apart from a few families with three children, the last of whom was often a 'surprise') did everyone we knew only have TWO children?

We found two children under two (heck, two under three, under four, under five) a challenge. For a while we didn't look beyond that. We felt stretched. But over time, hoping for another child felt possible. It felt right for us. And now it has happened, I obviously cannot imagine it any other way. We would (in the face of advanced maternal age and fertility issues) welcome more. Having a younger sibling in the family enhances all our lives. It feels to us like the way it should be.

So why, since the 1970s at least, has stopping at two been the very normal thing to do?

The obvious answer is a wider swathe of artificial contraceptive choices that people have availability and choose to use to limit family size. Add to this the increased cost of living and the demands placed on people to have two wage-earners to secure a deposit for a property mortgage and support living costs in an increasingly consumerist society. There's clearly a lot less dying-to-self going on and individualistic pursuits including big holidays and material goods taking precedence. I have heard a few people lately talking about 'getting their life back' now their children no longer need so much looking after. I understand this, really I do. Serving children is extremely hard work and even the cost of regular food, clothing and shelter is exorbitant for some families today in the Western hemisphere. And obviously having had difficulty conceiving, I know there will be people who wanted more (or even one....) children on this earth but couldn't.

But today I would like to focus on the strange creature that is:

Extra Curricular Activities!

Before I start with this, I should say that my elder girls LOVE their after-school activities. They currently do swimming and dancing (two kinds) and I am pleased that (in addition to physical exercise at school each day) they get to have a workout, learn life skills, and express themselves through music. But oh - the pain of taking the baby along too!

It strikes me that many of today's 'extra' activities (that some people couldn't live without taking their child to) are just not that simple once you have more than one child in the mix. Yesterday I spent half an hour poolside trying to restrain my new toddler from taking a plunge while the others had their lessons; on Monday ThirdSister did about fifty circuits of the little cafe they at least let us sit in through dance class, but I had to follow her around for safety's sake. Other activities take place at times when it would be difficult for us to attend because of bedtime/s. Sometimes we have to split the parenting to give ourselves a break. Some children I know go on from dancing to Rainbows (pre-Brownies) or from swimming to Beavers (pre-cubs) - aside from the variety of activites on offer, it seems to be common to 'stack' activities together so they are all over with in one night. Add to this a little weekly homework, reading, family dinnertime, baths and so on, attending to at least three children and doing this stuff is a definitely a challenge! I know there are larger families out there who simply don't feel they can do this stuff because of the cost (dance shoes and clothes have been a major outgoing for me this term), the transport, the sitting, and all the other things that life has to offer - including just sitting hanging out with the kids.

But today these activities seem to be seen as compulsory. Whereas as a youngster I tried gymnastics and ballet before settling on Brownies (the UK Girl Scout equivalent) once a week, nowadays the importance of doing all these things is put upon on mothers, in particular, from the moment the baby is born. Baby yoga, baby swimming, baby sign language, baby massage - if you don't participate in this, your baby's development will be stymied. (I saw a tiny baby clearly NOT enjoying swimming yesterday when we took FirstSister for a splashabout, but the parent kept persevering, just as I would perhaps have done with my first little baby.) Not teaching your child to swim or do extra drama, a language or join the group everyone else is joining? Bad parent!

I have to say, I have my own pressure points. FirstSister is very musical so we try to encourage singing and have started her learning some piano at home. SecondSister is talented at dancing so I'm glad we have stuck with it. Once ThirdSister starts something - who knows how it will all work out! But I have children who look forward to a library visit. There needs to be time for reading, going to see some art, as well as getting bored and having to invent imaginary games. Saturdays are a breakfast-in-pyjamas morning and YES we allow television and lazing around! I don't want every minute of my children's lives to be over-subscribed.

Yet, a lot of this is not just because of my beliefs in the type of family time together we enjoy but because I have more than one or two kids. If I was able to focus only on them then I perhaps would be more susceptible to thinking they have to DO everything instead of just BE. I do see parents hothousing their kids. And other only children I know are bored in their downtime without these extra-curricular activities, like I was; not necessarily sort of things to do, but aching for the company of other children. I do wonder whether channeling children into the art clubs, drama groups, sports teams, extra lessons and so on has become a bit of a substitute for letting children hang out as a family, just doing their own thing. And families with more siblings, can't always keep up. It's important to realise we don't have to - that we have other things we can do to 'develop' our children - without feeling we are missing out. And, although it is up to us to recognise our children's talents and (prayerfully) help draw them out, there is no real substitute for family time. Extra-curricular activities are there to enhance our lives, not to take them over to the extent that it could make us think twice about wanting more children.

Family Time. In Pyjamas!

7 Quick Takes Volume 6

7 quick takes sm1 7 Quick Takes Friday (vol. 143)


My word, these Quick Takes come around quickly. We are just finishing a week of back to school and it has been a whirlwind! The most amazing thing that has helped me with the routine this academic year is making lunches after dinner and putting them in the refrigerator so they are ready in the morning. This may sound like common sense to some people, but I always tried to do them fresh in the morning, and you are talking to someone who packs 1) A sandwich in a box 2) A salad vegetable chopped up in a box 3) Fruit pieces in a box 4) A dairy product, often a yogurt, plus plastic spoon and napkin and 5) a juice carton, plus a freshly filled water bottle for during the day. Times two. How was I doing this in the morning as well as getting us all ready?!


Something I miss now my girls are bigger is iceskating. As pre-schoolers I used to take one or both of them to a local ice rink and there would about 40 minutes of skating to kiddy tunes punctuated by a drink and a biscuit on the side of the rink. The first time I took FirstSister I was actually overcome with emotion - I was dancing with my daughter on iceskates to Disney tunes! The over 5-s sessions just aren't the same, and quite frankly I have enough on shepherding the sisters around to dance and swimming lessions, so this week I booked the next best thing - Disney on Ice! I've no idea what this is going to be like but a lot of people I know go and enjoy it so we have that to look forward to in November once the nights are really drawing in.


Speaking of which - there was no Daddy to help after dinner and put the sisters to bed last night (this is pretty unusual in our household to be honest) so by the time he came back from his meeting at 8pm, it was dark!!! I had to pop and retrieve the dry laundry from the washing line before it started getting that Autumnal damp think. My friend in Scotland had to defrost her car windscreen yesterday morning. Summer's definitely over!


The last episode of Torchwood aired last night. Whether or not you think the sexual content was overdone, the science fiction is usually riveting and for some reason I do have this (teeny tiny) crush on John Barrowman (and several of his CDs). I've struggled to find this series as enjoyable as the last excursions though. Having moved to BBC America, it had a wider scope, bigger budget, classy acting from Bill Pullman and could have pulled something great off. Instead the series was oddly paced and the storyline patchy. I still loved me some feisty Gwen Cooper action though. And, given that the whole premise was centred around a 'Miracle Day' and a 'Blessing', there seemed to be some whole avoidance about discussing humanity's place in the universe , and what sort of energy engineers im/mortality, in a religious context. I'm definitely preferring Dr Who at the moment.


As that Autumn nip is in the air, I'm turning my focus to autumnal dinners - jacket potatoes, hot dogs, roast chicken, that sort of thing. This week I am going to try Leanne's apple chicken from Saving Dinner. Although the measurements aren't always easy to adapt to UK ones, we love her eggless carbonara recipe. I'm also trying to do a meatless Friday, as well as the Meat Free Monday we always do. Friday is now swimming night, which means I want to be able to do something that will refuel the children, but which pays homage to what we call our 'Sorry Friday'.


We had an amazing Pram Service this week. Five of our regular children left to start school in summer so I didn't think there would be many there. But we were packed! And for some reason we had lots of adults as well as children joining in the actions for  Jesus Love Is Very Wonderful and playing the instruments for One More Step Around the World Go. ThirdSister thought it was a party just for her! (She doesn't get to hang out with under-fives much. Although her best friend Lily, also one, came over to play this week while chatted to her mother.) My friend had said she would pray for the Pram Service in church that morning; I bet she did!


The Fish Tank has arrived, and is sitting on top of its cabinet in the lounge. Now I just have to go on a mission for gravel (black) and a background (black). Who knows, one day there may even be water in the tank. Oh, and fish!!!

See more Quick Takes with Jen at Conversion Diary.

Thursday, 15 September 2011

A Visit to Mass

Well then, I've been to Mass. Fireworks didn't exactly go off, but it was a hugely positive experience and I learned a lot about the Catholic Church (although nowhere NEAR as much as I have learned by reading the blogs of Catholic moms!!!!)

As I explained to someone I knew at the Mass, although I'm of the Anglican denomination, my reasons for attending were fully respectful, and although unable to receive the Eucharist there, I also went to worship. I have learned a lot during the past two years, through theological study and blog posts, that has opened up the meaning of being Catholic to me on many levels. Nevertheless, I think I amazed myself with how Anglo-Catholic my leanings perhaps are, and how attendance at Mass was not particularly alien, although a lot less familiar than the setting to which I am used..

I've divided my thinking into several areas to ponder on this. I don't mean for them to be a review, or a criticism, just a summing-up. It's the same type of thinking I do when I attend services at my own church, or different Anglican churches (and which shouldn't interfere with my experience of meeting with Jesus, as I wrote here.)

The Setting

Outwardly the church was unassuming, but inside it was both welcoming and awe-inspiring, simple yet grandiose, large and long yet homey. The wonderful stained-glass window of Jesus Christ, the incense, the layout of the pews and the ringing of the bell brought into being a reminder how in a service, everything should conspire to make everything the best for God. I didn't really understand what all the parts of the church were for (people went into an alcove and deposited money upon arrival, and I couldn't tell you where the confessionals could be found) but this is usual on my visits to different churches and I would have only had to ask. 

The Liturgy

Now this is interesting, because I picked the week of all weeks when the NEW liturgy was launched here in the UK, so  no one else knew exactly what they were doing (including the priest) even though I understand the changes are minor. A LOT of what was said was extremely familiar from the Holy Communion service I am used to; other parts, including the Hail Mary (which was an emotional thing for me to say in a church with other people for the first time) were completely new to me. I can't exactly say what differs because the service was on a card which they wouldn't allow us to take home due to them being new, needed and necessary. Something to ponder on further in the future.

The Homily

Now, this is where I become unstuck. In the Anglican church, we have a ten-minute sermon related to a Bible reading (or two) from the lectionary. I often find it one of the most uplifting and spirit-filled parts of the service if the right person is preaching. Now I don't know if it is because it was Saturday, or because of the launch weekend, but instead of this we had as the Homily a letter from a local Bishop telling us about the new liturgy and the request to focus on Fridays as a type of fasting day. I was completely confused. Do some churches omit a homily about the Word, or was it really a special case? 

The Music.

I have to say, the organ was played beautifully. I'm not sure the congregation knew the hymns though. (This happens at our church too.) I didn't know all of them. But (and it made me realise just how uneducated I remain about Catholicism) I was astounded to realise that the hymnbook used - I think it was this one, anyhow - didn't just contain Catholic hymns (although it contained proportionately more Catholic hymns than Mission Praise, which we use; including one by a nun, which we sand)!!! OK, call me stupid. I know our Catholic church participates quite heavily in our Churches Together initiative. But, that Catholics sing the same recent hymns as we do, that worship Christ but were written by non-Catholics? That kind of blew me away. (But again - does this happen at every church? Or are some more conservative/liberal than others about this. I am definitely coming away with more questions than answers here!)

The Priest

OK, this is an odd one. For two reasons. The first is, the priest is someone I tried to contact and talk with when I was pregnant with ThirdSister and wanted an open-to-life opinion about delivery options following two previous caesareans. (At an appointment with an assistant obstretic consultant I had been advised to have a third and final caesarean plus sterilisation carried out, and I was seeking help from various sources to deal with this. As it happened, once I got an appointment with my actual consultant, I was advised that they would support me whatever delivery option I preferred, and she wrote DO NOT STERILISE - MAY WANT MORE CHILDREN on my notes.) But the priest failed to get back to me about a date for a meeting (his assistant may not have passed on his message, I may have missed a return call, he's obviously a busy man, I don't know the reason.) But I would have felt a bit shy introducing myself. Secondly, I am used to clergy being inside the church when we filed out but as I walked down the steps outside and to the gate, the priest was there and sort of darted out at me and said 'Goodbye!' to which (me being me) I quickly replied 'bye' and legged it to my car....

The Congregation

I'm laughing at myself a little now. I'm not normally like this although I do like me and the girls to wear 'Sunday Best' to church. For Mass, I agonised over what to wear. I wanted to wear a dress. But not want that went over the knee or exposed too much cleavage. I don't have a crucifix, but I wanted to wear a cross, but I didn't want to look like I was trying to say 'I BELONG HERE' but neither, as someone training in ministry at a local church, did I feel I could go without wearing a cross. I expected everyone to be dressed up, and although there were many men of a certain age in suits, there were people dressed casually too. The church was not even a quarter-filled, possibly due to the timing of the service, and there were elderly people, middle-aged people, a few families, and even a couple of small children. I was pleasantly surprised by the broad spectrum of people really. Someone I know from the girls' playgroup spotted me and came over and was very welcoming. No one else tried to engage me in conversation but folk seemed happy to accept me there.

Attitude Towards Children

I wondered how different things would have been with my children in tow, especially my toddler, who enjoys wandering around churches. There was a family of four children with their mother, including an under-5, and they seemed very well behaved! There was also the woman I mentioned who I know with her son, who is 7; they were seated with a family with a pre-schooler and their pew was the noisiest one in church. There was lots of shushing and I think at one stage the littlest boy was taken out. But there didn't seem to be any judgemental looks like you sometimes get. I wondered if people's tolerance was higher because the 7 year old has Down's Syndrome and in my experience churches people tend to be give a bit more leeway about the behaviour of adults and children with special needs (see Kathleen Basi's post A Kerfuffle about Doughnuts for someone's direct experience of this). But overall, people just carried on participating in the liturgy. There was no special provision for children; families were just expected to do what everyone else does. But I did not find this off-putting - in fact the opposite. (I think I would struggle to persuade my kids otherwise mind you!)

The Eucharist

The elephant in the room! I read a post today by someone hoping to convert to Catholicism, who cried because she could not yet receive Mass. My experience wasn't quite the same - this was Saturday night and I knew I would be receiving the Eucharist at the 10am service at my own church the next morning. At my church, one is expected to be confirmed as a member of the Church of England before taking communion, so I was happy to adhere to rules. My acquaintance did encourage me to take a blessing - she showed something I should do with my arms for this to happen - but again, as I knew I would receive that same Sabbath, I stayed in my seat (and actually so did other people in my pew.) And it did feel strange - but like I used to before I was admitted for bread and wine within my church. Not unfair, but like I was missing out. The one thing that struck me was the speed at which bread and wine was dispensed - two quick lines filed down and back to their seats before I knew it. This is in contrast to our church where people stand or kneel at the altar rail and the priest walks around to administer to them - I have experienced this at Ordination services at Southwell Minster where a very large congregation needs to be given the Eucharist. I wonder whether it is the same or different at other Catholic churches?

The time of day

Because I wished to receive Holy Communion at our usual church service the next day, I chose to attend the Saturday service. This was an education in itself - finding out that what is called 'Vigil Mass' actually isn't, but that it is instead the first church service of the Sabbath (which starts at sundown; how amazing it is that this tradition has been retained over the centuries.) Now I understand why my sister in law's parents go to church on a Saturday night! And actually, it does set a person up for a Sunday. It has given me an impetus to start my Sabbath prayers at sundown; to start preparing for God tomorrow, today.

The kneeling! 

This sticks with me, as I had sprained my ankle and getting up and down to kneel was tricky but I didn't want to stick out like a sore thumb as someone who wasn't kneeling! But I was hard pressed to work out where to put my feet when I was just sitting - were they meant to be over the kneeling rail, or behind it? I still haven't worked this one out. I suspect - as with most of my questions - there is no correct answer.


This isn't everything. I am only plucking out the bits I remembered, or that stand out, and it's impossible to put a religious experience into words, anyway. Apart from the Mass, though, I have to say I did not feel out of place, and in some aspects, I felt it was an amazing way to worship. I did not feel included as a Catholic, but I felt included as a Christian. I could completely see where Anglicanism has diverged and differed from what I have heard termed 'the one true church', and while I am confirmed as a member of the Church of England, the areas where I have introduced elements of aspects of Catholicism into my life  have enriched my spirituality and understanding of Christianity. And now I understand how the lives of the women who have strengthened my relationship with God and my family through their blogging are strengthened by their attendance at Mass.

[And I have been trying to write this post for a couple of weeks now!....every time I settle down to it there is some or other interruption from one of our daughters....But really, they aren't the interruption, they ARE the life, and blogging is merely the punctuation where I get to stop and think :-) It might explain why the post remains disjointed and incoherent in places though!]

Friday, 9 September 2011

7 Quick Takes Volume 5*

1) It's Back to School week here in our part of the United Kingdom, and while I was very ready for a return to the school routine, there's always at least little anxiety (the kids = new classes)  (me = getting everything back on to a schedule and getting out of the house on time). I have to thank the Flylady once again - SecondSister's settling in was made *much* easier because of her shiny water bottle we ordered from the FlyShop. Her teacher admired it and the purple strap SecondSister had accessorised it with. SecondSister and new teacher = instant friends!

2) Another Back to School take: one of the things I love about the girls' (Christian) school is the fact that the pupils who are already there take care of the new starters they already know from either our church or the families they know from other local churches. I remember FirstSister's first school visit being improved by a smile from the daughter of a friend from the local Methodist church. All over the playground in the past few days I have seen mothers of children I know from Pram Service and Sunday School and have been able to greet them as their little ones begin school for the first time. It has been a joy. First- and SecondSister have been keeping an eye out for the boys and girls they regularly see on a Sunday. They have been taking special care of two little girls they know at playtime. It reminds me of the wonderful thing that is our church family.

3) Sadly with Back to School comes back to petty arguments with 'best' friends and so on. I don't try and fix these things - and in fact at times I ask if the subject can be changed - but at times I will try and help put things in perspective. This morning I was hearing how FirstSister's special 'Popsicle Club' she invented during the holiday was being overrun by people she felt are hostile to her, and that one of her friends didn't want the two little new girls (mentioned above) involved. We talked about how clubs can be special but also make people feel excluded, and I mentioned how Jesus wouldn't turn anyone away from his club who wanted to join. I was thinking of the wider parallels of Christianity or even heaven here, but SecondSister had it all sussed:

"Jesus didn't have a club. He had a TEMPLE!"

4) I could do on about Back to School ad infinitum, but there other important things on my mind. The first is Leukeaemia. I don't know much about this disease, but I have followed the blog of Manic Mother (whose son has leukaemia) for some time now, and she has been asking us to share her knowledge and experience of the disease over the past couple of weeks as part of Child Cancer Awareness Month. Also, my friend is being sponsored to run a half-marathon in aid of her friend's little boy who has leukaemia. So I thought I should find out more about the disease, spread the word, and ask people to share and sponsor.

5) Rachel Balducci and Betty Beguiles are also fundraising this week. Rachel's sister and her husband are planning a visit to this clinic for a fertility consultation. They long to be blessed with children; I would do anything to help, and so would other people (one woman who has never met Rachel has even offered accommodation at her home for the duration of the stay.) Like the fundraiser for Betty Beguiles couch, this type of thing restores my faith in human nature. It's good to be part of a sisterhood coming together to pray and fundraise for the blessing of new life. Despite our three daughters, both my husband and I have what I believe is termed 'fertility issues', and I remember having to go through the tests and the longing and the sadness. Please add your support if you can.

6) The best thing I have seen on the internet all week is how some French employees are trying to outdo one another with Post-It note art. FirstSister, a definite artist, was amazed and inspired. I wondered whether the office workers got to make their creations during office time or whether they had to wait until lunch (although I do understand the French get a longer lunch break than in the UK. Sometimes with a restaurant meal. And wine. No comment.)

7) Absolutely randomly, I have this week enjoyed finishing the book Hetty Feather, by Jacqueline Wilson. We started reading it aloud with FirstSister, but she finished it on her own, so I tucked myself up and read the rest. We had reservations about FirstSister being exposed to Wilson's genre, which includes very realistic depictions of care home children, broken families and problems with siblings. But actually, it provides a good antidote to the old-fashioned stories of E B White, Laura Ingalls and Enid Blyton (which we love!) and I have carefully vetted what she has read as I consider some topics (domestic violence, alcohol addiction, children being left at home alone) inappropriate for her emotional age (even though her reading age would do fine with them.) And Hetty Feather is an amazing book. Set in Victorian times, it follows the adventures of an orphan from babyhood to her teenage years, and the trials and misfortunes she suffers. But it's so much more than that. I sobbed through half of it. It's a little bit Anne of Green Gables, a little bit Annie, a slice of Oliver Twist and a smattering of Jane Eyre but definitely a Jacqueline Wilson. If you get chance, read it, especially if learning about Victorian England is your or your kids' thing.

Have a good week, people.

*Thanks to Jen at Conversion Diary for hosting.

Thursday, 8 September 2011

I wonder... (or, NOT the post about what I thought about Mass!)

It's taking me a long time to finish the post I have in progress about my experience of attending Mass for the first time, so here's a few thoughts on another topic.

I was singing a settling-down lullaby for my baby's morning nap, which goes something like this:

Go to sleep, my baby
Close your pretty eyes
Angels up above you
Looking at you, dearie, from the skies
Great big moon is shining
Stars begin to peep
Now's the time for all good children
To go to sleep.
My mother used to sing this to me well into my childhood. I don't know if her mother sang it to her, or it came from elsewhere in the family - I learned that it's a song called Wyoming Lullaby, which was released by several popular recording artists in the 20th century; perhaps it's unusual for someone in the Midlands of the UK to sing it, I don't know!

But perhaps whether this reference to angels, together with the crucifix I used to sleep beneath when I stayed at my grandparents' house, and my paternal grandfather's perpetual 'God bless', which I use each night with my girls, rubbed off - not necessarily on me, but helped put me in the angels' care and prised slowly open the channels for God's grace to pour down upon me, an unbaptised child from a non-believing family. Hmm, I wonder!

[Oh, I must add - I just found a UK internet reference to this song being sung in the cotton mills of Lancaster, which is where a lot of my mother's family was from. And I ALSO just found out that my ministry training course will take place a stone's throw away from the old Coalboard building where my Dad, a lab technician, basically worked his whole life (until the UK coalmining industry died a death, that is.) Sometimes all the dots in life just join up, don't they!]