Friday, 28 February 2014

Prayers at the Abbey

So....I'm meant to be linking up with Jen at Conversion Diary to publish a post a day.

Epic fail already! Yay!

But - this week the littles and I have two baked banana and pecan breakfast loaves AND visited Newstead Abbey, a special place a few minutes drive away.

Newstead Abbey - sigh.

It sounds like there are monks singing and stuff, and there used to be. It was also the dwelling place of Lord Byron who is buried in our Church. Now, it's owned by the local council and it's more of a beauty spot.

Picture of Newstead Abbey's gardens Displays a larger version of this image in a new browser window
Plan of Newstead Abbey grounds.

But it still has that feeling, of prayer, of silence.

And noisy squeals when my kids are running round.

It can be empty in winter, with its vast gardens just feeling like a spiritual spot.

Nearing Spring like it was this week, there are snowdrops and crocus and the beginning of all the other flowers we get in England. And swans and mallards and coots on the lake. I can't begin to describe how it conveys the wonder of God's amazing creation. I can't do the beauty of the place justice. How wonderful it's almost on our doorstep. AND, admission has been free from November through February during the week.

Newstead Abbey West Front
View of the (ruined) Abbey from the Big Lake

I've been going quite a lot with 3rd and 4thSister. Often just 4thSister in her buggy and me powering around, taking in the beauty, the grandeur and the wonder. Sometimes we stop to go on the playpark. (YES! There's a playpark, too!) We don't visit the cafe, but yes, there's one of those, too. In high season, the Abbey itself, converted to living quarters for the Byron family, is open for visitors. We have friends who married there.

So although monks aren't really chanting plainsong, God is always there. You can walk around and, as Anne Shirley said, just FEEL a prayer. It's restorative and nurturing. Tramping around is exercise. And you always find something new.

French Garden at Newstead Abbey (wide shot) Displays a larger version of this image in a new browser window

This week, 3rdSister and I chose to start at the biggest waterfall, then follow it under the bridge....over the stepping the river split into two tributaries flowing around a small island...then up the hill, down the hill, under the weeping willow tree and across another bridge to the island itself. Poohsticks on the bridge on the way back. The river back together again, we followed its course to the second lake. A real adventure! We felt like partners in crime :-) 4thSister patiently observed EVERYTHING from the buggy (she's a watcher, this one.)

SO - it feels okay I'm not keeping up with a blogging marathon when life gets in the way :-)

(all pictures are from the Newstead Abbey website today, as I'm rushing...but we have HUNDREDS from years past. Maybe I'll share some in the future.)

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

I really don't think I should be here....

So many posts in such little time - can you tell I'm doing Jen's 'a post a day for 7 days' challenge? Head over to Conversion Diary to see who else is taking part and enjoy their posts!

"I really don't think I should be here...."

I was texting my friend who works at the biggest hospital in our city. I was IN the hospital. Not as a patient or for having a baby. No, this time I was training to be a Chaplaincy volunteer. Part of a roomful of people doing a 2 day course on how to be a ward volunteer, support people who wanted to talk to a Christian in their time of need, to talk to anybody, perhaps.

Bear in mind I'd done a placement in this area before for my ministry training. But that's not why I felt reluctant. I felt that God was dragging me here. I'd waited two years to do the course (4thSister arriving in the interim!) and now it didn't feel the same. I didn't understand why I was being brought here. During coffee break, I texted my friend. "I really don't think I should be here...."

And then, of course, it happened. A talk from one of the Chaplains about why we were there to do the work. And I understood again. From being in a place where I couldn't comprehend the amount of suffering around me, I began to see it as a place of healing. From feeling overwhelmed to feeling empowered, remembering what set this journey in the first place. In minutes. Seconds, perhaps. Sometimes, God works like that. (With me, anyway. I literally need a kick up the behind in the way He knows best how to do.)

Earlier in the week I'd felt that I should be working in a school, perhaps, and following a slightly different fork on the path. I don't think this is being ruled out entirely. But I felt I wanted to be working with children, rather than adults. Felt that they made me feel rewarded and see the point in what I do. I'm a big believer in the St Ignatius way of looking at our vocations, whether it's motherhood, ministry, music, more.

So I've only been asked to be on a team in the Children's Hospital, supporting children and their families. Asked to try it and, if I ENJOY it, if it FULFILS me - ME - to continue. If it's the right fit, for God's plan in my life. Again - Sometimes, God works like that.

Yesterday I had a whirlwind tour of the place. Oncology, renal, short stay, long stay. The school. The youth club. Indoor play areas. It is astounding, the breadth and depth of illness and treatment, suffering and salvation. It might be my place. To be like Jesus for people. I may not have thought I should be there, but God does seem to have other ideas.

The Little Children Being Brought to Jesus, The 100 Guilder Print 1647-49 - Rembrandt Van Rijn -
The Little Children Being Brought to Jesus - an etching by Rembrandt

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Our Favourite Books for the Under 5s.

And for me, that matter! When I have to read the same facile Dora story every night it drives me mad - but the list below contains what I consider classics, and love to pull off the shelf and read with children of any age.

1) Anything by the Ahlbergs but especially Peepo and Each, Peach, Pear, Plum


2) Hairy MacClary - there's a whole series but this first remains the best in my opinion

3) The Big Orange Splot - metaphors of individuality, independence and freedom abound
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4) The Seven Chinese Sisters - great for a 'larger' family!

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5) The Pumpkin Soup trilogy


6) Eric Carle favourite's such as the Very Hungry Caterpillar, The Very Busy Spider, and Brown Bear, Brown Bear

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7) Dear Zoo and the accompanying counting books

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8) The Tiger who came to Tea - like the Ahlberg classics, this reminds me of an older England.

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There are more but this is a good representation of our favourites!

Monday, 24 February 2014

Two Littles. Plus Two Littles.

1stSister helping with candle duties at 4thSister's Baptism

This year will mark the tenth birthday of my first 'Little'. 1stSister hits 10 in October this year and most days it already feels like she's left on a train marked teenagehood. Yet I thought I vividly remembered the early years.

I do, viscerally, remember waiting literally years to be a mother to one Little, thinking I never would be, and then not knowing what hit me. Eventually getting into first gear, and then suddenly I had two Littles to look after.. 1st and 2ndSister have barely 19 months between them, so before they started school I did the whole 'two under two' shebang for what seemed like forever. Days which dragged. Days which weren't book-ended by school runs. Days where sometimes we wouldn't come in from the park, the Abbey, the baby and toddler group, until it was dark. Days of giving two breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks. A bath together. Reading stories aloud to two. Not twins but twiblings, everything in tandem.

By the time the Littles had grown and were both at school, aged 6 and 4½, 3rdSister had arrived. The days of having two Littles to look after, bathe, constantly feed and provide activities for - gone. Now each day focused on getting to school, picking up from school. A long nap in the middle of the day for 3rdSister. One Little. A rest!

Not that having two children in school is a rest. The uniforms, the packed lunches, the homework, the extracurricular activities. But it was different. It truly felt that the days of having the Littles was gone. It was a rest from what seemed like almost constant physical activity from morning til night. Bigger girls who could entertain themselves, and the baby, sometimes.

But, wonderfully, we are blessed with 4thSister now. And although there is a bigger age difference (she's almost 1, 3rdSister is already 3½), the deja vu of watching them interact is uncanny. The Littlest clambering over the other. Giggles in the bath. 3rdSister washing the baby's hair. Nature walks together. Music time. Soft play. Yes, it's fantastic when all 4 Sisters are together again, but looking after two Littles can be so special. It's like we've been given another two to enjoy like we did the first. Enjoy a little more, perhaps, now we (ahem) know what we're doing, and are more relaxed.

Such a gift. Two Littles. And now another Two Littles. What a gift to watch them grow.

Sunday, 23 February 2014

let your light shine

I'm finally being commissioned as a Recognised Lay Minister in Pastoral Care today....eeek!!

I've been doing my duties informally for a while now, as I missed the original commissioning due to severe morning sickness - this was around 16 months ago, so yes, I've been a little busy having a baby since then and have only recently officially returned from maternity leave. But that's the thing about pastoral care - it doesn't have an off button, and if I go a day without an encounter or two, that's rare.

The service itself (which is taking place after we attend Junior Church followed by Holy Communion, so my kids are already going to want to be at home *sigh*) is fairly short but very serious and a little daunting. And there will be laying on of hands, obviously.

Which has 1st and 2ndSister worried, obviously, because

What if someone accidentally touches your BOOBS, Mummy?!!
They almost have me worried, too. Scary stuff!

In a way, however, I feel I'm already up to the task that I'm being commissioned for. As well as my three years of ministry training, hospital placement and recent hospital training with the chaplains - naturally accompanied by occasional "do you REALLY want me to do this, GOD?" moments - God's been sending me a few messages lately which have basically given me a huge kick in the rear end to get out and just do.

The most recent of which occurred yesterday at Morning Prayer, which at our church on a Saturday is half an hour of corporate yet silent prayer in the early morning, bookended by short prayers by our Priest who perhaps did not even know she was picking them out specifically for me, but did so anyway :-) It was like the week when every Bible I opened told me to let my lamp shine for the world and I realised the beginning of my calling. She actually recited those verses from Matthew yesterday before we said the Grace together. And during the quiet prayer time, I felt that it wasn't just God tasking me to go and do His work with the sick, the struggling and the needy - it was me empting my self out and letting Jesus take over.

Might I add, this still didn't stop me from being a mardy, pre-menstrual wife and mother on our annual visit to Hodsock Priory see thousands of snowdrops and watch the Sisters play with sticks and logs. But I'm hoping the Holy Spirit's working on that, too.

Snowdrops creating a white carpet in the woods at Hodsock Priory
Copyright - Hodsock Priory.