Friday 1 December 2023

Advent catch up!

 Two years have passed, it seems, since I was last here....Well, I have been popping in occasionally to navigate to other blogs, but I haven't posted. What a lot of change has been going on in blogland.

So, the move to the south has brought change - and a lot of it: the girls now live in East Anglia with my dear UJ, who continues to be a faithful and wonderful presence in our lives. 

The EFG is a baker, working at her second bakery since taking up the trade about 18 months ago. She had had enough of working at Asda, and took a leap into a new world. Commercial baking is a world apart from domestic baking, and she makes things on such scale now that I can't get my head around it. She has been nominated, and shortlisted for an industry award as a promising newcomer already - she doesn't do things by halves!

The YFG is now in her second year of teaching - the first year was a steep learning curve for her as she had a large class with a lot of challenging needs, in a school in a huge Multi Academy Trust, which has made resourcing her activities difficult and she did think about leaving there at the end of the first year, but then decided to stick it out until she has passed her ECT stage. That was called NQT when I was Chair of Govs years ago, but things change and it is now a two year process, but she seems to be getting there. She has a smaller group of children this year and seems more positive. I still think she will look for another post eventually, where she can focus on outdoor learning and Forest School work more.

I was ordained in the summer and released from some of the oversight processes, which has been liberating. I LOVE my role here, and am thrilled to be doing this work. It is a world away from my previous life as I look back through the posts on here and remember breeding my beloved chickens, school governing, gymnastics coaching, etc - but that was that season and this is now - and it is good in different ways.

I planted a tiny vegetable garden last year and grew beans, strawberries, raspberries, courgettes and butternut squash in it, with tomatoes in hanging baskets and in big pots. The weather down here was warm but very wet this summer so I don't think it did as well as it could have done, but I shall try again in the spring. The ground is incredibly hard to work as it is heavy clay, so I had to put the garden in as a raised bed. I might get another one in 2024 and expand a bit.

The Christmas cakes are made and waiting to be iced, a lot of the presents for the various family members are purchased according to their wish-lists, and I am still knitting hats whilst I watch tv now and then. Some things don't change!!

It is lovely to be "back" and I just hope that I get back more often now - we shall see! Lots of love xx

Sunday 23 May 2021

New beginnings

 I've been shamefully absent from this space, and I will completely understand if there is no one out there still reading! 

How much has changed in the world in the last year.....and how much has changed in our lives. 

I am one essay result away from saying I have passed my course at the college in Birmingham, and the OH and I will be moving to my first position in ministry in August - all the way to a town close to the south coast in West Sussex! From Carlisle to the south coast couldn't be much further apart, but that is the way it works and that is where we are going.... going to be quite an upheaval. There is no job on the horizon for the OH just yet though he is working hard to make connections down there as his time here comes to a close.  I am very excited about it all and can't wait to start work - it seems (it has!) taken years to get to this point!

The YFG is going to teacher training college in Cambridge so she is going to live with UJ at his house, and the EFG is going with her in the hope of looking for a job in science communication in that area - there are going to be more opportunities in that area than there have been up here. They will be just over 2 hours away from us so I think we will see them quite often.

The OH's son is hoping to be at uni in the north but will travel down to see us, and his father will travel up to see him and go on to Glasgow to see his parents as often as he can. We have to find ways to make this work for the next five years anyway.

The sad news is that my dad died on Christmas Eve, and since the coroner and Covid delayed the funeral, it didn't happen until the end of January. Covid made travelling difficult so we decided, with sadness, not to go down but to watch via the crematorium livestream facility. My sister arranged with the coach company that Dad worked for to take his last journey in one of their coaches, and it was a very special day.  The OH's aunt died in America shortly after that and that was very sad - we had seen her on a Zoom call with her doctors just a few days before she died, but it was not Covid related - she had cancer. We were also able to watch her service of thanksgiving on livestream, but we were grateful to receive a transcript of the service from one of the relatives a few days later as the sound was not good.

Those are the headlines of our lives in the last year - there is SO much more, but not the headspace to delve into it all. I want to start another blog to move into some recording of my thoughts as we move house and start a new life in the south, with all the changes that that will bring. I will think about that some more and see how it goes!

My love to you all - I have been pottering around a few of the blogs in my sidebar occasionally over the last few months and I am so pleased to know your news.

Tuesday 14 April 2020

Lockdown living

Coronavirus exploded into our consciousness less than three months ago, and we have seen the different ways that various countries around the world have dealt with it. What has fascinated me more, I have to be honest, is the way that individual people have managed to live in this enforced lockdown period, and what I have been able to reflect and understand personally about that.

Let’s take two men: one is in his mid-eighties, a retired medical consultant, married, living in the north. The other is a few years younger, has had some health issues of his own, never married, lives in the south, has had two or three jobs in his lifetime, but has worked most of his life on a farm. Before we go further, both of these men are dearly beloved of this family so all that I say is said with love and respect, but also with honesty. Both are living alone as we go into the pandemic lockdown, and yet they are each reacting quite differently to the situation.

P, our consultant, used to spend his mornings playing golf, having coffee with some other retired gentlemen or doing some shopping. His afternoons were largely spent visiting his wife, who now resides in a care home. He largely eats ready-meals, or simply prepared suppers. Evenings were spent at home, perhaps reading or watching some tv, unless there was a church event on, and once a month, he attended the history society talk. He lives in a flat, because the couple downsized some years ago, so he has no outside space to worry about.

A, the agricultural worker, would potter in the garden and greenhouses whenever the weather was fine, but he would amuse himself reading, watching some tv, doing jigsaws, baking, preserving his produce and preparing his meals from scratch, largely using fresh produce from his garden in season, or previously frozen when not. He went to the bell-ringing group once a week, attended church some Sundays, and a pensioners’ lunch group on Wednesdays. He has a large house and about half an acre of garden to manage: he has lived in the house for over 50 years now.

Who is facing the biggest challenges in the lockdown? To whose life has it made the most changes?
A’s life goes on, pretty much as normal. Yes, he can’t go to church, nor the other activities that he did on a weekly or month basis, but day to day life has always been based around the home, and so he potters on. He’s glad of the phone calls from the church members and family each week, but he has plenty to do, as ever, and keeps himself busy. It’s spring and there is lots to do on the garden at this time of year.

P is struggling. He can’t play golf, he can’t go out for coffee with his friends, and very sadly, he is now unable to visit his wife. Meals don’t take long to prepare, and nothing else is happening that he counted on for regular connections. The neighbours are all quiet in their respective flats and he sees few people. He goes out for a walk most days, but there are limited opportunities around his area, and he is bored of them, even having done them in both directions!

Having married P’s son in 2018, I can actually see that our retirement years are going to be challenging to me. I am A’s niece, and the different ways in which P and A are getting through this lockdown is mirrored in our home here. Many things which my husband does to relax have been barred from his life now – golf, badminton, swimming, Costa/Greggs coffees, the gym, outings to NT houses, for example. Holidays have been cancelled and it is all quite sad for him. He is grieving these losses and they have hit him quite hard.

A and I come from a working class background, what one commentator has called “Northern” this week, which I find a deep honour as so many positive qualities emanate from the north, but the truth is that my husband and his father both have greater claims to that moniker than do I. However, what I do lay claim to is to thriftiness and frugality, which A has in spades. We have no history of leisure activities that cost money – Heaven forbid – we play draughts, we play whist, we read, we bake, we create with yarn and fabric and plants and seeds, we work in the garden for exercise and we take pleasure in our rest. There is a contentment in this that is inexplicable.

P and his son have had no need of such frugal ways in the past, and find it hard to adjust to them now. P is too old to want to learn to cook at his age with any great challenge, for example. They have expectations of having the finances to maintain this lifestyle, and that is not now their problem – the lifestyle is as unavailable to them as it would be to anyone, whatever their pecuniary fortune. It is just not possible to do the things they love because of the lockdown and the social distancing rules.

If your background is one of financial challenge, as mine is, I think that we have been blessed for such a time as this, when all that we know is a bonus, that our time can be filled with simple pleasures that cost nothing and can easily be done at home, that we are content with relatively plain joys, with no great expectations.

I spoke with both P and A yesterday. I love them both, and we will continue to ring them both regularly. For P, our phone calls are a lifeline to relieve his boredom and to keep his morale at least tolerably high, because his world has been turned upside down in these past few weeks. His separation from his wife just now is particularly troubling and he is very concerned for her. In that, he has my greatest sympathy.  For A, this different way of living is a bit of an inconvenience, but he has weathered numerous storms in his lifetime and there is within him an admirable depth of resilience that recognises the seriousness of the pandemic but that says this too shall pass. Let’s hope he’s right!

Sunday 12 April 2020

Easter Day

He Is Risen!

Easter Day has come, kind of in a whisper here in the city. The churches buildings are silent, I haven't heard any bells ringing, and when the OH and I went into the back garden to sing "Thine be the our glory," this morning, our audience was just two robins who flitted from tree to tree, but did stay the distance, bless them! It is, for most of us, an Easter Day like no other.  Some things have stayed the same: there is a mountain of chocolate in the sitting room - 18 Easter eggs between the 5 of us - and we have had a lovely roast chicken dinner tonight, followed by Rhonda-Jean's self-saucing chocolate pudding (from Down-to-Earth blog) and/or apple crumble. My stepson, like a lot of 17 year old boys, is a bottomless pit at the moment and seemed to eat his weight in roast potatoes and two helpings of chocolate pud, bless him. 

That seems to be life at the moment: some things stay the same and others are just so very very different. I thought about the disciples this morning as we did an Easter egg hunt in the garden. Mary searched the place near the tomb for someone to tell her what had happened to her Lord. Easter and gardens seem to me to be inextricably linked - Nadia Bolz Weber shared a section from one of her books today on her Facebook account where she talks of Jesus being mistaken for the gardener and wonders whether he had the dirt from the tomb still under his nails, surmising that if he was indeed mistaken for a gardener, he might have looked a bit rough around the edges, so to speak!  But this was the risen Lord and yet Mary did not recognise him until he spoke her name.

I am constantly bothered by the reporting of the deaths from coronavirus at the moment and how we seem to just hear numbers, unless the person who has died was a high profile figure, like Tim Brooke-Taylor, whose death was reported today. But every single person who has died from this terrible disease was a husband, wife, sister, brother, son, daughter, cousin, or whatever - they were people who had lives, histories, families, stories, hobbies, preferences, funny habits, memorable foibles - they were individuals. They have names. Names are intimate, names are special, they identify us. And when Jesus identified Mary by her name, she knew that it was him - the one to whom she was special. The one who was special to her. 

As a lay pastor, I have often talked of having a ministry of presence, in which I listened to a great many stories, giving people my time, and holding space for them to talk and be heard. It has always felt to me that the greatest cry of the human heart is to be known, and that is one of the most precious gifts that we can give to another - to really take the time to get to know someone, to cherish their stories by actually listening to them, holding on to them and remembering them.  As I take my next steps on my journey into ministry, I fully intend to continue this work because I have heard Mary's joy in being recognised in this story and I have seen an old lady's eyes light up when I have recalled her story. 

As we go forward into the next weeks and days, and we continue to spend time with our loved ones, in person at home or via phone lines and technological wizardry, let us all take time to listen, to hear and to cherish, so that we might truly know one another well. 

I hope that you have had a blessed Easter Day today, however you have spent it, and that in the days ahead, however you spend them and however long this lockdown needs to last, you will be safe and well.

Saturday 11 April 2020

Holy Saturday

Today the weather has been lovely and we have spent some time in the garden. The sky has been a glorious blue and clouds have been sweeping along on the wind. The washing has dried and the birds have been singing their little hearts out in the trees. It has been really nice.

How very different from how we imagine that day when Jesus was in the tomb: how very sad and grieving were his family and friends, his disciples and his followers. So much promise, so many hopes,  all dashed as he died on the cross yesterday. Today his body lies in the tomb, safe behind the massive rock that was placed at the entrance.

Today I have read reflections which have said that yes, that rock was there to keep Jesus' body safe from grave robbers who may have wanted to take it away, but other reflections saw that rock as symbolic to the obstacles in our way during our lives, the burdens that hold us back. Perhaps you can see both sides of that? I can, but I think I prefer today to think of the rock as holding Jesus' body safe whilst the battle raged for Christ to overcome death and to be resurrected. That resonates for me with the current war we are waging against corona virus - and all our front doors are shut tight to keep us safe whilst the scientists and frontline workers do battle on our behalf, just as Christ did back then.

To be shut in a tomb would be a nightmare for someone who suffers from claustrophobia, a dark place with no light, no air, no windows, and no easy way out. There are a number of films in which people get locked in mausoleums, and I have every sympathy for those characters.  I woke up one morning this week in the early hours, got up and flung open the window, muttering, "I must have air!" before getting back into bed. We sleep in pitch blackness with blackout blinds, and the windows are usually closed: the OH doesn't sleep well and is sensitive to every noise and possible disturbance. This isn't the way I want to sleep but one has to make sacrifices for those one loves, at least occasionally! But I can imagine that a tomb would be like that - dark and airless - and how desperately one who was alive would want to escape... And we want this experience now to be over, we want to be able to get out and live in the world again, free to see our friends and family, to be able to travel and enjoy life - this lockdown feels like incarceration to some, I am hearing, and I am so sorry for those who feel like that.

Just as we are promised that Sunday is coming, that Resurrection is coming, that the resurrected Christ is coming, we can be sure that the end of this lockdown will come eventually. The question for me is one of wondering how we will be different after it? The Risen Christ is different from Jesus, and the world, for the disciples at least, is different once they know that Christ has risen - how will we find the world when we emerge again? It is going to take longer than tomorrow morning for us, but will we be ready? Can we take hold of all the lessons of community spirit, of caring for one another, of generosity and appreciation, and live differently in a post-pandemic world? 

Friday 10 April 2020

Good Friday 2020

Good Friday 2020

This afternoon, as I sat in the garden with a cup of tea, taking a break from the kitchen, I heard a chainsaw somewhere in the neighbourhood. My thoughts turned to Jesus’ cross, and who might have made it, and the irony of a carpenter making a cross upon which another carpenter would die. I wondered how that might have felt.

My thoughts then turned to how those of us who create things feel about our creations. I have spent much of the day in the kitchen, making brownies, lemon cake, and banana bread, and then I helped my stepson make a steak pie for tea. The banana bread was the only disaster – I made it with every good intention but it has unfortunately ended up beyond edible and only fit for the birds. I have a sense of disappointment about that.  Despite that, I am happy that the other cakes turned out well and can be enjoyed. I am happy although I know that my creations will soon disappear.

Lots of us are creative, but I think there is a special kind of person who can make something knowing that it will be destroyed. I think back to July 2014 when my elder stepson spent hours lovingly crafting a wooden coffin for his father’s body, knowing that within days that beautiful creation would go up flames in the crematorium. I remember the grace and love with which he worked on that precious project.

And so my thoughts turned to God, sending his beloved Son to be our Messiah, knowing that the fulfilment of scripture would be the breaking of that precious body on the cross. For me, I know that my God would have felt enormous pain in that death, although God knew that the resurrection would come.

On this day, I feel sadness and pain at the way Jesus was treated, how shameful his death because humanity “knew him not” and for me, it is a day of regret and penitence; when I think about what my faith means to me and how I live [or fail to live] for Christ. But today I found some respite in realising that God knows about seasons and intentions: that God sent Jesus to be with us, for a season, and that Jesus had a purpose – to bring humanity back to God – and then his time would be done. To have a grasp of that, I can remember that other creations, though far less divine, might also just be for a season, and that we might hold on to them more lightly if we realised that.

Loss is devastating, and as a widow, I know that – I might be the OH’s wife now but I will always be the FH's widow. In this terrible pandemic, the global society is losing loved ones at an alarming rate, and the way that death is having to happen in the current circumstances is incredibly sad: those who die separated from their loved ones, and the families and friends unable to be with them yet desperate to share last words, last loving words, and the anguish that that causes will always be unanswerable. In this awful season, I draw some comfort from knowing that Jesus knew the pain of dying alone on that cross, and that God knows the pain of that separation too.

Lord Jesus, who knows our every pain, we pour out our regret today, our sadness and our repentance. Forgive us, for our sins as we remember your gift of yourself for us. Don’t let us hold on to things which are past, when you want us to give our energy to the future. Don’t let us live in the sadness of Good Friday and overlook the hope of the days yet to come. Amen.

Thursday 9 April 2020

A Reflection for Maundy Thursday

John 13.1-20

Maundy Thursday in lockdown is different from any other: we are unable to come together to worship, to share Communion, to recall that Last Supper in the upper room. I have had some memorable experiences on this day through the years, all of them spent in congregational groups. We have to find another way through this one, and perhaps for me, it is a call to a greater intimacy with Christ instead of hoping to share it with others.

Studying for Methodist ministry as a student deacon, I am more drawn to John's account of this night with the powerful description of Jesus as he humbly tied a towel at his waist and knelt right down there to wash his disciples' feet. There is an intimacy, a gentleness, in the description and it feels to me as if Jesus would have been careful to wash each foot thoroughly, taking his time and concentrating on one after the other. I can imagine the others watching as he made his way around the room, each perhaps slightly incredulous that their master, their leader, was on his knees washing their feet in that most lowly of roles.

Feet are a very personal part of our anatomy - we often keep them covered up in shoes for much of the year in this country, and it is very different from the context back then. Their feet were exposed to dirt and dust and even dung, if we are honest, and they must have needed a good washing very often! How different from the faint and slightly cheesy pong that might emanate from a pair of shoes we have had on all day! I recall the Bible stories that tell of how the disciples walked miles with Jesus and think of how important it would have been to them to have had healthy feet, able to walk those miles with him.  Many of us don't like to have people touching our feet and the instances of public foot washing these days are lessening. Pope Francis caused a stir in 2015 by washing the feet of prison inmates and then in 2016 of refugees - this is a pope who is not one for staged niceties but actually gets out there with real people.

Today as I write this, my feet are nicely wrapped up in socks and trainers, and probably will be so for most of the day. That will enable me to do kitchen work, pop in and out to the garden, be comfortable and make sure that I don't tread on anything dodgy in my bare feet in the garden. I do however live with a family who prefer bare and stockinged feet so I'm different. It is good to be different sometimes! Indeed, Christ calls us as his followers to be different in his name, to live for him and in him whilst being in the world, in order to show the world what he brings to our lives.

This Maundy Thursday, as I think about the foot washing in John's gospel, I know that my calling is to be alongside people like me who might need a bit of a spruce up, spiritually, mentally or physic; to listen to stories - and some of them are painful to share, to hear and to hold; and to be as close as I can be to Christ as I allow him near my vulnerable places, to allow him to wash me clean. I am always in need of his forgiveness, and he promises that there is nothing we can do which can overcome his love for us, so he will always wash us clean when we come to him in repentance. He calls us to wash one another's feet, to a holy intimacy of care for one another, and that is the lockdown message at the moment - stay at home and protect the vulnerable - and so we can do that in his name, to his glory and by his word. Let's show that love for one another by staying at home!

Father, as we remember Christ's passion this week, as we stay apart and are unable to share together in person, grant us your peace in this situation. As we think of the intimacy of the foot washing, grant us wisdom to know who might need a personal word of encouragement this week, whispered quietly or written lovingly in a letter. Help us by your grace to have some measure of Christ's gentleness with others today. Amen.