Ready for the Unexpected

‘Ready for the unexpected’ – how is that possible, you oxymoron? However, the poetry of this song resonates so deeply with us, it has become our anthem of the year; of 2017. It has been a year best summarised by the unexpected. In the beginning, I wrote down some whimsical plans of what I hoped to achieve, but the year passed surprisingly fast and none were achieved. The unexpected was accomplished instead. For example, no flame lily was grown but rather we actually touched our feet on the soil in which a flame lily might naturally grow. I never expected that!

It has been our third year at Festival Church, in Chester, and it has felt like we have been living in the third year of this promise: Isaiah 37:30

‘This will be the sign for you, Hezekiah: ‘This year you will eat what grows by itself, and the second year what springs from that. But in the third year sow and reap, plant vineyards and eat their fruit.

It has been a fruitful year catagorised by the unexpected, which has included mainly pleasant and some unpleasant events. In no particular order the unexpected of 2017 includes:

  • Boffin got a part-time job on a guinea-pig farm.
  • Longshanks got a part-time job working for an undertaker.
  • Miss Friendship got a distinction in her music theory.
  • Miss Puddleduck took part in her first stage production, was given a lovely first report from her drama school, and got discharged from speech therapy that she has been attending since she was 2 & 1/2 years old.
  • Boffin flew overseas for the first time in his life.
  • Tim and I travelled to Africa with specific purpose, that was the outworking of a dream I had when we were first married.
  • Longshanks terminated his apprenticeship and came home in August. This was a huge surprise and adjustment as we had sent him off down south, in 2016, with the full expectation his apprenticeship would develop into a lifelong career. We recently found a prophecy given when he was a baby saying we shouldn’t be surprised that he will do unusual things, the timing of which would be significant.
  • Longshanks started Agricultural College in September and, after six days, was moved up onto the higher level course where he has been given distinctions for 80% of his work, so far. I think even he has been surprised.
  • I began teaching, again, for an organisation I taught with seventeen years ago.
  • Our Shetland pony, Sonny, was put-down, with colic. Longshanks’ ferret, that was the first owned of his ferrets and the last survivor, passed away; as did the old goat, Inky, and Miss Puddleduck’s rabbit, Poppet, this winter.
  • It is not unexpected that Tim and I both turned 40 but a trip to Switzerland to celebrate my birthday, was. It was unexpectedly beautiful in Autumn and the hotel we stayed in, beyond expectation for excellent hospitality.
  • Miss Puddleduck ended up in Alder Hey children’s hospital, in Liverpool, with encephalitis, in May, and recovered miraculously quickly.
  • My mother moved to Wales.
  • I have ended the year in very different physical shape to how I began the year, enjoying the gradual return of my waistline after a long absence. I have unexpectedly journeyed into regular swims, three times a week. Randomly, 2017 has seen me sign up for an open water swim in 2018, something I would never have imagined myself doing, but will hopefully keep the momentum up. It had a little to do with turning 40 and a lot to do with the encouragement of good friends.
  • Miss Friendship has mastered the Rubiks cube.
  • Boffin’s English Literature teacher has been trying to persuade Boffin to take English literature for A’level. He is so Science and Maths orientated, that he should even consider it came as a surprise.
  • The orchestra we started within our family of churches has been surprisingly popular.
  • We have facilitated a transition of leadership that was unexpected, at one of our Festival Churches.
  • Our girls took such delight in meeting their third cousins from America, at our wonderful family gathering in the summer, they have kept up correspondence, since.
  • A tutor from Longshanks’ college and a teacher from Boffin’s school have commended both the boys on the quality of education received at home. Really it is the quality of character the boys themselves carry that is to be commended.

I am sure there are plenty of unexpected events I have forgotten. But 2017 went something like that. And now we look forward. 2018 feels like an entry into a year of unknowns, more so than the unexpected. I love the richness, energy, variety and excitement a house of predominantly teens produces, however in 2018, our eldest will become an official adult and our youngest will enter her final year of childhood. To enhance the value of family, we have changed the kitchen layout and moved the table to the centre. This makes it much more the hub of family discussion. I am loving the time we have had to listen to one another over the holidays. Each bring their uniqueness to the table and the discussions get deeper as wisdom increases. There is a lot of laughter, nonsensical jesting and light teasing that characterises so much of this family, too.

2018 – an unknown – year to regenerate, that will no doubt be full of the unexpected. We walk alongside amazing people who enrich our lives, help us keep on track, and in His shadow, step!

Bring it on! 2018! We’re ready for the unexpected/unknown.

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Miracles Do Happen

40 years ago, I entered this world. I was born, yes, but I was also put on one side to die. Put in an incubator, I was not expected last the night and the doctor (who had been prevented from going to church, that day) was understandably more concerned with saving my mother, than me. I have found my father’s letters of muted communication to my grandparents. He did not want to worry them but he did say it was hard. I catch the undertones of worry and the relief of crisis passed.

However, if it wasn’t for him, I honestly wonder if I would be here, 40 years later. He talked, occasionally, to me of this dark day and how it was one of those significant instances when he knew God was with him. What did he do? He went away and prayed. He hadn’t the strength to pray alone so he prayed with two others, a priest and his wife. I’m so grateful he chose to pray! God hears us and he answers.

My father then slept a deep, replenishing sleep and phoned the hospital when he woke. “It is a miracle! She has survived,” were the words he heard. That was me! From day one, I was impacted by the powerful, prayer-answering God and the desperate cry of a worried, but praying Papa.  The mysterious lump on my head had disappeared. I had survived the night. My mother was recovering well, too.

Miracles do happen! And today my praying heart turns towards Zimbabwe. I am living proof of the miraculous happening in that nation (one life at a time). 40 years on, my best birthday celebration would be to see the beginning of a peaceful process that liberates that beautiful country and her beautiful people into new life, rebirth – a renaissance of what it means to live lives in reconciled relationships and free from oppression; lives that grow and build for good purposes.

Hope is high! Faith is fertile! There is a longing to see love flourish. Our eyes are watching for the miracle to unfold.5c4d41b063a2b88ba856ab7c9f6f6448

Rise and shine, Zimbabwe. Your time has come. You can do it! We’re rooting for you.

 

 

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Wide Open Spaces

“Let’s go for a walk, today” he says. “Okay” says I.

Once again my husband decides on a fitness programme for me. Its time to take me in hand. From past experience, him acting as my personal trainer never lasts much more than a week and causes much hilarity. Before, I remember collapsing in a fit of giggles from which there was no recovery, as I attempted a number of push ups. Another occasion it was comments from Boffin that was the demise of my sit ups, while Tim tried to encourage me to continue.

This year, it was a remark along the lines of as I am approaching the big “four oh”, muscles degenerate with age if not used and so he wants to help ensure I get plenty of exercise. He doesn’t want a flabby wife. Well, you can imagine that laughter that provoked! But it almost had us wrecked before we started. A swift “I love you no matter what” saved the day.

Last year, we had found great treasure in the making memories on family walks to say nothing of the privilege of exploring outstanding terrain. And once again he took us to an outstanding place with amazing vistas.

 

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Songs for the Soul

We’re sat watching and washing in beautiful sounds of worship. I can see our ragged souls being ministered to and mended after a week lost to crisis management. I am very proud of our youngsters for how they have responded and coped with uncertaintity and to see how they love their sister but now the storm has passed. These last two days have been peaceful, bolstered by beautiful weather and a visit from my mother. This was on our walk with her around the hill last night.20170525_203318 It is much needed peace to process all that has passed, to allow our bodies to catch up with sleep and our minds to return from the edge of anxiety. It is no surprise that, as I watch our youngest soaking in the music, I should feel weepy. I think where she was this time last week and to look at her now it is as if nothing has happened. She is so unique yet uncomplicated. The simplicity and patience with which she bore her malady was touching. She couldn’t remember her Dad’s name and yet she never forgot to thank the nurses for the kindness they showed her. Watching her listening, now, has the same impact on me as this photo I took of her meeting her new cousin today.

20170526_191358I have learnt a lot and am full to the brim with gratitude. Her diagnosis was one that some people take a long time to recover from, if at all, but others, like her, make a full recovery. I don’t think she is just lucky! I am convinced she turned around so fast as a result of the hundreds of people praying for her; people close to home and far away. These people are our faith family who have loved and carried us through a tough time and without their support, we wouldn’t be strong.

I have time now to watch, wonder, and be grateful.

With a few days of just ‘us’ all together, celebrating life and being family – a few beautiful days! – we’re making the most of our moments together. We are listening together, playing together, laughing together, enjoying being together, having full English breakfasts together, sitting in the morning sun together, drinking tea together, chatting and, at the end of the day, will watch the sun set together. We want to savour our quality moments and remember them.

In it all, the sound track that plays in the back of my head is an echo of a refrain from Elevation Worship’s song ‘Do It Again’. It captures my attitude to God.

You never failed me yet

And I never will forget

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Conversations with Boffin

I picked him up from school and began the winding journey home that I have become very fond of. We have experienced the splash of autumn colours, the ambush of acorns, cold mornings, grey skies, followed by the beautiful sunrise perfectly timed to rise over the hills as I return from dropping pupils off, to the lambs appearing in the frosts and now fresh new leaves are unfurling and the days are warming. It is a lovely journey in the morning and the smiley bus driver always waves. Coming home in the afternoon is a little more tedious. Boffin is always keen to get home. However, on this particular day, as soon as I had collected him he leant forward and rustling in his school bag, produced a letter. Uh Oh, I thought. What now?

“Mum,” he said, “When is our family holiday?”

“In a couple of weeks.”

“No, the Christmas one.”

“It’s over Christmas”

“Yes, but what are the dates?”

“Erm…from Christmas eve.”

“Oh”.  He was quiet for a bit then so I had to prompt him.

“Why?” I asked.

“Well,” he said, “We have the opportunity to go a Geography field trip to Nepal.”

“Nepal? Wow!”

“Yes, Mr Geography Teacher is organising it. I’d like to go but we have to get our names on the list and our deposit in as quickly as we can.”

“That’s exciting, but the big question is how much does it cost?”

“£500.”

“£500?” I was shocked. “Are you sure?” £500 to Nepal sounds pretty amazing. I’m thinking of the outstanding study opportunity that the Himalayas will provide for these youngsters. Meanwhile, Boffin is flapping the letter around in his hands and I glance across. In bold type, underlined the heading reads Geography Trip to Naples. Aah! Slightly different!

Oh well! We all make mistakes.

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Heralding Spring

I was supposed to be in Chester discussing a Book Event, but an early text this morning postponed our meeting to a later date and instead I find myself at liberty to write and reflect. With my human rock, also known as my beloved husband, far flung across the seas this week, I am more reflective than normal. Good health comes from breathing in and out. Life flows and ebbs through periods of busyness and rest. I never sleep so well with him away, so tend to read a lot while he’s gone and here’s the parody while I sleep less: time to read I associate with rest and reflection.

I’m reading a beautifully written novel that I have both loved and hated. It’s been a long time since I have read something that I have put down and left in disgust and then gone back to because it is such a work of art. I am also naturally curious to know what happens next. In fact, it is very rare that I ever stretch out my reading of a novel over more that a couple of days, but this I have been reading on and off for a while and I still haven’t finished. My disgust has come because the writer encapsulates human nature too well. I don’t want reality in my fiction (well actually, I do!), but I am both unimpressed and impressed when I find it so finely captured and poetically portrayed as here. Can you hear the wonder in my voice? This chap’s a genius and I hope he doesn’t mind me quote his eloquence.

“After the war of course it will be like the starting of spring, which is always so brilliantly sudden. The leaves will burst back onto the trees and close the gaps between the branches and we shall be startled – shan’t we? – as we are startled at the end of every winter. We shall think: oh, I had quite forgotten there were three livable seasons.” (Everyone Brave is Forgiven – Chris Cleave)

My response when I read that was “Wow! Yeah”.

I have spotted catkins and bullfinches. I have stood outside without my coat on in the evening and listened to the blackbird heralding spring coming. I have seen snowdrops and some confused daffodils out and about. And I have noticed the sun arrive early and delay its departure to give us a little more time to think. It lifts my spirits and I celebrate with wonder, yet again! It gets me every time. I always find spring a surprise and it shows, as I have written thirteen posts tagged spring, within the last six years of keeping this blog.

There maybe more snow yet. I might be celebrating in haste. It’s not quite the end of winter. Miss Puddleduck tickled me, on Monday, when she was asked by her speech therapist what word she associated with ‘field’. “Mud”, she said! It will be a while before we see new growth in our mud.

Meanwhile, we have been enjoying the new growth in our youngsters. I noticed it particularly as Longshanks came home for a short break, just catching Dad before Dad flew to the States. There’s ‘spring’ in his step and he’s beginning to blossom on the path he has chosen. He brought the freshness of his humour and fertilised everyone else’s which made our car journey discussions quite hilarious. Boffin is as sparky with his ‘sarky’ comments as his older brother, but particularly shines when there’s another sharp mind to bounce his quips off. Our discussions filled me with laughter and “Wow! Yeah” moments of knowing that these kids are shifting. They are growing wiser. There were so many glimpses of beautiful blossom in their hearts and minds. Our discussion ranged from life, church, people, gender, politics, relationships, religions, to “What would you say if I was very different from who you think I am” questions and consolidated in my assurance it would be okay. I love and respect them for whoever they are. Love is a decision and so is our self-expression. I have chosen to love them unconditionally and they are free to make their own choices. My hope for them is that they will find the best and, however they express themselves, always put God and others before themselves. We laughed over the “Oh here we go!” moments as the boys teased my preacher approach to expanding my thoughts. I was left feeling so blessed by the pleasure of their company. They’re such fun to have around.

We went out one afternoon, in celebration of us all being together (minus Dad, of course), to sample a new independent coffee house that has just opened and we had intended to browse the shops after, with the possibility of spending Christmas vouchers. But somehow, as ones unique and true to ourselves, we got distracted by a three-storey antique shop. When we walked back to the car, we were without new school shoes for Boffin nor had any of the store specific vouchers been spent. Instead, we had a pair of white crocheted cotton gloves and a silk top hat. Last time Dad went to the National Prayer Breakfast, Longshanks got himself a ferret. This time he got himself a top hat. I swear he has spent equal care in, initially, looking after both. Mind you, he didn’t have to make a cage for his hat. It already came in a perfect, old hat box. Should I clarify that my boy is not batty? He needs a top hat for the work he does! He taught me that silk top hats were last made by some brothers in France and are no longer manufactured. He knew he’d got a bargain and had enjoyed the barter he’d engaged in to get it. Lots of banter followed over who in the family was permitted to touch the hat! It was all very satisfying.

Miss Puddleduck just asked me, “Mum, are you a writer?” And for once I didn’t hesitate to say “I am”. That’s a first. But I’m in my spring and I am looking forward to some more fresh, clear days working on novel number two. After a change of plan today, it feels refreshing to oil the cogs, sit down, spill out my thoughts in words and reflect a little on the things I treasure. They are growing up.

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We have to capture the moment and I hope the farmer didn’t mind me running across his soggy field, this morning, to take this. I didn’t mind ruining my shoes to get it! Spring is coming!

 

 

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Anxious Thoughts

It is interesting that the beginning of a new year now excites me. It never used to. It is interesting that I now anticipate potential as a new year unfolds instead of fear. I don’t know why I have had time to think about it this year, but I have. Perhaps it is because this year my anticipation and excitement is so great!

Yet, I remember the mixed emotions of Christmas when we were first married and when the children were small. They were lovely Christmases full of beautiful moments and memories, but in the background sat a slither of darkness for me and this year I have remembered it. I used to dread stepping over the threshold leaving an old year behind and entering into the new. Those were the days when irrational fear was such a familiar part of my life that it didn’t take much for my emotions to be erratic. It was residue from childhood; a childhood with an outlook that dreaded the future. My childhood was wonderful. Don’t get me wrong, but a wonderful childhood doesn’t mean being exempt from ghosts and we all have our own battles to fight. One of mine was with irrational fear. I have had years of learning to identify the roots of it and I won’t bore you with those details. Suffice to say fears wouldn’t let me sleep at night and would have me paralysed and shivering in the dark. Irrational? Yes. I am not talking about the anxious worries that make me cranky, although there were, have been and still can be plenty of those too. But the sort of fear that affected everything, my feelings and my body. This sense that began with a thought and crept over the back of my head. It would make me freeze and shiver. It absorbed me completely. I had no control over it except to avoid triggers for certain thoughts. Those were the days when global and national news would dramatically affect my mental and emotional sense of well-being, so I never engaged with the news. I didn’t listen to it. I didn’t read it. I didn’t watch it. Those were the days when anxiety would cloud my perception; the days when a racing heart would wake me in the night with a fear of something undone or something about to happen; or the days when a sense of impending doom would hang over me for no reason.

Thankfully I have always been surrounded by good people who would never let me wallow in self pity or give in. While they understood, they have always encouraged me to overcome. They have encouraged me to fight back and not allow irrational fear to be something that is just managed but ever present in my life, nor have they ever let me use it as an excuse. That attitude was one that boosted me in actively going to God and seeking His answers, His deliverance. It has been a journey. The attitude of those around me is one that has tenaciously helped me fight and overcome. When first married, and annoyed by how battle weary I was, I asked God ‘why’. Why do I have to fight with this? I feel so vulnerable and I hate the conflict. I found my answer in Judges 3:1-3.

 These are the nations the Lord left to test all those Israelites who had not experienced any of the wars in Canaan (he did this only to teach warfare to the descendants of the Israelites who had not had previous battle experience): the five rulers of the Philistines, all the Canaanites, the Sidonians, and the Hivites living in the Lebanon mountains from Mount Baal Hermon to Lebo Hamath.

I understood that He was teaching me to fight. Now this year, I suddenly realise that that battle is won. Yes, it has taken time. There have been marked moments of deliverance that I can recall along the way. I live today in complete liberty and actually have done for years now,  (except, of course, when I try to diagnose a mysterious malady using Google!) but for some reason as we have crossed into a new year I have remembered how it once was. Today, that irrational fear so familiar in my childhood is nowhere near my heart. As I remember, I can cite several moments of conflict where, with God’s Spirit, we cut the ties that gave fear a right to be in my life. We reclaimed specific territories where fear had been king, such as by welcoming the light of Jesus into my life, the obedience of being baptised, learning to worship God first, learning to stand firm (Luke 21:19), learning to take the offensive in prayer instead of just the defensive by taking hold of the authority we are given (Luke 10:19). There have also been other people who have come alongside or moments of realisation that have helped me uproot and throw out the identifiable weeds that choked me. Then on the toughest of days simple practical wisdom was enough; such as during post-natal days – days in which I would be grasping for strength just to get through – I was told sleep and reading my Bible was my best remedy. And it was. Together these moments contributed to wholeness.

Learning to overcome…always learning a pattern of life that changed me, learning to live with the presence of God as my constant, not my ‘go-to’ in emergencies. I am still learning. There are new territories to overcome.

When I stop and think about it now, I find this liberation is, in truth, quite amazing. I am so excited (genuinely excited, not a talking-myself-into-a-positive-mindset excited) for the year ahead. I can look ahead without fear. Once upon a time I could not, without shivering!

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