A New Way of Life

Having last written with my heart in my boots and my feet dragging reluctantly on into a new season of change, I thought it was time to write an update. As much as we were confident our steps were steps of faith and that we were choosing to walk in the way that was right for us, there was still that awkward wrench and heart-ache at leaving all that had meant so much to us. Now, change has taken place and two months into this new way of life, how has it been? After only two months is it really fair to pass comment? It is still early days, but the most succinct word to summarise it is an unsurprising and uninspiring word: good. There is no more complex or flamboyant a description needed. However, if I were to elaborate, I would add the word wholesome. That is to say that this new way of life has benefitted the general health and well-being of our family (apart from the dalmatian, who nearly self-destructed after eating an indestructible toy. A very expensive operation saved him and has left Longshanks investigating pet insurance). The natural law of life dictates that where we prosper, so do the lives of those we connect with and so we are watching the capacity of our ministry expand and stretch healthily, just as we expected it to. To say nothing of the pleasure of being able to share our table with others!

I could celebrate big things but, as always, it is the little things that I rejoice in.

Some of the little things I am learning to love:

  • The rattle of the Mighty Micra across the cobbles as Boffin and I set out in the early hours of the morning. It’s not the rattle that I love (obviously) but the fact we live on a cobbled street (even more so as it has built-in, flagstone, carriage tracks).
  • The freedom to experience the Dean’s Field as our backyard, now the evenings are lighter.
  • Being able to entertain guests with ease. We are so much better positioned to put our pastor hats on and say ‘pop round’.
  • Evening walks around the city walls, with Tim.
  • Family badminton games.
  • Squash with my highly competitive husband – an hilarious highlight of my week. On average we get to play twice a week and if he’s losing the level of possible cheating rises but it’s so subtle that I can never quite figure it out. It’s very funny!
  • Despite being right in the city centre, we love the quietness of where we are situated and the fact that when we might hear a bit of late night disturbance on the walls it tends to be a happy sound of laughter or tipsy singing.
  • That said, the fortissimo volume of bird song is incredible! The birds are so loud here, in comparison to where we moved from, that we couldn’t quite believe it.
  • Kayaking on the canal – Tim’s latest outdoor pursuit – as the canal is within walking distance.
  • We overhear the choir practising regularly when we walk out from the house into the cloistered neighbourhood – angelic and somewhat bizarre!
  • The convenience of the shops (not sure it is convenient for our budget, however!).
  • The independence the children have as they grow up and gain opportunity to do different things.
  • Friday night date nights when the children are at Youth (they have their own key and can make their own way home when they are ready) and Tim and I explore the local eateries etc.
  • Driving home through a 14th Century archway with a 21st Century bollard that drops in recognition of our car number plate – the anachronistic contrast tickles me.
  • Culture on our door step that feels so luxurious. Recently, we had a lovely evening of roast duck at home followed by a wander across the cobbles to the theatre to watch some extremely arty contemporary dance, the like of which I have never seen live before.
  • The bells. I love the bells. My teen years  were spent living in the shadow of a parish church and it means I feel at home when I hear the bells. They are not as loud as I expected them to be.20190416_154208
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Eyes Forward

This morning on my way to work, I pulled my sunglasses from the glove compartment, popped them on and immediately I could not see clearly. They were so cold that the heat from my face steamed them up. What a paradox that I even need my sunglasses in winter. However, I do, as the winter sun is so low and today, there was a lot of glare off the snow. It got me thinking about those moments in life when things don’t make sense.

I am always trying to make sense of situations and things around me, but sometimes standing back and pausing is the best sense I can make. I haven’t been able to hide myself in any writing for so long and I feel like any time I do write a blog post, now, it is to comment that I have no time to write any more! Life is being lived at another pace, but writing, for me, has so often been my pause; my attempt to make sense. I am not able to make much at the moment. And so in an attempt to, I pause and write.

I find myself still struggling daily with the difficulties of a chronic condition that doesn’t make sense. I still struggle to accept that the diagnosis I was given in August is actually mine. I still hope to, one day, wake up and find that it is no longer a part of me. One of the nurses I spoke to recently reiterated how rare it is, while another commented, on a separate occasion, that it is so rare she had no tick box options for it amongst the other standard and rare types of the condition, on the form she was filling in. But it would seem that, as it is not common, there is less understanding or research about best practise and treatment. While I trust the consultant, it leaves me doing my own research and having unusual discussions with the nurses. They have said, “No  I have not heard that before but it sounds plausible” or, “I think the dietician would be interested in this”. Also “What is the name of the nutritionist you have been reading, because the consultant would like to read up on it?” And so on. I don’t really understand the science of it all and find myself encouraged when my prayerful and instinctive perspective leads me to a place of sense, where I later learn that I have done the right thing. But then I think I have things figured and that’s when my body does crazy things that make no sense. It sends me into a downward spiral of negative thought and emotion but also back to the place of finding a prayerful perspective, a God directive. It is an emotional roller coaster.

On top of that, we prepare to move from our rural dwelling to a city abode. It is not a path I am finding very pleasant to tread. Yesterday, I went with a friend to measure up the dimensions of the property we are moving into. We are very privileged to be moving into this particular property and I don’t want to forget that. I was excited before we went, but came away feeling completely overwhelmed. The idea of fitting everything in daunts and depresses me. I have drawn up plans of each room and important pieces of furniture to scale, in an attempt to figure out where everything goes. I struggle to conceive where we store many things, like towels and sheets. The fact that we are downsizing so much makes it feel very hard. We have got rid of gargantuan amounts of stuff and yet I still feel that we are drowning in the surplus of possessions. “We can get rid of more”, Tim tells me, but a lot of the daunting feelings come, right now, from wondering how we simply store essentials. I wonder what we are being prepared for.

After a restless night, I sat down with my Bible and breakfast in an attempt to make sense and lift the overwhelming off my shoulders. This move has not been an easy change for me to get my head around. I have been relunctant and not really ready for the adventure, unusually so for me. We’re giving up a unique way of life to pursue a God-given purpose. Our unique way of life was God-given too, don’t get me wrong, but this is about a new season and way of life. Our life is not our own and I am learning to let go of the things we own, to good purpose. I am moving from the “all I have ever wanted” to turning my will into an “all God wants of me” shape.

This new season does not mean I cannot grieve the passing of the previous season. And grieve I do. My drive today across snow-clad valleys and hills was soul-salve. The magic of the Nant y Garth pass, where every finger and branch etched with snow glittered in the tunnel of trees, was hard to match. Followed by the majesty of the Horseshoe Pass under a four inch blanket of clean white, washed in bright sunlight left me feeling very unique and spoilt that I got to see such sights.

I am aware that I cannot fully know or understand all the fruit this next season will bear until I enter and pass through it. I feel very little excitement for what is to come. I do not know what is around the next corner. I do not know all the whys, what-fors, and what will-or-won’t make sense along this passageway. I am simply choosing to walk where I don’t want to, to live a life of obedience to the one who is certaintity in my life; the one who makes sense.

As I got in the car to leave for work the phrase “Unless a grain of wheat should fall upon the ground and die, it remains but a single grain with no life,” was playing in my mind. These were the words of a song we sang at school and are easy to recall when I attach the tune to them, but they originally come from the Bible verse, John 12:24. It struck me, then, that there are many seeds in me dying at the moment. I hope their death will grow into something beautiful that will wrap others in greater intimacy with their Creator. For there is hope in this phrase, and the way it came to mind helped me make a little better sense of the things I don’t understand. It’s not about me or my way of life, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have reason to grieve or mourn the unfulfilled and incomplete, nor to feel daunted by the days ahead.

Over these next few weeks, I shall keep my eyes looking forward even when my vision mists and things don’t make sense. It is the best way I know of being “change-ready” whether I want to or don’t want to advance through such changes.

Eyes forward!

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Through the Senses

I’m sat listening to the summer rain drumming on the conservatory roof. The cat runs for shelter. The rain smells wonderful as it only ever does when the ground has been so dry. I hear thunder.

This has been a blissful summer with the weather feeling more African than I can remember in a long time; the raspy dry grasses, brown fields, cracked ground, exposed river beds and water marks on the rocks in the reservoirs.

The horses have just run past the window kicking and bucking in response to the thunder. The storm has moved now from being behind my left ear to being behind my right ear. I love how the air clears. They say it is the end of the heatwave and maybe it is. I am sure the farmers will be glad. Now that the schools have broken up for the holidays, it is quite likely to spell change.

Every moment that I have been able to enjoy this splendid summer sun, has been treasured, especially the day my favourite Welshman introduced me to a national gem – at least that’s what I think the shark-fin shaped, shapely mountain should be.

In the heat of it, there were many instances where my instincts kicked in and my senses spoke to me of forgotten sensations from my childhood: my wonder and wow at the beautiful vistas; hauling myself up with hot rock under hand, tactile dolorite; the smell of warm lichen; the rasping grasshoppers; however, the sheep stink is definitely Welsh! As is the damp boggy metallic smell of the springs and the sweaty, damp cloth of bracken.

It was a fairly leisurely start although he tried to say that, apart from the scramble at the end, this was the steepest bit. I don’t believe it! That said, our first water stop was 15 minutes in. He was feeling the weight of those litres he had offered to carry for all of us and was going to keep us ‘carefully’ hydrated: necessary – not a cloud in the sky!

And then the track began with an explanation of where the path would lead. We could see quite clearly ahead.20180726_114427

For some, once upon a time, they would have walked this daily on their way to work – a beautiful route.20180726_120029

Imagine that – working up here, rain and shine! I cannot leave my imagination at home on these sort of jaunts. I want to know the stories of the lives these ghosts of buildings represent and the forgotten past piled up on the slag heaps.20180726_121607

We passed lake one – where some young ladies were swimming; lake two – which was eerily deep, despite being low in water; to find lake three. Here my breath left me momentarily and he and I shared a kiss to celebrate such beauty. Neither photos nor words can entirely capture it. It’s best seen in the flesh. But here we stopped for lunch. We needed to fortify ourselves ready for the exhilarating ascent next. Jam sandwiches did the trick! Along with socks off and toes in the water.

Then the scramble began and I felt like a child again. 20180726_141009There were many moments of stopping, looking back and “Wow”! We felt Llewllyn’s touch and wondered how well he knew this mountain.20180726_132423 Our Boffin boy blazed on ahead, relishing the chance to pick an individual path. And then suddenly, there it was, the top, with Boffin sat waiting on the trig point!20180726_141229

Our descent through the moonscape of rock was as exciting in its variety, but could have been another world. With outstanding 360° views that put so many places into the context of their neighbouring valleys I felt in touch with the nation I love first. Snacked and watered, off we set, sliding (for the shorter legged version of the human race), leaping, climbing, descending the shapely mountain.

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It was the best and is my new found favourite! There is so much to enjoy.

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Dissertation and All ‘Dat’ Jazz

I am just putting the finishing touches to my dissertation, determined to turn it in before the deadline. This is a personal pride issue to prove to myself that I have grown up since my first degree – where my dissertation was hastily written, last minute and bound on the day it was due in. Needless to say it wasn’t very good and I am not sure that the quality of this current one is up to much either, but I have loved the research: perhaps a little too much! There have been many ‘Yes’ moments as I read a bit of information, succintly put, that ticks a box for what I want to know. And meeting Comenius…what a guy!

I am tanked up with knowledge (too much) that has caused much excitement in the gathering, but the writing…sigh. Making it relevant and keeping it tightly aligned to my topic has been hard! I still can’t see the wood for the trees to know if what I have written works.

However, after what feels like a full academic year of not writing, I have had an excuse, no, a reason to write and that’s been good. This past year has been one of outdoor activity, fitness, sandwich making, new teaching opportunities, travel mugs, open water swimming, taxi driving, early mornings, shop deliveries, routine, feeling average, and – of course – family adventures. You cannot be married to the man I am married to and not experience adventures. But the result is that I have been far too busy living at a different pace to mess around with words. And yet under this facade rumbles a deep desire to write again. Clear blue skies and lots of thinking time on my way to and from work sets my imagination into motion, only I haven’t allowed myself to runaway with novel ideas until this dissertation is done. And then, I wonder, when it is done how do I balance this new found active lifestyle with a sedantry writing one?

This writing time has shown me how easily biscuit consumption returns to break up the day. While I have been confined to my ancient desk in my tower, my belly-biscuit-pouch has filled a little. The frustration at my lack of time to swim has become a strange new hunger in me, gnawing away on the inside. I feel like my muscles are wasting away.

My next challenge is therefore a matter of balance: how to strike an even keel. Can I find a suitable exercise activity that could become my substitute snack for writing breaks? Or is there a time of day that could become routine writing time, fitting into the flurry of daily activity? Hmmm…Maybe my creative energy should be put into making this work before I begin on grand new projects. Let’s watch and see and if the blog comes alive again, then something must be being done ‘write’!

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Hobby horses

20180531_165407There was a time when I had in my care and possession a very large horse. My dear husband expressed an interest in having a go at riding the large beast and so I took him at his word, tacked the gelderlander up and sat my husband on his back. As I led my horse down our track, my husband looked awkward and unnatural. His comments about the peasants beneath him implied he was enjoying the regal height from which he viewed the world and expressed the uncertainty he was experiencing. I was trying to instruct him in a hobby I love, and it was funny.

Today, the roles were reversed. My dear husband was instructing me in a hobby he loves. I felt as awkward as he looked on the back of my big horse. But it was fun.

We had set the day aside as a family day with plans to do something all together. However, our offspring have reached an age where they are off busy, working, doing this, doing that or seeing friends. Their independence is ever increasing. It is the season we are in. So it was just my beau and I who took to the rocks. And you know what? It was so lovely, with all the flavour and charm of our early days of courtship but also with the depth of understanding years together bring.

We celebrate 20 years of marriage in a couple of months. What a great time to embark on new adventures together.IMG-20180531-WA0005

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Slow Days

20180228_141431Snow days make for slow days. The priority is keeping safe, keeping warm and keeping the animals watered and warm. Our fire has not burnt out for days and it feels very old fashioned to wake up and stoke up the embers, to flame. The difference it makes is immense. Another trick is to layer up! Out come the archaic looking thermal underwear and the Nordic leg warmers.

The ducks are in the conservatory and the ponies are rugged up; two things we would never normally do. However, I wake up today to see a horse rug dumped in the field. They’re so not used to wearing them.

I see six deer run past the kitchen window. I wonder if we should be kind enough put some hay out for them too. Have we enough? They run across the wind whipped snow drifts. It’s how I imagine the Russian Steppes look.

Longshanks strides off east across the fields, cutting straight into the wind, with his Buff over his nose. He’s off to help a local farmer deliver lambs and keep the sheep watered.

Miss Friendship rises, smashes the ice on the horse’s water, tops up their hay and makes herself a scrambled egg.

Miss Puddleduck gets up, layers up, breakfasts up, feeds the cats, puts her cat mask on (no idea why) and starts her school work. She plans to dance when she’s done.

And Boffin? Well, his school is finally open today but there’s no way I am skidding down and up our hill and risking a trip into a ditch or hedge. I rang in to authorise his absence. The snow still falls and he keeps warm in bed. It’s a slow day for him!

I am feeling very lazy. I should be busy out and about, but not today! All lessons are cancelled. So I write. It’s such a novelty in this season.

Thanks for the enforced slow days of these snow days!

Let’s hope my lovely husband makes it home from Cardiff today. The last part of his journey will be a walk, that’s for sure!

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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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