Thursday, 2 February 2017

January

I survived.

Not quite the right attitude... and, indeed, it sounds worse than it was.  It is just that my stock answer, in January, to 'How are you?' is 'Surviving January'.  Because it always seems a little melancholy, and very very dark, after December. The Christmas decorations have disappeared, the days are still short and the weather is often just dark and dismal and damp-dreary.

But that is a gloomy picture which does not reflect reality.

In reality, in my house, the Christmas decorations stay up until, at least, January 25th - Cat and Jonny's birthday.  The fairy lights sprinkle in sparse corners, the Nativity set greets me at the front door and all serves to remind me of a twist on CS Lewis, whose description of Narnia in The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe  is that it was 'always winter and never Christmas.'

Not in my house . Not in January, or ever. Because, for me, it is 'always Christmas and never winter.' Jesus is alive, whether rain or shine, summer or winter, Christmas or January.

And, indeed, remembering this, I did more than survive January over the last few weeks. I look back over the month and remember shared meals, sharing life with close friends in home group, breakfast with a group of women from church, lunch with my Supernatural School group.

I cycled to work on some incredibly (for Guernsey) cold and frosty mornings, where the hoar frost crickle-crackled under my feet as I hauled my unwilling bike from the shed.

The cold weather wasn't great for the sinuses, though. Catching a horrendous cold and cough made me feel bad enough to warrant a day or so off school. One day off, after a day of feeling really unwell; staggered back to school for a day and a half - never any suggestion from my superiors that I should take more time to recuperate -  and then managed a couple of extra hours at home before the weekend, which brought prayer for healing and a remarkable recovery. #healingrooms !!

Cat and Andy arrived in Iraq, starting their life with Medair, serving refugees.  #manychallengesahead  The 'lurkers' (as Jennifer Rees Larcombe calls those hidden worries in our lives) are still there in regard to their safety - particularly Cat's - but my brain is satisfied with and trusting of the security measures put in place for them. Cat has set up a 'WhatsApp' group for us and Jonny and Adele, which has been a lot of fun as we see and comment on the photos she and Andy have posted. And, of course, there is always Skype....

Still sorting out and unpacking boxes at home, after painting the office.  #nobookcasesyet #stillworkingonit  Richard is very busy with home improvements, necessitating much internet research. He is so capable and handy, enjoying learning new skills.

And the occasional foray into the garden -  preparatory digging for more vegetable beds; a little surfing; meeting up with dear Mags and Louis, over for 'Christmas' (thanks Condor for getting them here safely even though you cancelled the Christmas sailing so they couldn't come then); phoning and Skyping friends and making plans for visits from family in the spring.

Spring. The days are perceptibly longer and lighter already. Spring is on her way.

View on the way home

The sun on the ssea - 30 seconds from home

Cat sends me an apron, made with love by Lois, from Vanuatu

Saturday, 7 January 2017

Post-Christmas and into January... 2017!

I enjoyed drawing my gratitude for 2016 so much that, this year, I thought I might do a page a month, adding to it as I go along.  And that I'd also record particular photos here, so, starting today, some memories of the Christmas holidays. Which were, in fact, partly in December, but it still counts: it's post Annual Christmas News Letter, after all...
Surfing...

...good waves
L'Eree walk



Morningstar Christmas lights, at dusk
 Later, I put away my Jesse tree. Cat and I made it fourteen years ago: sadly, this year, it has succumbed to damp and the salt dough shapes are beginning to disintegrate. Gladly, the figures she handcrafted have not suffered, so I have packed them away lovingly, taking photos of the other Bible verses depicted so that I can recreate/renew the tree hangings...
Angel

One of the kings...






The first narcissus... #stillDecember   #30th

A bonfire on a still day... getting rid of the pile of hedge trimmings

sparks

cliff walk at sunset


stunning beauty

golden glow

just before the green flash... more of a lingering green glow...  #sofortunate

Early days in 2017: gratitude

The New Year. Reflections on the old. A 'gratitude' map:
Of course, many of these things I think about when I write our annual Christmas newsletter. But it's good to add in other little things as well as significant names:

Journeying through 2016: trains, planes and automobiles. Or, rather, planes, bikes and a motorhome.

Like the wise men of the nativity story, or Bilbo Baggins in The Lord of the Rings, we too have, in many ways, been on quite a journey this year. In January we returned from the Other Side of the Earth, after seeing Cat marry Andy. They wanted their wedding to be God-honouring, inclusive, as families and friends met and mingled, and fun. And indeed it was. After the ceremony (conducted by Andy’s brother) in a historic church, we had the reception in a marquee in an idyllic setting on the edge of the ocean. Afternoon tea on the lawn, games, and a NZ buffet dinner. Such a joyous occasion, tinged also with bittersweet as we realised afresh that Cat will be making her home there in the future.
For the present, she and Andy are in Vanuatu where he works for UNICEF as a water and sanitation engineer and she works in project management for the Food and Agriculture Organisation, a branch of the UN. Come January, they head off to Dohuk, Iraq, joining Medair’s Disaster Relief Programme where Cat will be Project Support Manager and Andy will head up their Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) programme. Jonny and Adele too may be adventuring further afield than Norwich, where they have been teaching for some years.

Our feet have also been VERY itchy. For the last couple of years we had considered moving to New Zealand, a decision with which we wrestled long and  very, very hard. The weather and the spacious lifestyle appealed and we had been granted immigration rights. It is a long, long story, but in the end – despite the All Blacks winning the Rugby World Cup - for a hotchpotch of reasons, we decided to settle down in Guernsey instead. After a few months of house-hunting, we found a home to buy. We had loved the house we had been renting, with its peaceful location and huge garden, so thought it would be a wrench to leave.

But not at all. Our new home is a spacious bungalow in a very rural part of Guernsey, a stone’s throw from the south coast cliffs. (It is a full 8 miles away from where we lived before which, for Guernsey folk, is almost equivalent to moving to New Zealand. They check they have their passport before coming to visit us.)  We benefit from the sun streaming through the windows from sunrise to sunset and outside there are several sheltered sunny nooks. Buzzards and harriers glide over our large, shrub-filled garden. We have lovely neighbours. The house has ticked more of our boxes than we could ever imagine and it has quickly felt like home. Do come and visit!

Tradition says that Mary travelled to Bethlehem on a donkey. The wise men almost certainly rode on camels. Bilbo walked. We cycle, mostly, in Guernsey, often with the dog who has her own seat, but we have also acquired a motorhome. So the summer holidays were spent journeying down through France to northern Spain, with the blessing of Jonny and Adele’s company for a couple of weeks. Cycling, surfing, even walking the Ceres Gorge through the Picos de Europa. Many adventures. It was good, too, to catch up with 9 different lots of friends and family in England over half term, driving 1000 miles in 7 days.

So...Richard is now retired, with gradually improving health which has enabled him to enjoy the gardening and  home improvements. Angie still enjoys the teaching aspect of teaching: children never fail to amuse. Pickle has adjusted to her new life,  enjoying barking through the fence at the neighbouring dogs.

In all this, we are grateful for so many blessings and we look back on the year with immense thankfulness for God’s guiding hand on our lives, for family and friends, for the gift of a beautiful place to live, and for new opportunities as we explore new expressions of faith with a group of friends. Exciting times.


We treasure our friends, old and new, and wish you a year full of blessings and much happiness. We hope you have a wonderful Christmas season and look forward to hearing about what 2016 has brought to you J

Monday, 26 December 2016

Christmas Day 2016: reflections

WE SURVIVED! That seems an awful thing to say about such an awesome, stupendous occasion - our great celebration of our Lord and King's birth. I always imagine an earthly kingdom with all the pomp and ceremony, planning and preparation, feasting and extravagance which accompany a king's visit. And of course that is what Christmas is all about, really.

But, as I reflected a couple of days ago, this joyful occasion has become tainted with selfish expectation, and I was no exception, I had grieved and worried over the 'loss' of my children, just on this one day of the year.

Ridiculous, now, in retrospect. Because WE.HAD.A.GOOD.GREAT.DAY. Hallelujah!

And I am so grateful to God for changing the heart of this woman who, on Christmas Eve morning, had been lying on the floor of her bathroom, crying and praying for a change of heart. A move away from selfishness to thankfulness.

And He did. He worked a miracle.

It began on Christmas Eve as I drove around dropping off miniscule tokens of appreciation for friendship. In very busy lives, I had forgotten the gift of these wonderful people in my life and it was good to reconnect. And how good it was to bless just a couple of hard-working people with a little money. Next year I will be more intentional and organised. Our poverty here is hidden, but many people work two or more menial jobs for long hours in order to make ends meet. (At the other end of the scale, there are those who think nothing of paying hundreds of thousands for a car, or on an extra garage...)  And I was able to do a very small errand (introducing my neighbour to the wonders of the Turkey Roasting Bag) and build on a relationship with these marvellous people next door.

But it was Christmas Day which was so excellent. Waking early - in spite of going to midnight communion, greeting a few friends, singing the well-known carols - we sipped coffee and prepared to Skype with Cat and her new family in New Zealand. We chatted for half an hour with her and Andy and his parents, reflecting anew how very blessed she is (and we, too) to have such very nice people as in-laws. God has been SO good to us in our children's marriages and we love their spouses, parents and family as if they were our own. We could have talked longer, (often it is an hour or so), but it was late in the evening for them....

....and time to go surfing. I hummed and haaed - cold water is not my favourite - but put an extra layer under my wetsuit, donning boots and gloves as well, braving the waves with my bodyboard. And it wasn't cold at all, especially as the air, on getting out of the water, was mild, but tremendous fun.

Then, as we opened presents from our children and each other - thoughtful, intensely practical (and Richard did a trick we have done before of giving each other similar items because we both recognised the need for them in our lives) - an unexpected phone call. Our friend Danny, son of our beloved home help 'Cookie' who became another mother for me as I grew up. She was the most wonderful, generous person, always looking out for those in need and loving us all as deeply as if we were her own children. It has been wonderful to keep in touch with Danny and his wife - a relationship that goes back 60 years now - and to hear his news.

Then Chris and Kareena came round for lunch. We enjoyed the enormous shared feast - leftovers for the week, at least.
The mizzle had started in earnest outside in an increasingly grey day, but it made no difference as the dogs - Howie the Boston and Pickle the Patterdale - played together. We ate, pulled crackers, played hilarious (and sometimes rude) charades, chatted... and ended up watching the original movie of Home Alone, laughing uproariously at the slapstick humour.

And in the middle, more Skype chats with Jonny and Adele, and then my lovely brother and his family.

New Year's Resolution: more Skype time, more real time where possible, more communication. More love.

The story of Christmas. How amazing that God even CHOSE to communicate with us. How marvellous the ways in which He does so. And how breathtaking, stunning and awesome the means with which He communicates with his people, whoever and wherever we are.

Even with a silly, selfish woman weeping on a floor.

Christmas 2016

Not much gets recorded on here any more - more on travelswithpickle and my wordsfromgodtoday blogs which take my musings. Advent, and all it means, has preoccupied my heart.

But Christmas is here. Christmas Eve, as I write. I'm putting off peeling potatoes ready for roast and mash tomorrow. Reflecting and writing is much more fun , especially listening to Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin trolling through Christmas songs while Richard wraps Christmas presents. He seems to have needed a lot of help in locating scissors, sellotape and wrapping paper - which have been lying, ready for use, on the bed all afternoon. AND it all seems to be taking a long time. Oh well - the mystery of men and Christmas presents remains dark and... mysterious.  No doubt tomorrow will reveal all.

And now that we're here... well, I'm looking forward to tomorrow. We're having friends round, with their dog, Howie the Boston terrier.  Howie and Pickle have been best friends and sparring buddies for the last five years and are completely chilled with each other. We'll have a walk, sit down to dinner, play games, maybe watch a movie... just laid back and relaxed. Kareena and I have divvied up the food between us so it all seems very easy.

But this Christmas is the first one where none/neither of our children will be with us.  Indeed, Cat has only managed one Christmas in the last five years: New Zealand is a little far to come flying home for Christmas and in any case, she will be with her new husband and her in-laws.  Jonny and Adele have spent the last two - and the first two of their married life - with us, so it is Phil and Judy's turn this year. All good and right.

This has caused me considerable, self-inflicted, grief. The thought of reaching this milestone - a first Christmas without children - has been very hard to contemplate. No amount of reasoning by my oh-so-well-adjusted-sensible head with my hurting lonely heart has made any difference. I have even had a couple of melt-downs, much to my head's disappointment - it is used to getting its own way and keeping my emotions firmly in check. My feelings have been well-disciplined over the years and don't normally hold sway in my life.

But that has changed in the last couple of weeks. I've recognised that, against my will, knowledge of the Gospel and better judgement, I have unwittingly bought into the 'Christmas is happy family time' lie and that if I don't have my family, or even my happy, it's not really Christmas.

A lie, indeed. Christmas is Grace. It is remembering Jesus. The Gift. Emmanuel - God With Us. And all His other names...amazing, undeserved favour on us from God. Anything that helps me remember that is good. Anything that distracts - is not. I have reminded myself of that over and over again and, as I have done so, I have moved my heart nearer my head, recognising in the old traditions the timeless reminders of God's love for us. For me, undeserving though I am.

So decorating the house, Christmas baking, writing cards, taking part in carol services... all have taken on a new meaning as I do them to celebrate HIS coming, not my children's homecoming.

I have continued to put out our African nativity set - the human faces made of natural clays so real, almost unattractive in their crude simplicity. Yet it reminds me of the Story. I look at the faces of the kings - almost grumpy, as perhaps they were in tiredness from long travels.

Other memories of Kenya...
I decorate with evergreens, creating natural wreaths from willow and garden shrubs. I ponder on the everlasting love of God which remains new, not just at Christmas, but every day. I marvel at the uniqueness of God's creation as I look at the perfect red berries, the delicate tracery of leaves or the toughness of bright green leaves which resist our fierce storms.


I put up our little artificial Christmas tree - surely more than forty years old now, still stretching delicate, realistic looking branches out to receive the ornaments.
Every decoration holds a memory: made by one, given by another, bought with a third, collected with a fourth. Family, friends, colleagues, acquaintances - all have a part in our tree and I am grateful that they are in my life, whether near or at the other ends of the earth.
One of the latest additions: a kiwi from Cat, from New Zealand

Just one more reminder of where she is...
I bake for Christmas: always, Swedish pepparkakor, a tradition in our family long before I ever lived in Sweden myself. The smell permeates the house, whispering God Jul  - Merry Christmas - to my heart. I bake, not for family this time, but for myself, to enjoy with a cup of tea late at night when the house is quiet. I bake to share, as I invite friends and colleagues to my home for coffee. And I bake to give away, packaging handfuls up in cellophane and bright ribbon.

I bake a traditional Christmas cake, covering it with thick marzipan and thin royal icing, putting on the little ornaments - gifts from my mother - which I have kept for decades. But this year, no little children playing in the snow... just Father Christmas and a snowman...

This year, there are no 'happy children playing in the snow' on my cake. There always used to be - a boy and a girl - but this year is different.

I plan the shopping, doing it in a couple of different trips when I am out running errands. It seems stress-free.

I find a new craft, as I do every year or so. Last time it was to sew little red felt hearts, decorated with tiny white buttons. There are so many of them, in various sizes - for sewing them became addictive - that they have their own tree.

This year, my latest obsession is to create willow wreaths, weaving the long withies round and over each other. I gently bend the long, thicker end, feeling it give gently, as I 'take the spite out of it'. Willow needs to flex gently or it cannot create the gentle curves demanded by a wreath. A bend renders the withy useless. I carefully create the first circle, hugging it to my body to get the correct shape, then reach my arm through to grasp the tip, pulling it back through the centre, always reaching, pulling, round and round.

Then, I decorate with red and green, perhaps a ribbon or a bow.
A simple, first attempt.
A centrepiece
I do much as I have always done.

And in all this: Ann Voskamp puts it so beautifully:
It's *okay* that you didn't get it all done. And that it's messy & far from perfect. There is brokenness and failing and hurting and falling and dying and burying and there are times you don’t know how to breathe — but there is always, always, always Hope.
The Star-Maker, the Wisdom-Carrier, the Hope-Bringer — He had to take on skin and come with lung and lips and warm breath because this is the gift that all the heart bruised need: Hope resuscitates.
Let your heart prepare Hope room.
If you don’t let your heart prepare Hope room — it’s your own house that comes crashing down.
It’s worth it to take courage and let your busted and broken heart prepare Hope room and prepare room for the prodigal to come home and the hard-hearted to change and the hurting to not hurt and the wounders to heal and the impossible to find a possible way and let nothing stop you from following the star this Christmas.
There’s no performing Christmas, producing Christmas, or perfecting Christmas.
There is resting in Christmas.
There is breathing easy in Christ.
He will prepare your heart for the coming of the Lord.
There’s a hope waiting right up ahead right now for you in the dark.
Hope’s always making a way — follow the Star.
Merry, Merry Christmas Eve...
#TheBrokenWay #TheGreatestGift
from the post: when you’re weary & just want to prepare your heart for Christmas — & a bit of Hope --> bit.ly/WantingToPrepareRoomForHimAndHOPE
[ print's free for you right here: bit.ly/StickyNotesForYourSoul ]

And things in my life are indeed broken. That unbroken-for-decades-tradition of having family together has gone. Symbolically, the Jesse tree ornaments my daughter and I made from salt dough are also broken. The damp has finally got to them and they have started to become soggy. I will try to dry them out, but perhaps I need to create new ones now. New shapes, new memories.
New traditions.

So on Christmas Eve, when much is done, I go out with my willow wreaths - for I have, by now, made many. I drop them at friends' doors while they are out last-minute shopping; sometimes I stay for a cup of tea and catch up with their news. I reconnect with those I hold dear, rather than grieve over those who are not near. I bless friends and neighbours.

I have heard of a Christmas Eve tradition of blessing strangers with gifts, going out for coffee and leaving a large tip, so I too try to do this. I pray, and look for someone who is perhaps in need of a gift of a little money. We cycle to our nearest cafe, but it is closing. This is Guernsey, after all, not the USA or an urban metropolis. Perhaps this is not a tradition I can make my own. But as we leave, my husband points out the cleaner: "What about this lady?"  She is just settling down in her cupboard with a sandwich by the time I have taken money and the Christmas 'card' from church out of my bag. She looks up wearily, then leaps up, hugging and kissing her thanks in broken English.
She will work until 8.30 tonight, this Christmas Eve, far from home. I am humbled. My little gift seems sadly lacking.

We cycle home a different way, through quiet lanes lit up with occasional Christmas lights. Trees glow through uncurtained windows. The night is calm, still, the air is mild. Perhaps this, too, can become a tradition: enjoying the creativity and entertainment of light decorations.

So now, I return to the potatoes. The turkey waits in the fridge - I'll get it out tomorrow. We'll Skype with our daughter over our early morning coffee, have a leisurely breakfast, go surfing. Skype with our son - and share the surfing news, for this was a tradition he established. Then our friends will come, and we will rejoice again, and celebrate, and love.

For this, this Love, is what Christmas is all about. 

Sunday, 20 November 2016

No. November

November. Never anyone's favourite month, in spite of the excitement of Guy Fawkes and fireworks night.  And that's a mixed blessing, anyway: I know we should be thankful that a seventeenth century act of terrorism was foiled and the monarchy and Parliament were saved, but it has never sat comfortably with me that we celebrate a cruel death.

But bonfires and fireworks are long gone. Instead, we have Storm Angus, who howled through the English Channel last night, breaking branches off trees, tossing trampolines, stamping on surfboards and boats and generally keeping everyone awake.

Not us, though. In spite of hearing all kinds of tales about the fierce winds which affect this part of the island, we slept through the Force 12 gusts which tore through at 2.20am this morning. The only damage was to the spinach: already hail-battered, it is now looking rather wind-shredded. Green debris and the odd slate littered the roads this morning.

We are thankful. Thankful for a solid, warm house, when many sleep out in the cold, fleeing from terror.
Thankful for the loving friends we have, as I put together our yearly newsletter and start to send it off with Christmas cards. (Feeling somewhat under pressure, as some folk still don't know that we have moved, let alone have our new address.)
Thankful for family , even though they are all so far away that it tears my heart to shred.

There we are. No.Vember.

Some photos to bring cheer to a cheerless month:
Richard preparing to light the wood-burning stove he has installed

Lit!  It warms the room incredibly efficiently.

Final 'autumn cleaning' of TMH.  It needs a name.

Tanna coffee. From Cat and Andy in the summer. Warm climes, warm memories...

Baby butternut. The plant produced three medium sized squashes, in the end. Well done, plant!

Spinach, pre-Angus.  And the potatoes are ready now, too!

Orchids in the evening sun