Saturday, 29 December 2012

The year that was - 2012


I don't know about you but this time of year always makes me a bit reflective. As the New Year approaches you look back over what has been since you last desperately tried to keep yourself awake till midnight (if you are old like me!) and wonder at all that has passed in the last year. This time last year I was where I am heading today, at my in-laws house. I was pretty grumpy as the clock turned twelve because life was so very uncertain.

2012 - the year of good beer and saying farewell to Summertown
I had no idea what 2012 held in store and at that moment I'd well and truly lost the excitement of that and rather felt frustrated. I'd been waiting one year and three months for my interview for ministry training and had another three months to go until it arrived. The biggest question though was what I would do if I didn't get in. Work was, as it had been for many years, uninspiring and with a constant nagging feeling of being utterly in the wrong place but unable to find the right one. And it was easy. I sometimes long for easy now but when I think back to I hadn't been challenged in a role in years. I hadn't cared about what I did every day for such a long time. 

And then 2012 came. With a bang. Five days in and our house was broken in to. All in all I'm pretty much over it but not enough to want to relive those weeks again. But here's how it was if you want to look back (aren't blogs handy?!)

In the midst of all of that the interview came around quite unexpectedly fast. Before I knew it was back home, waiting for that dreaded envelope with the answer I had been waiting so long for. Accompanied by a burst sewage pipe the news arrived, and as we know, it was a yes. Life had changed for ever and in five short months I was off, not before collecting and renovating enough second hand furniture to fill our new house (if not a small shop!) and with a month long sojourn to Zambia with a bunch of sixteen year olds.
 
Wandering the streets with some bookshelves. There was a lot of this going on!
 
Zambia was unexpectedly life changing. I barely had time to register that I was going before I found myself there. I learnt how much fun it is to care, to see other people develop and grow into themselves and I got back to the heart of what really matter just at the right time as when that plane touched down I had four weeks until we were packing up the boxes and moving to college.

Beautiful Zambia
And so what about this year, as the clock turns midnight and I let out an almighty yawn? What does 2013 have in store? Challenge, that's for sure. Change as I continue on this intense journey of training. Joy, as new Greek words become my words and new ancient worlds are opened up to me through study (I'm a geek and I love it!) Im pretty sure I'll be frustrated. I will probably moan on this blog a fair bit. It won't be easy. But I will care and looking back on 2012 I think that is the greatest gift of all. Days that mean something to me. Bring on 2013!

The view from my college study, where you'll find me in 2013.



Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Getting back to you

The space from college this holiday has given me that most brilliant of things – FREEDOM! (cue singing of George Michael, 'Freeeedom, I'll not let you down....', you with me? No? Ok then.). It has taken a few days but now, much like the girl in the Twinnings advert, I find myself 'getting back to me' as I float away on a sea of Vampire Diaries watching and cake eating induced bliss.

I find myself wanting to set a few things straight. To put some stakes in the ground to mark where I stand and what I stand for while I still have the objectivity that a bit of separation from everyday life brings. Something to look back on as I continue on this journey. Some signposts for the way. So here they are, some rough and early musings that have come up as I've 'gotten back to me'.

Right? Yeah right.

I've been known to get it 'wrong'. Say things in the the wrong order, say the wrong things altogether. Light the wrong candles, narrowly avoid setting fire to the giant flappy sleeved robe I'm asked to wear (I mean, what genius came up with that eh?). But stake one is this – there is no right way (except maybe the setting fire to yourself bit, I'm pretty sure that isn't right...). The right way is an action done with love, compassion, intelligence and integrity. Nothing else really matters.

The future is God-made not Church-made

Ordination is not a one way street to stress, a job you complain constantly about and never seeing your family again. That lifestyle is chosen, no matter what anyone tells me. I've never taken the conventional route. I've never been a slave to other people's expectations or what I 'ought to do'. I'm on an adventure with God, that is what the life of faith is to me. There are many roles and many ways of being in them and there is one for me, as me.

Brighter, bolder. More, more, more!

Quoting my old pal St Iranaeus: 'The glory of God is a human fully alive'. There is a feeling in what I've been taught in the last few weeks of diminishing yourself. There is a call to always blend in despite the major movements in the church being lead by those who did anything but. I was told this term that if I wanted to 'advance' in the church then I ought to wear black, to fit in with the 'boys' as it were.

But the thing is God made me colourful. And if I see ministry at its depth as a calling out to people to be fully alive, fully themselves in all their glorious technicolour, then how can I model that in black when I'd be wearing it to hide or advance? I must be colourful too. And luckily for me I'm not really bothered about advancing I'm bothered about being who God made me to be. Teen drama watching, Christmas obsessed, glittery nail varnish wearing me.

'It's not enough!'

There is a character in Gossip Girl called Cyrus Rose who when he hugs people holds on for the bit too long and when they try and pull away says 'Not enough!' My husband jokes that I am a spiritual Cyrus Rose. I have always had a deep hunger for the extraordinary. Having space from college has helped me to see what is extraordinary and what is just plain run of the mill. When I pray stuff happens. When I go to church I expect God to be there. When I say words I mean them. I've seen extraordinary stuff this term and that's what I want more of. Because anything else, well, it's 'not enough'!

So there we are. A few stakes in the ground. A wee manifesto for next term. And now I'm off to paint my nails and watch the Vampire Diaries. I am nothing if not consistent!!

Monday, 10 December 2012

Top ten holiday activities


I've now officially finished for the Christmas holidays. However, a combination of the intensive pace of the term and an ever present sense of guilt floating about my person that I should really be studying Greek is making it hard to unwind. I know I really need some time off for my brain to recover but sitting and willing it to stop whirring isn't doing the trick. So I thought what better way to focus my attention on some serious relaxing and recuperation but to get it down in writing. Faithful blog readers, be my witness! I will slow down this Christmas!

And so here are my top ten activities I will do this holiday to break the pace and feel the peace, man!
  1. Lose track of time in a coffee shop
    I haven't done this for months. Every moment is accounted for. Even a half an hour slot is seriously valuable so I haven't been able to sit and let time float by without worrying.
  2. Get my vintage on
    A morning browsing the charity shops (there is a serious set of amazing ones just down the road from me now. It's brill!) is just what I've been craving.
  3. Bake
    The Christmas cake is done but there are plenty more on the must bake list. Next up, orange and cranberry breakfast muffins. Yum.
  4. Sew something
    Is there anything as restorative as an afternoon behind the sewing machine? There are a pile of gorgeous fabrics waiting to be transformed. I'm thinking a patchwork embroidered cushion might be in the offing.
  5. Devote myself to a box set
    This Christmas it is The Vampire Diaries. Yes I am a teenager very poorly disguised in a twenty something body!
  6. Wander round the shops
    It's Christmas shopping season, need I any more excuse than that?
  7. Tis the season to be glittery
    Nail painting, long baths, a hair cut has been long needed. Bliss.
  8. Friends and Family
    Staying up late chatting, lunch dates, feet up and eating a lot of cake. I can't wait to see them all!
  9. Read a good book
    Does this need saying – NON THEOLOGICAL!!
  10. Go out for dinner to a place that requires me to wear my new bright yellow heels
    Yes, this one is rather specific. But these poor beauties haven't seen the light of day yet and it is a tragedy!
To keep me on the straight and narrow I shall keep you updated on my antics. What are you doing this season for a little R&R?

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

…..And the mouse within

I didn't plan to write a part two to yesterdays post on this term but today has made me think otherwise. I've always tried to give a fair portrayal of how things really are on this blog. Ultimately this is because I believe whole heartedly in cutting the BS. I can't see any other way to really connect. Until we start to say with honesty where we are at, until we learn to live by the truth rather than the image we project, well, I'm not sure there's much hope for us. Much less in my line of work that has been know for centuries as a place of pomp, of hierarchy and of holier than thou. I don't know about you but I've seen enough of that. I'm looking for something more human.

Today we had a seminar on preaching. I'm excited about preaching probably because I love blog writing so much. That and because I genuinely love diving into the Bible which surprises me, shocks me, does my head in and encourages me in equal measure. But what I realised today in that seminar felt like the weight of fifteen bibles placed on my shoulders. Because, and here's the real secret, half the time I'm pretty convinced I can't do the things I'm being asked to do.


Now I know you're not supposed to say that. You are supposed to have the swagger of authority, to seem like you can hold the cares of the world in the palm of you hand and not even notice it. But I'm not like that. When I think about having something to say to people, something honest and relevant that stays true to the awesome and torturous history of this faith and the whole history of a nation, well, I feel very, very afraid. I feel like a gnat about to be splatted with the book I'm trying to preach from.


I've been known to call my being here a divine joke. Not that I don't think I should be here but that there is still an absurdity to it. I'm a square peg looking at a round hole and saying 'now how do you suppose this is going to happen?' It can be so easy to look around and think about everything I don't know. I can name about three hymns, all the ones people complain about because they are so old hat or sung too often. I have to rename the church silverware by names of Dr Who villains to make them stick in my mind and then very nearly end up calling a Ciborium a Cyborg out loud.


Ciborium or Cyborg?
Oh, I'm a trier, I really am, but sometimes I just want to sack the ritual and stand in the middle of a field to say my prayers that I make up right there on the spot. In the church God made rather than the one we create for him. Sometimes I need to sing Stevie Wonder to God and not something penned circa 1850. Sometimes I want to say I've had a bad day too, let you know that I'm a human being, that dog collars and robes don't mean a thing. We are all the same aren't we? We have the same beginning and the same end after all. The same hopes and fears at the bottom of it.

I don't say this to illicit cries of 'oh no you're more than capable'. Perhaps that is true, perhaps it isn't, perhaps it will become true with time. I say it to anyone sitting at their desk thinking 'I can't do this' or ducking out of what they feel they should be doing because of feeling too small for the task. I say it in the light of all the things I said yesterday. All the very real joys and triumphs of this journey. I'm saying it to be honest with you.


All I know I do have, and why the powers-that-be sent me here in the first place, is an irrepressible love for God. I don't really have any credit for that. It's like a power surge that I've found myself plugged into. One of my favourite poems is a very early, very simple Japanese verse. It goes 'Though one dams it and dams it my heart still breaks through like a swift river, saying how beautiful he is'. And that, my friends, is really all I have and I'm trusting it to carry me through.


I want that to be remembered as I tell my stories here and that's why I say it again now. Don't ever feel like you are too ordinary for the things you have in your heart to do. Perhaps it's the ordinary that will be the extraordinary thing. Who knows?

Monday, 3 December 2012

The term that was

I can't quite believe it but I am in the last week of my first term at vicar college. I was doing some reading today about education in Ancient Greece and the author described how the program for students involved working both body and mind intensively. With all the cycling up and down the world's largest hill (fact!) and the mind bending demands of the Oxford course I feel like this might have survived a couple of millennia and made its way into the ethos of theological college. Hmmm.......

And what else of these first few months? The study is as cool as I thought it would be, no scrap that, it's cooler. I'm reaching new levels of geeky with each passing week. The topics are fascinating. One minute we're in 13th Century BC on the exodus out of Egypt with Israel (or not, depending on what you make of the research!) and the next we're in the courts of the temple with the Apostle Paul listening to classical rhetoric and the dawning of a new world faith.

College is maddening and brilliant. I'm pretty sure that once the dust settle on this term I'm going to start to realise what has already changed in me. Every week has something new and challenging, whether that is visiting at the hospital or leading a service, reading at church or figuring out the truly mystical inner workings of a church sacristy (the place where they set up all the holy stuff to you and me!).

I am still most definitely an alien on Planet Christian but now I'm in an even stranger place that is Planet Church of England, nay even weirder Planet Theological College! And what a crazy place that has been to be these past few weeks. I'm baffled by something at least once a day (women bishops anyone?!) but then I'm touched by something just as often. I'm learning the art of 'just turning up' when I really don't want to and knowing those moments when like a wink to God, the author of the sense of humour, I can bend the rules a little.

I probably know less now about where I think I'm going than when I started here. I've definitely been drawn to things, sometimes quite brilliantly unexpected things. I've had little hints of where this might all go, what kind of church or community might be the right place for me. What I might be good at and what it might be as well to avoid. But mostly I've learned not to look too far ahead. There really is too much going on today for that and that is pretty darn cool.

Monday, 26 November 2012

Tis the season to....

.sit in a pub, drink beer and have a proper old chin wag. Right?

I haven't given much of an update on here about village life as quite frankly all I've seen of it is has been in complete darkness as I cycle between home and college at 7am and back again at 7pm! This Saturday however was a real turn up for the books and I finally had a free Saturday with no inclination, or previous commitments, to go anywhere further than a three minute walk.
 
Natalie Dee rules!
Luckily our village is abundant in pubs. Pubs are one of the major pluses for living in England if you ask me. And not just any pubs. Local pubs. When we lived in Aberdeen it was either slightly terrifying local dive bar that was reminiscent of a bomb shelter (and called the Broad Sword, I mean, really?!), one dingy student pub where they look at you funny for asking what wines they have or it's into town where you jostle with people who are 'out-out' when you just want a quiet one.

Local pubs are different. It's all jolity and chatting with the neighbours. Think wood burning fires, local ales and gleefully letting a couple of hours tick by. In our local this weekend there was a dog behind the bar, paws up between the beer pumps. I mean seriously, how bloomin' brilliant is that?! I was desperate to take a picture but was worried they would think I was some loon reporting them to environemtal health rather than enjoying the 'dog as bar staff' hilarity. 
 
So this Saturday I chucked on a thick knit jumper and some woolley boots and my long suffering, provider of all my meals and generally hard working husband and I spent a couple of blissful hours catching up over a couple of pints of Old Speckled Hen. I also managed to negotiate stopping by the gem in the crown of this brilliant place, a little second hand furniture and home shop. It had had a little Christmas makeover and I got myself a couple of new decorations for the tree and some gorgeous glasses for a cheeky Christmas cocktail or two. Aren't they beautiful?
 
 
So all in all, amid the essays, VERY dark countryside (whats with all the lack of street lights? Light pollution, pah! I want to see where I'm going!) and slightly perilous cycle rides on flooded roads, all is well here. I'm still a townie and I can't wait to be back and forth into Oxford a bit more once term ends (Shops! Fifteen different options for Coffee!) but for a lazy Saturday, well, what more do you need?!

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Remember Africa

Remember Africa
the loop held in small hands
rolling towards me
it reached me like the rays of the sun
setting over the land.
 
 
Remember Africa
words spoken over the fire
flames lick the blackness
and we danced
sang a new song that day.
 
 
Remeber Africa
what you shared with me
on the sandy pathway
lifting up your eyes
to the hopes we created there.
 
 
Remember Africa
of dedications, things we kept behind
when tomorrow was as lost
 so we hung on to today
like children on a mother's arm.
 
 
Remember Africa
what we found there
a pearl in a holy place
one buried there
that spoke of richness, recovery, new beginnings.
 
 
....because sometimes it is good to remember.
 
 







Christmas Bliss

I was very excited to notice on my calendar today that as of next week I have three weeks left of this term at college! Can you believe it? I barely feel like I've put a foot in the door and term one in done. Rest assured the work doesn't end there as I will be at my placement church making papier-mache snowmen (or something!) over the Christmas season and spending a fair share of my time knee deep in the reading I've abandoned under the pressure of essay deadlines this term.

I will also be dedicating myself fully to Christmas. This is not simply the hanging of a few bits of tinsel and the occasional glass of mulled wine, no! This is full scale dedication to the Christmas cause. I feel slightly virtuous in this as Christmas was the time of year I became a Christian so all the merriment is tied up in a deep seated and very real joy. I've got a reason for the season, that's for sure!

But I am also an unapologetic lover of chintz, Christmas bling and stuffing my little face with any kinds of Christmas fare. Call a spade a spade and all that! A mince pie a day is pretty much standard and the house is always transformed into a veritable winter wonderland. Out with the running reindeer, the twinkly lights and slightly wonky but much beloved tree. There will be Glee Christmas, Michael Buble, Christmas movies on continuous loop. Bliss.

I'm also going to dedicate myself to friends and family this Christmas. Finally a chance to meet up with people, visit for more than one afternoon and enjoy the fruits of winter rather than battle them as I cycle full on into darkness and bracing winds. Then I will be sitting under a blanket, listening to windows rattle and cackling to myself with Glee that I am indoors (there's some Christmas spirit for you!!). All in all, bliss.

I'm also going to dedicate myself to my duvet. I miss my duvet. We meet so briefly, cling on for dear life on a Saturday morning but very soon are cruelly yanked apart. I will study under my duvet, have blessed lie ins. I will reconnect with my sewing machine, wear my Christmas hat with every outfit, stir and sift and bake the afternoon away. Bliss!

But for now it's plodding on with just the twinkle of a fairy light in the distance to sustain me. I am tired dear reader, very tired indeed. My quota for 'exciting challenges' is running low, I'm about to go into full hibernation mode. In fact, thinking about it, perhaps I ought to crack out those mince pies and Christmas cheer a little early?!

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Hospital Visiting

Every week this year I'm spending an afternoon with the chaplaincy team in one of the hospitals in Oxford. I've wanted to work alongside a chaplain since I worked as a nursing assistant up in Aberdeen. The chaplains there were amazing. After the Piper Alpha Disaster in the North Sea the chaplains provided a safe space in the chapel where relatives could wait for news and then have someone to fall back on whatever the outcome. I found it fascinating, to see people go to the depths of human devastation time and again and still be happy, smiling people, usually with a fantastic sense of fun. It just seemed so illogical, surely being surrounded by all that suffering would harden you? That you'd lose your sense of joy in it all? But I never saw that.

I've often wondered if there is something in that. If travelling through 'The Valley of Sorrows' with people, as one of my favourite psalms puts it, really does bring a sense of peace that goes beyond all explanations. It's something I feel drawn to wherever I see it. So when the opportunity arose to do a placement in hospital I knew it was one to go for. I'm afraid of it, that's for sure, but I seem to have an irrepressible urge to go into those fearful places. As I spoke to one of the chaplains today she smiled when I said that and responded 'that's what chaplains do'. That combined with my love of being out in the world, on the cutting edge, left us mulling over if there might be some chaplaincy work in my future. Watch this space!

Today I visited the Childrens' Hospital. It's purpose built with play rooms in every ward, chill out rooms on the teenagers floor and bright colours everywhere. Of all the time I've spent in hospital this was the most upbeat and uplifting environment I've been in. Thank goodness for that for the sake of those children that call this place home whether for a few weeks of cancer treatment of an unexpected trip to surgery after a nasty fall. The bravery was palpable in the air. Heroic kids, Mums and Dads worthy of awards for just being there and keeping a smile on their face.

The chaplain was inspiring, wearing a dress covered in daisies and popping her head round the curtains to say hello, hear stories and to let people know there is someone about should they need them. We talked about her day to day, the literally life saving work of helping someone back from the emotional brink at the loss of a child. I've never seen a minister involved so much, so often, in the darkness of human experience and I couldn't help but think that if Jesus was about today that is where you'd find him. What a relief from all the infuriating technicalities and politics of church. This stuff really matters.

If you're the praying sort then do remember these kids and parents in hospital tonight, I know I will.

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

It's all Greek....

I'm learning Greek as part of my course, a few people have asked me why and it's because that is the language that the New Testament is written in. With that in mind most of the sentences I'm learning would sound pretty odd in modern Greece (and the modern language is a variation) but hey, should I want to announce 'Jesus is the light of the world' on the beach I'll be all set. Probably not quite so useful as 'Can I have an ice cream?' but there are.

I am quite excited about the cross over potential though. I love Greece so very much and fully intend to keep going there for a long time to come, even more so with the financial trouble. There is a real level of poverty as well as breathtaking beauty in the country and it feels good to leave a trail of Euros in exchange for souvlakis that I know keeps someone going over the winter.

My love affair with Greece began when I was eighteen and hopped on a plane to Athens where I spent the summer lolling about on the beach and nursing sick turtles. I remember wandering along the beach and feeling this most intense feeling of freedom. Here I was on what felt like the other side of the world, all alone, but feeling utterly exhilarated.

22 and in Greece again!
I suppose that is why Greece has been my go to place in the Summer. (four birthdays there and counting..!) I love the feeling of sitting facing the setting sun, beer in hand thinking 'look at me eh? Living life!' and secretly hatching plans of how I might avoid that flight home. When we went to the Peleponnese last summer we were driving along the coast we saw a little house of an English man who had passed away. He had been a spy based in Greece during the Second World War and they rewarded him with land for a house anywhere he chose in the whole country. He went back and forth to it all his life eventually retiring there where he spent his days reading books, teaching English and looking out of the turquoise sea. Clever man.

If that isn't enough there's the food (abundance of feta and olive oil, need I say more?), the people (all wonderful, every single one..!) and the amazing cultural heritage. So learning Greek is really rather exciting. I'm definitely hoping to do a language course in Greece on one of our trips to try and convert my ye olde Greek into modern Greek and I'm quite convinced that there is no better place to learn about the letter to the Corinthians than up the road from Corinth, right? Put that together with long uni summer holidays and a dissertation to write and....hello! Now where is that passport.....

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Wave your flag

All this book learning is turning me into an extremist. Now before you send the men in white coats (or some other more sinister government agency) round for me, let me explain myself! I'm talking about extremism for good ends, extremism for equality. I'm getting more and more riled up about it, sitting here at my kitchen table with piles of reading for my latest essay around me.

Being a woman in an institution that fundamentally discriminates against me may seem like utter lunacy to most people. It probably is really but as I've said before I have this odd attachment to it, this bizarre thing called church, like holding a broken bird in my hand and I just want it to get better with everything in me.

Having an attachment to the Bible probably seems like an even greater lunacy (here come those men in white coats again) but I've always loved it since I picked it up for the first time seven years ago and read it cover to cover. Yes, it contains the verses that are used to bash me and many other over the head and into submission but if someone hits me over the head with a spade does that make the spade the problem or the person who is using it all wrong?


So what is getting me particularly excited is having this time to steep myself in the New Testament. To dwell in all those sticky passages, all those places people get hot under the collar about and to find there, with great excitement and the companionship of some fabulous scholars, that this faith, this book, this message, is fundamentally one of equality. Yep - race, sex, background. Forget it. Irrelevant. THAT is how it should be.

Of course this isn't the first time this has dawned one me and likewise I've got it massively wrong many times, said so many dumb things, made dumb judgements, that I wish I could take back. But now I'm finding the hard evidence for this very real conviction, that I so want to live out, from much more intelligent people than me. It is utterly liberating.

Now you're probably thinking, 'Equality? Doesn't look much like any church I know.' Trust me there is a great irony in making these intellectual discoveries alongside being at a University where the mantra is 'you are the elite!' and a church where status is way too often everything. Here we are again with the broken baby bird. With a nasty nip when you try to help her. Oh yes, there is some healing to do but I feel like I am making foundations, in my life at least, for everything I attempt to do in that area with all my own frail, fudged up attempts.


So there we are, waving my flag, Extremist for Equality!

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Colour

You know when you get busy, the first thing that seems to go out of life is colour. You don't notice things anymore. When this happens I take pictures, real ones, mental ones, word ones. Here's todays spotted while reading for my essay.


For some proper photography to get you in the autumnal spirit, check out Hannah's brilliant blog!

Sunday, 7 October 2012

Keeping it Simple

The seasons are changing and with it our habits. Where we wanted to be outside with a chilled glass of wine, the bottles of red are being dusted off and the sofa is the location of choice. Box sets are our friends, cups of tea our staple. It won't be long before the mulled wine is brewing again. This week was ripe with challenges and by Friday I'd lost all energy for them, just wanting to curl up as the season demands and let the world pass me by for a minute. But luckily this weekend has been everything that this week hasn't been, an antidote to all the confusing, complicated strangeness where I've desperately longed for simplicity.

Last night I cooked a huge lasagne, is there anything more rejuvinatingly simple than that? Two of our best friends sat around our dining table and we laughed and chatted. We all have responsibilities now, shoes to fill and worries that our feet are not big enough to fill them. Like toddlers walking in our parents shoes. For a while it was good to realise that life can be as simple as the popping of a cork and leaning back in your chair and laughing.

This morning I went for the first time to my placement church where I will be each Sunday for the next year. After all the theorizing, the debates on how church should work (and frankly all the sheer complicated nonsense that surrounds that!), I could finally breathe again. It's an almost comical irony that training for church ministry takes you so far our of the world you are training to be in. Vicar School is so earnest, so slick. Does that sound ungrateful? Perhaps it is. But I've been missing the roughness, the patched togetherness of ordinary church services, of life in the community.

That is the Kingdom of God to me and where I know I belong. I'm a thoroughly ordinary person, constantly saying the wrong thing and laughing far to loudly. These are my people! At church today the children took to the front and sang a song with beaming smiles on their faces, gifted little things full of happiness and possibility. We celebrated someone's 100th birthday with a posy of flowers. We talked about chicken recipes over coffee. Glorious simplicity.

I realised this week how much I need those moments. Like a shaft of sunlight cutting through the clouds on a grey day. It's a well needed reminder of what it is all for. As the lady who lead the prayers at church today said 'There are so many divisions in church, remind us that what you ask of us is so simple. To love you, to love our neighbour, to include and put up no barriers that stop people from knowing you.' I'm holding on to that this week. To going for it with the abandon of children, to caring less when I get it wrong, to looking for the heart of the matter. To a bit more simplicity.


Thursday, 27 September 2012

Tired and Inspired

I've been itching to write a blog post since I started college on Monday. But as it is this week has been planned down to the last minute, nay second, with meetings, tours, warnings, encouragements all neatly packaged into twelve hour days. Tired doesn't cut it!

The church in Cuddesdon - the site of much damp, chilly prayer this week! (from www.oxfordcitybranch.org.uk)
 
Tired, yes but also inspired. Every corner of college is a piece of history. Samuel Wilberforce, founder of the college and son of the great emancipator William Wilberforce, looks down on us as we eat our meals. The wings of the building are named after past principals, vice principals and benefactors each with their own fascinating story. All of them innovators, lots of them the thorn in the side of their contemporaries because of it. Each of them standing up for something different, for higher ideals that they refused to compromise.

Samuel Wilberforce, what a legend.
The history is as winding as the staircases. I'm captured by it, a bit entranced. Ready to be a tiny little bit of the history of this place and very thankful for it. The library is a slice of heaven, volumes and volumes lined up around perfect reading nooks all looking out onto the rolling hills of the Oxfordshire countryside. Study has begun in earnest, my first essay is due next week, but I'm smiling to myself as I leaf through the reading list. I'm finally here at last!

Today we visited some churches, barely a few days in I can't help but wonder about the end when I'll be back in the community, ordained with a ministry of my own. We visited a couple of churches near Oxford ending up at Dorchester Abbey. Every ordained role is so different, every community so unique and for the first time I feel inspired by the people I meet. I want their jobs. I've never felt this way. I've always been the one in the training rolling my eyes and thinking 'man, I DO NOT want your job!' and despairing that I feel that way. Wondering if I will ever find my 'thing'.

But oh am I tired! My legs feel like planks of wood from cycling up and down the hill. I have a cold coming and I know it's only getting tougher, busier, more challenging from here. But I AM HERE! For the first time I have a bubbling excitement at my work, a rising hope in me for the future. I've got a secret smile and that wonderfully happy-making feeling sneaking up on me in quiet moments that this is exactly where I am meant to be.

Friday, 21 September 2012

Our new home

It's taken three weeks, with a slight pause for some sunshine in Portugal, but the house is finally unpacked and sorted. I really wanted to get this done before college started so that home would be a relaxing place to come back to (when I actually so get to come home!!) rather than somewhere that more work is lurking.

I got totally ridiculed my in laws and husband when I brought this table and jug but I LOVE it. It's right opposite the sofa and I just stare at it thinking, 'that looks utterly brilliant!' I'm modest, right?!

I love the feeling of the place. It's so light and we felt comfortable here from the first moment we arrived. Now it has a bit more personality stamped on it and has those all important little reminders doted about the place. You know the kind of thing, a gift from someone that reminds you that you are cared for, or a postcard with a slogan that reminds you why you're doing what you're doing.



The lantern in this picture was a gift from a friend at Uni. It says 'Let your Light Shine', a pretty good message to read every day!




I sewed this picture at the old house and it now lives on my dresser. I love this dresser. It was an old brown Ikea thing I picked up from Ebay and after about a year of looking at it and wondering I painted it bright blue. Best thing I ever did! It came alive and now it looks like it was made to be in the new house.


Isn't it gorge? The chair was a fiver from a local listing site and the crockery were all gifts or charity shop finds. The heart picture was an engagement card from a friend I met in Greece so it always reminds me of her and of how much fun it was being engaged. Speaking of Greece we found this lantern there on a recent holiday and I'm so happy it finally has pride of place somewhere. It took up my whole suitcase so I wore about fifteen layers to the airport but it was SO worth it!


 In the bottom right you can see a wedding pic and a black and white one of my beloved Nanny who passed away last year. I love the picture, she looks so independent, ready to face the world. The world was a different place then and she didn't have half the opportunities I have now. When I see it it reminds me to go for it, that it's good to have that same look in my eye!

One of the best things about the new place is that it has a garden. I love growing and most of them were in containers at our last place so, much to my Dad's dismay on moving day, I brought them all with me. There have also been some new additions like this gorgeous orchid.


I'm determined not to kill it. I've even been reading books about it! I know! Dedication! (Speaking of gardening books for total dunces, check out The Virgin Gardener by Laetitia Maklouf, all her instructions are so basic and for people with small amounts of space to grow like windowsills or patio gardens.)


I have a new lovely lavender to replace the bush that lived at our old house. It's such a deep purple colour and smells heavenly.


The garden is still very much in progress what with going into autumn and all but this is our little sun trap to sit in with a cup of tea and a good book.

Craft has been a big feature of this house move. I am so glad I bit the bullet and bought a sewing machine. I am also so glad that I googled 'how to make curtains' because they are SO easy. Seriously, if you can stitch vaguely in a straight line then you can make them. The fabric is so much cheaper and nicer than buying ones from shops. I used this tutorial to make these:


...for the office and these.....


...for the bedroom.

I also made these simple tab top curtains for the bathroom using Cherry Menlove's tutorial.


All this crafting is now very much assisted by having a craft desk. Every time I see it I swoon.


And of course the house is packed full of obligatory daftness. I have a particularly absurd sense of humour and I like having things around that break any tension I'm carrying and make me laugh. If you can't have it in your own house than where can you eh?!


Note this sign is conveniently located next to the books of church liturgy and a Greek New Testament. No further comment required!!


Ha! Hilarity!

And that is our new pad! :)




Sunday, 16 September 2012

Best friends, beach bars and cheesy bananas

I spent last week in Portugal (ooh err what a jet setter eh?!) with two of my best friends. It was absolutely blissful. The sea was within touching distance from our pretty swanky but very cheap apartment, a white sandy beach with the world's coolest beach bar was a fifteen minute ferry ride away and there were more restaurants than we had hours to enjoy them. Best best of all was the chance to get away with two people I think the world of. To have a chance to laugh, talk about the future, to be silly and not have to think twice about it.


On the second day we discovered the aforementioned world's greatest beach bar. The island itself is largely untouched, just a lighthouse, an unspoilt beach and a handful of holiday homes. The sound system pumped out Jack Johnson and other silky voiced beach crooners as we laid back in our multicoloured deck chairs sipping pina coladas. One of my friends wants to open a bar in the sun one day. We decided I would come and do the d├ęcor and she would pay me in cocktails. 


I pretty much believe my friends can do anything. In fact, I know so. We've known each other since we were kids. When the discussion opens up to the future the chat nearly always comes back to the shared imaginings we have had of each others futures. They so often correlate, 'I always thought you would live abroad', 'Me too!'. There is a depth of knowing that has great hopes for one another, greater than we can even dream for ourselves. True friends are cheerleaders of the highest order.


On the last night we ate dinner in an Italian restaurant, bemoaning that we would soon be in the UK, cold and thinking of Portugal. We ordered a bottle of Mateus (when in Portugal...!) and scoffed our way through a carb loaded feast. When dessert came my friend decided to be adventurous and went for a 'Top Hat' having no idea what it was besides the fact that it contained bananas.

Oh hilarity. It arrived in an earthenware dish, two bananas, dusted with cinnamon and covered with what looked worryingly like cheese. It took my friend four mouthfuls to decide unequivocally that, dear readers, it was cheese. I have never laughed so much in all my life, side splitting, tear streaming, gasping for air laughing. Man, did I need that! That's a true friend for you, they'll even take on a cheesy banana to give you a laugh!


And so I've been reminded that the best thing in my life is my people. Those girls that are like a gift straight out of heaven for me. When I'm holding my ground on being a young woman in leadership, questioned and challenged to stay true to myself and what I believe in or taking the next step on a road that scares the life out of me I know where my confidence comes from. Those people that have got my back and let me know it. Friends, where would we be without them?

Thursday, 6 September 2012

New home firsts

Now that I've had a few days to settle in and unpack (and managed to cycle up to college and back, hurrah! I really did make it up that hill!) the house is starting to look more like a home and less like a box factory. It's not in a state for any real recording to be done yet but I did take a few snaps on my mobile of our first few days here and how this homemade home is shaping up.

The first area I got to work on was the kitchen. I was dying to have an area to sit in the morning and this spot is bathed in sunlight from the patio doors first thing. The perfect place for a cup of tea at the start of a busy day.

On the left are my cook books and on the right my favourite poetry and gardening books. The bench is the monks bench I posted about and painted up. I then sewed the cushions for it from some offcuts I had laying about. The chairs were all ebay and local listing finds and I'm painting them in different pastel colours. The poster is my absolute fav and was actually found by my husband (I'll make a bargain hunter out of him yet!) It's a map of the world called 'Tea Revives the World' with the story of tea mapped onto it and is in a frame I picked up for a fiver and dragged home on the bus and then painted. So worth it!


Another first for the new place was a visit from my parents very mischievous and very amusing spaniel, Lily. She is going to be a frequent house guest and wasted no time making herself at home on the sofa.


A first today was a chance to sit down at my new craft table to knock up some curtains for the bathroom. It was so great to be back behind my beloved sewing machine.


And this was the finished result! The blue bottle on the left is an amazing art deco bottle that I found in a charity shop for three pounds. THREE POUNDS! There was a lot of mocking as I struggled home with that. It is rather thick and heavy. But whose laughing now, eh? It looks BRILL! I got the idea for these curtains from Cherry Menlove's blog, check it out if you fancy having a go.


And so there are a few firsts at the new place, more to come as it takes shape!

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Loved

So we've arrived. We are in the new house and semi-unpacked. The decorating has begun in earnest and the place is already shaping up just how I imagined it (A post on that to come of course!). You'd think this would make for a great week but quite frankly it's been a bit of a 'mare. I can't say I ever find change that easy but this time it has been accompanied by the dawning realisation that after all the talk, all the interviews, all the explanations it is finally happening. I am going to start training for ordination.

Now logically I know that this is cause for celebration, that many good things as well as challenges are on the horizon. All that planning, prayer, thought and preparation have been for this end. But all I have felt this week, as I have been painstakingly unpacking each box, is 'What on earth have I done?' Suddenly I'm overwhelmed by the feeling that I might fail, no that I'm going to fail. I'll not be strong enough or clever enough. I'll let people down, worse than that - I'll let God down.

All the logistical problems associated with my STILL not being able to drive feel insurmountable, There is a big hill between me and the college that I am way too unfit to cycle up. I don't even know how I'm going to get there on my first day. It feels like a giant neon metaphor for this whole endeavour, all I can hear is 'You can't do this' and I'm inclined to agree.

And so tonight, after the first day I've had at home to just potter about the house, I sat down in my arm chair, unpacked my favourite cushions, brewed up an earl grey and took my shaky heart to God. After all these years of praying, all these years of 'getting to know' who God is, even being an advocate for how loving, how all together wonderful God is I still found myself creeping towards him on my hands and knees saying 'I'm going to let you down' and expecting a rebuke for not being strong enough.

But what did I get? A reminder of the journey so far, of the great big yes I have given to every challenge thrown in my path and the still, strong voice telling me that that means something. And even more than that the reminder, like a flood of light into the soul, that nothing else matters than what I already have, I can be loved no more than I already am. Every thing is going to be all right.

The challenges haven't gone away, I feel no more confident in my ability to get this right but I feel like I'm standing on the rock again. Knowing that succeed or fail I already have everything I need. And isn't that the point of this whole ministry lark anyway? Love, acceptance, some solid ground? For all of us? It is good to be loved, necessary. And with that love there is just enough in me to say another quiet yes. Let's do this. I will climb that hill.

Friday, 24 August 2012

If these walls could talk

This morning as I was doodling in my Scribble Diary one of the spaces to fill was a speech bubble with ‘If these walls could talk’ written above it. This is what I love about the Scribble Diary, it prompts completely random thoughts that often have legs and helps you to consider things a little differently. And this one really got me thinking.
 
We’ve been in our current house for three years now. It’s a house converted into two one bed flats on the end of a lovely terrace. We live in the bottom one and it’s got a little patch of garden around it where I took my first tentative steps into fruit and vegetable growing, so many happy afternoons spent there. But what about these walls? The more I think about it the more I realise how much has happened here.
 
lovely little house...
Perhaps the walls would talk about the day we moved in when it wasn’t a ‘we’ arriving but just a ‘me’ as Ben had to stay up in Aberdeen for another three months to finish his teaching placement. After the movers (and my ever handy Dad) departed I sat down and wondered about this new place, feeling half forlorn to be without Ben and half desperately excited to be in this beautiful city at the start of a new adventure. I had no idea what a big adventure it would be! A few hours later one of my best friends from home (now just an hour away) appeared on my doorstep with a bottle of wine and one of the main features of that house was born, it was an open house, full of laughter and friends. By far my favourite thing about it.
 
Perhaps the wall would talk about the day I came back from church in deathly silence. Silence isn’t something I do very often! They might say that the silence lasted for two weeks. Every time I tried to talk about what had happened at that service the words stuck in my throat and not a squeak came out of my mouth about it. My brain was whirring and I kept myself busy but Ben knew something was up.
 
Perhaps the walls might talk about the first prayer that came out of my mouth after those weeks of silence. About the flood of tears as I said to Ben ‘I think God wants me to be a Priest, isn’t that ridiculous?’ He smiled and said, ‘No, not at all.’ And so a long journey began of interviews, job changes, new people and places. There was more laughter, more tears, everything all at once, a rollercoaster.
 
Perhaps the walls would talk about when the house became an administration station for the church. About my desperation as I scanned the clergy list and realised I had no idea how to address any of these people and one week to get them invitations to come to the institution of our new Vicar. Perhaps they would tell about team work making the dream work as Ben helped me sticker hundreds of envelopes and convinced me that after a long six months of looking after the church while we were Vicar-less that I could jump this final hurdle, exhausted as I was. Perhaps the walls would talk about vocation tested, about the last stamp going on the last envelope, a job done.
 
Perhaps they would talk about darker times. About someone climbing through our bedroom window who wasn’t invited. About me coming home and finding glass everywhere and possessions gone. About not one but two sets of police officers being kind and calming. Neighbours and friends, shoulders to cry on. Perhaps they would tell about my final forms for my final interview that were due in the day after we were broken into. How a large glass of wine and a cheerleading team in the form of Ben and our upstairs neighbours got me to put pen to paper and get them finished despite my head being anywhere but on interviews.
 
Perhaps they would tell about the day the letter arrived, the shock as I sunk into one of the kitchen chairs and read the words‘recommended for training’ and thought ‘what on earth is going to happen to me?’ They might tell of the cassock arriving and getting its first whirl before the mirror or the quiet afternoons, a breeze coming through the window ruffling the pages of the latest theology text book as I tackled the mammoth reading list from college.
 
And now they would probably talk about boxes. So many boxes. We live in an obstacle course! They would talk about paint and sewing and people making plans. And now this house will have new inhabitants, new stories to tell. We head off soon for another three years in a new home, for another great adventure. After everything that has come in this place what will the next three years hold? I’m looking forward to finding out!

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

The Mad Woman and the Coffee Hutch

As I mentioned in my last post this weekend was spent gallivanting around East Kent, visiting family and making the most of some good recommendations of charity shops ahead of the big house move next week. And my, oh my, did those recommendations come good. We started off with a trip to Whitstable which is retro and antique shop heaven! You definitely pay for the privilege of someone else having spotted a nice piece of furniture and cleaning it up but there were heaps of great finds to be had and ideas a plenty.

I came across this tin tray in the window of one of the shops and snapped it up for our new kitchen. As my other half hails from that part of the country (and my God he won't let you forget it. He even compared a lakeside in Africa to the seafront in Herne Bay. Err...deluded?!) I thought that this would be a perfect addition. My mother in law did a fantastic job at getting me a knock down price by coughing 'How much?' and waiting in stealthy, seasoned bargain hunter silence for the lady to reduce it to £4. Hurrah!
 
 
Speaking of items that arrived in my possession for four English pounds – on the way to the fish and chip shop in Herne Bay that evening I came across the most obscure, wonderful second hand item I have ever seen. May I present to you, the Coffee Hutch.


This is thrift shop gold for me. Total random, beautifully retro and absolutely unique. There was much scorn from my in-laws who laughed their heads off at my great concern that it would be gone by the time we got back there the following morning. Apparently the only way the Coffee Hutch was leaving that shop was in a bin bag. How rude!! What can I say, I'm a lone visionary in this family I've married in to ;)

The question has been asked, what exactly will I do with a Coffee Hutch? Firstly, 'do with it?' it need have no function other than look brilliant, surely? Secondly, I think I'm going to put bags of tea in it - I know, what a maverick! What can I say, I live on the edge.

Other finds included a lamp stand for a couple of pounds, a green candle stick, some great blue spotty and floral fabric, a super retro 60s style office chair and these little beauties. Not original Cornish blue but a good repro.
 
 
And last but not least the birthday that keeps on giving reared it's beautiful head again and my mother in law got me this sign for my craft corner in the new house. Love it!


Speaking of the new house, we got the keys yesterday! It's even better than I remember and I can't wait to get started with moving our stuff over and settling in. I'm hoping all this eclectic collecting will come together beautifully and we'll have a real haven on our hands. I've had a brilliant time doing it anyhow and the Coffee Hutch alone surely make the swing from 'Nice house' to 'My goodness this place is awesome!' Yes?

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Four Days

After today I have four days left at work. FOUR DAYS! I’m off from tomorrow for a week and then to Kent we go to catch up with family, do some bargain hunting and participate in some general seaside merriment. Then it’s back home, pick up the keys for the new place and we move! All of this is tremendously exciting and just slightly nerve wracking. I am categorizing my wracking nerves, thus:

Country gal

I was chatting with a fellow student-to-be yesterday about my interview for Vicar-dom and mentioned that the location of the interview freaked me out because I’m not a fan of rural locations. He laughed as our college is right in the middle of the country. This had occurred to me but now the time to start is creeping up on me and the boxes are all packed for village life I’m starting to stare longingly at Starbucks and the cocktail bar about two minutes from our front door and think crikey! What am I going to do with myself?

In reality we can hop on a bus and be in Oxford in half an hour but I am one of these people who gets a bit out of sorts if I can’t walk everywhere. Blame that on being utterly spoilt growing up in Windsor where everything is on your doorstep and perfectly lovely. I’m thinking I need to embrace it, lots of country walks and all that?!

Wild Card

You know on those house programmes where they show people a load of houses that meet their requirements and then for laughs put one at the end that is like nothing they’ve ask for? I’m feeling a bit like a Wild Card as I enter college. Probably because even going to a theological college is a serious Wild Card in my life. How could it not be when I only went voluntarily into a church for the first time seven years ago? I never thought I would be here.

But I am trying to embrace the slight randomness of my being there. As I’ve said before I think that is kind of the point. It’s wonderfully unexpected and though my experience might not be conventional they have a bit of oomph behind them for that. I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t really, really think it was the right, no make that only, thing for me right now. More than anything I know I’ll achieve very little trying to be someone I’m not (and I find that basically impossible, what you see is what you get and all that!) I may not know my alb from my surplice but I must be there for a reason, right?!

Essay fear

And lastly it has suddenly occurred to me, do I remember how to write an essay?! This is further compounded by the general doom-saying associated with my course about how hard it is and how people basically DIE when they do it. As far as I can see most people are still standing and I was firmly informed at interview that for the sake of the future church and women EVERYWHERE I need to get myself educated to the best of my ability so I can represent (innit) my kind. As a fully signed up flag waving champion of equality I can hardly back down from that challenge, now can I?!

So there we are, just a few teeny concerns there! I think I need to sit and build some sandcastles for a while, get windswept and eat a ’99. Until next week...!