Thursday, 31 May 2012

Jubilation for the jubilee

I’m really excited about the jubilee weekend. Yes, this may have something to do with five, uninterrupted days off (a way to enthuse people about monarchy if there ever was one) but also because the predisposition to getting excited about such things has been well entrenched in me since being a tiny tot. 

As a born and raised resident of Windsor not a year went by at school without us being called up for flag waving duty at Windsor Castle for some ambassador or other.  We learned the history of the castle at school. We watched it burn in ’92 with huge sadness. My wedding was next door to the castle (complete with tourists wandering into the ceremony and taking pictures!!) My novel, that I like to consider is maturing like a good cheese (rather than temporarily set aside!), is about monarchy in Britain.

A Windsor Wedding!
Then there was the highlight of primary school, the year your class got to go to the parade for the Knights of the Garter. All the royal family walked or drove past as we sat in the baking heat (it’s always baking in childhood memories isn’t it?!), waving our flags and cheering. On the day I went to the Garter service I had a packet of vanilla chewitts in my pocket which went all gooey in the sun making them even MORE perfect. The two things will be forever linked in my mind, just as celebrations to do with the royal family and having a jolly good time are.

Crafts for all occasions!
 I know there are many reasons to hop up and down about monarchy but I have a lot of time for the Queen (Windsor indoctrination speaking…!) It’s not often that you have an example of someone who was called to a way of life, that perhaps she wouldn’t have chosen, and has fulfilled that unceasingly with such grace and skill. 

When I was Head Girl of my school in Windsor (I’ll give you a moment to chortle about that…..) the Queen Mother passed away. We lined the streets in silence as she was driven past to her resting place with her husband in St George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle. It was a very moving moment, full of dignity, and for the first time I was touched by how important that is, for any life to end with respect and thanksgiving. Standing there as a representative of our school and community at only 17 years old was one of those moments that I look back on as a flag being staked in the ground. A hint at my future where issues like service, death and dignity in it will be part of my thinking and even my day to day.

So I’ve learned a lot from growing up around monarchy. And it still gives me a kick to have a woman on the throne (and as the Supreme Head of the Church of England - what with all the dramas we’re still having about female Bishops!) when we as women can still face such opposition when taking up positions of leadership. Our Queen models what it is to be a woman in leadership, and faithful to a calling, very well indeed and I, for one, am very thankful for it.

So Happy Diamond Jubilee everyone!

Monday, 28 May 2012

Lest you think I've thrown myself off a bridge... are a few things that that made me smile today.

A big bunch of yellow tulips and needing sunglasses to pop out and collect them.

Reading in my new amazing new granny-chic olive green armchair by an open window....

With this view.

It could be worse eh?

All my strength

I've had a taxing morning. Mondays for the last six months have been blighted by the dreaded driving lessons. Everyone has told me that at some point it will click into place and my confidence will come. Well, yes. But then the next challenge arrives and it feels like square one again. My current nemesis is large roundabouts (shoddy lane discipline on my part, yes, drivers feel free to silently seethe against me. I'm the idiot cutting you up) and dual carriageways. What's even more frustrating is that 99% of the population seem to be fine with this particular skill. The accident I had is always looming in the back of my mind. Right now it all feels insurmountable.

This is further complicated by the fact that for me driving is inextricably linked to the process of going forward for ordination. If I weren't doing that I would be still be happily (ok, well slightly grumpily) walking to work. I need a car for college, for placements, for the next step in my life. When driving is hard (or studying, or leading in church or any other skill I'll need for that matter!) I quickly look up to the looming mountain of responsibility and think – 'if I can't do this, then....?'

When Jesus was asked what the most important part of the law was he said 'Love the Lord your God with all you heart, all your soul, all your mind and all your strength.' (and love your neighbour as yourself, we forget that one easily eh?) To me this means giving the very best of what I have to God and where he is calling me. All my mind to study, all my strength to the journey, all my heart to the process, all my soul in prayer. And arguably all my mind to big roundabouts and all my strength to slip roads.

At the end of today's lesson I ended up in a bit of a heap and uttered those often thought but rarely vocalised words – 'what if I can't do this?' And that's the big fear isn't it? That when you push yourself to the max, using the very best of what you have to offer, then what if it's not enough?

Here lies the comfort of the comfort zone. It's a false comfort really because who wants the wake up call one day that life has passed you by and you've no idea what you've done with it? I don't. And so I find myself somewhere in the middle, with the fear of failure hanging around like a bad smell as I wistfully look back at the comfort zone (ah, what did that felt like again?!) and on the flip-side looking to the future with excitement, pushing the boundaries, sometimes succeeding sometimes not.

Because if you don't push yourself to the limits then you can't really fail. You can always say, 'I didn't really try anyway'. When things go wrong, it's not you it's your circumstances. It's harder to say, 'that was my fault, I'm still learning. I've not go this down yet.' I can see myself saying that so many times over the next few years but it takes such confidence, such strength to say 'that was me' and still believe you can do all the things you know you have to. That is plumbing the depths of strength.

I know I'm not alone. The one who call also equips. (As an aside I actually found myself genuinely jealous that Jesus was born in the time of donkey travel the other day when praying. A donkey on the A40?!)

A novelty donkey picture to lighten the mood. These chaps live at The Donkey Snactuary (\)
Right now I'm having a wistful look back at the comfort zone, tomorrow will probably look brighter. But that's the journey I suppose, one foot in front of the other. All my strength...

Thursday, 24 May 2012

You’re doing what?!

Telling people that you are going to be become a Vicar can be both extremely fun and a bit daunting. How I feel about it very much depends on my mood. If I’m feeling ready for a dose of hilarity and can take it in good spirits then I approach the task with relish, drop the bomb and (as I tweeted earlier) watch as the person goes through the typical stages of shock, hilarity and it all (hopefully) ends in happy acceptance.

 The daunting side comes when you’re feeling a bit tender. This is the ‘feeling a bit ill today/didn’t sleep well/am wearing a weird old jumper because it’s wash day’ moments where some well-meaning person says ‘so what do you do again?’ Oh for being an accountant! God bless them people ALWAYS have questions. It’s a big lesson in what it must be like to wander round in a dog collar. All of a sudden you ARE the church. It is open season on questions which is normally fine, great even, but some days you just want to be anonymous and ‘normal’. I can see myself taking very solitary holidays in the Outer Hebrides (actually make that a Greek Island…) when I’m fully Vicar-ed up.

There’s also the occasional time where someone recoils and you see the thoughts ‘Oh no, I didn’t realise you were a religious fanatic’ float through their mind. This despite the fact that they’ve known you for quite some time and you’ve not displayed any signs of lunacy yet. Or the moment you announce you have exciting news people exclaim ‘YOU’RE HAVING A BABY!!!’ and then seem genuinely disappointed that no, you’ve actually found your lifes vocation. Because of course we all know there is nothing interesting a woman can do in her late twenties but have babies. SIGH.

Some of the best reactions I have had include a Brazilian friend who stopped me in the street and said ‘I hear you’re going to be a Vicar! Bless me! Bless me now!’ I actually considered mumbling some completely insufficient prayer but decided to go for ‘Give me a few years (and an ordination service) first!’ And then of course there’s the usual ‘You’re the Vicar of Dibley!!’ as lamented by Liz over on her blog…

But then there is the good side. Witnessing a widening of perceptions right before your eyes. The confirmation that though it’s different it can also be good. And best of all the ‘I’d come to church if you were my Vicar.’ (BTW I will hold you to that….!) 

There’s been some furore this week about the impending vote on women being allowed to become Bishops in the Church of England. I read a piece in The Guardian about it and in the (dreaded) comments section someone wrote something along the lines of ‘Women would do better to just not get involved in this insane organisation and focus their energies elsewhere.’ 

I feel positively gleeful to be doing the exact opposite of that. To be a living representative of what we say each Sunday - ‘I believe in the church’. And even if I would give my right arm for this vote to go through I would be part of the church either way and do everything I can to work with respect with those who disagree with me. That’s the kind of community I want to represent and it is the community I encounter 99% of the time. So long live the ‘I’m going to be a Vicar’ chats if it blows the conversation open and there’s always that Greek Island when I need to retreat….!

Monday, 21 May 2012


Have you ever had one of those moments where everything clicks into place? It's not that you're looking for it to. It happens in the most unlikely of places but somehow you mind lines up with your heart and your circumstances and click, a key turns, something changes. I, quite unexpectedly, had one of those moments last night. In the manner of fourteen year old everywhere I was at Church being Confirmed.

I wasn't really expecting much from it. I've been battling a cold for the last week and had I of had an option I would have spent the evening burrowed under a blanket on my sofa. But as it was I spent the late afternoon searching through my cloths for a dress that was 'smart casual' (dreaded words) and wouldn't shock the congregation or Bishop when I knelt down to be confirmed. Below the knee it is then.

I wasn't really looking forward to Confirmation because to be honest I wasn't sure what it meant for me. For most of the people there it was their public commitment to beginning this crazy adventure that is the Christian life. As one of the congregation pointed out it was hardly that for me because I'd been called and accepted to the priesthood before I'd even been made 'official' in terms of the Church of England. So what was it for me? Hoop jumping? Just something to get through? Cheer leading the other candidates? Switching allegiance to the Church of England? None of those really stuck.

The service was beautiful, a thirty strong choir, flickering candles, nervous but smiling candidates. The Bishop was there in all his regalia and popped over to check I'd started on my reading list for college (oh yes, I have). I was the first candidate to be confirmed and I walked up and stood before the Bishop who put his hands on my head and said:

'Nicola, God has called you by name and made you his own.'

Click. Something changed. As he prayed for me I kept my eyes open and in my eye line was the big gold cross he was wearing round his neck on the back drop of these cream and gold robes. My whole field of vision was filled with this ancient 'church-ness' that I normally find so overwhelming (and sometimes off putting.) It's not where I'm from. And yet....

One of the members of the choir came up to my husband after the service and said she couldn't believe my face at that moment. She said it was like my whole face was glowing, radiating joy. Well, I'm a cheerful person but that is something. I suppose it was that clicking in to place. That I felt it. God has made me his own, even here in this ancient institution where I feel as small as a church mouse. He has called me by name.

After the service I was chatting to some of the congregation who were commenting on how my rather unorthodox journey to this point has inspired them to think anything is possible. How wonderful. The Bishop overheard and said 'Yes, we're going to ordain her next,' and for the first time I believed it. This is where you'll find me. And for the first time I thought, quite right it is too.

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Nay to the Naysayer!

When I was preparing for my wedding five years ago I encountered a disturbing number of people who lamented at length about how hard the first year of marriage would be. When they heard that we were moving in together for the first time after the wedding they was even more wailing and gnashing of teeth. 'You've not lived together already?! That's going to be a NIGHTMARE.'

Walking into DISASTER?! Nay! JOY!

Apparently the day we arrived back from honeymoon we would be plunged into the pit of despair as toilet seats were left up, I would be transformed spontaneously into a stereotypical nagging wife and we would immediately discover that we didn't really know each other at all and yet were shackled together for life. It was a great relief when we met a couple who had been married forty odd years a week or so before the wedding who, when we relayed the list of horror stories we'd be told, laughed and said. 'No, it'll be amazing. You'll love every minute of being married.' Hurrah for them!

As it turns out they were right. There was an ongoing battle (still raging four years later) over where is a suitable place to leave damp towels but this was far outweighed by the total joy of living with my best friend. Of course there were new things to navigate, we worked out what this huge commitment we had made would mean and sometimes that lead to moments of frustration but nine times out of ten it lead to laughter, happiness and sheer thankfulness for the decision we had made.

Well, here I am on the eve of taking on another commitment that arguably could be considered as monumentally life changing as marriage. And just like embarking on a marriage people are very forth coming with their views about quite what your life is going to look like. A lot of these have been in the form of the dreaded 'horror story'.

It goes a bit like this: It's going to be REALLY hard work, you're freedom will be curtailed as you are FORCED into living in the college community, you will go from 'important person' in your workplace to 'church minion' in the blink of an eye, they will deconstruct you, three years will be PAINFULLY long and at the end of all this the post-ordination training will be SO HARD and you will just cry and cry and cry (ok, I added that last bit).

When I announced to all the naysayers before my wedding that actually I was quite excited about living with Ben (I had been living out one room for as long as I could remember, had never really had my own home and was desperately excited about it) they would look at me with a mixture of shock and 'We'll see'. it's much the same when I say I'm excited about college. But I AM excited and surely that will be a better way to go into the whole experience than negatively? I'm doing my reading, I'm thinking through what the challenges will be (a bit like the marriage prep we did before our wedding) but I'm staying happy!

I'm excited about the hard work. Odd perhaps but I can't remember the last time I spent my days doing something that I found challenging. I'm already a bonafide minion at work so there isn't likely to be some dramatic fall in status for me to cope with. Much as I wanted to throw my lot in with Ben when we married I actively want to be part of the community at college. I'm happy to hand my fate (and the hours in my day) over to the course and to let that shape me. I feel as lucky as I did walking up the aisle to be embarking on a course where some of the greatest minds in the world share their knowledge and at a college that has shaped some truly remarkable people.

So I'm sticking with positive, determined to be flexible, joyful and accepting of what comes, and saying to the naysayer, 'Nay! I'm going to have a GREAT time.'

Friday, 11 May 2012

History – yay!

In preparation for ‘Back to School’ September, when I will embark on my Theology degree at Oxford, I am doing some background reading. I sighed slightly (ok, rather dramatically) when I started Diarmaid McCulloch’s ‘A History of Christianity’ and found that the book started 1000 years before Jesus in Greece. Is two thousand years of history not enough?! Apparently understanding Christianity history is impossible if you don’t know something about the lifestyle and philosophy of the ancient world. I have to say I am now very much in agreement about this and am loving my new ability to be very, very Oxford and remark over an afternoon latte ‘As Plato would say… ’Ha! Fun times!

My mate Plato
 I’ve been amazed to realize just how much of our western ‘norms’ of thinking come from this time. I know I’m totally joining the party late but we were never taught these things at school! We were just taught how they bartered in Russia during the time of the Tzars involving some weird classroom game where we all had papers with farmyard animals drawn on them. Yep, I went to a GREAT school….

As well as the excitement (and slightly disturbing realisation) that your thoughts aren’t in any way original but shaped entirely by centuries of thought that has come before you, it is also brilliant to have those light bulb moments where you see your current circumstances in a new light. The life of the church is like that. The same old disagreements happen over and over again and I wonder, when will we just accept that we are different? And that different doesn’t equal bad? One thing is clear, there has never been a time in history when we all agreed. Perhaps we should get used to it and find a way to move forward in spite of it. But hey, it’s just a thought!! ;)

The other thing I’m, oddly, enjoying is the sense of personal smallness that reading history gives. There really is ‘nothing new under the sun’, to quote the bible! The same arguments, the same achievements, empires rising and falling and yet individual lives just going on, loving, living, exploring their potential.  Because though the magnitude of history makes an individual life feel small it also infuses it with potential. All these characters from history were just ordinary people like you and me and yet stood for something and left a lasting mark, for good or for bad.  

Now that I’m starting on my learning journey I can’t wait for more. I’m actually excited about going to my first lectures (not least for all the exciting new stationary this gives me a reason to buy. And yes I will have to purchase s satchel, naturally.) What an amazing opportunity. Bring it on!

Thursday, 10 May 2012

This week in pictures

After my post this week about recording more of the happy making moments in life I have been snapping away on my Blackberry whenever I see something that makes me smile. I'm no photographer but this photos tell a story of the last few days in my little corner of the world.

Laura Ashley paint, so twee but it was on sale! Please forgive me! I'm restoring an old dining table at the moment for our new flat. It's going from dark brown to 'Pale Ivory'. I could also chose from 'Ivory', 'Palest Ivory', 'Pale Biscuit', what is this foundation?! But anyway, I love nothing more than to have paint splattered hands and be a complete mess from sanding down. This ones going to be a beauty!

Here it is in all former glory. A pain to sand down but great fun to paint. Wonderful undulations (as Miranda would say!)

This always makes me smile, my sewing emporium! This used to house my perfumes and other bedroom bits but as all the perfumes were stolen when my house was broken into it became my sewing station. The hidden blessings of burglary, one way too declutter I suppose! Now that the handicraft sale is over I can start some sewing projects just me (and the new house of course!) and I'm loving it.

 And in true Blue Peter style, here's one I made earlier! I got this off-cut in a bargain bin in Summertown and knocked up this cushion at the weekend. I absolutely love it and have been gazing joyful at it since I made it.

So that's my week so far and I'm thankful for it. Any other bloggers sharing their week in pics?

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Leopard time on Mount Mumpalumpu

Ok, so it’s actually Mount Mumpu but Mumpalumpu sounds better, no? Last week I had the pleasure of meeting the group of teenagers that husband and I are taking to Zambia in July. Under normal circumstances I would be having a bit of a DRAMA (capitals for severity) about this but as I am the RESPONSIBLE ADULT I figure I have to just ‘Keep Calm and Climb Mount Mumpalumpu’.

This year has been so busy (and consumed with the whole – ‘am I really going to be a Vicar?!’ thing…) that I haven’t really thought about the trip that much. The normal division of labour in our household is that I plan/stress/get stuff organised and Ben relaxes/tells me to calm down/is usually right. As he is the teacher of said teenagers all the planning has landed to him so it is all very odd indeed. He has a ’brilliant’ (depending on my mood!) way of announcing the most terrifying pieces of information in a completely laise-faire tone.

‘Yeah, so on the last day we are going to be left alone in a Game Reserve half a kilometre away from each other so we can enjoy being along in Africa.’


‘There isn’t anything that dangerous up Mount Mumpalumpu. Oh, except Leopards.’


Besides terrifying solo stints with large herbivores and potential savaging by leopards the trip sounds AMAZING. We will be staying in a Zambia Village, making visits to people’s homes where we will do DIY (poor unfortunate Zambians!), we will help out in a local school, do some kind of rope course (ha, as if!) and generally have a very exciting time.
The upside of being a RESPONSIBLE ADULT is that you have to remain calm about the situation and I’m finding that this is helping me to be calm about the trip generally. Normally I’d be thinking through every possible eventuality (e.g. snake attack while having impromptu wee break in scrub land – a genuine concern…) but because I’m having to calm other’s nerves (snakes? No, don’t worry about those *quietly gulps*) I find I’m automatically calming my own.

This is all very interesting and makes me wonder about how I can reduce my general level of fretting which nearly always is entirely pointless (things will work out or won’t and there’s generally not much you can do about it).  There are a few things that have come to mind about that this week. Firstly the great benefits of simply being thankful. A couple of people who I follow on Twitter and whose blogs I read are doing the ‘Below the Line’ challenge this week. This involves spending £1 per head on food for five days to raise money for the 1.4 billion people who survive this way every day.  In Zambia 64% of people live below the poverty line. Sobering and puts things starkly into perspective.

And secondly recording these thankful-making moments. I intend to do a lot of that in Zambia. It’s quite remarkable to be approaching a life altering trip like this one and to have not been worrying it into life for several months! Sometimes I think I spend so much time worrying I miss what is actually happening now, and a lot is happening. I think this is summed up beautifully in this picture from the Tracks of Foxes blog.

So thankfully documenting – that’s me!

Stop Press - I take it all back!!! I have just looked on Google and the Mount Mumpu trek involved going through an 'infested bat cave'!!! *collapses into weeping heap*

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Handicraft Sale

I’ve been MIA for the last few days mostly because I’ve been hosting a handicraft sale in the church. This was to raise money for the work of Tearfund in the Mekong Sub Region. I can’t really begin to do justice to the work they are doing there in extraordinarily difficult circumstances but I was massively touched by the story of Lin (about whom I wrote an article for a recent edition of Inspire magazine - page 21-22) and how she has gone from extreme poverty and illiteracy to graduating university and now working with fellow migrant families to improve their quality of life. 

Can you get any cuter than this?! A knitted mouse made by my very clever Mum for the sale.
 A major part of the project that Lin was educated through is local handicraft sales so that the girls being educated at the centre can send money home to support their families. And so the idea for the handicraft sale was born. Doing what they do but here in England and sending the money to fund some of the brilliant work going on with migrants in the region. The exciting news is that I have a few items left which you can view in a Facebook album on my page. Just leave me a comment on this blog or on the album if there is anything you’d like and then you can pay through my Just Giving site. *Sales pitch over!*

It’s amazing how many talents are in my extended group of friends and family and the generosity people will show at just a simple request. We raised a good amount of money but more than anything I loved that it was an opportunity to get together with friends and neighbours for a cup of tea, a natter and to achieve a shared goal. In some ways it was my last hurrah in my current neighbourhood. Summer is busy with a trip to Zambia and moving house so I’m unlikely to have time to host anything else in church. 

As all the familiar faces from the congregation and neighbourhood popped in I started to feel a little choked up. Church is so like family, you see people day in day out, celebrate highs and lows and stick with each other (even if you might not always have chosen each other for company!) I’m so excited that my life is going to be about this, about community and friendship, but that also means saying goodbye to this one. Even thinking about it makes me a little teary and I’m even looking at our recently broken into flat through misty eyes exclaiming ‘Ah these poorly glazed windows and ramshackle walls, how I shall miss you!’

I went to look at our new flat this week. There is so much to be excited about (double glazing for one!). But for now I’m allowing myself a little moment of wistfulness for what I’m leaving behind. A very happy three years, a very wonderful neighbourhood, some very good friends.