Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Looking back and looking ahead

It's October already and since I last posted, it's been a whirlwind. I'm currently sitting in Oxford Youth Hostel where I am staying overnight whilst I do some training with 3DM around Learning Communities and Coaching. 
While I have the evening to myself, with no TV, children or husband to distract I thought it would be a good opportunity to do some reflecting and processing...

The week of my last post was probably the most difficult and yet most memorable of my life. In the midst of solo parenting, juggling work, childcare and house responsibilities with Andy in the States, I had my dear Grandad's funeral. People have asked me since how it went - and honestly, it went as well as it could. Lots of people, lovely service where my dad gave an incredible tribute and a chance to chat, reminisce and catch up at the wake afterwards. Isaac was with me - and he provided a welcome distraction, bit of entertainment and a fair amount of chasing as he attempted to escape the pub! It was lovely to have him there. We rounded off the day with fish and chips as a family in the restaurant which Grandad and Grandma used to frequent every Friday and took us all on many occasions. A fitting end to a difficult day. 
Other than that, September has had some significant moments:
Andy came back!! After a brilliant two weeks with our friend Jack and the staff and community of Apostles Anglican, Knoxville. He's still processing much of what he learnt but it was a great and varied experience. Neither of us liked being apart for 2 weeks...
We became Aunty and Uncle - my sister gave birth to gorgeous baby Thomas on 13th September and 
I finally managed to meet him last weekend. 
The Authorisation of Youthworkers in Chelmsford Diocese was launched which is the culmination of many years of hard graft - and heralds the beginning of much more work. But very exciting it is too! 
I went into hospital and came out again - procedure went as planned and my recovery has been good. A much needed window of 10 days at home, resting and recuperating in the midst of a crazy few weeks! 
Our TOM explorer Huddle began meeting - us plus 5 others looking at the Rule, Vows and life of TOM and considering whether it's a journey they wish to continue within a covenant community of Missional leaders.
The Friday Mums Missional small group which I'm part of began an Alpha course, using the student material which is shorter to fit in with our gathering and stages of faith. 
We're transitioning both out of our role leading youth work at Emmanuel (Pulse which meets at our house on Wednesdays currently and Rock Solid on Friday nights) and into our new extended family on mission at the Deeper Network Church in Romford. Our official last Sunday at Emmanuel is 20th October. It's exciting and yet painful to be saying goodbye...God has got great plans as we move on, for us and for the young people and families there which is very exciting, challenging and we know we will still be in touch with many. 

So heading into October, I'm currently away on this training programme, which is a great privilege and very challenging too. I'm really grateful to Pip and Rich and the team at 3dm who have developed this package for me. I'm doing the Latimer Learning Community this week and the Fresh Streams Learning Community the week after next in Sheffield - shadowing the facilitation team, joining in with Huddles, listening to teams as they process and inputting as I'm invited. On the one hand, I feel very thrown in, huge expectations on myself, sink or swim really, but brilliant to be able to learn as I go and be given the chance to explore and share from my own experiences and understandings of these principles which undergird so much of who we are as a family and how we see our ongoing ministry developing. 
Speaking of ongoing ministry, we are also in the midst of exploring a curacy option for summer 2014 which is also exciting and daunting. Big meeting this weekend to meet some people and dot and cross some details. But it's all a bit hush hush for now! 
We also have our little boy's 2nd birthday coming up - can't believe it really but just to grateful to be able to celebrate him with lovely friends and family on Sunday. I am so constantly amazed by my kids, can't believe I made them really. Some fantastic conversations recently with Matilda where her view of the world is so compassionate, so wide and full of potential. She doesn't limit her capabilities - telling me tonight on the phone that she could lead the youth group in my absence! Based on Isaac's language development recently, we'll soon be having 4 way conversations of that ilk! 

So, I'm pretty tired right now, after 4.30am wake up. But I'm also grateful for all that has been and all that is to come. Feel prompted again about starting with praise, acknowledging who God is and praising him before all else. In that place of perspective, we get the rest of our view in the right place. God is stretching us all hugely, as a family. I know He's ensuring that we are grounded in our identity in Christ and not in any achievement or title or role. There was a word shared this morning in the worship about how as leaders we are often wounded just through loving people, not necessarily through any fault of their or our own. But it is in that sacrifice of sadness that we have to come to the cross, remembering that Jesus too was hurt, wounded, scarred in his love for others. Completely, utterly, fully, without restriction. What a Saviour, what a God we follow! 

Heading for bed - Great British Bake Off downloaded from I player and a lovely meal in my tum. Night! 

Sunday, 8 September 2013

Home alone

Sunday morning and I'm awake before the kids....
We're on the final straight of Andy's trip to Tennessee and although its been hard to be home alone for the last 10days, I feel that I've done more than just survive it!
I knew some stuff would be hard - the twilight zone of 4-7pm every day, fitting everything in when so many things just 'get done' when Andy is around (lunches, dishwasher, tidying, cooking, resolving squabbles!), keeping them entertained and happy with just little old me! But honestly, those things have been ok as I think I predicted them and prepared for them. It has made me realise how much Andy does too! We've always had a very equal approach to running the house and family stuff - although Andy, as tradition dictates, does the recycling and the bins!! ;-) but cooking, washing, cleaning, childcare etc has always been shared at different levels depending on who is working when.

But I hadn't anticipated that I would find the stretch of evenings on my own so hard. I certainly haven't used those evenings as well as I could have done, partly because I have been so tired by that point in the day and because the interaction has suddenly gone. I know something that full time Mums at home often say is that conversation with adults can be the thing you miss - but as I have been working as usual I have got that balance. There has been this almost eerie silence after the full on interaction from the early hours. Some of those evenings were interrupted by Matilda this week who found the while back to school experience a bit over stimulating! 
It was great to have an evening with some of our bessties last night, all cooking Mexican and having a laugh. 

In it all, I prepared for the practical implications and arrangements needed for the kids and I to function and do what we needed to do. But I hadn't really thought about my emotional needs. I'll never know whether that felt more acute on this occasion because of all the feelings and sadness around Grandad's death as well as the extra arrangements to be made which felt difficult on my own. 

So, I'm looking forward to church today and hanging out with some people and then an afternoon with the kids and doing some blackberry picking, school reading and general prep for the week. Working Monday, Funeral on Tuesday, working on Wednesday as well as youth group in the evening then ANDY RETURNS IN THURSDAY! 

Thursday, 5 September 2013


I'm sitting at home in my lounge, kids fed, bathed and in bed and watching an old episode of 24 hours in A&E. And as I sit here, watching the stories unfold, I'm remembering being by a hospital bed only a few short days ago and saying goodbye to my Grandad. After 6 years of extra time, post diagnosis of cancer, he was clearly in his final days or hours and my mum and I were sitting by his bedside, chatting to him and to each other although he wasn't conscious and his eyes were unseeing.
My parents had taken the phone call earlier on Bank Holiday Monday evening to say he was on his way to hospital at the insistence of the Carers who came 4 times each day. They had first been concerned on Sunday and the GP had visited in the early hours of Monday. My dad met my Grandma at the hospital and stayed a few hours. When he returned home, Grandad was sleeping quite peacefully, but by the time my mum and I arrived, prompted by a phone call to say Grandad's blood gas results were very poor, he had deteriorated quite rapidly.  In the end, he lasted another 12 hours before passing away around 4pm Tuesday, just after Grandma and my mum and dad had been in to say their final goodbyes.

I began writing this postt about 4 months ago, when Grandad was admitted to the Phyllis Tuckwell Hospice in Farnham, receiving end of life care. It's 6 years since he was first diagnosed with the carcinoma tumor near his kidney and I remember being sat down at my parents home in Surrey to be given the news by my dad after diagnosis had been confirmed at the Royal Marsden Hospital.
At that point we had no idea what it would mean and I suppose I assumed that this was it, never imagining that we'd have so much more time with him. Since then we've gone through a few near misses, with chest infections, hospital admissions for stomach problems, fractures after a fall and various infections giving cause for alarm and palliative care in various forms. So right now I feel very fortunate that he stuck around as long as he did and I hope we've made the most of that.

This post is just a way to make sense of some of my thoughts, which always come thick and fast when you face losing someone, and now that he has gone, I want to write them down for my own benefit, for the benefit of Matilda and Isaac and also to pay tribute to a wonderful man who has always been supportive, interested and just delightful to be around.

In no particular order, here are some of my memories and thoughts:

Playing the boat game in bed at G&G's when we used to stay over. Grandad would be sitting up in bed with the duvet over his knees and me and Ellie would sit in between his legs and he would rock us side to side until inevitably, one of us would fall off! It was always a highlight of staying at Windermere Way to be in G&G's bed. 

Ice cream - Vienetta, massive tubs of Neapolitan or Vanilla with every pudding. We'd always have an ice cream on a day out too. Matilda has taken on that legacy with gusto!

Doughnuts & milk shakes at Forest Lodge on a Saturday morning. Are you seeing the sweet tooth theme here?! 

20p's by our bedside as pocket money - £1 per week so the piles of money would vary in size depending on when we'd last seen G&G. I always spent mine quickly, Ellie would save more frugally!

Playing shops in the study, flour and rice and scales. Using the desk paper pad (green leather) for scribbling, adding up, folding....

Cartons of juice, cans of pop in the garage. We never got Lilt anywhere else!

As we got older, the time with Grandad and Grandma changed but was always fun, interesting and generous.
In 1998, they visited me at University in Leeds - coming for a weekend in my first year, sitting in the parlour at Charles Morris Hall with my flat mates and inviting various people to join us for meals over the course of the weekend. They just absorbed everything I was doing, loved meeting people and being given a tour. I took them to the Royal Armouries in Leeds and to the Jazz Cat cafe for dinner.

They also visited in my 3rd year along with my parents and came to see me in a Revelation Choir concert where I sang a solo. They popped in to see me on their way home the following morning and I'll never know whether they realised how hung over I was! 

Later on, after I was married, they came even further north to visit Andy and I in Gateshead - we took them to Cragside National Trust, Beamish, all the Quayside attractions and a fantastic lobster meal!

The arrival of great grandchildren also coincided with both Grandma and Grandad becoming more elderly, struggling with stairs particularly. They enjoyed coming to Heybridge on a couple of occasions when Matilda was little and I remember Grandad being a little startled on the landing in the night when I was feeding Matilda in the rocking chair in her room with the door open! As Matilda grew up, she adopted her own name for them - Big Grandma and Big Grandad.

Alongside all these events, activities, visits, there was just a consistency to Grandad and Grandma's approach. They always encouraged us both to do well, to do our best and to succeed in all ways. Financial reward was often a carrot, but always alongside a wider interest too, in subjects, my opinions, what I was reading, where I had travelled. One of Grandad's phrases which I always giggle at is "going back to..." if we'd moved on too quickly from a subject he found interesting or didn't want to finish discussing!

Grandad was so interested in people - he would always enjoy chatting to my friends when I was at home and they would cross paths. He always remember details and ask after them weeks later. I always remember how delighted he was when my friend Yousef from Uni finally passed his medical exams!

I am sad to be writing this post, but I am relieved for Grandad, that he is no longer in pain and that we are able to look back on a life well lived. A fantastic legacy has been left to us - both in generations of people and in the character and values he has passed to us. He and Grandma epitomise what marriage is all about - journeying together through tragedy, heartache, every challenge and opportunity being something to embrace and learn from. I hope that we can have half as good a marriage as they have.

I miss him but am so grateful for him, so grateful that both my children got to meet him, particularly that Matilda will remember him as time goes on. I remember my Grandad - outgoing, supportive, fun, determined, loving. My Grandad.

At his funeral on 10th September, I am reciting a poem by Joyce Grenfell:

If I should go before the rest of you

Break not a flower nor inscribe a stone

Nor when I'm gone speak in a Sunday voice

But be the usual selves that I have known

Weep if you must

Parting is hell

But life goes on

So sing as well.

Rest in Peace Grandad. I love you.

Friday, 16 August 2013

The next steps...

I can't really believe that we are only 2.5 weeks away from the start of term! The summer seems to have picked up pace and is flying by.
In some ways, its been a weird summer - lots of smaller trips rather than a big holiday and quite a bit of time at home. I have worked in the office every day this week while Andy has been with the Button and Bean and next week I'm working too, with a couple of appointments out of the house but mostly during the evenings and Isaac's naps. 
Having said that, Andy is about to head off on two big trips - firstly to Soul Survivor on Sunday for 5 nights with a group of 9 from Emmanuel joining together with a bigger group from Billericay. Its always a brilliant week but pretty exhausting...! 
Then he gets back for a couple of days and we head off on Sunday 25th to my parents before he flies to Tennessee for his extended placement with Jack King and Apostles Anglican in Knoxville. 
I'm really excited for him, particularly for the trip to USA. Jack has put a lot of time and effort into planning the 2 weeks for Andy so he gets a really wide ministry experience - preaching, small groups, pastoral visiting, music stuff & community initiatives plus reflection and conversation with the congregation and staff at Apostles and just the chance to experience the culture of Anglicanism in the Deep South. 
But I am a bit daunted too by the prospect of almost 3 weeks home alone, with kiddies missing their Daddy and trying to hold it all together with the start of term and work and parenting. Matilda is having a couple of days at the local church holiday club and then we'll do some back to school shopping and some play dates too. Once we are all back in the new term routine I think it will feel easier - but all those evenings by myself are not my idea of fun! So I have plans to get the kids record books up to date- I keep notebooks with any special cards or things they write or any words of scripture, prophecy, wisdom that I get for them, or their godparents or others share. I'm also going to sort out my crafting materials, in the hope of being able to make more use of them when I'm at home recuperating after my surgery next month and as the nights draw in. 
Alongside all that (!) we're also preparing - physically, emotionally and spiritually - for our move on from Emmanuel in October. The ministry of Deeper is exciting and something we are really looking forward to but it's going to be hard to leave behind the youth and church family and friends. Many of them will still be part of our lives but its a change which we need to get our heads round.
And.....we have also been asked to consider a curacy parish for next summer, once Andy is ordained. Prayers, visits, conversations all needed over the next few weeks and as soon as I'm allowed to share more details, I will! 

Some pics of our recent Scarborough trip to see our new niece Isobel and her family...

Thursday, 15 August 2013

Busy boxes

Have spent part of today putting together a number of boxes of varied activities for my two, hoping to keep them and me sane while Andy is away for the majority of the next 3 weeks. He goes to Soul Survivor on Sunday for 6 days and then to USA on 28th for 2 weeks. 

Principle is simple - a selection of new and interesting bits and pieces in a special box for each child which are brought out for limited periods, maybe when quiet times are needed or they are needing distraction or just for the fun of it. 
I've been collecting bits for a while and got round to putting them together today.

So, each one is packed with a few different activities. For Matilda, things like small activity books, block paints, stickers, beads, puzzles etc. For Isaac, sorting games, pipe cleaners, toilet rolls to put things in and draw on, calculator, pegs, stickers etc. I have also got some bigger bits - a cookie tray with magnetic letters, Hama beads for Matilda, rolls of paper etc. which are brought out to complement all that. We still have the toy baskets in the lounge for everyday play and books etc. available all the time.
I know that we will refine and change them as we go - I also know that things like the block paint mit be a mistake but a 6 and a half, I am sure Matilda can use them sensibly. It's more about things which don't require a lot of set up and will occupy them for a good 30 minutes, maybe when I'm cooking dinner or bathing one or the other.
Loads of ideas on Pinterest for these things - check out my board 'Kids Time', search for Busy Bags or Boxes or Quiet Time boxes or Sensory Tubs for other ideas. 

Wednesday, 14 August 2013


Sharing a family recipe: my mum used to write down recipes from the TV when my sister and I were babies. They are often on small scraps of paper, like memo note block sheets and usually in shorthand with cup rings and splashes of butter or whatever. 
Anyway, she recently allowed me access to the special box where she keeps all these recipes and agreed I could take the recipe for Gunge, which is one of my favourites! We used to have it on holiday which was often on my Grandad's boat and involved a daily picnic on the beach somewhere. I remember tasting dates on their own for the first time and only then realising that Gunge contained dates. It's basically a yummy sticky caramelly tray bake. Comforting and with a lovely sticky and crunchy texture. Enjoy!! 

This is the original scrap I was given:

And this is the translation:
2 tbsp of self raising flour (it says 1 but that is wrong!)
3/4 tbsp of walnuts (or other nuts, I have used pistachios and almonds)
I cup of dark soft brown sugar
1/2 pack of stoned dates - not the ones in a tray. In a pack, usually with whole foods and baking in the supermarket.
4oz butter
1 egg

Melt butter and dates in a pan (did try this in the microwave as with the Foolproof flapjack recipe but the dates completely disintegrated!) until soft.
Add sugar and rest of ingredients, apart from the egg.
Mix together.
Finally add the egg and combine gently, trying to keep some of the dates in shape! 
Mixture will appear quite moist - which is fine! If it is dripping in a torrent off the spoon, add a little more flour.
Put in a lined tin and cook at 190c for 20-30 minutes.

I usually double this recipe and it goes perfectly in a deep sided roasting tin. 
I melted the sugar in with the dates and butter this time and this makes it even quicker. 
When I first made this, Andy accused me of having kept it from him for last 12 years of our relationship! He describes it as the sauce from a sticky toffee pudding made into a sticky yummy cake! 
It keeps for ages (well, it could do if we didnt eat it!!) and doesn't melt so great for journeys or picnics. 

Saturday, 27 July 2013


Some changes are afoot in the Smith household....

For the last year of his training, Andy will be working alongside Andy Poultney, my Youth Adviser colleague in the Barking Area and members of The Order of Mission with us in this part of the world. Andy P and the Deeper network of mainly young adults was recently granted the first Bishops Mission Order (BMO) in Chelmsford Diocese. They have a vision to plant a Missional community into Romford town centre, working alongside the pubbers and clubbers who utilise the night time venues as well as being involved in youth outreach and other ministries in the town centre. So far this has been in partnership with other town centre churches and the Street Pastors in Havering and will soon see the opening of a venue on the High Street to be used as a worshipping, community and outreach space. Andy S will be getting involved with all that Deeper does; a great pioneering experience at the early stages of a church plant and a chance to work with TOM colleagues and apply TOM values and vows in a very practical way. 

So what does that mean for us as a family? Well, we come as a package and we go as a package so we will all be moving on from Emmanuel Church in October. It will be a time of mixed emotions - exciting to think of what is ahead and all God has called us to but it will be hard to leave, especially the youth groups we have been working with and the friends we have made. 

The Deeper Community currently meets 2 Sundays a month for worship, teaching and fellowship at the Poultney's home, with the other 2 Sundays being set aside for 'Out' - Missional small groups seeking to share and impact lives with the love of Jesus. For us, this means we will be able to be around more in Hutton on those Sundays and develop work with the Friday Mums group and the cycling connections Andy is making. Which is a great opportunity in this last year we are here before moving on to curacy. It seems to be a blessing of more time in this place we call home at present. But its also a daunting prospect - such a God given and great opportunity but much to be done too and we'll hardly have started before it will be time to move on again....mustn't think like that though...

We are still waiting for any news of where we might be headed for curacy - as I write, Falcon Camp team have just departed for Fellowship Afloat until Thursday and then we head to Scarborough to visit our new niece and her family, followed by Soul Survivor, time with my family and then Andy is off to the USA for 2 weeks. So time is a bit scarce for exploring any offer which may come through. Here's hoping its soon...

Monday, 1 July 2013


1st July - end of Andy's academic year and the beginning of my busiest months; July through to December. In the midst of youth events, essay writing, kids and school busyness and summer plans we are also waiting for some indication of where we might be going for a curacy from June 2014. The Petertide ordinations this weekend marked the beginning of a countdown towards Andy's ordination this time next year. Scary thought...
Some things we know: we'll have a 7 year old and a 2 year old. Our car will be almost dead. I'll be 36 and Andy will be 33. He will probably be a lot thinner as his triathlon and long distance cycling training continues. I will probably be fatter cos I will have baked too much!! We will have 2 more nephews or nieces (or one of each!) We know we'll be sad to leave but excited for the future. We hope to be permanent members of TOM. We know that God is with us. 
Other than that: it's all feeling very unknown. In a meeting the other week, my comment that we get to choose anything about this next stage was laughed at. It's hard not to feel as though we're a bit of a pawn in a big chess game. 
So we watch the post, check emails, try not to speculate, attempt to be open and gracious and expectant. Not feeling very convinced at present! 

Saturday, 15 June 2013

Pilgrimage mop up...

Last week was a significant week in many, many ways. I got back from Sheffield late on Thursday night having dropped Esther in Rochford on the way. We nattered all the way home and I nattered to Andy when I got in too. Much to my delight, I arrived home to discover that both the spare room and our bedroom had been decorated while I'd been away. We now have a lovely electric blue feature wall in the spare room:
And a duck egg blue wall in the master bedroom:
Andy knows me well enough to just get on with these things - what I don't know can't stress me out! Love him! Thanks to my mother in law too who was roped in! 

Anyway, before this new working week gets going, just thought I'd do some overall reflections on the rest of Pilgrimage and some initial stuff that we're implementing as a result:
- I went to a brilliant Missional Families seminar which was particularly helpful because it a) included a handout and b) included opportunities for group work within the workshop. Style of the rest of the conference had been quite didactic so this was really refreshing.
- Mike's devotionals continued to inspire and challenge, thinking through being a family on mission and understanding how Jesus calls us to surrender to him when we are part of the family. Well worth getting the downloads. 
- profound time of reflection around what we were taking away and what we were leaving behind.
- personally, I had some frustrations around the absence of women sharing their Missional journeys and teaching. The front led stuff was very male dominated, although clearly there were loads of women practitioners around during the conference. It would have been nice to hear from them a lot more. I have fed that back to a few people and it has been heard so I don't think it's an ongoing issue. 
- it was great to meet some new people and also put faces to names as well as meet twitter people in real life.

Coming home, there are a few things we're putting in place:
Regular family prayers - starting with Tuesdays and Thursdays at 7am and a breakfast prayer time on Saturdays. Started today, using Shane Claiborne's Common Prayer and focusing on thankfulness which the kids can really get hold of.
More focus on the vision for the Friday Mums group - what is it for and what is the Up, In, Out of the activities of the group. It's going so well and growing too but needs some sharper focus to have that foundational discipling culture so it can be sustainable and bear fruit. 
Taking more time to pray generally as above but also being more aware of issues around covert spiritual warfare.
It's quite a time of transition and change for us as we await some indication of where we might be next year for Andy's curacy and consider what life might look like for us all with a move coming up. Generally, we need to have more time together as a family, to just be, so we're reclaiming Saturday mornings from September and ending Matilda's dancing classes to focus more on her swimming which is something we can all do together. 

Heading into a new week, I'm grateful for the opportunity to go away, to deepen my friendship with Esther as she and Will explore TOM with us and loving being back at home with my wonderful family. God is good. 

Sunday, 9 June 2013

Pilgrimage day 1 & 2

I'm in Sheffield this week, at Pilgrimage. It's my 4th visit. I blogged pretty extensively a few years ago when a lot of the stuff taught and modelled was pretty new to us and before we became part of the Order of Mission community. 

This time, I'm coming from a different place. Missional community, which is the focus of the conference, is much more at the heart of what we're doing in our home and surrounding vicinity. So I'm here expecting challenge, which I'm getting and hoping too for clarity on taking things further and where God is calling us to step into.

A few highlights so far:

- travelling up with my lovely friend Esther and staying with Diane Kershaw and others in Parsons Cross as they live in community and offer their home to us this week. We have a very cool Fiat 500 for hire which is providing us not only with transport but lots of giggles too! 

- experiencing a real sense of the stilling of God in worship this morning, enabling me to receive some quite profound encouragement.

- prayer and intercession seminar and spiritual warfare seminar earlier today. I've usually been to seminars which covered the more practical elements of missional communities, life shapes, huddling, transitions etc. so I enjoyed this more personal approach today. It's challenged me in my rhythms of prayer, worship, intercession and will definitely provide a focus in this next season.

- living in community has led to a number of conversations around 'what if' which it will be exciting to explore. In our married life, Andy and I have always had someone stopping with us on extended stays for a whole number of reasons. Increasingly we're unsettled by the isolation of just our family living in our house and having our own lawn mower or our own washing machine etc. Within that, a rule of life and rhythm of worship provides a purpose and a bedrock to building relationships with others, sharing all of life not just on an as and when basis. So lots to think through there. 

- meeting some new people - some twitter friends, those I've only had email contact with or who I've me briefly before, just great to connect, chat, share experiences and eat together. An extroverts dream! 

- highlights too of lots of questions...which I'll maybe post on another time.

Heading for bed - long days, much brain power exercised so need rest for all that is to come. 

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

An unusual working day...

I've just completed a very unusual working day for me. I have sat in one room, from the moment I started work at 9.15am this morning through til 4pm when I left to pick up Isaac. Within that, I have had a couple of trips to the loo, a walk to the kitchen to fill up the kettle and a wander outside for 10minutes while I ate my sandwich. But other than that, I have worked on one project for the majority of the day and it feels very, very odd.
Tomorrow I'm spending the day with my colleagues Rachel and Andy. We schedule in an Away Day once a term, to give some focus to our tasks and to tackle bigger projects more strategically with more prayer and with more time. Tomorrow is an extra as we're doing some comparative review work on our roles to enable us to make sense of how Youth Advisers work in this Diocese. The new Transforming Presence agenda of strategic priorities for our Diocese has initiated this work as well as some succession planning, but that's not really the point of this post. 
I knew that putting my work - projects, networks, responsibilities, youth workers, churches, programmes, relationships - into an easily usuable format was bound to be a tricky task. But it has taken me a lot longer and been more arduous than I expected. But I have enjoyed it...
My usual day is most likely to contain 3 or 4 different events; meetings, 1:1 sessions, desk time, car journeys, phone conversations, visits to parishes or projects, research, email catch up etc. I enjoy the variety and flexibility that my job brings and allows, but I almost always feel that I never have the time to do anything in as full a way as I would like. Carving out today for just one task was such a new experience and in many ways I enjoyed the focus it brought. I didn't have to watch the clock as much and I was able to listen to music and some podcasts to help me think a bit too. 
As an ESFJ working in isolation is not my preference. But I have learnt that there is something very necessary in deliberately 
working in your shadow self. Andy was encouraged to do it when he was going through the discernment journey 
before ordination selection. He's an ENTP. As Extroverts, spending time alone is not our preference - which doesn't mean that 
it doesn't do us good or get the best out of us. It's just a little harder but in small doses, very enjoyable and productive. 
So, what is God saying through today? I know that I need to invest more time in reading, reflecting and 
researching, making space to do my work as well as possible within the boundaries of family, church, marriage 
etc.  I also need to acknowledge that my workload at present is unsustainable - God spoke very powerfully to me, 
just as I was sitting listening to some worship music, about how much I worry and that I don't need to. 
Simple eh? 
It's good to be home, with a clear evening ahead. Andy is at a stag do and I shall have some time out from 
structured work and get an early night too. 

Saturday, 18 May 2013

DYO Conference

Spent part of this week at the National DYO Conference, with colleagues from other Dioceses doing similar jobs to me. Having said that, sometimes the only similarity is the word 'youth' in the job title but so great to hear about the ways churches, communities, projects and workers are drawing alongside young people and impacting school particularly. Some excellent, thought provoking presentations from Graeme Codrington from Tomorrow Today around generational theory and predicting future trends in technology, demographics, environments, culture and relationships which will massively effect the way we understand young people and the way we do youth work. Great stuff.

Late last week, one of our friends from the Friday Mums group had given birth to her third baby, a boy, at home, 9lb 1oz. On Sunday night, before I went away I heard that he had been admitted to hospital with suspected meningitis and was very poorly. Thank God he is now out of hospital, on the mend, having had millions of tests, lumbar punctures, drips of antibiotics and glucose and much trauma. 
Since I've been back, I've been thinking a lot about community...what that means for us as a family in the here and now. Its different to what we have experienced before. Being back with a bunch of DYO's again was lovely, made me realise that I am properly back at work, 11 months in. But really, aside from a few of the people who I see most often from my region and some others who I have spent time with in previous years, it's a community of acquaintances, brought together because of a similar role. I enjoy my time with them, respect hugely the influence and experience they bring but it's not a community.
Contrasting that with a sense of being very much 'away' from my community here at home while there was a crisis going on. Personally, I discovered the huge comfort and power of prayer when words just don't make sense or cover the need. I also had a realisation of primacy of Gods call to make disciples and live alongside people. My calling is much wider than just youth ministry although that is where my passion lies. But I think I'm gaining a greater understanding of the Temple and Home continuum that Mike Breen and others have taught on. For me at the moment, my Temple base is our church worshiping venue, the place where we do youth work and those we are working with while Andy is training. And wonderful they are too. Home is where we have ended up living, where the kids are building community with friends and families and we're seeing people asking questions about our faith, people who don't care what our role is and who we can eat, talk, cry and pray with vulnerability. 
With Pentecost being celebrated this week, the scriptures in Acts 2 seem to hold this continuum in focus - the disciples gathering together, under the apostles teaching, sharing everything, praying and supporting. It's been amazing to see that happening, amongst mature Christian, new believers, those on the fringes this week. In a situation where there was pain, panic, uncertainty, fear, people rallied round and prayer became a dynamic conversation.The chapel nights we have started doing recently had a massive attendance on Tuesday. The light of the Kingdom, right there...

Thursday, 9 May 2013


We're living amongst Andy's end of year 2 deadlines for his course at St Mellitus. He handed in some essays last week, will hand in another 2 assignments this afternoon and final deadline is Monday 20th May. 
Anyone who has been with me the last two weeks will know that I find it really hard to separate myself from Andy's deadlines and just let him get on with it. I'm not really sure why - part of it is my personality type to be the organiser of the home and making it all tick and something like study is not like 'work' with an end point, there is always more to do. Part of it is that he doesn't study the way I do - pressing deadlines are always a motivator for me and I can't switch off the nagging feeling of something needing to be finished. Andy also works best under pressure but needs more people contact and opportunity to externally process when he's studying than I do. I think the task focused part of me wants him to just write the blooming thing and get it done but I also know that he writes better when he's worked through some of his arguments and thoughts with other people. 
So it's been a bit of a stressful and tricky time  these last few weeks. Within it all, I've been very much aware of how different things were a few months ago when Andy was finding every aspect of his training incredibly difficult. The fact that he is soon to hand in all year 2 work, on time and will secure a foundation degree (all being well) is an incredible testament to his determination and focus and I am very proud of him. 
2 years down, 1 year to go... this time next year, like some of Andy's colleagues at the moment, we will be preparing to move on from Billericay and go to wherever God has called us for a curacy placement. It's crazy how quickly the time is flying and our biggest prayer is for wisdom in decisions we will have to make and for peace in our family. Pray with us...
It was my birthday this week and Andy took a break from his studies to make me this yummy cake! X love him! 

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

3 years ago...

...I was pregnant with twins and on 18th March 2010, they were taken from us.
We're coming up again to that anniversary which is always a time of reflection and sadness on what could have been, particularly acknowledging the craziness that toddlers and preschoolers create! There is also huge thankfulness for what we have been through and the way it has shaped us and strengthened us.
Within all that, we are overwhelmed by the blessing of Isaac to us particularly but our family as a whole is a fruitful and joyful place, something which we couldn't imagine 3 years ago in the midst of our grief and disappointment.

I wrote about it all at the time here, just over a month after I'd been in hospital.

Easter has huge significance for us - which it should obviously! - but 3 years ago, as we journeyed to the cross there was something new and revelatory going on where we understood a little more, albeit it dimly, of the pain, sadness and grief Abba Father was choosing to go through, for us.

Last year, the anniversary fell on Mother's Day which was especially hard.
This year, I shall have a quiet day at home, doing some work, preparing dinner for my family and knowing that my Ginger Twins will never leave our memories.

Saturday, 2 March 2013

the passing of time...

Since I last blogged, a lot has happened.
Andy has been to Tanzania and returned safely - having had a life changing, challenging and amazing experience of how a community can be mobilised to make a difference to it's own people. Some of his photographs are absolutely amazing and I'm still hearing new stories and reflections as he chats to others and responds to questions. If you'd like to know more, check out this link to Tearfund Transform's info page

Sadly, while Andy was away in Africa his grandfather died on 20th February after suffering a massive stroke on 2nd February. The funeral was this Thursday just gone, up in Newcastle so we've both been doing a lot of travelling. It was a wonderful day of celebration and remembering, obviously tinged with sadness but so many slivers of joy and hope breaking through into the grief. I know Andy is in the process of writing some of his own thoughts about Grandad Jack (or Gramps as our kids called him) and he will post them on here in due course.

I've been really snowed under with work and it's pretty full on right up until the end of term when I'm off for a week and we go away as a family. It's been a privilege (and a very daunting one at that!) to be teaching on the St Mellitus Youth Ministry degree course last Monday and this Monday coming. A really great group of engaged and interesting youth workers with a multitude of experience behind them. Couple of other exciting projects include starting the Innovate training for youth leaders and volunteers after Easter and the Growing Young Leaders programme for young people aged 14+ in April. I'm away quite a lot in the next few weeks - National Youth Advisers conference, Diocesan conference and Pilgrimage in Sheffield - all great opportunities in their different ways.

We've just filled in a preference form in connection with Andy's curacy starting in summer 2014 - requesting our ideas on where we might like to be, what kind of context, churchmanship and community and any other thoughts about where God might be calling us at that stage. This is probably not the place to discuss things too openly apart from to say we're up for anything really and have chosen a wide range of options and now need to sit back and let the process work. Which is another daunting prospect!

Lent disciplines are going well on some days and not so on others. I have managed, on most days, to keep to my limit of £1 extra spending - usually involving a chocolate injection! It's been important to plan what we eat and also challenging to still be hospitable within reasonable limits on spending. After a number of months of quite tricky times with Andy being under considerable pressure and then his grandfather being poorly, it now feels as though we can cement things at home a bit more, beginning with two families coming for lunch tomorrow after church. The stuff going on amongst school mums and local community events is also exciting.

I've been prayerfully considering some options for how my work might pan out over the next few months and years. Again, not able yet to say anything concrete but much of the supervision, coaching and huddling work that I do in my 'day job' has some possibilities for ongoing work, depending on where we might end up in 2014. Within all these wonderings, God is clearly at work and reminding me that I need to be patient and trust His timing. He has been faithful up until now and that will not change!

So, March begins with a renewed sense of focus and drawing near to Easter, that seems very hopeful.

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Ash Wednesday

Tonight we had our youth group as usual in our home - we combined Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday and made pancakes followed by some Lent reflections and imposition of ashes. It was fun; great to just hang out over food and enjoy a bit of silliness as well as the more serious business of considering the season of Lent. Andy did a great job leading us.
So we/I made some decisions about how we're going to approach Lent this year. As Andy heads off to Tanzania tomorrow for a trip with his college and Tearfund, we've been thinking ahead to some of how that might impact us. I have decided to try and live, as much as is feasible, on £1 a day for Lent. For me this is about recognising the poverty of the world, particularly the part of the world where Andy will be next week. I don't want to just get absorbed in parenting, holding the fort and getting through til he comes back and I hope having this challenge will enable me to journey a bit with him in a small way. Alongside that, I also want to acknowledge that I don't think very carefully about the random little purchases I make, most of which are unnecessary. I want to try and curb my luxury spending.
We have a veg box delivered each week and our food shopping is pretty standard to complement that, same stuff each week. At present our freezer is in a good place so during Lent I will be cooking from our veg box contents and food that's in the freezer and will be attempting to buy as little extra as possible. Setting myself a £1 limit will also mean I think more carefully about impulse buying a bar of chocolate, although I recognise that need may hit at some point! After the day I have had today, I'm just grateful for pancakes to satisfy my need for comfort food! My plan is also to make a packed lunch when I do the kids lunches - unless I'm fortunate enough to be fed at work which I will be tomorrow.
We're obviously not including the kids in this - plenty of healthy, nutritious and balanced meals for them to come! But I do hope that some conversation will spring from it for Matilda who doesn't miss a trick!
Blogging this Lent is something I want to do more regularly...your feedback, comments, questions always welcomed to keep me motivated!

Love this prayer from Everyday Liturgy

Almighty and everlasting God,
We come before you with unclean lips, as the saints before us.
We come before you and request that you touch us and heal us,
that you stir the waters and make us whole again,
that whomever seeks you should find living water,
and never thirst again.
You will mix the dust of our sin and darkness with your healing water,
you will heal our blindness, and we will see you
as the God who bore our iniquities and conquered the grave,
who scattered all evil, malice and shadow,
and claimed victory over sin and death.
Be victorious over our sins, for they are many.
And give us the hope of your salvation,
that having been cleansed we may offer your grace
to all we know and meet.

Monday, 11 February 2013

Lenten Disciplines - a work in progress...

I was on a Retreat Day on Saturday with some women from church. We had teaching input from Jeannie Saggs, Pastor at CGC Maldon (our old church, new pastor!) about how our thought patterns and hidden beliefs about ourselves can affect the way we walk in faith and with God. It really struck me that I often feel overwhelmed by my thought patterns, lots of ideas or re-runs of conversations, endlessly going round in circles trying to work out a best next step or deciding on how to handle a particular situation. In fact, if I'm honest, I'm more comfortable and at ease when my mind is whirring. Not a good place to be...

Alongside that 'overwhelmed' sense on Saturday came a recognition, a word from God about how He desires for me to be overwhelmed in Him. That the flood of love, peace and comfort He promises cuts through all those random, jumbled thoughts and worries. And now comes the church's calendar and we're heading, already, into Lent. In previous years, I've done various things like coming off Facebook. Still deciding on that at present.
But what I am thinking is that, despite failing abysmally in December, I may set myself a Lenten writing challenge and bring in a few friends to help. Members of TOM ( are taking part in a twice weekly devotional online, with various members contributing via Facebook and the website and so I hope to connect in with that. It's prayer focus is on the TOM Project ( - fruitful kingdom communities amongst young adults on university campuses. As our path beyond summer 2014 is currently uncertain, it seems pertinent to be praying for such wide, big purposes of God rather than the stuff which I've found is filling my head. I have a few things in the pipeline at the moment - work projects and other future stuff which I need to give adequate prayer and focused space too rather than seeing them as a task. Just need to document that process of asking 'What is God saying and what am I going to do about it' on a more regular basis.

So, a variety of disciplines are being prompted this year. I know my jumbled thoughts often seem so minimal when written down and articulated to my journal, to those I Huddle, to this random collection of blog readers so I hope that as I write, I will feel less overwhelmed by myself and more by God.