Monday, 6 October 2014

To my son, on his 3rd birthday

Today, my Button Boy, you turn 3! I can't believe how big you are! 
3 years since there were only 3 Smiths, just moved into St Peter's House with Andy starting at Vicar Factory. 3 years since we went from a female focused household to a more balanced one! And 3 years since you came into our world and oh how you live up to your name = He Laughs!

I know you won't be able to read this little post of mine for a while yet, but I wanted to make a memory of how I feel and what I remember at this juncture...and hope you enjoy reading it when you can.

I'm not sure you're much impressed by birthdays really - whenever we ask you whose birthday it is you usually say Oscar or James or Timothy, your special buddies! Your arrival in our bedroom, en route for your toilet visit is our new alarm clock, usually before 6am and you pretty much never stop talking from that point on!

This time 3 years ago yesterday, I had been sent home from the hospital in Chelmsford after a very long day of scans and tests and monitoring and hushed discussions. You were much smaller than was expected, your heart rate was doing strange things and there was barely any amniotic fluid left. Scans revealed that most of it was in your bladder! Despite the fear and uncertainty, we were reassured that the hospital allowed us to go home that night and return first thing the following day. We repacked my bag with the tiniest baby clothes we had as they estimated you would be less than 5lb in weight. The short story of that long day is that you needed to come out and come out QUICK - induction got going quickly but your little body wasn't coping so you came out the front door in a rush of anaesthetists, surgeons, midwives and a fast asleep Mummy, which meant Daddy couldn't be present either :-( 
Your first 8 weeks were pretty tricky - you were so tiny that feeding was exhausting and so you were fed drops of milk from a cup and I was constantly either trying to feed you, spoon feeding you, expressing, sleeping or expressing again. Suddenly, in late November, you woke up, latched on and never looked back!
Of course, we've know you a little bit longer than 3 years - from that first positive test, 4 weeks in, in the downstairs loo at 63 Coopers just before the evening service at All Saints Church. You have been a part of me, our much longed for and much wanted second child. After the pain of losing the twins, there you were. And when we found out that you were a felt complete.
There are so many things about you that I know are 'me' too, mannerisms, habits, ways of reacting...and there are so many things in you that are what I love about your are our perfect mix and a uniquely created individual at the same time.

Here are some things that I love about you:
I love the way you slump in the armchair, making yourself comfortable and cosy.
I love the way you insist on being naked as much of the day as possible.
I love how tunefully you sing the Octonauts theme almost constantly.
I love the way you are so very particular about your pants.
I love the way you smile at the camera - full face of teeth, eyes all scrunched up.
I love the way you deliberately wind up your sister - I don't love the consequences, but I love your comic timing, your mischievous smile and your giggle/belly laugh when you just can't keep it in!
I love how you moved all the kneeler cushions around the Cathedral for Daddy's ordination and now try and hide up his 'dress' in church!
Just like your sister you LOVE pasta! But you do not love milk!
I love your explanations for why you won't or can't do things 'It's too big!' 'It's too small!' usually totally irrelevant!
I love how you embrace everyone as your best friend and how you welcome people into our home - once you've met them once, they are friends for life!
I love how you can while away a good hour in the bath, in your imaginary world of boats and planes and fishes and mermaids.

Some of my best times in the last 3 years have been the insignificant times, the everyday things - taking you on a train for the first time, seeing your joy when you reach the top of the slide all by yourself, putting you on the Jubilee line with Didi for the first weekend sleepover on your own, listening to you singing with or playing with your big sister and the adoration on your face, watching you pick up conkers or put on your batman rucksack for preschool or dance when you think no-one can see......the list is endless!

There have been hard times too - the concerns over your weight gain and speech. The transition from your beloved childminder Mel to a new one in our new place hasn't been easy. We're so proud of how you have handled all the changes, we don't always know how you feel but we just try and love you through it all. 

You are fiesty and full of fun and opinion. You do things in your own time - like those early weeks, you have now shown us that we can't encourage you to walk, talk, eat, toilet train or anything else like that. When you are ready, you will do it and your way is in Isaac time! Your tantrums are epic - you have perseverance and determination and whilst your illogical reactions are infuriating, you don't give up easily. I admire that in you!

You help me to understand how deep the Father's love is for us - how wide and deep and high and strong, in a way which passes all understanding. You make me grateful for all the things that I have been blessed with and you enhance every blessing in my life by being in it. I seek to put the word of God and the love of Jesus in your heart so it becomes part of you - something that is at your surface shining out but also at the very depths of your being. 
You are my miracle - the second baby they said I would never have and the handsome boy to match our beautiful girl. We cherish you and enjoy you - and we're speechless with wonder so often when you come home having learnt something else new or having had a wonderful adventure that you are excited to tell us about. How did we get so lucky??
You are growing up fast and I wouldn't want it any other way - but when you are all growed up and getting your life settled - who knows who with or doing what? - I want to remember what it was like when you were 3 and I was 36 and we were getting ready for your birthday...if only we could bottle it...? I remember it sweetly and with thanks and with tears too, just a few.
Happy birthday Isaac Thomas Andrew - we love you and we know you love us. 
Thank you God for this wonderful gift - help us do our job well.

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

An incredible day...

It's nearly two weeks now since Andy's ordination and we've been flung headlong into the new parish and all the preparations for our move and this new stage of the Smith life.
It was an incredibly happy day - stressful, nerverwracking, emotional and tiring yes - but ultimately a wonderful day surrounded by friends, family, supporters, old and new parish friends and the Diocesan community.

Many people have commented at how content, relaxed and happy Andy looked and many of these photos show that so clearly. I enjoyed the service far more than I thought I would. The kids were brilliant, Matilda reading and eating sweets on the front row and Isaac playing with his cousins in the creche and occasionally yelling! I relaxed into the worship, felt very present in the moment, particularly the moment of ordination. The choir sang an incredible Veni Sancti Spiritus so gently and quietly while each ordination was happening - it was so moving and God felt very, very close in that moment.

For me, another moment of 'connection' came after the distribution of Communion had ended and gradually, everyone back in their seats joined in with singing In Christ Alone (Stuart Townend). As the music and the voices swelled the words really hit home: 'No guilt in life, no fear in death, this is the power of Christ in me. From life's first cry, to final breath, Jesus commands my destiny. No power of hell, no scheme of man can ever pluck me from his hand. Til he returns, or calls me home. Here in the power of Christ I stand." I wanted to stand so badly.....! But I was a bit teary eyed so I may have fallen over if I'd got up too quick....!

 On Sunday 29th June we received a wonderful parish welcome with a fantastic lunch and a chance to begin to get to know people. Andy's parents, brother, sister in law and my mum, plus a number of other friends were able to stay on and see him Deacon for the Eucharist and it was a fun and informal service, perfect for our slightly loony kids! We're looking a bit weary in this picture but it was such a lovely afternoon finishing off a memorable weekend. Thank you St Andrews and Holy Cross church family!

It's a strange feeling now, having these three weeks in limbo, being neither fully in Hutton nor Basildon but we will be moving in to the new house, 2 weeks today. Before then, we have some sorting of this current house to do and coordinating some work at the new house, including flooring, decorating and plastering. We're also hosting a little (40 people!!) goodbye party for our special Hutton buddies as well as some of Matilda's school friends just before the end of term. I'm not quite ready for that yet - we're not moving far and yet it feels like a big and final 'end' to what has been.....I'm so excited to move but so sad to leave. 
For Andy, he's really relished the chance to get stuck into all the different aspects of parish ministry that he's been training for the last 3 years to do - baptism visits, bereavement ministry, youth work, preaching, leading worship, helping encourage people in discipleship and mission. He looks great in a collar too! I'm just so incredibly proud of him for all the hard work and discipline and sacrifice he has put in, not only in the last 3 years but right from the beginning of hearing the call of God on his life and being prepared to say 'Yes'. Above all, we know that God has called us, in different ways with different 'uniforms'! He who has called us is faithful and we are called as a family on mission - 4 for the price of 1!
Thanks so much to those who came to support us, who prayed or emailed or wrote from afar, to those who helped with the children or preparing for the after party. Will do our best to continue blogging this journey, in the hope that things may calm down a bit now....! 

Friday, 27 June 2014

Crucible Newsletter - June

[This is the editorial text of my monthly Crucible Newsletter, with information, resources, links and training for youthwork in Essex and East London. You can sign up here if you'd like to receive direct or just sign up to receive posts from here which include this editorial each month]

“We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty.”

Earlier this month, I heard of the death of Maya Angelou. 'I know why the Caged Bird sings' was a formative book for me in my teenage years, speaking as it does of identity, culture, racism and how society treats women. It opened my eyes, upset and inspired me, made me intrigued and drawn to issues of injustice and the marginalised.In later years, I have often referred to her book 'Hallelujah: The Welcome Table' with it's mix of recipes, stories, anecdotes and great wisdom. She was a wonderful, tenacious and challenging example of triumph over adversity and of great courage and character whilst not bowing to the prevailing culture or stereotypes. Working for Martin Luther King Jr and Malcolm X, and before that as a dancer, a waitress, an actress and in later years, a writer and poet. What a life. Rest in Peace and Rise in Glory Maya! The quote above, from Maya in one of her later autobiographical books, sums up the sense of change going on at the moment in many places. For many, this is a time of transition as we look towards the end of the school year; perhaps changing schools, new teachers or completing exams and looking to the next stage. It's a good opportunity to finish well and to begin to look ahead to the new season, making plans for the summer and September onwards. Much to look forward to and hopefully some of the ideas, links and resources below will help you with that - keep this email to refer back to in moments of panic! Change isn't always easy - we each deal with it differently. Some thrive, others shy away. But we can't avoid it, that's for certain! Within our lives, situations, work, family, churches are sacred echoes which perhaps we don't always align ourselves to hear. In times of change, as our perspective moves and shifts, we see and hear something new, realise more of what we can do, be, offer. Change is good, hard, painful and part of our journey with God. Change is a wonderful, inspiring and exciting thing but it is also challenging and painful, requiring loss, departure and vulnerability. In it all, He is good, He knows what He's doing, His timing is perfect.(I'm reminding myself of that as much as I'm telling you all!) Within this season of change, there is also lots happening within the Youth Advisory Team in the Diocese. As some of you may have picked up, Andy Poultney, my colleague in the Barking Episcopal Area has recently been appointed as the Young Vocations Champion for the Diocese, overseeing a new residential gap year programme, 'Encounter' beginning in September. He begins on 1st July officially, but there is much to be done in preparation so we said goodbye to him properly at a lunch on 20th May to which many youthworkers and others were able to come and give their thanks. Please do pray for Andy, his wife Linsey, his children Joel and Keziah and for those who will join them on this amazing adventure exploring God's call! Change is also happening at some pace in the Smith Family. We're preparing for my husband Andy's ordination on 28th June in Chelmsford Cathedral and then a move to St Andrew's and Holy Cross as a family on mission as he begins his curacy. New schools, childcare, home, job, a whole new world and yet just 10 miles up the road! As part of that process, I'll be keeping my schedule in August and September much lighter, working mainly from home rather than being out and about and ensuring the children settle well and we find our feet and can be present fully in our new context from the beginning. So bear with me! and please pray for us too! So we head into the busy summer, with the hope of some sun, long evenings and time outside. Change is all around and I was challenged and encouraged by the words of Nicholas Henshall, the new Dean of Chelmsford Cathedral the other week who spoke of 'the gift of tears and the discipline of praise.' Both these elements, aspects of our discipleship, call out to God who hears and holds us in whatever circumstance. He lifts our heads, focuses us on Him once again and spurs us on into mission, being with those God has called us to. (Psalm 3)Enjoy the sunshine in the meantime and look forward to seeing you at SOLID perhaps?With every blessing, be blessed in all you do, Alice x @youthworkmum

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Standing on the brink....

of a new stage of life!
This morning I waved Andy off on his pre-ordination retreat at Pleshey - 3.5 days of morning and evening prayer, legal oaths, silence, food, cycling (not for everyone) and maybe a trip to the pub.
It's been an incredible journey over the last 5 years or so since this all began (you can read more here and a more recent, less positive post here!).
On Saturday, Mr. Andy Smith will become Rev. Andy Smith in a very special service in Chelmsford. We are being joined from all over the country by people who have been with us on different parts of the journey and have prayed for us, encouraged us, cried with us and laughed with us. There are many others too who can't be with us and I know will be cheering us on, praying and looking forward to social media photographs!
In a month we will pack up St Peter's House here in Hutton and move, just 10 miles up the road to Basildon where Andy will (as from Sunday) be Assistant Curate at St Andrew's and Holy Cross.
We leave behind an amazing community of friends and neighbours here who we never expected to have - we were never meant to live in Hutton! We have also been so blessed by the church families at Emmanuel and Deeper over these 3 years who have welcomed us, challenged us and enabled us to prepare for this next stage.

I haven't blogged properly for so long (the number of tags for Isaac against the ones for Matilda show why my blogging activity may have slowed down!) so it feels a bit odd to pour out too much here but I am incredibly grateful to God for all he has done in our lives these last 3 years. We could never have known how much it would hurt but we would never had understood the depths of his faithfulness and love to us without that. He has held us and stretched us indeed - through all the studying that Andy has done, the youthwork we have led, the people we have met and the stuff we have learnt. About ourselves, about who we are in Christ and about his plans for us. He's never let us down and he won't start now. But I am terrified and excited - the unknown is a hard place for a planner to embark on! I'm only glad that as Andy has been called to be ordained in God's church, so he has also called me to love my husband, to love people, to parent well and to see the church inhabit the places where there is need, particularly amongst young people.

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Some thoughts on loss and Mothering Sunday

This is the text of the 'editorial' section of my Crucible newsletter that I send out monthly to people in this Diocese involved in youth and community ministry. It's received a lot of response which I'm grateful for so I'm posting it here too, as a follow up to other posts from the time of our twin miscarriage.

"It was one of those March days when the sun shines hot and the wind blows cold: when it is summer in the light, and winter in the shade." 
A very apt quote for our current season - I wonder if you know where it's from?

I wonder too how your Lent is going? I asked the question last month "What do you wish to lay hold of this Lent?" - maybe now, a week in, the answer to that question is a little clearer? Whatever you are up to this Lent - fasting, 40acts, Love Life Live Lent, Pilgrim....I'm praying it draws you deeper into the fullness of God's love for you in Jesus and gives you boldness too, as we hold out the word of life to young people.
Perhaps, like me and much of the rest of the country, you have been watching this series of Call the Midwife since January? I've watched it in blocks over this past week, a couple of episodes at a time and been blown away, emotionally, physically, spiritually but just how true to life, sensitive, resonant it is. For some receiving this newsletter, Poplar in the East End may well be familiar territory - our previous Bishop, Laurie Green was Rector there and it's just over the border, still marrying huge wealth and abject poverty under the gaze of Canary Wharf.
Call the Midwife has struck a chord with so many - despite it's beautiful filming and sometimes 'otherworldliness', it has touched on so many raw and real issues which still affect our lives today. Palliative care, adoption, childlessness, dementia, war, sexuality, love, marriage, calling, faith....the list goes on. The community of nuns, nurses, laity who live and work at Nonnatus House demonstrate extended family in a way which helps us to see a glimpse of the early church that Luke describes in Acts 2 or the extended family of Lydia and Cornelius that Peter and Paul encounter as they journey. Sharing everything, breaking bread together, serving the needy, loving and encouraging one another in the purposes they have been called to. Inspiring.
But there is also a huge amount of pain in each episode - not just the pain of childbirth which we expect but the pain of death, loss, relationships, poverty, illness. As we head towards Mothering Sunday on 30th March, it can often become a relief in the fasting and austerity of Lent to celebrate and focus on the loveliness of motherhood - daffs, funny videos (The Mom Song is great), out for lunch. Of course that is right, but this celebration also has a flip side which it can be difficult to know how to respond to appropriately.

Four years ago this March, my husband and I lost twin babies, 12 weeks into pregnancy. Only 2 weeks before, we had been given the news that I was carrying 2 babies and our lives were suddenly spun into a whirlwind of panic, elation, worry, delight and a whole heap of implications for the future. We'd need a new car, would I be able to keep working, how on earth could we afford 2 at once?! The impact was not just on us, but on all our extended family - grandparents, aunts, uncles to be, friends who knew how hard a multiple pregnancy could be, those who had been praying for us as we'd struggled to conceive a much longed for 2nd (and now 3rd child!) And then, as soon as we'd begun to get our heads around it, it was all over. Even now, it's painful to remember and yet, in the midst of that pain we saw love in action; food deliveries, supportive emails, childcare help, lifts for checkups and errands, people just coming and being. Extended family kicking in - rallying round. 
I'm so grateful for that as I look back. I'm thankful that in the devastating loss, I had a glimpse of what the body of Christ really is all about and more than anything, I want to see that as part of what we, as the family of God, are known for.
Mothering Sunday can be incredibly hard for many. Family breakdown, unemployment, loss, miscarriage, circumstances not having worked out - all these and more can make Mothering Sunday, parenting, families and relationships within them difficult to make sense of and difficult to deal with. It doesn't mean she shouldn't celebrate or affirm or support mothers, fathers, single parents, carers, grandparents....far from it. But as we celebrate, we must also recognise that many will stay away from church or other events cos it's just too hard. We can't offer solutions but we can offer ourselves, in all our sadness, vulnerability, joy and hope. Be aware of who isn't around on 30th March. Keep in touch, pray, invite, support, love. Be you and be bold.
Let's remember that too as we plan worship or crafts or events to mark the day. Many will not share their story as I have, wont want to. But I hope that in sharing my story it will help us be bold and sacrificial in offering love, support and care to those in need in our families, communities, churches, neighbourhoods - throughout the year.

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

No one tells you it will be this hard...

[Honest post - maybe best avoided if you are pre-BAP! Or maybe this would be a good reality check. Whichever it is, it's a 'from the gut post' with a few Bible passages tacked on the end. Sorry, but that is how it is right now ;-)  ]
(google images)

Ordination - and the journey towards it - is a rollercoaster. Sounds like a cliche, and it is. But it captures something of the ridiculous topsy turvy and up and down-ness of this season. And it all feels quite vomit inducing at the moment. And that is just me and I am not the one getting ordained, doing the essays, contemplating the change of role, although huge change is a-coming and it's only just starting and it's hitting us all, big time, right now...!

People I meet, around and about in this funny little job I do for the Church of England, seem to assume that we're getting all excited about curacy, about the next season, about finishing training. Yes, Yes and Yes. And No, No, No.
When I suggest that maybe, it's quite stressful or there is an element of uncertainty or that it's having an effect on the kids or me or whatever, there is some expression of surprise. It's a bit like when we first had a baby and we mentioned that it was tiring or hard work or scary - people hadn't previously said too much about what really happened further down the line in case you bottled it. When you first get pregnant, it's all exciting and people get so excited for you. It's the same with the ordination discernment process - everyone is so excited and positive and absolutely certain its' going to be amazing. But they don't tell you about this stage. The moving AGAIN, the crazy workload, the preparations that have to be made or the crazy fears and worries that kick in...
And now that it's happening, Andy is getting ordained, 5 months tomorrow, we're moving house (no address yet but we will be moving!), moving on (from this community where we never planned to live and where we have been so blessed), well, just as with having children - there is no going back now!

Obviously, quitting is not an option - this is God's call. And we're up for it. We're a family on mission. Ordination is a bit of a mystery to be honest but what I do know is that we're all in it, this is a joint journey and God has called us all. But it's also a very isolating experience when I'm looking at schools, making decisions about nursery, thinking about shifting life to another town, albeit just 10 miles up the road. It feels isolating because I am leaving much behind and I don't really know what I'm going into, what we are going into. I'm not doing it on my own obviously but it feels very detached and external right now. Managing a 'project' which is quite task focused at the moment but which eventually is going to become my life.

In a meeting today, someone made the comment about the actual ordination service and how they are not very child friendly - and I wondered how on earth that was going to feel and how I will manage that. Am I going to be elsewhere at that 'big moment' ensuring that my two year old doesn't disrupt proceedings? And how on earth I'm going to arrive looking half decent (let alone keep the toddler clean or quiet?!) for the service itself when Andy will have been away for the previous few days 'preparing' on silent retreat? I'm hoping I get to go on silent retreat soon after to recover! Not very family friendly at all. No one tells you this bit...

1 Timothy 4:12 is a life scripture for me, and this I return to. And in all the uncertainty, I'm ramping up the retreat time (2 days booked at Abbotswick earlier), the evenings of focused prayer and worship with friends in my missional community and ensuring there is a bit more space in my life than normal to enable me to face this with all the goodness and grace that God has ploughed into me.
I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me....