Saturday, 30 April 2011

Be who God meant you to be

“Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire.” St Catherine of Siena

This was the statement with which Dr Richard Chartres opened his wedding address to Prince William and Kate Middleton yesterday. There is a lot about me that I would like to be different and there is a lot about other people that I would like to be. I am challenged to trust that God made me exactly the way He wanted me and that only I am made perfectly to do what he asks of me.
Henri Nouwen also speaks of individuality: "You will discover that many other spiritualities you have admired and tried to practice no longer completely fit you unique call. You will begin sensing when other people's experiences and ideas no longer match your own. You have to start trusting your unique vocation and allow it to grow deeper and stronger in you so it can blossom in your community."

I feel that I have come to a time in my life when I am clearly seeing the choice I have to make. I can choose to agree with my envious and self-doubting thoughts, I can undermine myself and harshly compare my insides with my perception of other people's outsides; or I can say "yes" to the me God created, fight every day to believe that what he says about me is true and that he knew what he was doing when he made me. I can try every day to be more who God meant me to be.

Thursday, 28 April 2011


God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.

I know that I should do everything for the glory of God, I have heard it many times. I try to glorify God, but it isn't very glorifying when I am tired, resentful or unhappy and my best efforts are not enough to overcome these feelings. Often the result is ugly; and I feel ugly, outside and in.
The quote above reframes this dilemma. It leads me to the question, "When am I most satisfied in God?" For when I am satisfied in Him, worldly efforts fall away and the "me" He created in infinite wisdom and generosity is free to shine. For His glory.

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

8 Today

My baby is eight years old today. As she told me, she is twice as old as when she was four!

I calculated that I have celebrated 29 of my children's birthdays, which I guess also means that I have muddled my way through 29 years of parenting. I cannot escape a sense that time is ticking away and that I am running out of opportunities to get it right. There are so many things I'd like to be more: patient, generous, fun, creative, spontaneous. I try hard to be a good mum, but I find it hard to see it and I am grateful to have people around me to tell me that they think I'm doing a good job. My eldest will be 12 this summer and, if my role as bringer-up ends at 18, I am well over half way through this daunting task. It will only be then, as my babies gradually become adults with lives of their own, that I will really be able to see the results of my efforts. I was reminded today that God trusted me enough to give me these children and, when it really feels that He made a mistake, perhaps I need to return the favour and trust Him!

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Another Schedule

Life is going faster than I am. Having just had a three week Easter holiday, I still feel behind and overwhelmed. I have not yet had the time to look over my daughter's term's work with her and the list of things to do which has been stressing me since Christmas, which I had slated for this long break, is unlooked-at and undiminished. I don't want to live with this constant feeling of playing catch-up and hearing myself tell the children that they need to go faster. I want our lives to be fun, relaxed, pleasantly purposeful and still full of learning opportunities.
My best friend has just moved in with us and how our week will look now very much involves her. We sat down together this afternoon and planned out the term. It is hard for me to let go of control, to accept that someone else's ideas - different ideas - might work, might, in fact, be better than my own, but we have come up with a plan. One to be typed up neatly and perhaps even laminated. It is only for eight weeks - the eight short weeks before we declare school's out and head off on our summer holidays.
We are going to finish off the maths syllabus with each child and read a chapter book every day. I want to read the books for the Imperial War Museum exhibition and will also try a maths book and the Boys' Book of Survival. She will take them out cycling and I will lead art and free-writing once a week. My eldest will be expected to do six lots of half-an-hour personal and unsupervised study each week as well as getting an afternoon of maths tuition. I will have time to run during the day and go to a mid-week service at church.
It's hard to let someone else in and I find it hard to let someone else help. Despite often feeling run ragged by the demands of life I don't like the feeling that I am not doing it all, that I am not indispensable. Sharing so much of my life, something that I am so used to doing alone, will take some adjustment but I am excited about what bringing in free ideas, fresh insight and fresh energy will mean for us and the way home ed looks in this home.

Monday, 25 April 2011

Easter Weekend

The weather has been beautiful and I have made a conscious effort to relax and allow this Bank Holiday to feel like a holiday. We had plenty of chocolate and a Simnel Cake,

an Easter Eggstravagansa in the garden,
and breakfast in the sunshine this morning.

We spent today at another National Trust property, admiring works of art, sunbathing while the children played and following an Easter Egg Trail. And, of course, we had tea and cake. It's been fun, it's been a break, and it's been good to spend extended time together.

Saturday, 23 April 2011


My husband has been off work for nearly three weeks, on his Easter break, yet somehow it has not felt like much of a holiday. I have been lucky enough to be out walking for quite a bit, two days from home and three days away, and he has worked hard tutoring, which really enjoys (honestly!) and brings in some money to spend on fun things. I didn't quite finish everything last term that I wanted to and haven't quite wrapped it all up over the holiday so there has never been that sense of an end of term and the beginning of something different. With my mother's unexpected ill health last week, it has all felt quite a rush.
But not this weekend. I have made a decision to take this long, double-bank holiday weekend to really be a holiday. We spent the day at Chartwell yesterday, walking in the woods, exploring the history of Winston Churchill's home and experiencing life as a slightly different-shaped family.

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Stay Day

It was an idea conceived in early November and, after months of discussion, prayer, doubts and reasurance, it finally came into being - unexpectedly suddenly at the last - on Monday: my best friend has moved in and become part of our family.

We have been through some rough weather, literally, emotionally and in life's events, but there has been a lot more sunshine.
We got home late from our walking trip to the Peaks on Monday night and, after conferring with the children on Tuesday, decided to celebrate as soon as possible. Chocolate cake was duly baked for breakfast consumption - elevating this event to the status of a birthday - and we sang "Happy Stay Day". Even the builders got a slice (which will hopefully energise them to finish the garage conversion, giving us all a little more space) and we are looking forward to this new chapter in all our lives.

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Peak District

Tired legs, sunburnt nose, refreshed outlook - good trip.

Friday, 15 April 2011


I like to be told that I am doing the right thing. The more anxious I feel, the more I seek the approval and reassurance of others. Was I right to go down to my mother's, leaving my husband to hold the fort and look after the children on his own during his holiday? Was I right to leave my mum in a hospital bed and come home? Am I right to be packing my walking gear and catching a train to the Peak District for a weekend away with my best friend? Whatever I do, I feel as if it is probably wrong and that I am not looking after my children, husband, mother, step-father orself as well as I should. One of my many prayers yesterday was that God's provision for me would include guidance and boundaries. It was clear to me that I needed to be with my step-father as he made the trip he had dreaded, into a nursing home. There were tasks to be done in my mum's house to leave it ready for her absence and it was important to spend time with her, comforting her, listening to her and reassuring her that her dearly-loved husband was safe. It also became clear that there was nothing more that I could do and it was ok for me to come home: in fact, I was exhausted and needed to. I am looking forward to being away, to the open spaces and freedom from admin and chores that come with walking and camping, and I am looking forward to grown-up time with my best friend, free from responsibility. I get cross that I seek so much reassurance and approval and think that I should make my decisions and stick by them. However, this just adds to the sense of not getting it right. Instead I made a choice yesterday that I would just notice this tendency and I would observe how it felt. I would not stop myself telling the lady from Social Services that I did not want to be the kind of daughter that people thought didn't visit enough; I would not stop myself telling my son's friend's mother that I feel guilty about leaving today; I would not even stop myself from telling my mother that I felt bad about leaving her. Of course, I am hoping in each of these situations that the other person will tell me that what I am doing is ok and that they do not think badly of me. I hope that in noticing but not getting frustrated or trying to force myself to change I will be being kind to myself and, in loving myself more, will gradually lose the need to get validation from other people.

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Still waiting

I left my mother today, still in hospital and still waiting for tests. There is nothing I can do to help her and she is surrounded by an incredible and loving church community who have held her through some bad times in recent years and I know will hold her and help her through this one. I took her husband to a nursing home this morning where he has been admitted for six weeks' respite care. It was hard for me to say goodbye to him, knowing how much he did not want to leave his home. It seems cruel, knowing how little time he and my mother may have left together. All I can do is trust in those around them that they will both be well-cared for; that the tests will reveal the cause of mum's collapse so that the doctors can begin to treat her; and that my loving heavenly father is their's too and is holding us all.


I am very much a list person. It doesn't take long once I meet a new person for them to realise this: even the builder has taken to teasing me about my lists. If I lose one, which happens quite often, it is like a fire alarm: nobody stops to collect anything, we all hunt for the list. I am often told to "chill out" but I find that my lists are what keeps me sane and calm. Once all the swirling thoughts are on a piece of paper they no longer feel so threatening or overwhelming: they can be moved, but under my control; priorities are easier to identify; time-scales easier to calculate and I can find ways of trying to factor in some space. And when everything suddenly changes, at least I know what didn't get done, what needs picking up later and what just has to be left.
I had a list yesterday, and had already written today's and Friday's, making sure that I had enough time to do everything that I needed to before I catch the train to Derby for a weekend away walking.
And then the phone rang and it was my mother's neighbour telling me that mum was being taken to hospital, leaving her frail, elderly husband at home. It was helpful to have my list, so that when I had to drop everything and leave, I knew what had to be caught by someone else and what I just had to let fall. It is amazing to have friends that are willing and able to give their time to drive my son to his god-mother's for the over-night stay and day trip that he has been counting the weeks, days and hours to. He had only just told me that it was 35 minutes until he left.
It has also been amazing to see social services in action and to have a carer arrive only minutes after I did to tell me that 48 hours of live-in care were in place while longer term arrangements were made, leaving me free to visit my mother and reassure myself that she was comfortable and in good hands.
And now I am waiting. I have another list of what I need to do once my step-father is safely in respite care, which will be organised today. I cannot even make a list of what to do to help my mother until she has had the necessary tests to determine what happened yesterday. So, at the moment I have only one thing on my list: wait.

Tuesday, 12 April 2011


I was telling someone the other day about my dog doing the Kennel Club Good Citizen Dog Awards. I am very laid back about my children's education, but I can release my inner pushy parent on the dog and put her through exams at a very early age without fear of causing permanent psychological harm. I have not been very happy with Coco's progress recently but my friend reminded me today how far this puppy has come. She will walk to heel, mostly, and especially if I make it very obvious that I have a treat in my hand. She will even walk to heel with no lead as we weave in and out of posts. She will come back across the park when I call, running right up to me and sitting. She will stay, usually resigning herself to the boredom by putting her chin on the floor and occasionally eating grass, and she will leave a tempting treat or her favourite toy until told she can take it. She has achieved both her puppy and her bronze certificates and I have rosettes for each to be proud of.
I always meant to measure my children's heights on a door-post so that we could all marvel at how much they had grown but I never did. Their development is clear to see however: they out-grow shoes and clothes, they bump their hips rather than their heads on grandma's breakfast table and they even coo over tiny baby shoes in the shops, which they themselves wore not so long ago.
It is important to notice progress and the only way to do this is to remember how things were. No matter how depressed I am about the state of my garden, there are a few photos of how it was three or four years ago that never fail to cheer me up. In the hazy worlds of home-ed and personal development it is hard to see this progress and easy to slip into the trap of feeling that nothing is changing.
Perhaps it is necessary to be intentional about noticing progress. To pay attention to what the children can do, or read, or understand right now so that I have something to compare last and next year with and to see how they are thriving; to pay attention to where I am right now, what I cope with, what causes me to spin out, how I respond to a difficult situation so that I can see that I am indeed becoming calmer and better humoured as I deal with some of the uncomfortable feelings in my life. Perhaps it is even time to fashion some rosettes of our own.

Monday, 11 April 2011

Tate Watercolours

I have been lucky enough to have another 'day off' and have spent it at the Tate Gallery in London at the watercolour exhibition. I felt like a child on a school day out, almost hopping up and down with excitement, and I was not disappointed. I had thought carefully about whether to join up with someone, my husband, a friend, a fellow evening-class student perhaps, but decided that I actually would enjoy it more by myself. There were a few occasions when I was tempted to comment to a total stranger about one of the pictures but most of the time I was happy to think my own thoughts, to not have to listen to anyone else's and to go at my own pace, lingering or moving on as I wanted. Picture after picture astounded me with colour, dexterity, detail, boldness and more colour. There were maps, portraits, architecture, botany, landscape, abstracts and war paintings. I tuned in to my own mental chatter, trying to capture what it was that made me internally exclaim, "amazing!" I asked myself over and again what I liked about the pictures that made me stop and examine them. Would I like to paint like that? It is hard to get passed the feeling that I will never have the skill to be able to paint like any of these artists and to let myself discover what I was drawn to. I also struggle not to apologies for my tastes, as if what I like must lack sophistication or substance. I find that I like bright colours, especially red and green; I like pen and wash, pictures with outlines, a somewhat 'illustrative' style; I am awed by courage: large scale, intimate detail or strong brush marks, reminding me the idea I once read in a climbing book of a 'committing move'. I have thoroughly enjoyed my day out and learned a great deal more about the range of the medium I am learning to paint in. Unexpected though, was how I have learned a little bit more about myself, who I am and what I love.

Friday, 8 April 2011

Priorities - again!

I love the idea of having a clear idea of what matters most and getting it done, of letting go of the "small stuff". I applied this principle well in some areas of my life last term, most notably my running. I accepted that it mattered to me to do well in the Hastings Half Marathon, I put my training runs first into my weekly plan and I ran with purpose. I focused on my goal and I achieved it. But I am struggling again. I think the problem I have has is two-faced: I deny what I really want and I try to have too many priorities. An example of the first: I can think through that having hummus for lunch is not very important and that filing my son's term's work and preparing him for the Junior Maths Challenge are my real priorities but when I find myself getting the food processor out as my husband calls the children to lunch, I know that in my heart, hummus was paramount. I am beginning to plan next term and have come face-to-face with the second: trying to fit too much in. It all looks so good until I hear myself tell the children that we will concentrate on improving their cycling in the summer months and that we will "slot it in" to our timetable. A friend suggests a dog walk and I find myself thinking that I have filled every day between now and the end of June and wonder how I will fit in seeing any friends. Something will have to give. Can I really do no handwriting or grammar practice until September. What about the project the children would like to do - where will it fit? Surely we need to finish Maths? And I want to do the things we love, like Poetry Tea and Chapter Book. And I want to have time for spontaneous picnics in the park or the garden. Even I can see that it isn't all going to happen -certainly not if I want it to feel like fun and not like Boot Camp.

Thursday, 7 April 2011


Have you ever noticed how grown-ups just don't feature in children's literature, not unless they are the baddies? Harry Potter's parents are dead, along with the Baudelaire siblings' and Sara Crewe's in A Little Princess. The Railway Children have one parent in prison and one withdrawn to her study writing and The Famous Five are sent off with only the requirement to send a postcard once a day. The Balicki's in "The Silver Sword" cross Europe, Dorothy travels the Yellow Brick Road and the Pevensie's explore Narnia without the guiding hand of parents. (Even Maisy, Kipper and Wibbly Pig carry on their lives without any grown-ups.) Without benevolent adults, these young people have adventures and fun; they experience danger and overcome difficulties, achieve their goals and develop as people. The Easter holidays have started and my husband is off school. I have skived family responsibilities for a few days, taking time out to begin walking the North Downs Way, and now I am busy catching up with admin and tutoring private students. I haven't spent any "quality time" with my children and I am beginning to feel that pervading sense of parental guilt that I should be doing more, that I am neglecting my children. But they have dug out a not-yet-played Christmas present game, played football, sun-bathed, eaten ice-cream, read books and not got dressed all day. Hardly fighting the White Witch or Voldemort, but still, I think that they are having adventures and fun: maybe more so with a little less parenting!

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Voices in my head

I have begun to realise how much I listen to the voice in my head which tells me that I am wrong. Often, like the best of tv impressionists, this voice is a perfect copy of someone else and I am beginning to discover how often I really believe that what I am hearing is what that person is thinking. Sometimes it's the voice of a complete stranger: maybe someone reading a job application, the assistant in a shop or even a figure from history. There is another voice. This one tends to speak quickly, quietly and then retreat like a shy bird. This voice is the one that says, "I'm so tired, I need to sit down," or "No, I don't want to do what you're asking of me," or "I love that piece of art." The first voice shouts it down with accusations of laziness, selfishness or poor taste. I am beginning to learn to silence the first, at least momentarily, to take some control over and responsibility for my thoughts, to add some reason to the mix. I am beginning to learn to listen to the second, to take it seriously, just as I would one of my children. I am beginning to do what it says, when I can, and at least to hear it when I can't. Yesterday evening, in art class, we looked at abstraction. We listened to excerpts of music and sketched the inspired images in our heads, working the one we felt most drawn to into a painting. There was that voice telling me that I was doing it wrong, that my pictures were rubbish, that I was no good. And there was the second speaking of colours and shapes unique to me, rustling grasses, swooping rose stems and ambiguous lizard-shaped oases. I listened; I painted; and every time I do that, the first voice loses some of its power and the second gains a little more confidence.

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

North Downs Way, part 1

It was hard work getting out of bed this morning. My legs felt heavy and just a little bit sore. I have spent the last two days walking. I have walked, altogether, from Farnham to Merstham, a distance of around 35 miles: I have begun to fulfil my year's intention of completing the North Downs Way. We had two days of beautiful weather, wide open skies, green fields, woods, rivers, hills and little birds. We have talked deeply and laughed a lot; drunk tea and eaten cake on the top of Box Hill and outside a Pre-Raphaelite Art Gallery; discovered forticfications to transform the North Downs into the last line of defence from a threatened French Invasion at the end of the 19th Century and lime quarries and water towers. (I took some great photos too, but sadly my phone has had to go back for repair (oh no, not again!) so they will have to be added later.) It has been a great couple of days out from life and, despite being exhausted, I am happily refreshed.