The Unexpected Cost of Celebration


It was the biggest summer since we’d grown sunflowers from seed. I’d got a new job, my daughter got great exam  results and two days later she was going to be a bridesmaid for the first time. These things in themselves would have had me doing an Eric and Ernie style dance up the garden. But to turn joyful celebration  into heart-stopping excitement, the wedding was my son’s. To a wonderful girl. From a lovely family. In a village church, in Sussex.

For non-U.K. dwellers these were two comedians who did this great happy dance…

On the last day of term, I drove away from the primary school I’d worked at for twenty eight years (apart from a spell abroad) with a bootful of presents, and cards saying things like, “You were my best teacher ever. Apart from Miss Young who could yodel.” I remember driving past people slouching along the pavement, feeling sorry for them because they didn’t have a son getting married this summer. (I was careful to choose those too young to have sons at all, lest I bestow my pity on the undeserving, although of course these days you can never be sure.) Basically I was so full of anticipation and excitement that I was even dreading  the summer’s end before it had begun.

And it was an amazing summer. My daughter did so well in her A’ Levels. So did her boyfriend. We even managed to squeeze in a quick celebration lunch for her, with bubbly, and balloons (and a traditional home made banner) before packing the car and heading off to Sussex for the  wedding weekend.

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The wedding day was perfect. Everyone arrived on time. The church looked amazing. The service was wonderful. The bride and groom and bridesmaids and Best Man and ushers looked stylish, gracious and poised. I didn’t cry during my reading from 1 John, although I had a wobbly moment when I looked at the bride and groom during the phrase, “And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.” My husband gave me this verse at our wedding twenty nine years ago so I thought it might be appropriate to give them a meaningful look at this point – not soppy, but warm, serene (I’d practised in the mirror). This may have been a mistake. Just as my cheekbones stretched into the planned gracious smile, I was aware that, a) It looked like a drunken leer, b) Tears were pricking at the back of my eyes. I thought briefly of the cost of Estee Lauder mascara. And recovered.

The Reception, food, speeches, evening – all were fabulous. I knew it would go fast. So I’d already decided I was going to concentrate really hard on each moment and not think ahead to the next one, to slow time down.

In fact the whole experience taught me a lot: –

1.  Family weddings are a gift from God, but they’re going to be emotional. Accept it.

2. Young men in suits can intensify hot flushes, even when you’re old enough to remember them in nappies.

3, You don’t often get all your favourite people in the world in one room for hours on end. Make the most of it.

4. After the wedding, there’s only a limited period of time in which you should relive it, a) on Facebook b) with your wedding hat  c) with your friends, who may tire of your anecdote-laden photos.

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5. Excitement is all well and good but it can be as stressful as disaster, as in an OFSTED visit or, say, locking your house keys in the car while leaving a pan of figs on to boil. In a foreign country. (I would never do that though).

I’d do it again in a heartbeat, but it’s worth mentioning that during the exciting run-up to the wedding, I hardly slept, I lived on Strepsils and Paracetamol, I had the No Teeth Dream and the Forgot to Get Dressed Before Work Dream more times than I’d care to mention. God, if you believe in Him – and I absolutely do, even at the dentist and on the M25 – didn’t mean for us to live on highs all the time. It’s great when life’s a whirlwind, packed with exciting experiences but it can make us crazy. We also need large chunks of the mundane, the everyday. It calms us, slows us, gives things shape and structure. A different kind of gift.

I enjoyed every minute of this summer, but I’m not mourning its demise as much as I thought I would. It’s time to take up other things, like reading. And eating (now that I’m not on a wedding diet).

And there’s still a fair bit of excitement out there. I mean, you should see our tomato plants…

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“And we know and rely on the love God has for us.” 1 John 4:16

 

 

 

 

Banishing Thugs


There’s something about stairs. They’re kind of magic because you walk up them and you’re somewhere else, usually on the first floor of your house. But it’s amazing isn’t it? I mean, you’re standing in the same place as your kitchen sink but you’re…well…up. We never had a proper landing in our old house so I love my stairs. The other day I curled up on them in a stretch of sunshine. It was an odd place to sit but strangely comforting.  I looked up the stairwell at the banisters and the hanging light-thing, and I watched the sun skim unfinished wood. And I thought, I should sit here more often.

Last weekend I had a ball. In Northampton. With about eighty Baptist Ministers’ spouses. (If you think the words in bold are basically incompatible, please rethink your version of reality.) We came from cities and villages, big and small churches. We had grey hair and dyed hair and that lovely young hair that’s all swingy and sleek, like in adverts (sigh). We wore jeans or glasses or hearing aids or all three. We brought guitars or drums or knitting needles. And we talked. Boy, how we talked. Even the men. All three of them (but one was the speaker.)

The weekend made me think. Being human is hard. When you’re young, you’re going to make your mark on the world. Then one day, you wake up middle-aged to find the world has made its marks on you, including neck wrinkles and sticky out veins and the fact that Leo Sayer will never be Number One again. Then there are people who believe in God (and I always absolutely do, apart from sometimes), that He will help with this. Bit unpredictable how, but it usually involves bringing along the right person or the right thing at the right time in the right way. To make things better. And then, when they are, the whole Maybe I can change the world thing, comes back, but this time more modestly in small ways but quiet, like ants.

Anyway, on this weekend we had the most gracious and lovely speakers called Nigel and Judy Wright who have been in ministry over 40 years and have both made a mark on the world. They spoke on how to live the Jesus life. They talked about slavery and wisdom and how to live well. Nobody escapes scars but you don’t have to grow old with them. Embrace simplicity, endure, refuse to recycle evil. Don’t forget to pray, and breathe, and surprising things will happen.

Well, I prayed and breathed, and surprising things did. I relaxed and slept and didn’t think about work. I read a bit and walked a bit and ate a lot. There was the chocolate fountain and the cocktail bar and the quiz. We made jewellery or origami or scrapbooks. We ate cake. And on the Saturday evening we entertained each other – with stories and tea towels. And a uni-cycle (You had to be there really…)

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And the reason I love these weekends is because they remind me to pay attention. To things that really matter, instead of that procession of thugs marching through my mind in hob nailed boots –  email this person, ring so-and-so, do school work, pay trip money, prepare Sunday School. Hurry, hurry, so you can get it all done double quick…

So if you haven’t been on one, you really should. Of course you might not be married to a Baptist minister which is a bit tricky (I have heard there are single ones, though I’ve never actually met one). But then there are other inspirational/pampering things you could go on. Maybe now is the time…

And if, like me, your time and money is limited, you could always try sitting in places in your house you’ve never sat before. Or walk upstairs and admire your ripe garden.

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There are other places to banish the thugs. This one is good.

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Or this one

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I quite like this one (different perspective)

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I’ve been meaning to sit here for a while. It saves getting up after  putting your socks on.

Interesting that when I’m busy writing blog posts, and taking photos, the thugs don’t stand a chance…

What helps you to relax and take your mind off things?

Bruises


How do you gauge your stress levels? Some people get neck tension, others drink. I count bruises. This week was a 2-bruise week. Last week was a 5-bruiser. When I have too much to do, I race around and bump into things – doors, tables, chairs (mostly empty ones). I have been known to walk into parked cars .Once I walked into a skip (It was at night. They really shouldn’t put those things on pavements. It’s asking for trouble).

I’m crossing the playground at speed with a box of polystyrene balls when I notice, in the mishmash of noise and chaos, a tiny child dancing. Her friends are playing stilt-walking, stiff legged on those upside down flowerpot things.. Nearby there’s a skipping game and a football match. She’s flitting about, weaving between them, her arms up, her face a curve of pleasure. She’s in a world of her own.

I stop, nearly dropping my balls. “Hello!” She looks at me, but carries on dancing.

“Hello Mithith Jenkinths!” Her voice is carried away by the skipping and an indignant ref.

“You’re a wonderful dancer!” I say admiringly. She nods in agreement. As she spins past, I ask her if she ever gets tired.

“Not really,” she says, stopping. I crouch down.

“Why do you think that is?”

She lowers her arms, considering. Huge eyes, gap teeth, a scatter of freckles. (But it’s their eyelids that really fascinate me. They’re so smooth. Did I ever have eyelids like that?)

“I dancth becauth I’m happy!” she says and wrinkles her nose in a smile. She raises her arms and whirls away.  When the Infant Bell goes I pick her out, balancing on one leg, bright eyed as a bird. Then slowly she topples forward and runs to her line.

According to the Stress Management Society, stress is caused by two things: whether you think a situation is worthy of anxiety and how your body reacts to your thoughts. My body reacts by walking around really fast, convinced that if I just move more quickly I’ll get everything done. But things get in my way and slow me down – the shelf unit, the whiteboard, the bin. It’s as if the entire inanimate world is lying in wait for me. (“Ha! We’ll get her with the swing door, arms full of Art balls!”) And I come home covered in bruises, thinking of things I didn’t do.

“My Dad says, “Slow down! You’ll just get to the end of your life quicker.”

Gandhi said, “Man is but the product of his thoughts. What he thinks, he becomes.”

Jesus said, “Watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” (The Message)

I should maybe stop counting bruises.

I stroll out of school, careful to avoid the bins with my trolley. A bird lifts off the field. A dog barks. There’s the rumble of traffic. The world dances on, spinning, I trust, above huge, cupped hands. It makes no difference if I run or walk. The moment comes but once.

I turn the corner by the toilets and look back towards school. Quiet light. Trees. Yawning windows like tired eyes.  A good day today: Sun on the playground.  Little girl dancing.

No one’s looking. Shyly, stiffly, like those girls on flowerpot stilts…I do a little gambol.

Demonstrating the new Trolley Dance

Demonstrating the  Trolley Dance