Our house

It would seem that we’re about to buy a house! Having met up with a few people at Greenbelt who I assumed would have known, I realised the result of blogging less is that news just doesn’t get out. I had been meaning to write this when we found the house, but ah well, better late than never.

We’d been talking about moving for a while- wanting (or needing in my case) to get out of London, to somewhere with more space, a garden, and where achieving these things wasn’t impossibly expensive. We’d decided Reading would make the most sense- reasonably easy commutes, well located, and I knew it a bit from working there.

So in June we went for a day to have a look around. Not to look at houses, just to look. Except there was this one we’d seen that just looked perfect in the photos- right part of town, well looked after. And I loved the garden! Well, it can’t hurt we thought, just to give us an idea, we’re only looking. There’s bound to be a catch. But there wasn’t. We went from room to room getting more and more excited, and just walked out wondering if it was crazy to go for the first house you see..

Three days later we’d had an offer accepted and done a speedy mortgage application! And suddenly had to find out what all these terms meant. Someone should write a dictionary. The last few months have been a blur of solicitors, paperwork and mortgage related jargon. But finally today the deposit has been paid and now we’re just waiting for the mythical exchange of contracts- this is the point at which we realise why everyone complains about solicitors. We’re currently in  some kind of limbo waiting for the sellers solicitors to get their act together.

The strange thing about this happening so quickly is there’s very little time to think about how big a decision it is, and also not much tome to get used to it. Right now it’s just very exciting!

All Are Welcome?

This blog has been a while in the writing, so its not quite recent anymore, but I still felt I needed to say it.

In church last week we sang All Are Welcome, one of my favourite songs from the Common Ground songbook (the full lyrics are part way down this page), which was the first hymn at our wedding, so it now has added special meaning. We chose this song and put it at the start of the service very deliberately, because we wanted to say this to everyone there, regardless of age, faith (or none), gender, sexual orientation or any other factor. We wanted to get rid of all the preconcieved ideas anyone might have had about what was expected of them or anyone else, or of how ‘the church’ saw or would judge them. Here is a place where we come as we are, with all that that means, and its ok. The first verse goes like this:

Let us build a house where love can dwell
and all can safely live,
a place where saints and children tell
how hearts learn to forgive.
Built of hopes and dreams and visions,
rock of faith and vault of grace;
here the love of Christ shall end divisions:
All are welcome, all are welcome
all are welcome in this place

These seem to me to be the kinds of aspirations Jesus would teach us to work for. A place where “all can safely live”, where saints and children each have something to teach us, and where everyones hopes and dreams are valued. “here the love of Christ shall end divisions” In this place, all distinctions, all differences, are stripped away, for we are all equal within the love of God and in Gods eyes.

It struck me even more recently, that the church, while we might have these aspirations, very often doesn’t meet them. The frequency with which churches determine who is or isn’t welcome, and erect barriers between different groups and denominations. Far from the love of Christ ending divisions, it appears to create them, as we decide for ourselves what God would think, and who he would welcome into his Churches. I believe this is wrong, that it is the worst kind of wrong that we can commit, particularly when it is done in the name of Jesus, who I don’t believe would agree with it any more than I do. And if he would, I’m not sure he is a God I want to follow.

But while all these things are happening, there are also things which restore my faith and pursuade me that God is working in people’s lives and bringing his message to us. I know of people who will take a stand to prevent such hurt and pain being felt by their fellow people, and to make sure the message passed on to our children is one of tolerance and welcome not of exclusion.

And the other week I saw via a number of links the image of Christians protecting Muslims at prayer during the protests in Egypt. I took notice- it was a striking image of the love of God at work, of a group of Christians acting on their beliefs. But then later, as I was thinking again about the song, and the line ‘the love of Christ shall end divisions’ came back to me, I realised that it shouldn’t be striking. Why is it that a group of Christians acting to protect another group of people when they are vulnerable should be news worthy, even within the church community? Shouldn’t this be ‘normal’? Isn’t this how we should live our faith?

The God I believe in and try to follow told us that we should love others as we would want to be loved. There weren’t any conditions on that, no footnote with exceptions. Just love.

Let us build a house where all are named,
their songs and visions heard
and loved and treasured, taught and claimed
as words within the Word.
Built of tears and cries and laughter,
prayer of faith and songs of grace,
let this house proclaim from floor to rafter:
All are welcome, all are welcome
all are welcome in this place

A wedding story. Part 1

Well we did it, we got married!! Its taken me this long to stop and think and be able to put it down here. But if I’m honest, one of the things that’s stopped me writing till now is being unable to find the words.

We really did have the most wonderful day. I’d even go so far as to say it was perfect. Not that everything was exactly ideal, if it was the day would have been a lot longer, the sun would have shone a bit brighter and we’d have had more time to talk to everyone. But everything went perfectly, smoothly, and the whole thing was exactly what we’d hoped for. How can I even hope to describe it? I’ve tried, in more words than I thought, to describe the day from the beginning, as much for me to remember as for the curiosity of whoever’s reading..

The morning itself came cloudy and a bit grey (but brightened up later!). We were certain we wanted to be together the night before, and didn’t even consider not being. We went to sleep saying ‘ooh its tomorrow’ and woke up and whispered ‘we’re getting married today!!’ with little excited squeaks, which was the best start to the day. Then we had a lovely breakfast with four good friends, my two bridesmaids and their other halves, sharing croissants, jam and coffee and gently waking up. It was really nice to be with friends, people we could relax with, which made it feel so natural, even if still a little surreal.

We girls went off to the hairdressers, the boys went to pick up the flowers and then to their hotel. We had a lovely time having our hair done and nattering about this and that! When we got back we did make-up and had a giggle or two, before the photographer arrived, closely followed by my parents. Tea was made, sandwiches were brought out, and all was impressively calm. With a bit of laughter. I was enjoying it all already- thinking about the day ahead, but just loving spending time with the people around me. My dad making tea, mum holding the dress up while it had its photo taken! Then I decided it was time to put my dress on, so I did. I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror, and just thought ‘yes, this is exactly right’. I make me sound so calm, inside I was just bouncing and beaming all at once, but so excited.

We travelled to the church all together in a taxi- I decided I wasn’t going to spend money on a big car that no one but us would see- which was pre-booked and all fine until we got in and the driver turned to me and said ‘where to?’ I nearly said ‘do I look like I have a map on me?!’ A quick consultation with a smart phone and the church postcode was retrieved and we were on our way! Leaving 45 mins I thought would be plenty of time to get into central London- it was, we were there in 25, 20 mins early! So we got to sit and wait and watch all the guests arriving from across the road which was lovely! About 10 mins before the service was due to start we pulled up outside again, extracted me from the car, and then it was nearly time.

I had a brief flutter of butterflies just as we were round the corner from the church, but by the time I was standing outside, I couldn’t think what there was to be nervous about- I knew I was marrying the right person, all our friends and family were there with us, I was looking forward to every bit of the day. Just so exciting, I was just drinking in every last bit of it!

Then I think I decided it was time to go in, so we got ourselves in order, and away we went! My mum first with Benjamin carrying his precious box with our rings in, then Pippa and Jeni, and then it was my turn, with my dad beside me. Not giving me away, just sharing it with me. Everyone at the back turning round and smiling, so much happiness and support in one church was just amazing, and then when we rounded the corner at the back of the aisle and Chris came into view, and I just beamed. Having watched a video of this bit I can see from my face the very moment our eyes met!

At the front of the church we nervously whispered hello and ‘you look lovely’ and so on, and then relaxed when Sue leaned over and said ‘you can hold hands you know!’ And then it began. The service was taken by Richard, and the sermon preached by James, Chris’ university chaplain, with Sue, the minister at Hinde Street, opening and closing and doing the official bit! The readings were given, and prayers written and read, by those we care about, and the whole thing just felt so personal to us, which we weren’t the only ones to appreciate. Instead of the ‘who gives this woman/man’ line, each set of parents made a promise to support us both in our marriage, symbolising our choice to marry each other, and our parents support of that.

Standing opposite Chris saying our vows, with Richard prompting us, just felt so relaxed that my only fear was taking it too lightly! We had a whole church watching, but right then, we could have been the only people there. After the ‘I know proclaim that they are husband and wife’ bit, Richard gave me a hug and shook Chris’ hand. We had a lovely and thoughtful sermon from James. The hymns were just right and were sung with gusto! And the whole service went by far too quickly, as weddings tend to. Before we knew it we were signing the register and having photos taken, and on our way out! At the back of the church madness descended as everyone wanted to say congratulations, and there was much hugging and hand shaking and merriment, until the ever-efficient ushers began herding encouraging people towards the big red Routemaster buses and we made our way to our own car- our chance to have some us time in the middle of the day. We settled in, smiled for a few more photos as the photographer tried to get some from the front passenger seat, and then we were off. Waving at everyone and grinning manically.

This was when I told Chris the taxi driver didn’t know where he was going and that I’d arrived 20 mins early, which he countered with telling me they’d left the rings behind the first time they left the hotel.. alls well that ends well!

Covenant and Marriage

A week today we will be married. We’ve spent the last week saying ‘wow its very soon’ about every half hour or so. Its quite funny. So exciting, nervous in a very small way because its a big event and you want everything to go well.. “Like stage fright rather than cold feet!” was how Chris put it when I was saying why I might be nervous come the day itself!! Quite accurate really, why on earth would I have cold feet when I’ve been looking forward to this for a year?!

On Tuesday I had my last unmarried birthday. In a way that shouldn’t be significant, being married or not doesn’t really change a birthday, but being this close to the biggest thing I’ve ever done in my life gives everything a special significance. It’s a very odd, slightly nervous tingly feeling when people ask when we’re getting married and I can now say ‘next week’! As someone who really enjoys the anticipation as well as the event, this time is really special. And I’m so glad we’ve been properly organised, because now there’s not that much left to do, so we can just enjoy it!

Last Sunday we had covenant service at church. This is the annual service where we remember the new covenant God made with his people, and promise to fulfill our part in the life God wants us to live. I always find it very meaningful, but this year it also has extra significance as I thought about the ‘covenant’ I will make with Chris in a short time. In the service we say ‘I am no longer my own, but yours’, and I was thinking about this a lot as the thought of our wedding was inevitably on my mind. I don’t believe that I ‘belong’ to any one person, and at the wedding I won’t be ‘given away’ by my Dad even though he will walk down the aisle with me. If there is any giving to be done I will be the one doing it. But that is the point: I choose. And I choose this person, and because I do, I also choose that it is not *my* will any more, but *ours*. In the same way as in the covenant service where I consent to live my life the way God would wish, here I consent to live as part of a couple, whether that means I am able to live as I want and go where I want, or whether I am asked to compromise or sacrifice these for the sake of another. I will make these promises, and, as the text says, with God’s help I will try to hold to them. I pray that Chris will be patient with me as I try!

Old year, new year

Yes I’ve been fairly rubbish at updating, yes lots of things have happened. And yes, right now, as much as there is more to life, I can’t help focussing on the fact that three weeks from tomorrow we will be getting married.

This is one year where I’m not looking back thinking about the things I want to change. I’m not sitting on the verge of the new year thinking what I will do differently or hoping to say goodbye to the bad parts of this year. That’s not to say there haven’t been down times and uncertainties, but that there isn’t anything I would wish away or want to forget.

I’m not very good at new years resolutions. To me, the idea of promising myself I will eat healthier, exercise more, pray more regularly or achieve everything I haven’t so far is both a recipe for letting myself down and something which doesn’t need to coincide with New Year. If I was going to be able to do any of those things I would, whether its January 1st or any other time of year! For me, the significance of the date is more to do with being able to look back at everything I’ve done, and look forward to what is to come. I like the idea of the origin of January coming from the god Janus, who looks both backward and forward, embracing the past and the future.

So tonight I will be looking at the past year and giving thanks. To the people who have shared it, to friends and family, new and old. At new life coming and those which have ended, at celebrations of great events and the mundane everyday-ness of normal life. To all of you, you know who you are, thank you. For being part of it all. And I will be looking forward to what will come. New adventures, a new family, and who knows what else? And right now, the wedding is the big thing on the horizon. Understandably, it is probably the biggest thing I have done in my life so far. And I’m so excited :D

Anyway, before I get too carried away, I wish you all a very happy new year, for this evening and for the year to come. May it bring you all you need, that you will be able to look back at it this time next year with joy and thankfulness.

With thanks for 2010, and looking forward to everything 2011 will bring.

Singing our faiths

Tonight I went to an interfaith service at my church, which was a joint service between the various faith groups in Marylebone, the part of London the church is in. This is an annual service which moves around the different faith groups each year, and this year we were hosting.

The service was an amazing experience, and one of the few times the interfaith label was accurate. Many times we use the word for all sorts of occasions- a service where we invite a representative from the local Jewish community along, a meeting where we talk with other Christians about how we are working to build links with the Mosque down the road, a service where we use prayers or songs from another faith tradition. What was so stunning about this evenings service was that this was no nod towards another type of worship, there was no token representative of ‘another faith’, because we were all there together. In some ways, I think it would be misleading to call it inclusive, because here it was no one’s responsibility to include or exclude, because we were all equal partners sharing in this act of worship.

The theme of the service was ‘singing our faiths’, a common thread to all the faiths, whether in song as we would think of it, or in sung prayers or chants. Lucy Winkett gave an interesting address in which she quoted Augustine who said that a person who sings prays twice! How true that is, I’ve often thought. Lucy also commented how one of the aspects of tonight was to find the common threads between us, one of which being the use of our breath, which is used differently in song than in speech. And, she said, perhaps how singing can mean praying twice!

Singing our faiths was an apt theme for a service hosted by the Methodists, and what better contribution from our church choir than a setting of Love Divine! The other faiths contributed song, prayer, chant and more. Particularly moving was the Buddhist contribution, a prayer for mind and body, with no other explanation or interpretation needed. With no distraction from words or attempting to understand, the chant carried me away from the chaos of life to another place, just for a short time. Beautiful, and much needed.

It also occurred to me, as I listened and watched the Buddhists and the Muslim call to prayer, how easy and natural the song was to them. We in our choir have rehearsed many hours, we have sheet music and a conductor to guide us, and will often get hung up on a note being too long or not loud enough at the right point. I learnt a lesson from my fellow singers, who without music or guidance, produced a wonderful sound, not so much because of its quality, but because it was sung in faith, and with meaning. I don’t think we Methodists can claim the monopoly on singing our faith!

Lakeland adventures

Two weeks ago we went on holiday, for a little break in the Lake District. I love this part of the country, the hills where I cut my hill walking teeth, the most beautiful lakes and pretty slate-built villages nestling amongst them. The way the Lakes seems to have its own language, with pikes and dales, tarns and gills. The hills here are unlike any I’ve seen elsewhere, and even the sunlight seems to have a different quality about it, bathing the landscape in a soft glow which makes me happy just to be a part of it.

Well for this week, that had to be enough, because on day two I woke up with an evil cold which turned out to be something more like flu in disguise. We had a really lovely walk on the first day, climbing Helvellyn via striding edge in the mist and some wind, and losing our way slightly at the start, Chris’ introduction to this ridge was not ideal but we had a great day anyway! Scrambling is fun! However, that was all I was to manage, the day after I could barely walk from the car to the nearest cafe! So the holiday turned into more of a sedate affair, resting in the mornings and then taking trips out in the car, walking to the nearest tea shop, having some nice cake and then going home again. I felt like I’d just aged 60 years! But we still got to wander around some of the nicest little towns, and rest and relaxation was enforced. And even though that was now two weeks ago, I’m only just getting over the thing, which proves that I wasn’t just being a wimp!

In other news, the wedding plans continue apace- about 3 months to go now. We had a fun hour one evening this week looking over the liturgy for the service, working out where the hymns and readings will go and looking at the vows. We’ve known pretty much from the start what hymns we would like to sing, and sorted the readings fairly easily, so we’ve not thought about the service in that much detail. Reading through the declarations and vows made it real in another way. I can’t wait to say them for real.

Winter flowers

Today I went to see (and book) the florist :D I got to sit there and talk about flowers and arrangements and foliage and herbs and all the exciting things I can think of to do with flowers and making them look pretty together :) Thinking about what’s in season and what will complement it, and how to make it wintery but not like Christmas all over again. It was lots of fun.

The wedding planning is pretty much 100% a joint effort, with the notable exceptions being each of our outfits, cos obviously we’re not allowed to see, and the flowers. Chris has said he would happily be involved in this too, but admits that he would be very little help, and that once we’d talked through broad ideas he was happy for me to enjoy the planning of it. And I am :) Although maybe I shouldn’t have been allowed in the florists on my own..

I took a photo of a bouquet I’d seen while doing a little net searching, which I completely love, and was told by the florist that she could do something like that but that it would look a little ‘random’ with that assortment of flowers. She then corrected herself saying this wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing. No indeed I thought! We have enough in the budget to get buttonholes for the fathers and corsages (how is that spelt?!) for the mothers, which is quite exciting. Very much looking forward to my random bouquet!

Difficult weekend

Apologies that this is quite an un-cheery blog. I don’t know that I know where to start. This weekend was not up there with the best.

On Friday we set off for Swansea from Reading, motoring happily down the M4. Somewhere just beyond Bath we had a tire blow out. In the outside lane of the motorway. At rush hour. We noticed something wrong with the car, rattling noises and then major swerving across the lane, at which point Chris braked, and before we knew what had happened we had spun round 180 degrees and smacked the passenger side into the central reservation. We ended up sitting in the middle of the motorway facing the wrong way, which was a tad unnerving! We’re both fine though, the only effect on us was a bump on my elbow where the bone met the car door quite forcefully. For a number of reasons, not least of which very very good luck, the accident wasn’t as bad as it could have been. The traffic was slower so we weren’t going as fast as we might have been, there was a temporary central reservation with a band of gravel next to it which slowed us down completely so we didn’t hit it at that much speed. And it all happened just between the Bath and Bristol junctions so we were near to Chris’ parents house, where we got towed once the recovery van turned up. The amusing moment was once the highways agency people had stopped the traffic and got us back to the hard shoulder, they announced they would just ‘clear the motorway’, produced what looked like large brooms, and proceeded to sweep the M4 in front of 3 lanes of traffic!! In the end, we made it relatively unscathed to Chris’ parents house where wine and food awaited us. What was still a very scary experience could have been a lot worse.

On Friday night we also found out that my Grandma was not doing well, and the doctors had said that there was nothing else they could do to help her, and the end was not far away. On Saturday morning she died. She had been taken back into hospital last weekend with pneumonia, and was retaining a lot of fluid which was getting into her lungs. She had stopped eating and wasn’t able to take most of her medication. From Friday night my dad and his siblings decided to stay with her 24 hours a day so that she would have someone with her at the end. Sometime just before 8am on Saturday her breathing slowed and she just slipped away. It was the most peaceful we could have hoped for. She wasn’t scared or in pain, and by then she wasn’t even really aware of what was happening to her, so she wasn’t terrified and knowing what was coming. She was sleeping lots that night, and each time she opened her eyes there was a face she knew. And now she is no longer in pain or fear. She was 3 months from her 99th birthday. She had 5 children, 14 grandchildren, countless great-grandchildren and a few great-great grandchildren. She knew all their names and birthdays, and enjoyed nothing more than being surrounded by her family. She lived a full and long life, and it doesn’t feel heartless to say that this was the right time. We will miss her, but I know that now she is at rest. Please keep the family in your prayers. The funeral will be next Monday.

The weekend, though extremely difficult, was made easier by some truly wonderful friends, who gave us lifts in the absence of our car, made us food and cheered us up. Wine was drunk, stories told and hugs given and received. The best place to be when life throws these things at you is surrounded by friends.

Outfits and other fun

I just realised when I came to write this post that I haven’t been back since just after we moved house. There are photos of the new place, and of the chaos which ensued in the moving. I plan to get around to posting those this week, to show off our lovely flat :) We’re very pleased with it, loving having more space, and getting used to this idea of a spare room which is handy not only for guests but also for storing all sorts of junk important and useful stuff.

Anyway, trying to think about what else has happened in the weeks since I last posted.. my new job is going really well, I’m really enjoying being in a job where the work is interesting, the people are friendly and I feel accepted, and where the work I do is valued. It’s such an enjoyable experience it makes the still long commuting more bearable! My journey to work involves a train to the main train station and then a fairly pleasant 25 min walk to the office, which is really good and actually helping me feel less tired rather than more. And the exercise is no bad thing either!

In the last few weeks I have also been shopping for bridesmaid dresses for my two friends who are also getting hitched in the next year, and happy to say that both have excellent taste so no friendships are to be tested by huge peach meringues ;) The wedding planning madness continues as the first of the weddings approaches, and after that it feels like things will gradually gain momentum through the second and before we know it it’ll be Christmas and I’ll be wondering how much pudding I can eat and still get in my dress!!

Talking of which (shameless girly moment, apologies!), I went and tried on the dress again yesterday, just to show my parents, not for selfish I want to see it again reasons, honest. But I was able to take a couple of accessories with me which I’d thought might work, but guessing from bad phone pictures and uncertain memories isn’t very easy. Anyway, I’m absolutely thrilled cos it all just came together perfectly, exactly right, it could have been designed that way. And the shop was virtually empty so there was plenty of space to see it properly. Can’t put photos here of course, if you want to see let me know and I shall send pics!

And I wasn’t the only one trying on outfits this weekend. Chris went off to have a hunt for his own wedding attire, with the help of Never Conforming and her missus who came down for the weekend. They went off to the local suit hire shop and spent what sounds like a happy hour or so trying on various combinations of suits, waistcoats and neckware, and came back more or less decided on an ensemble which is good news. I have no idea what of course, mutual surprise outfits is much more exciting (and NC has seen my dress so can be the informed opinion!). And he’s quite enjoying getting his own back for the teasing about my dress by suggesting he’s quite keen on the toastmasters outfit.. mm gotta love those gold buttons!!