going and not going, staying and not staying: how does god guide us?

If you’d asked me three months ago what I would be doing this week, the answer would have been easy: moving house. We would be finishing up the last bit of packing before heading off to a different part of the country, where Desert Dad would be starting a new job come September.

And yet, we’re not doing any of that. According to my diary, this week looks pretty similar to any other: the usual round of play dates, swimming, friends coming for dinner. By the end of the week I’ll have been to two goodbye parties, not one of them for me. What happened?

I used to think that God guided in a very hands-off way. You apply for a job, you pray about it, you go for interview – if you get it, great, that’s God saying ‘yes’. If you don’t, no worries, that’s God saying ‘no’. This is a very optimistic approach, and it’s not that I think it’s bad theology, it’s just incomplete. The last few months have shown me that God can and does intervene in situations when it seems that everything’s done and dusted. I’ve learned that perhaps we need to approach decisions with less vacuous positivity, and more serious God-searching.

For a large part of last year, there was one particular option for Desert Dad’s job and our future which was looking incredibly likely. Then, suddenly, God intervened: it was not to be. The way in which this happened was so unexpected, so awkward and so baffling that we just felt it had to be God: it defied much of the human logic which, up to that point, had been suggesting a positive way forward.

Five months later, God intervened again: this time to tell us that we shouldn’t be going to the job that Desert Dad had secured at the start of the year. Through one week in May, God taught me more about guidance than I’ve learned in my entire life.

But both interventions were puzzling, confusing and painful. During the latter, I found myself yelling at God “Why? Why do it this way? Why confuse things? Why couldn’t you have guided us right in the first place?” It seemed like needless time and energy had been spent, not just by us but by the church we were letting down. And for what? I don’t often break down in tears before God, but on this day there was nothing else left.

I wish this were a post with some clever things to say about God’s guidance – I really do. But right now, despite the steep learning curve of the last few months, I have more questions than answers. I don’t know, for example, how much weight our emotions hold in decision-making. There have been times over the past year when I’ve had to pull myself back because God’s plan seemed to be so much in line with my own desires that I didn’t dare believe it was true. There have been other times when I’ve had to submit my desires to God, knowing that they weren’t of Him – there have been more of these moments, and they have been the hardest.

Honestly, this is where I am at the moment:

* Before this year, I believed that the decision about which job my husband should go for was purely down to him, and very little down to me. Now I realise that if it’s right for him, it’ll also be right for me and the kids;

* Our emotions are important, but changeable. We need to neither ignore nor be swayed by them;

* Big decisions require the kind of prayer and fasting that I don’t think I’ve even touched the surface of yet. How one gets away for retreat when tiny children are about is another question – possibly one for a future blog post. But the last few months have made me see how vital it is, when facing a big decision.

So, for the moment, we are not going. That is not to say that we are staying – for there is a sense of temporaryness to the life we’re currently living – but we are not going. We are neither going, nor staying. We are simply waiting for the next direction. It might sound like a place of insecurity; in actual fact, we have known it, so far at least, only to be a place of peace.

You will keep in perfect peace
those whose minds are steadfast,
because they trust in you.

Isaiah 26:3

…and ten things i’m looking forward to about cambridge

When people ask me how I’m feeling about The Move later on this year, my response is always the same: “I’m sad to be leaving York – but if we have to leave, then I’m glad we’re going to Cambridge”. Seeing as we spent the last four years in York and the three years before that in Cambridge, this is a handy way of ensuring I don’t offend either my York friends or my Cambridge friends. Besides, it’s true. There’s an awful lot I’ll miss about York, but I’m looking forward to Cambridge. Here goes with my list, punctuated with punting photos:

1. Playgrounds. Cambridge parks seem to have better play equipment. Not sure why. They just do.

2. Dojo’s. Amazing noodle bar, where you can pick up a mountain of noodles at a tiny price, while you sit authentically squished together on benches.

3. Wok ‘n’ Grill. Those of you thinking that I can’t have more than one Asian restaurant on my list have misunderstood. Dojo and the Wok ‘n’ Grill are entirely different establishments – like a screwdriver and a hammer, you’d use them for totally different things. If you want a quick, cheap, tasty meal in town before going on somewhere else – Dojo’s is your place. If you want a reasonably-priced, delicious Asian meal and time is no object, you go to the Wok ‘n’ Grill. Styling itself in the typically Asian ‘all you can eat’ vein, it stands out for the range of freshly cooked meat and fish dishes which you can put together yourself, choosing vegetables, noodles and protein component, as well as sauce – before it’s all cooked in huge, sizzling woks before your very eyes. The place is a gem.

2007: Negotiating a pole.
2007: Negotiating a pole.

4. Punting. Water, boats, big sticks – what’s not to like? Also, the weather is constantly 30 degrees in Cambridge, so punting is always pure pleasure – never cold or windy. You’d never sit shivering in a boat waiting for your trusty punter to get you out of a weeping willow – never. (Are you hearing me, Alistair Rycroft?)

5. Cycling. I know I could have cycled more in York – but somehow it’s much easier in Cambridge. The cycle paths are wider and more plentiful – and (the crucial factor) drivers know to watch out for you. I’m thinking of getting me a pretty strong bike and trailer combo to cart the kiddoes around…it’ll be just fine, you’ll see. This time next year my thighs will have disappeared (pretty much).

2008: Winter punting. How pretty is Cambridge?
2008: Winter punting. How pretty is Cambridge?

6. John Lewis. Don’t tell Al – we’re meant to be boycotting JL because of an incident with a sofa, a crack and a non-existent guarantee. But it’s too hard to resist forever – I’ve stayed away for the last couple of years, surely that’s enough of a stand? (And staying away has nothing whatsoever to do with the lack of JL in York, obviously.)

7. Weather. See ‘4’ above. Always nice. OK, I admit to perhaps a teensy tiny little white lie here – but it’s become something of a standing joke between the hubbie and I because whenever we visit Cambridge the weather is fab.

2009: Pregnant punting - work leaving do. There's a Thai restaurant that will serve your meal on a punt. Amazing!
2009: Pregnant punting – work leaving do. There’s a Thai restaurant that will serve your meal on a punt. Amazing!

8. Proximity to London. Is this a bit of a cop-out in a post supposedly about Cambridge? I’m really looking forward to being nearer family and friends in/around London, as well as being able to nip into central London on the train and show our kids the sights.

9. Church. We’ll be heading back to the church we were part of when we lived in Cambridge before, so it’s lovely to have a ‘known’ in a sea of ‘unknowns’. Things will be a little different this time, and I know much has changed – but it’s still a great church to be part of, with lovely people who seek God through word and worship. I’m looking forward to being challenged by some great teaching, inspired by uplifting worship, and motivated to live out whatever God calls me to while we’re there.

10. Friends. Oh dear, I’m obviously running out of things if I have to resort to copying no.9 and 10 off the York list… But genuinely, I’m very excited to be returning to old friendships – some of which have been growing since we moved away – others of which will be reignited when we move. Some friends have even moved to Cambridge since we moved away, so that’ll be fun too. I already feel very blessed to have such an incredible support network there. 🙂

ten things i’ll miss about york…

1. Gillygate. The best street for shopping in the whole wide world. Seriously. There are two gorgeous independent toy shops, where I’m on first-name terms with the owners; a fabulous craft shop; my friend’s delicious little eatery Ambience, which makes the best Eggs Royale; and Shine, solution to all my present-buying problems ever.

Ambience, my favourite cafe, next to the best toy shop in the whole wide world.
Ambience, my favourite cafe, next to Bubbles, my favourite toy shop.

2. Pack-ups. Know what they are? If you’re not from/don’t live in Yorkshire, then probably not. Essentially – a packed lunch. By a better name.

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3. Snow. Every winter. Guaranteed. 🙂

Our snow nativity of 2009.
Our snow nativity of 2009.

4. Tourists. Silly thing to miss really, given where we’re moving to, but York seems to be just dominated by them, whereas Cambridge seems to match its tourist population head-for-head with students and science/IT geeks personnel. I’ll miss being asked directions by tourists. Even if it does happen, I’m going to miss not having the answer straight away.

5. Being asked at the chippie if I want ‘bits’. Not that I’ve ever dared say yes. (Mental note: add ‘bits’ to bucket list.)

6. Fairer World. On Gillygate, but deserves a separate mention because who else has an independent Fair Trade retailer a 10-minute walk away from their house? What a luxury. I think I’ll have to make special trips back just for this shop.

7. Simon Baynes van. When we first moved here, I thought my Dad had surreptitiously started a fruit and veg business two hundred miles away from his home, in order to spy on me (perhaps). Baynes is not a common surname, at least not spelt like that. What are the chances? Spooky.

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Simon Baynes van. And snow.

8. The accent. There is none better. Except Brummie. (Joke.) I was so hoping my kids would grow up with a Yorkshire accent. Now they’ll join me in the boring realm of Estuary English.

9. My church. Characterised by ridiculous amounts of cake, David Watson references (he was vicar in the 1970s) and social media presence. Also (proudly) one of the top Christian podcasts in the world! (If you like short, snappy,thought-provoking, Welsh things – give it a listen.) But mainly my church is a fantastic group of humble, encouraging, generous and godly people who I will miss hugely.

St Michael-le-Belfrey.
St Michael-le-Belfrey.

10. My friends. My list is in no particular order, apart from this entry, no.10 in a 1-10 scale, where 10 is the thing I’ll miss the most. Where do I start? Becoming a parent is such a weird, one-off life-event that you need people around you who don’t mind the vast amounts of milk stains on your clothes, and understand why you can never finish a sentence. The friends I’ve made during this life-stage are incredibly special to me. Everyone says I’ll make new friends, and yeah yeah, I know I will – I’m not totally socially-defunct – but friends are individuals with common interests, not items on a list which you can replace like-for-like. I will discover a new favourite shopping street, some new quirks to replace the Yorkshire ones I’ll miss, and I know my new church will become my spiritual home over time – but new friends do not replace old ones. So, to my York friends – you know who you are – whilst I cannot put into words just how you’ve crafted me over the past four years, I can at least say thank you for being so much fun to do life with. Thank you. 🙂

celebrating easter

2013, I have decided, is my year of celebration. And if ever there was a time to celebrate, now is the time. We’re getting ready to celebrate sacrifice, forgiveness, grace and the extraordinary hope of new life, motivated by a love that pales even the strongest human love into dull grey. Forget bunnies and chicks – this year, my friends, I want to celebrate Easter with a joyful exuberance befitting of its life-changing significance.

There are just two problems.

1) The Easter story is one of incredible joy – at the end. The rest of the story is filled with pain and suffering and anguish and mockery and beatings and humiliation and betrayal. Not easy to come up with a colour scheme for all that.

2) Easter should be bigger than Christmas, as far as Christians are concerned. But Christmas has become over-commercialised – we all know that – so how do we prevent Easter from going the same, horrendously materialistic route? And, even if our celebrations are not overly material, how can we keep our minds from being preoccupied with the celebrations, rather than the reason for it all?

I have come up with a few things. I’m not going with everything I brainstormed at the start of the year because, mindful of my latter point, it would be counter-productive to stress myself (and my family) out with too many little details. Also, this year my church is ‘slowing down’ for Lent – another reason to check my priorities, and spend this time with God, not planning Easter trimmings. (To read more about ‘slowing down’, check out the blog I wrote this week for my church womens’ group.)

My aim in all this has to be: to help our family understand and engage with the Easter story. So I’ve rejected ideas which wouldn’t work yet while my kids are young – or those which might distract us from worshipping Jesus more. Here’s what I’m left with:

1) We’ve already started some of the Easter stories from Alice’s wonderful blog (scroll down for Easter). If you have preschool children and you haven’t yet got the message about how much I LOVE Alice’s creative and playful re-telling of Bible stories, then you have a treat in store. (And you’re also probably blind and/or deaf. Get with it people – I’ve been moaning on about Play on the Word for an age.) My 1-year-old is riveted, wanting to listen and join in when she can. My 3-year-old is deeply moved (and so am I – man, I’m going to be a wreck when he leaves home). He’s asking questions and responding to the story in powerful ways.

2) I’ve just painted a hotch-potch collection of little Easter figures. There’s Jesus, the three women who stayed close, two angels, two criminals crucified alongside him, and two Roman soldiers. (These were my low point. Not so much soldiers as grey-haired, tabard-wearing nursery teachers.) OK, I’m not an artist. But we’ll use these figures – plus some rough crosses my lovely Dad helped me make – to act out the Easter story in our home over the next couple of weeks.

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3) Lent eggs. Similar to an Advent calendar, but lasting just a week. (Can you imagine trying to count down all 40 days of Lent with a 3 year old?) I have seven plastic eggs, and will invite the kids to open one each day from Palm Sunday onwards, so we can count down to Easter Sunday together. In each will be two small chocolate eggs – one each – as well as a clue to the day’s activity – for example: making Easter cards, hunting for an Easter sticker book, making chocolate Easter egg nests. I hope that this build-up helps the kids to realise what a special day Easter is – and that the individual activities will help encourage conversation about what it all means.

4) We’ll make resurrection cookies on Easter Saturday. This is SUCH a cool idea you just have to take a look – I won’t up my word count unnecessarily. (And, again, I’m indebted to Alice for posting this link on her blog originally.)

In future years I’d like to explore how we can use Easter as a time for givingIf we’re celebrating new life and new hope, then it’d be great to consider ways we could give a new start to people in our community. I’m not talking huge presents for my own kids, who already have far too much, but perhaps giving away some of our stuff to those who are desperate for it, or making something personal for a friend who’s having a rough time, or writing letters or cards to encourage others, or giving money to local charities. A small start this year is that we’ve grabbed a few real Easter eggs and will be giving them to Joel’s little friends – a kind of Easter/farewell present, as we prepare to leave York.

leaving well

2013-01-30 21.30.07Later this year, we will be leaving York. It’s something that occupies my mind a lot these days, because I’m so determined to leave well.

I imagine that ‘change’ will be a big theme on this blog during 2013, so I’m not going to try and say everything I’m thinking here. Suffice to say that York feels like a best friend to me – a loyal supporter of my attempts at motherhood, a fertile soil for the cultivation of new experiences, relationships and ideas. Whatever the analogy, separating from York will be difficult and painful.

So I’m determined to leave well. I don’t want to wish away the next few months with dreams of the next place. I don’t want to sulk away the next few months with introspective gloom. Under the banner of celebration, I want to take every opportunity to spend time with the people I love. Usually, my conversation is littered with phrases like “We should…” and “Maybe we can…” but I’m learning to replace them with the more definite tones of “When are you free?” and “Let’s do…”. Everything worth celebrating over the next few months is going to be celebrated: birthdays, new babies, Easter, leaving. And I’m going to cram in as much time with friends as I possibly can.

Leaving has also reminded me of the things I’d still like to do in York and its surrounds. Go on the wheel, visit the Forbidden Corner, eat here again. There’s now more urgency to fix a date to enjoy these attractions.

I have been privileged to serve with a few different groups whilst we’ve been here: Tuesday Tots (our church toddler group), Mums’ Belfrey Group and Gracetots (under 3s group at our Sunday congregation). It’s a high priority to make sure that these groups continue to flourish, through training and commissioning new people to get involved. I don’t worry about this: I know God will provide. If He doesn’t, I shall have to have Words. 😉

The practicalities of a house-move – for me, at least – always force the ugly issue of possessions. We have far too much! So, rather than move it all to a new house, we’re going to attempt some sort of clear-out, and hope to sell as much as possible in aid of CAP, one of our absolutely favourite charities. (If you’re York-based, do come along and buy our junk…first weekend in March…email me for details.)

I know that no amount of planning and activity can hide the emotions I’ll feel when the time comes to go, but since I can’t predict those emotions, I’m happy to make the most of York while I can. And I have confidence in my God, who is constant, to go before us and plan good things.

“Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”

Lamentations 3:22-23