Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Tuesday afternoon, last post from London

Well, in less than 20 hours, I'll be heading back to Texas.  It's been a glorious trip, full of fun and some rest and a great time with family.  And, of course, re-living what it is like with two small children in the house, coupled with the many inconveniences of doing this in a foreign country.

Today was Joshua's first day back in nursery school after a long three week spring break.  He's in the afternoon session (12:45 to 3:15), but had gotten back into the habit of afternoon naps while on vacation, so we were a little concerned about how he'd do today.

All school children here wear uniforms, no matter how young.  He goes to an all-male preparatory school for boys 2 1/2 to 13.  Their uniforms are a monogrammed deep maroon sweatpants and sweatshirt (for winter), white collared shirt, gray short pants (all year around), gray socks, black shoes, and a blue topcoat.  Once he gets to first grade, he will "graduate" to a sports coat and tie on school days.  He looks adorable, of course.

To make things just a little easier for Adriana, I told her I'd stay here so she could put Sammie down for his nap first and then take Joshua to school by himself.  Just as they were getting ready to head out the door, she realized that in his last minute potty visit he'd managed to do a major dribble on his clothes, so there was a frantic un-dressing, and re-dressing to get him out the door in time.  About 2:45, Sammie and I went back to the school with Adriana to pick him up.  The school is less than 2 miles from here, but with all the torturous tiny streets to get there, takes at least 10-15 minutes.  Parking is a nightmare--typical London situation.  We finally found a semi-legal space about a block from the school and waited there about 10 minutes until time to get out and go get him along with all the other mothers.  Everyone gathers outside (and it was cold and sprinkly), until let in one by one to pick up the youngsters.

Joshua was delighted to see us and seemed to have had a good day.  As a treat, Adriana promised him we'd go by the bakery and get something on the way home.  As we are working our way back through the street maze, Sammie cries out "Poo-poo!  poo-poo!  Poo-poo!  Either he had just had a poo in his pants, needs to have one and is actually telling his mother in advance, or is just trying to get her full attention while he sits on the potty for a while.  None of them good options at the time.  Adriana decided Joshua was the priority and continued to head toward the bakery.  After the scariest drive yet (up a very, very steep hill with a standard transmission with cars parked so close on each side that there is literally inches of clearance--and two way traffic to deal with) we get to bakery and to the amazing surprise of a parking space nearby.  Just as she gets the car parked, the rain started to fall heavily. 

Undeterred, we head to the bakery, where Joshua's tiredness begins to really show.  He's impatient and demanding, and wants to eat there what we purchased there.  Mindful of Sammie's potential poo situation, Adriana and I agree to head home, so back out in the now pouring rain we go, Adriana with a child in either hand and me trying to protect the treats and bread we just bought.  

Things went downhill from there, culminating in the mother of all temper tantrums for Joshua, which Adriana dealt with quite well and quite firmly.  We both agreed he was too tired, but even that could not excuse the extreme of his behavior.  First and only spanking since I've been here--and a well-deserved one, I had to admit.

For a few moments now, all is calm and the boys are playing happily together.  Soon it will be bath time, then a light meal for the boys and I shall get my bags packed.  Jonathan left this morning for a quick trip to Greece, and so I've said my goodbye's to him.  Unfortunately, there is just about no way to take public transportation to the airport from here so Adriana and the boys will drive me in the morning.  I hate that she had to do this, but here's my option:  getting on a completely packed train with two suitcases, wrestling them to the  train station onto a packed train (and I never exactly explained that the trains stop only for 30 seconds at each stop and there is a BIG GAP from the platform to the train steps--simply no such thing as a physically impaired person riding the train) to the unbelievably busy Underground at that time of day (and that means getting them down steep stairs and trying to stuff them on the trains already stuffed like sausages with people) with two underground changes before finally getting the express to Heathrow.  That or a $150 taxi ride.  Oh well, the boys love being in car and think the airport is great fun.

Will be back in Krum somewhere around 2 a.m. Thursday morning--which will be 8 a.m. my body time, and should be a sleepless night.  Such is life, such is travel.  Been a marvelous time.  And time for me to come back.  

Well, Rocio and Katie and Grace have come over for a bit to play and to say goodbye.  So I shall say, "goobye" as well.

Thanks for reading.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Saturday, April 25

Just a simple family day today, domestic, good conversation, just good to be here with them.  Samuel had a very bad night last night--fussy much of the night, so we were all tired this morning.  This doesn't stop Adriana from doing the usual:  fresh squeezed orange juice for all, breakfast freshly cooked, as usual, for each as well. 


I do my best to keep up with her in the kitchen, cleaning after each meal, and today doing multiple loads of laundry. I also told Jonathan that I wanted to get the garden planted today and figured I could do it in about two to three hours without help, and about ten hours with help (remember, my 'help' is 16 mos, 3, 5 and 7 years old, assuming the cousins came over today as they generally do daily).  Since he needed to work on a presentation for work, and Adriana needed to do some shopping, and I actually get quite a kick out of teaching my helpers about the garden, we all decided I'd take the longer, slower route. 


As it turns out, Samuel decided to have a terrible morning to go with his terrible night, so Jonathan juggled him for a while as Joshua and I began to get the vegetables planted in the beds we prepared a few days ago.  Eventually, Samuel fell asleep, and a little later, Katie came over, so Joshua and Katie worked alongside me.  Joshua quickly figured out exactly where he could and could not step so he wouldn't hurt the little seedlings, and Katie turned out to have a very gentle and aware touch with the plants.  I think she'll make quite a gardener someday.


Later, Jonathan and I went out and purchased several bags of bark mulch and Katie and Joshua did a marvelous job helping me to spread it out.  We did both a small vegetable garden in the back yard and cleaned out and planted a small flower garden in the front yard.  


A little while later, Samuel woke from his nap (fortunately in a better mood) and went outside to play. Naturally, he headed straight for the vegetable garden and sat down in the middle of it and began to dig.  It was just too cute to get upset about--and Jonathan now knows for sure he needs to get a sandbox built for the children.  But a few of the plants will surely make it, and if nothing else, things got cleaned out and weeded. 


All the adults have shared laughter and conversation today about child rearing and its impossibilities--little ones will indeed have temper tantrums and there are no real good ways to deal with them.  Adriana told me about how her father handled them (we really don't want to go there), and I pulled out memories of the days when I just knew I was going to go over the edge with my own frustration with the children.  Miraculously, most of them do grow up despite our parenting to become reasonably mature and contributing adults in our society. 


We had another simply beautiful day here today but the forecast is for rain tomorrow.  We plan on worship in the morning and then I know Jonathan and Adriana must do their weekly grocery shopping sometime tomorrow.  Perhaps while Samuel is napping and I can stay here with him. 


I feel very much a part of this sweet household here.  Certainly, I miss some of my conveniences and routine and will be glad to return to them and I miss Keith very much, and yes, it is much more quiet and orderly at home.  Actually, after one particularly rough time this evening with all four children here (generally, Rocio and or Ian and the children all eat together here on weekends.  This house is bigger than theirs, and it is easier to get together.  Adriana and Rocio just trade off on cooking), I mentioned that having 36 children at our church's Children's Day Out might be calmer than this and everyone got a good laugh out of that.


So, that's the news from London today.  Just Kingdom of Heaven living with family and friends and being still and watching the children play and enjoying an unusually lovely English spring day.



Friday, April 24, 2009

Friday April 24 in London

At 9:30 a.m., Adriana and I slipped out of the house.  The boys were busy with Rocio and it is best not to say a formal "goodbye" which tends to exacerbate Samuel's separation issues.  We walked to the train station, picked up a day pass apiece and boarded the train about three minutes later when it pulled in.  This sure does beat having to be at the aiport an hour before takeoff, by the way.

Anyway, we did a lot of walking to start with, saw Big Ben the House of Parliament and Number 10 Downing Street and Buckingham Castle and took a fascinating side trip (fascinating for me) to the Methodist Center which was built in 1912 as a central worship place/meeting hall for Britain's many Methodists.  A sweet guide gave us the royal tour and told us that this was the building where the United Nations began, among other things.  It's large meeting hall serves both as a worship center and as a multi-purpose room and is used for concerts and many other things.  As a matter of fact, Andrew Lloyd Weber, creator of many fabulous musicals, got his start there.  His father had been organist there for many years and Andrew wrote "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" when he was 18 and it was first performed at the center.  She also took us on the roof balcony and we looked down on Westminster Abbey.  It is from that balcony that TV broadcasters set up their equipment when they are shooting things happening at the Abbey.  So now I'll know . . . 

We decided we wanted to go to Harrod's, the famous department store.  After several starts in the wrong direction (our maps weren't particularly good and I was totally turned around--the cars driving on the left completely switched my brain and I couldn't figure out north from south or east from west all of a sudden), a nice passerby sent us in the correct direction across St. James Park and Green Park where we picked up a bus and rode to Harrods.

Now that department store is an experience!  It's just huge, full of high end luxury products (and guarded by hundreds of security guards), and has anything the discriminating shopper would ever want--at prices that are clearly for the rich.  We saw some of the most lovely little girl clothes--I picked up a dress that would be adorable on Kate, David and Shawna's daughter.  It was a measly 200 pounds--approximately $300 in current American dollars.  A steal!!!!!

After a bit of shopping there, Adriana needed to come back home to get the kids.  I was pretty tired--I've not been walking that much in a long time and we had probably trekked close to five miles by then, but I really wanted to see St. Paul's Cathedral, designed by Christopher Wren after the original one burned in the great fire in London.  An extremely kind doorman at Harrods directed me to the bus stop ("Of course, darling, I'm glad to help" he said), and told me to take the number 14 to Piccadilly Circus and then transfer to the bus for St. Paul.  I went where he told me, the #14 showed up a couple of minutes later, and I boarded and sat down by an elderly man.  I pulled out my bus map trying to figure out how to transfer busses.  My seatmate saw what I was doing, kindly inquired about my destination, graciously explained how to make the transfer ("get off the bus, go back 20 yards to the currency exchange, turn right and go up the street to Regency street, cross the street and catch the #15 or #23") and then explained that the Piccadilly Circus stop would be three stops after he got off.  Then we started talking about what I was doing here, and had heard of the very fine school where Jonathan did his MBA last year in France, and gave a couple of suggestions of places to take tea on Sunday.  I think perhaps I was sitting next to an angel!

Anyway, I did exactly as he said, the #15 bus showed up in about 30 seconds, and dropped me off at the fabulous St. Paul's Cathedral about 30 totally traffic clogged minutes later.  London really does have huge traffic issues, even with such good public transportation.  I was late getting to the Cathedral and they were not giving any more tours for the day and were telling people to come back tomorrow.  I explained that I didn't want the tour, but was a United Methodist Clergy and just wanted to come in and pray a bit and look around quietly.  She said, "You are clergy?  Then come on in--there is no charge. You just can't take a tour."  

So I got to spend a lovely time just sitting in the nave listening to a boys choir and the organist rehearse for a performance later that day and enjoying the spectacular beauty of the place.  I walked around a bit, and went down to the crypt, looking at the memorials of some of the people buried there.  I could have gone up to the top and seen the "whispering galley" where sounds from there travel all over the cathedral, but it is nearly 300 stair steps up, no such thing as turning back, and just decided I'd best not try it.  Normally, I think I could do that since I do climb a lot of stairs each day, but I was pretty tired and my feet were hurting.  Time to figure out how to get back home.

I knew there was a tube station near St. Paul's and figured the best way to get to Victoria Station to get the train home would be to take the underground.  One very kind policeman sent me in the proper direction, but I still couldn't quite find it and two more extraordinarily kind police not only guided me to the tube station, but also told me exactly which trains to catch ("Catch the red line to Oxford Circus, and then pick up the light blue line to Victoria.")

Once I got to Victoria, I came out of the Underground and headed for the train station, where 15 minutes later, I boarded my train south for Carshalton Beeches, the train stop approximately 1/2 mile from Jonathan's house, managed to walk home without getting lost (more complex than you'd think:  streets are a maze here, no simple blocks, nothing meets up with the street in the way you think it will, multiple dead ends, and no way to take a simple drive around the block. You just can't do it.).  

Joshua opened the door for me when I rang the doorbell, and I kind of stumbled into the house, very tired, but having had a great day getting a small sense of London.

So much kindness shown to me and to Adriana today.  And we still have simply gorgeous weather here.  Supposed to rain on Sunday and I still haven't managed to plant their garden. Perhaps tomorrow--am running out of time.  Just four more days here and I'm heading home.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Thursday, April 23, "My Big Fat Greet Wedding"

Today is Rocio's, Adriana's sister, birthday.  Party for her started last night when she went out with some friends, took the wrong train home and didn't get back to her house until 1 a.m.  She came over here this morning to see the balloons and decorations for the "cake" this afternoon.  "Cake" means, "come over and have some cake and celebrate."  So at 4:00, "cake" began when two of the Colombians cousins, currently working in England and improving on their English, arrived, Rocio and her two girls came in, and an English friend, Jo, with her two boys, 7 and 5 showed up.

Adriana and I had arrived home one hour earlier after spending the morning/early afternoon at a great children's park/petting zoo which is only 20 minutes from here but which took the proper English voice on Tom-Tom, their GPS system, over an hour to guide us to after first bringing us to a surgery center and then to an elementary school.  Anyway, both the children fell asleep on the way home, and we stopped and got gas ("petrol") for the car and then the cake (where I fell asleep waiting in the car with the children) and got back here.

Adriana set up their inflatable bounce house in the back yard, the exuberant cousins and Rocio strolled in, immediately kissed everyone several times, the energy level rose about 3000%, and the English friend, Jo, and I looked at each other with understanding.  The party had begun.  

Two hours later, sated with cake and juice for the children, and, fortunately, only one bottle of wine shared among the adults, the Colombians and the British family left, and Adriana and I worked on calming Joshua and Samuel and starting preparing them for bed (we're not doing very well).  There is still yet another party at Rocio's house later.  I've got to beg off.  There is no way I can do this.  Jonathan is slated to keep the children, and considering how wired they are, will probably appreciate my presence in the house.

Samuel's separation anxiety is at fever pitch right now.  When the cousins showed up, it just made things worse because they've kept him before when Adriana and Jonathan have left.  In just two weeks, Adriana and Jonathan are planning on a week away at Jonathan's best friend's wedding in the Dominican Republic and the cousins and Rocio will be caring for the children.  Can't imagine how they are going to be able to cope.  Sammy is on the verge of deep hysteria every time his mother gets out of his sight.  Tough time.  And periodically, Joshua feels the need to copy him, leading to some pretty wild moments around here.

Par for the course with the household of two small children.  I keep telling her that it will indeed get better.  Both are amazing parents, and doing a spectacular job with the children.  They do indeed get civilized in time.  But it doesn't happen quickly.  

I'm planning to go to London tomorrow, probably alone.  There are just some things I want to see, and trying to take the children would make for a tough day.  We could ask Rocio to take the kids . . . but I'm not sure it would work.  However, I know Adriana could use a break away from them.

Raising kids this age really needs lots of hands.  I could never have managed without the help of my own mother.  Thank you!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

In Yorkshire, Wednesday, April 22

Tuesday morning, I accompanied Jonathan on his daily train trip to London, and then managed to brave the London Underground at rush hour to get from Victoria Stationto the King Cross Station and pick up a train there for my hour and 45 minute trip north to Yorkshire to visit my friend, Keva Green, here.  While I was at Victoria station, I noted a sign saying something about the possibility of a strike on Wednesday, April 22.  That is today, when I was supposed to come back to London and then back to the house where the family lives south of London.  I just checked and have noted the Victoria Station is closed, and so am going to try to change my train ticket and stay one more night here rather than trying to get off the subway earlier and then try to find out how to get to the train at a different stop. 


The Underground was a definite London moment.  Jonathan pointed me to a down escalator and said, 'Get the Blue Line going north--it will be four or five stops away.'  Obediently, I headed down with hundreds of other Londoner's and saw a huge crown trying to get through the turnstiles to the Blue Line.  I asked someone there if this was the proper place to get to Kings Cross and she said, 'no you need the Yellow Line.'  So I battled my way through the crowd to head to the Yellow Line and saw a transportation officer on my way and inquired of him.  He said, 'You need the Blue Line.  Do you need to get there urgently?'  Since I had only 45 minutes to make the train connection, I answered in the affirmative.  He looked at my sympathetically and said, 'you'll find it a bit crowded.'


That was the understatement of the year.  I stood packed with the crowd as full train after full train arrived, with just a few getting off and a few more getting on.  Finally, I was at the front of the crowd, on the edge of the platform with the 10 foot drop to the subway bottom right in front of me and hoped, 'please, no one shove or I'm heading down.'  I managed to push my way onto the next train, and it slowly emptied so that I even had a seat for the last couple of stops.  Catching the actual train to Doncaster 30 minutes later was a piece of cake next to this.


Trains are boarded 15 minutes before they take off.  The announcer will say which train is leaving from which platform and people stream forward.  Seats are reserved, so I found my seat--two forward, two back with a table inbetween.  Precisely at 9:30, the train took off.  No warnings about taking the seats, or fastening seat belts (there were none).  No security checks, nothing.  Actually quite nice.  I noticed that most people brought their own food on and I was wishing I had because I had been too nervous about this to eat breakfast.  However, a trolley did come by in a few minutes with some (very expensive) snacks and I got something to eat and enjoyed the quiet ride north.


During the ride, the ticket taker came around and punched our tickets (no one checks them when getting on the train).  Each time someone gave her the proper ticket, she would say, 'Smashing!' as a great compliment.  Not understanding that there are really two tickets that need to be handed her, not one, I did not received the affirmative 'Smashing' but a simple 'very good' when I finally produced the correct document.


The stops at the train stations are very short--probably not more than 30 or 45 seconds--just time to get off and the next group to get on.  I departed at Doncaster and shortly afterward, my friend Keva found me and we headed to where she lives, about 20 minutes away in one of the many, many villages around here. 


I enjoyed a fellowship meeting with her and a couple of local clergy (one Salvation Army and one Anglican) and then we headed out because I wanted her to show me the churches she serves.  Because of the huge shortage of local clergy, she preaches in 21 different churches each month and has primary pastoral care for three.  We drove from church to church, many with fairly large buildings (the one she lives next two has a sanctuary that will seat 300).  With each of them, she would say, well, ths one is worshpping about 20, that one has 7, that one is doing well with 40.  The only ones with any real hope of life are those where worship teams have been established and they are doing much more lively worship and using PowerPoint and projection.


It was an enlightening and sobering few hours.  Many of these churches, just like our UMC's in the US, had vital and overflowing ministries not more than 30 to 50 years ago.  But they refused to flex with the times, buildings got old and fell into disrepair, and depression settled over many of them.  They were led by factions who systematically kept people out. 


One building in particular reminded me forcefully of the building we in Krum have just left.  Remants of the former charm were there, but the whole setting seemed oppressive and unwelcoming.  Keva has nearly killed herself here seeking to bring new life.  In building after building, she spoke of renovations that she has spearheaded, of ministries started, of some hope returning.  One in particular, the Princess Street church, was in disastrous shape.  The District wanted to close it and just give up.  But the people decided to give it one last try, got some help from another church and bought remodling materials, used free labor (people working off petty crimes), completely repainted, refloored, recarpted and refurbished the kitchen.  New energy is flowing in there, younger people are showing up, and there appears there might actually be a future. 


Will write more later about the day, but need to join Keva shortly for her Wednesday morning Communion service here and then we'll head out.  I've been chatting online with Jonathan while I'm writing and he has suggested an alternate way home for me, so will head back to London this afternoon as planned.


Monday, April 20, 2009

Look Right and Baby Gates

I've been meaning to write since I got here about the experience of driving, or in my case, riding in a car here.  Of course the first issue is that the steering where is on the right hand side of the car--I've finally learned that the passenger side is on the left.  And right turns, not left turns, are the ones made against traffic and are by far the most treacherous.  I have a feeling lots of foreign pedestrians have been hurt here by doing our normal, "left, right, left" look before crossing a street.  On many streets, the cross walks have "Look Right" in painted in huge letters on the pavement.  Look right--that's where you'll get run over if you don't--and apparently pedestrians do not have the right of way.  

OK, streets are narrow.  Two way streets are barely wide enough for two cars to pass by each other, and all the cars are small.  No Texas sized pickups in sight.  On most of these narrow two way residential streets, people must also park in the street.  Remember, they are barely wide enough for two cars to pass each other anyway.  Add cars parked on both sides of the street and try to figure out how two way traffic gets by.   Go ahead, see if you can picture this.

What they do is never part right across the street from each other, so cars just weave in and out of parked/unparked/parked areas, stopping periodically to let opposite flowing traffic get through.  It's an amazing dance and requires expert depth perception (which I do not have, and that is why I find this so terrifying).  There is often just inches of clearance, and all drivers keep a hand on their driver side rear view mirror so they can flatten it against their car when necessary.  Despite this, people seem to drive very, very fast around these streets.  Most intersections are roundabouts, and I still have absolutely no idea how anyone figures out who has the right of way.  When I see a stop light, I'm just grateful.  At least there is some order in the intersection.

This has all brought me to questions of safely and self-regulation and just learning to trust that others will work with you.  In Jonathan's and Adriana's house, there is a very steep set of stair steps to the landing where the study is and then a short flight to the actually second story.  They have installed very, very sturdy baby gates at each end of the staircase.  The baby gates themselves are extremely treacherous--we have to step over an iron bar about four inches above the step to which they are attached, and because the stairs have a narrow tread, it also means that the first step up and the first step down are pretty unusable.  

Now, Joshua has no problem navigating up and down--he's lived too long now in multi-story environments to be bothers by this.  But Samuel, "The rocket," who has no fear, will scamper up them quickly and then just as quickly think he can scamper down them--and has already taken one major tumble.  For his sake, either the top or bottom gate is securely fastened (and I do mean securely--it takes an adult two hands to open the gates) depending on where he is.  At no time is he given free access to the stairs. This is rule number one and there are no exceptions.  

So, naturally, in order to keep Samuel safe, the adults must be put in a precarious position, especially when going down because of the location of the iron bar.  I've almost fallen more than once myself.  Personally, I think this is the right thing to do, and it also means that the children can be left alone either upstairs or downstairs for short periods of time without and adult because of the secure gates.  

But I'm even more fully aware that there is no such thing as a fully safe environment.  We have to accept some risk tolerance or no one can ever move again.  The children pretty well can wander indoors or out, especially with me here, but clearly Adriana can't keep her eye on them every moment.  And there are more steps outside, steep ones leading to the upper part of the back garden.  I remember that I used playpens a lot to corral my children when necessary, but that is not part of the mindset for Adriana as a parent, so these children are having to learn a great deal of self-regulation at an early age in order to stay alive.  I'm actually quite impressed with what they do know for such young children and occasionally wonder if we've so over-protected ours in the USA that we've taken all the adventure out of life.  Truth is, unless these children learn a decent tolerance for risk and risk-taking, they'll ever be able to drive a car over here, and that would be a huge loss to them.  

Just my evening musings.  Dinner is nearly ready and the children, I write hopefully, will be heading for bed shortly.  Otherwise, the witching hour will soon begin!

Monday, April 20, In London

It's been a gentle, delightful day.  With much, much trepidation, Rocio and Adriana left me with Grace (5) and Joshua today for a while as Rocio needed to work and Katie needed to get her eyes checked.  We know there is no way Samuel will stay happily with me, but I told them I'd be fine with the other two.  The three of us had a great time and learned the "no smile" game which just delighted both of them (look at each other with frowning faces and insist that no one smile).  Later, Adriana came back and then left me with all four children (thankfully, Samuel was napping) while she got some desperately needed time alone and to do some shopping.  Katie, Grace, Joshua and I headed for the garden and began to work on the vegetable bed.  Actually got very little done, but we all had a blast anyway.  

Grace continues to scold me for not studying Spanish, and Joshua continues to try to please me by working very hard on speaking English to me.   Clearly, he understands every word I speak to him, but has to work on responding back in English.  However, he is making great progress and is very proud of himself.  I'm really touched by his eagerness to work on this.

The housekeeper was here today, bless her heart, so the house was being cleaned from top to bottom as I played and dug with the children--and as we kept dragging dirt back into the house.  Adriana came back after a couple of refreshing hours for her and here is where I saw the immediate contrast between her style of child-rearing and mine.  Both are clearly good and effective, but, oh so different.  

I had worked on calm and harmony, teaching the children about gardening and encouraging them to work along side me as we dug out spaces to put heavy ceramic stepping stones to define the flower beds.  We talked about sharing tools and freely handed them back and forth as we needed it.  We talked about the difference between the weeds that needed to be pulled and the plants that I thought we should keep and I told them it wasn't the end of the world if they accidentally pulled one that was a keeper.  They wanted to know, "What does the end of the world mean?" and we had a philosophical discussion on the meaning of the phrase.  

It was a quiet, peaceful, adult oriented time.

Shortly after Adriana got home, everything changed.  Because it was another warm and sunny day, she also wanted the children outside, so she set up a small portable bounce house and sent the children out to play in it. Later, she brought out a pile of play dough and was going to have the children use it, but they were too busy by then playing creatively with the then collapsed bounce house and making up stories about it.  Totally child oriented, much, much higher energy.  Both effectively teaching the children, but doing so differently.

Tomorrow, I'm going into London with Jonathan in the morning and then shall somehow figure out how to "catch the tube" to another train station (Kings Cross) and pick up a train to Doncaster where I'll spend 24 hours with a friend of mine before catching another train to London, trying to figure out how to transfer to the station where Jonathan will be, and then riding back from London with him.  I keep telling myself, "they speak English here  Someone will help me.  I can do this."

I may not be able to write again until Wednesday evening, so may not post anything for a for a couple of days.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Sunday Morning Worship, April 19

As a female pastor, I'm still an object of curiosity to Adriana and Rocio, both raised Roman Catholic and educated in RC schools in Colombia.  During lunch yesterday, we had some conversation about their spiritual lives and their willingness to abide by certain Roman Catholic doctrines, particularly the ban against any kinds of artificial birth control.  Essentially, they were told by the nuns who taught them to ignore that requirement, which they have both quite firmly done.  We also talked about the differences between Methodist (in England), United Methodist (in the USA), Anglican (state sponsored religion here) and Roman Catholicism.  I was talking with them about the serious decline of the Methodist church here and they both surprised me by saying that the Catholic and Anglican churches in this part of London are bursting at the seams with families and children.

Here's why:  The RC and Anglican churches have started very, very good schools, and the only children who are permitted to register MUST have parents who attend church so regularly that the priest is able to recognize them and know their names.  So, if a parent wants his/her child in the best schools around (and I'm guessing the tuition is pretty reasonable), they'd better get up on Sunday morning and attend church.

I had at first asked Jonathan if he would consider taking me to London today so I could go to St. Paul's Cathedral for worship, but changed my mind--it would be a pretty exhausting trip and it meant not having the time with the children.  I then asked him if there is a Methodist Chapel nearby where I could go.  He found one, and then said, "Mom, stop being a Methodist for the day and go to the Catholic church with us."  This led to a discussion about whether or not I could participate in the sacrament of Holy Communion there.  Church law forbids it:  first, I've not been baptized RC; second, should I choose to convert I am divorced and the first marriage not annulled.  This, according to church law, makes me forever unable to communicate there.  Now, Rocio and Adriana both insisted it was up to me, if I felt in my heart that it was right that I should do so.  I'm also aware that open communion was practiced at the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris where Jonathan and I attended worship last year.  But I do know church law . . .

Anyway, after a good night's sleep, we got everyone dressed and in the car and headed to the Roman Catholic church.  As we got near, I began to see what they meant by children:  multiple families with little children were making their way to the service.  As in lots and lots of babies, toddlers, pre-schoolers, and elementary aged children.  Few teens, naturally.

We walked in and were handed a hymnbook, a book of liturgy, and various pieces of paper with announcements, schedules, and a sketchy order of worship.  Very sketchy.

Because we got there just before worship began, I didn't have time to get my bearings with all this paper and books, and never was able to get caught up.  

The sanctuary area was high ceilinged, with stone floors, wooden benches, padded kneeling rails, an inadequate sound system and bouncy acoustics.  Bouncy, as in, every time a child cried or fussed or whispered or was shushed, the sound went all over the place.  At the beginning of the service, children and parents were encouraged to come to toward the altar and then went to Sunday School until the Eucharist began.  Jonathan and Adriana took Samuel and Joshua and I was left to try to figure out what I was supposed to do at any given moment.  While much of the liturgy is quite familiar, the need to jump from a printed page to a liturgy book to a hymn book and back again was so confusing that I really did give up after a while and just enjoyed the flow of worship and tried to do what the others were doing.  

The prayers and homily were essentially impossible to hear.  Even though a lot of the children went out, many others stayed and their voices were constant.  Nevertheless, I quite enjoyed it and had a sense of the presence of God in the midst of the chaos.

These children will all be going to this church school.  In school, they will learn their academic subjects and they will also learn the liturgy and the meaning of worship and why the priest does this or the acolytes do that or the responses are such and such.  They will learn their Bible stories and even if they can't hear the priest, they will have some sense of the reading because they will have been taught these things day in and day out.  They will know why they kneel for certain parts and stand for other parts of worship.  They will understand why the children who are not yet confirmed get a blessing rather than the Host when coming forward to receive during the Eucharist.  Sunday morning will be a routine, essential part of their lives that will fit seamlessly into their academic lives.

It's a brilliant move on the part of the RC and Anglican churches here.  They know that we must, we must, we simply must reach the children if there is to be hope for the words and grace of Jesus to yet permeate the world.  And this nation needs it--its culture is in serious trouble and is collapsing under the weight of immorality and ignorance.  The church may yet triumph here. Yes, I know that many of these will leave the church as teens--but they will have the foundation laid for them and they will return and they will know that God is, and that God is good, and that salvation is ours as a gift from God--and that we must cooperate in the process of salvation.

Now, considering how confused I was, and considering that I didn't get greeted, nor did anyone seem to know that I was a visitor, and no one gave me a brochure, or will be calling me later because there was no visitor info card to fill out, would I go back if I lived here?  Yes. First, I'm well educated, understand the liturgy and could figure it out by next week.  But that is a unique situation.  Second, because I do enjoy the sounds of children in worship--I find those voices to be the voice of God calling us to mission and future.  Third, even though I did in the end choose not to communicate, I sat in awe and an awareness of the mystery of salvation in God during the Eucharist.  

But were I not already churched, were I unaware of the power of the mystery because I had no background, and no explanation was given, were it necessary for me to feel that I was welcomed and affirmed when I came, had I needed an entertaining, smooth, professionally led service then I would not come back.  And that is where most adults are now--no background, no understanding of the mystery of God, a strong need to be entertained and a sense of entitlement and expectation of someone knowing their name and "making them feel welcome" and lots of follow up and multiple invitations to show up so that perhaps they'll put some money in the offering plate and help pay the bills . . . then I would not come back.

Personally, I wish that every single person who thinks that just anyone can come into a worship service and find it a welcoming, understandable and friendly place would take a few Sundays and attend worship at someplace radically different from their knowledge, upbringing and culture.  It could be quite an eye-opener.


Saturday Afternoon, April 18

Last year while I was in France with this family, laundry became my mission.  I would and did wrestle those washing machine into submission, dealt with constant flooding and left the family for at least one day all laundry washed, sorted, folded (put not put away--no closets there).

Here, it is the garden.  Adriana and I got the giggles together yesterday as we were sitting outside on a gorgeous day as she finally told me they had hoped I'd do something about their yard and get a vegetable garden started for them, but didn't want to tell me ahead of time so it would look like they were bringing me over here just to work.

Well, by not telling me, I also didn't pack any work clothes.  In fact, I, the master of the light packer, may have truly outdone myself.  As in one pair of jeans, one pair of shoes, a few shirts and a couple of nicer pants, one skirt just in case, and a limited supply of other necessities.  Nothing I could garden in and get dirty.

When I first mentioned this, Adriana in all her beautiful skinniness turned to me and said, "Oh no problem, you can wear something of mine!"  Since two of her would still not make one of me, I thanked her graciously for the compliment and said perhaps we could find a place that sells cheap clothing and just get something that I can get dirty in and then throw away when I leave.

Yesterday (Saturday) morning, Jonathan kept the children while Adriana, Rocio and I went to a nearby garden center to get some plants, some tools, and, I kept insisting, some work clothes for me.

Now, before going on with this, please know that EVERYONE gardens here.  In their small lots are profusions of flowers and green, green grass and cascading shrubs and vines.  Few yards (they are all called gardens here) look neglected, although some get more care than others.  So when we drove into the garden center, I landed in gardening heaven.  And by the time we drove into the one Rocio chose for shopping, we had passed at least five others--all within two or three miles of their houses.  This is MAJOR INDUSTRY here. 

I happily picked out necessary tools, found some knee pads and garden clogs for my feet, and we bought a profusion of vegetables and flowers to dress up the front and add even more beauty to the back.  However, we didn't find any work clothes and had to get back to the house because Jonathan was getting ready to cook out and needed us back there.

As I said, it was a gorgeous day--light blue skies, temperature around 65 degrees, gentle breeze.  The two families gathered around outside to eat and drink and relax.  Joshua and Samuel, sated by sunshine and good food, both fell asleep and were carried in for long naps.  I wanted to start working and asked if one of them would drive me to a shop where I could get some things.  (I will NOT drive here--that is a whole 'nother story).  Then Rocio says, "O don't worry--you can wear some of mine."  OK, Rocio, if possible, is even skinnier than Adriana.  I'm thinking:  do these women not have eyes?  But she said, "I have just what you need.  I'll go get it for you."  A few minutes later, she brought in a bag of old paint clothes, including a pair of stretch pants, beautifully paint spattered, that my some miracle did manage to make it around me with adequate comfort, and some old sweaters of Ian's (Rocio's husband) that will work fine.

Jonathan and I, and eventually, the children and Adriana, then spent the rest of the lovely afternoon cleaning out some overgrown beds, clearing a space for the vegetable garden, planning how he can build a sandbox for the children.  Jonathan is a bit naive about how much strength it will take to haul several thousand pounds of sand up a very steep hill to the sandbox location.  After some conversation, he has decided to hire help for that part of the construction.  We had bought Joshua some tools and a set of gloves for him, knowing he would want to mimic what he saw me and his dad doing, and he had a great time.  He was helping me pull some weeds and chattering happily in Spanish.  I apologized to him for not knowing Spanish and asked if he would be willing to speak to me in English.  He gave me his happy smile that lights up his lovely face and began to talk in English to me.  Clearly, he understands all that is said to him in English, but his spoken vocabulary is still limited. Nonetheless, he is now working to speak only English to me and this will be a big help to him when he goes back to nursery school at the end of April when the long spring break is over.

The long nap meant the children were extremely difficult to get to bed last night, but it was finally accomplished, and Jonathan, Adriana and I set around the small kitchen bar and ate leftover and shared a bottle of wine and told stories.  One that will be the family legend is how Adriana told Jonathan that she was leaving him THAT DAY if he didn't get her moved out of their New York apartment as it was becoming increasingly rat infested.  This was when Joshua was about 15 months old and she was seven months pregnant with Samuel.  He most definitely took her at her word and had them in a different apartment by the next day.  Good thing they can laugh at all this now!

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Friday afternoon in London

Yes, we are definitely into English Spring weather, as in a drizzling rain all day yesterday, Friday.  Adriana and I were extremely busy with the children all morning--it really passed with a blur, just dealing with their needs.  Around noon, Rocio brought her girls over, and Adriana, as usual, fixed all a lovely and nutritious lunch (and yes, even after just a few days here, I am losing some weight--this healthy and very low-fat eating will do it to me), and about an hour later, when the children were getting pretty obstreperous, the sisters decided it was time for a movie, popcorn and juice for the children, popcorn and a bottle of wine for the adults.  

We watched Shrek II (I think--I know it was not the first one).  We women nearly rolled on the floor in laughter but seriously doubted the children caught any of the allusions to the many fairy tales.  Unfortunately, Joshua fell sound asleep during the movie--which meant he stayed up very late last night.  Anyway, after the movie, we decided to walk to Rocio's house for a change of scenery.

Everyone put on rain gear and we took the three block walk, Joshua happily walking with his Granny, hand in hand.  Our visit there gave me a chance to see another house here.  Again, like this one, it is a double house.  Up a steep set of stairs (it is quite hilly here), and in the front door, there is about 3 feet from the front door a steep set of stairs on the wall on the left, and a hall beside them leads to a living room and separate dining room on the right, a small toilet room under the stairs on the left, and then straight back to the kitchen and then a small garden/play room with a door to the lovely backyard.

Upstairs there is a small study (maybe 5x7), two bedrooms, a toilet room and a bathroom.  No closets in the house, but both bedrooms are fitted with closets and shelves built after the house was built.  I figure the house is 20 feet wide.  Yes, 20 feet.  Probably about 40 feet deep.  As with Jonathan and Adriana's house, it is well equipped with good quality washer and dryer in the kitchen as well as a dishwasher.  I'm really understanding more and more why Jonathan and Adriana saw the parsonage where I live as exceptionally large.  I am guessing the master bedroom, bath and closet there are the size of the entire first floor at Rocio's house.

And it is charming, and I would guess quite English.  Yes, it is also full--again, picture a house with minimal storage, two children, and a wife who works from home three days a week.  Rocio fixed us afternoon tea (hot chocolate for the children) and the four youngsters played together.  I somewhat redeemed myself in the eyes of Katie, the oldest niece.  She was just about terminally disappointed in me when she discovered that I am absolutely no good at "games," i.e., soccer (football here) or anything else dealing with running, hiding, hitting or catching balls or anything like that.  But yesterday, I delightedly listened to her read aloud for about an hour and helped her with learning new words and meanings.  So, perhaps I'm not all useless in her eight-year-old eyes.

Rocio then fed the children some dinner, and Adriana I walked Joshua and Samuel home. Actually, Adriana carried Samuel, who was pretty tired by then, and Joshua leapt excitedly into every single puddle on the way home and made lots of big splashes.  We got them home, bathed--actually Joshua showers and just loves it, had them in the night clothes and were just about to settle them for the night when . . . Daddy (Jonathan) comes home!!!!  Yes, Papa is here--the one who just loves to laugh and tickle and play!!!  And get them totally stimulated so that sleep is impossible!!!!!

Yes, a long evening, indeed.  

It is now Saturday and we women will get our revenge.  He and Ian, Rocio's husband, are keeping the little darlings and Rocio and Adriana and I are going to the gardening store.  I didn't think to bring gardening clothes, and discovered that Jonathan and Adriana would love it if I would get yard somewhat cleaned up and some flowers planted.  Very much my joy to do so, so we'll get started later today.

Friday, April 17, 2009

The Play Day

It was a typical early spring London afternoon, damp, occasional sprinkles, low overhanging clouds.  I'm here in London enjoying a couple of weeks playing "Granny" to three year old and 1 1/2 year old grandsons.  We had been joined for the day by their cousins, two girls, aged 8 and 5 and they had all played together quite well most of the day.  But now the littlest one was up from his nap, and a long, unplanned afternoon spread out before us.  The natives, i.e., the children, were definitely restless.  They had creatively managed to entertain themselves until now, but any parent can guess at what was going to happen if the adults didn't take action.

There's a large outdoor park with a well equipped recreation center nearby with scheduled activities for children.  We loaded the boys and the oldest niece into the car and headed over there, and "queued" up (I'm learning British English as fast a possible), to get tickets for the next Kid's House of Fun hour.  About 15 minutes later, we headed toward a room with the largest bounce house I've ever seen.  Three stories tall, with at least a 900 sq. ft footprint, it was clearly a child's paradise.  For about 20 minutes, that is exactly what it was.  Even the baby was having a marvelous time exploring and falling and jumping and climbing and hiding--a delight. 

And then . . . two larger groups entered, probably birthday parties, most of the children between 6 and 11 years old.  I watched in fascination as these exuberant children, also restive from a long day inside (it is a school holiday here), did what comes naturally to all children, and started racing through the tunnels and down the slides, bumping one another, knocking each other over, and running faster, faster, faster.  After a while, I felt like I was watching a movie with speeded up motion as they raced by my watchful chair in hyper-speed, screaming louder with each pass, heedless who they trampled in the rush to get . . . nowhere.  It was just a large maze, and all eventually ended at the same place, exactly where they started.  

The rush to get nowhere--how typical of so much of human activity.  Rush, rush, rush, hurry here, make that deadline there, don't be late because something bad will happen, quicker, faster, speedier--GET THERE NOW BECAUSE IT HAS TO BE DONE THIS MINUTE OR  . . .!!!!  

Or what?  What if it doesn't get done?  Well, frankly, sometimes it is pretty darn serious if it doesn't get done.  Silly to pretend otherwise--some parts of life must be met head on with speed and expertise.  But there is a franticness to much of our lives that insists if something can be done faster, then it should be done faster.  There are times, however, when our lives are so much like than House of Fun maze that doing it faster only means getting back to where we began, and when we get there, we are tired, sweaty, and pretty unsatisfied.  

The movement for "slow" seems to be growing (we would like to think slowly, of course.)  Slow food, not only cooked slowly with love and care, but also eaten slowly with appreciation and real appetite, has become quite a trend (which, I suppose by the nature of trends, means it is catching on with increasing rapidity).  There's a fascinating bit of research emerging showing that super-slow exercising may create far more strength and endurance than the normal higher speed routines.  The best athletes are taught to work through their moves in very slow motion as they train their muscles to respond to changing circumstances.

Then there is my area of expertise: the growth into spiritual maturity.  This growth simply cannot be rushed.  Shortcuts mean lingering and ultimately destructive immature attitudes. It takes a long, long time for the purity of heart and soul and mind and body to work their way as the predominant way of being.  That path toward spiritual maturity is started best in the earliest of childhood moments.  Of the things I've seen since this short trip to England began, it is that need to start early that frightens me the most.  Because they are not starting at all over here.  And it is showing up in some pretty horrific ways with the teens and young adults.

More later on this.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Thursday, April 16, in London

A typical British morning here--foggy, damp, chilly but not cold.  Adriana and the children up early, I slept later, still adjusting to the time change, but doing much, much better.  

Katie and Grace, Adriana's nieces, are here for the day as Rocio needs to work and it is actually easier to have the extra ones here as they help entertain Joshua and Sammy.  Katie is a very mature 8, and Grace, a sweet five year old.  Grace has not been feeling well--a bit of a tummy upset--so Adriana is preparing one of her homemade remedies for her.  It fascinates me to hear the girls speak--very proper British accent, and easy switch to Spanish when necessary.  Grace looked me straight in the eye this morning and asked, "Do you speak Spanish."  She looked disapprovingly at me when I answered, "no," but Adriana said that she asked that so she could speak Spanish around me and I wouldn't understand.  Yes, these bi-lingual children have figured out much.

One of Adriana's big frustrations here is that the owners of the house have left much of their stuff here, leaving them with little storage.  The "garage" (an 8 foot wide by 11 foot long box--one could get a small European car in there, but I can't imagine how the door could be opened to let the driver out), is quite full of their stuff--bikes and boxes and suitcases.  There is also another refrigerator out here--that certainly helps with the food storage situation.  Anyway, I've told Adriana I will tackle it and see if I can at least re-order things so they have more storage.  Apparently the owners of the house promise much, but deliver little in terms of removal of their things.

I'm hoping to make a trip next week to Sheffield to see a friend of mine, and so need to learn about the extensive train/bus system here.  Should be an adventure, but at least knowing the language means I can ask for directions and get some help.  We'll see what happens.  The children like riding the train, so perhaps we'll all go to Victoria Station together so I can see what it takes to find the proper trains.  I have this image of a huge confusing underground with trains taking off from multiple stations and levels--probably been reading too many British detective novels.

So, I continue to enter into the domestic details here.  Can now use the dishwasher and washing machine, and hope to relieve Adriana of a few things while I am here.  Feels good to be a part of her life and talk with her about what it means to rear children in a culture with extremely low standards of sexual morality and almost no Christian influence.  A big challenge in front of them.  

At this point, it looks like they will be in London for five years, and are thinking about buying a house.  The plans for a Paris office have been put on hold because of the economy, and, if so, that would mean some more settledness for them.  They want to stay in this area.  They've found a great school for Joshua and want to offer him some stability.  Both of the boys really do struggle with separation anxiety--they've just moved so much that it has affected them that way.  Joshua has already lived in Australia, New York City (and moved twice while there), Canada, Colombia, France, and now London.  A lot for this not quite three year old child. 

Now, back to helping out a bit here.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Wednesday, April 15, in London

Well, the combination of weeks and weeks of exhaustion and nonstop work, the long plane flight and the six hours time difference has had its way with me.  Twelve hours of sleep last night and a nap this afternoon have helped quite a bit, but it looks like it will be tomorrow before I am freed from the need to fall asleep if I sit down for more than three minutes.

When I started writing this, Sammy "The Rocket" Sullivan Pe┼ła, was still down for this afternoon nap, and Joshua, who at three thinks he is too old for a nap, is playing quietly by himself, chattering away in Spanish.  Adriana speeds through the typical day of the mother of two toddlers--the constant juggle of children, cooking, laundry, play time and all else connected with this time of her life.  I woke from my brief nap thinking about the famous "octomom" and wonder what kind of mental illness she is suffering from to even consider having that many children at once and to think she can handle it.

Now, for a brief description:  if you will type this address into maps.google.com, you'll get a pretty good idea of what the house looks like:  38 Harbury Road Carshalton SM5 4LA. I can't get the actual address to show on the street view, but that one is very much like the one they live in.  As are many dwellings here, it is an attached house--another abutted right next to it, similar to a duplex in the US.  Jonathan and Adriana live on the left side, but they do have a front garden--it is not completely concreted over as the one in the photo.  The back yard of the two houses is separated only by a low fence, so both have a full view of the other's back yard.

The interior of the house is charming.  We have no idea how old the house is--surely at least fifty or sixty years old and probably much older, but it has had considerable work done on it in the last ten years.  The floors, however, are probably original--they look like maple hardwood in the main areas, and brick in the kitchen. The entry space is light and generous with a lovely aquarium at one end.  The ground floor has a living room, dining room, half-bath and kitchen.  All rooms are smaller than found in current US houses--the living room is probably 12x12 and the others smaller.  They are nicely furnished with the current owner's furniture. 

There is a set of stairs, naturally, very steep stairs, that lead to a landing where Jonathan's office is (and where I am writing) and then a short flight to the upper level with three bedrooms and a very nice bathroom, with shower, tub and all the other necessities.  One room, large and open, is Jonathan and Adriana's bedroom.  "With closets!" as Adriana gratefully proclaimed (not walk in, but closets built after the house was done, and take up quite a bit of two walls.)  One room is for the children, and it really does have a closet--approximately 3 feet wide and 2 feet deep.  I am sharing this room with the children.  The last bedroom is the playroom/guest room but the furniture as not yet arrived for the guest room part of it. The children do use the play room to some extent, but really prefer to be downstairs.  A complex set of baby gates guards the top and bottom of the stairs so the children do not have access to them without an adult having unlocked them.

The kitchen is amazingly well equipped, with six burner stove, dishwasher (hidden behind a cabinet that matches the other cabinets), washing machine and dryer (also hidden), small refrigerator (very small refrigerator--the size they had in France), microwave, and adequate drawer/cabinet space.  Much better equipped than the French kitchen.

The windows from the kitchen and dining room look onto the back yard.  There is a patio area, flagstones for flooring, and then two sets of steep steps lead to the garden proper, a very upward sloping yard that culminates at least 12 feet higher from the first patio in another flagstone patio area with a couple of flower beds and a garden shed on it.  

Yes, lovely, and yes, nearly as inconvenient as the French house.  Adriana's sister, Rocio, and her husband, Ian, and their daughters, Katie and Grace, came by late afternoon to eat as they had just arrived from a vacation in France and Adriana had fixed some soup and rice for dinner for them, knowing they'd be hungry on their arrival.  That meant four adults and four children--and that's when I realized that there is no room large enough to really accommodate that many people at once.  A couple of hours of wild conversation and excited children later, Rocio and Ian left with their children and Adriana managed to get the overly-stimulated Joshua and Samuel to sleep while I worked on cleaning the kitchen.  I've talked Adriana into showing me how the appliances work so I can be of some help to her in there.  Also will try to get some gardening done for them while I am here.

Just talked with Jonathan.  Complicated with his Greece assignment are weighing him down but he hopes to arrive late tomorrow afternoon.

We took the children to a nearby park for most of the afternoon.  It was full of children because school is on hiatus right now, and the playground itself was a little overwhelming to them.  But we found a nice place to sit and Joshua learned to roll down the hill and Samuel tried to talk the squirrels into take peanuts from his hands.  There is a spacious pond with ducks and geese, and everything is very green except for the shrubs that froze with the very unexpected two feet of snow late winter here.  Clearly, from the care that is taken with the gardens here, they will be replaced soon.  Early spring blooms everywhere.

OK, time for me to head to bed and finish my time adjustment.  

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Arrival In London

It is mid-afternoon on Tuesday, April 14, London time, and I'm at Jonathan's and Adriana's house, have just eaten a lovely, healthy, "Adriana" lunch, unpacked my bags, distributed gifts to all, and am wondering how on earth I'm going to stay awake until evening, but know it is necessary if I'm to overcome jet lag quickly.

Essentially, I've been awake now since since  5 a.m. Monday morning with just snatches of sleep during this time.  Flights were comfortable, but sleep still just didn't happen.  But a nap this afternoon will just make it worse, so think we'll take the children out for a walk soon.

The children:  Adriana met me at the airport with Joshua in tow and Samuel in her arms.  Jonathan had a sudden trip to Greece and will be back Thursday evening, so Adriana braved the confusing trip to Heathrow Airport to pick me up.

Joshua immediately knew me and flashed me a big smile and gave me a kiss.  Samuel was a little more hesitant, but is quickly warming up.  The boys are gorgeous and now, at 3 and 18 months are beginning to make good playmates for each other.

Highways seem very confusing to me.  As in France, many of the intersections are roundabouts with people entering the circle at numerous points, all needing to change lanes and exit within seconds.  Somehow they work.  Also, as in France, the residential streets are narrow and people park on both sides and there are often just inches of clearance on either side.  Adriana, of course, manages all this with speed and agility--I'm just hanging on to the passenger seat (on the left side of the car, of course.)

Their house is gorgeous--will write more later.  Must go now.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

The Traffic Jam

Late last week, my husband and I were hosting a birthday party for a business friend of his at a restaurant in East Dallas. The party was to begin at 6:30; we left Krum at 5:25, cutting it pretty close timewise. Of course, if I had been driving, we would have left earlier, but that is a story for another time!

After a brief slowdown on I35 at the south end of Denton, we enjoyed smooth driving through Lewisville and across town on the George Bush Tollway. Then we headed south on 75, the often infamous Central Expressway. A few seconds later, we saw flashing lights ahead of us. We both took a deep breath, expecting a major problem, and guessing we would be late.

As it turned out, the problem was on the northbound side. As we and all the other rubberneckers inched by, we could clearly see that it must have been a major accident. Two fire trucks, along multiple police and emergency vehicles, completely blocked the northbound lanes.

I decided to see how long the back-up was: turned out to be nearly five miles of non-moving cars. After that, cars were still traveling at a reasonable speed and I thought, “I wonder if they knew what was coming if they would have taken this route home?”

Which also led to this thought, “I wonder what changes I would make if I really knew the future?” And then I began to ponder this time in the Christian year when we move from Jesus’ celebratory entrance into Jerusalem, which we honor this Sunday on Palm Sunday, through the horror of the week to follow. That week when all betrayed him and left him to the mercies of those who, for reasons that surely must have seemed right to them, hated Jesus enough to condemn him to an excruciating death. What must it have been like for him to know what was coming? How he suffered! His agonizing prayer rings in my mind, “Please let this cup pass from me!” In the end, love overcame all, the love of all humanity that continues to betray the call of God upon up; the love of all humanity that is far more interested in inviting us into heaven than in condemning us to hell, the love of all humanity that finally says, “Father, forgive them because they don’t know what they are doing.”

Thank you, Jesus, for facing the future with love and courage, even as it took you all the way to death. Thank you for laying down your life for us. Help us to learn to do that for others.

Disappearing Churches

“If all the churches in your community disappeared, what difference would it make?” I read this question this week and felt it worth exploring. If all the churches in Krum disappeared, what difference would it make?

Now, I don't know the inner workings of all the churches here, just the one where I serve. But I will affirm this: the people of every church in our community work diligently to add value to us. I know that people are fed and clothed, that sorrows are comforted, that joys are celebrated, that children are nurtured, that moral living is both modeled and taught, the Bible is read and studied, All powerful and important activities.

Yet, I know there must be something more. A church, not a building, but a group of people who meet regularly, do something that no other organization can do. A church gives a space to intentionally encounter the mystery of the universe that we call “God.” A church, not a building but the people who come together in some space, provide the setting to engage in acts of worship.

Worship is a difficult word to define. Many in the world today declare, “I'm spiritual but not religious.” I understand that sentiment—it affirms something that is true of all: a need deep inside us to connect with something far, far greater than we are. That spirituality springs from awareness that we humans have a tiny role in something much bigger than we are. A tiny role, but an important one, for the actions of any one person ultimately affect the lives of everyone. More than that, the word “religious” has taken on a difficult connotation, because much harm has been done in the name of religion. So has much good, but that good is often forgotten because the harm overshadows it. The harm done is generally more public, and shouted loudly about, while the good being done is hidden, quiet, unacknowledged.

So the “spiritual but not religious” person acknowledges the larger Something out there. The church, not the building but the people who make it up, provides a place for that spirituality to flower and bloom in community and connection and accountability and service and education and wisdom. Private spirituality is necessary and good. Private spirituality affirmed and shaped and expressed in a church, not the building but with the people who also practice private spirituality, then matures into the perfection defined by the perfect, that is, Jesus the Messiah. It is Jesus who told the spiritually-minded people of his day, “Love God with all that you are and love your neighbor in the same way you want to be loved.”

It is the act of public worship that ultimately the community can't do without. It is the open acknowledgment that God has a claim upon us and that claim includes us learning to love God fully. None of us in our human limitation can enter more than a tiny way into the hugeness of God. We're just not smart enough or good enough or even spiritual enough. However, in public worship, we can go much further than we can when we only exercise our spirituality in private.

What would happen if the churches here were to disappear? We would lose our souls. Our private spirituality would wither without nurture, and all would suffer. The church, not the building but the people who link together to grow mature in God, offer something that no other organization can offer: complete confidence in the future, for we know that God is good