Timeline of Grace

Journey through the Seasons

Category: ex-pat life

Back to school…now sending two!

Today I sat across from my little boy today in Costa Coffee….he was still “too young” for a local church’s holiday club. Too Young….hmmmm that won’t be for much longer. I also came across this rather morbid poem.  
I think this new job has come just at the right time. When people say the customary “you won’t know what to do with yourself” or “just think all this time to yourself now” I smile, knowing I’m probably not going to know what’s hit me and my days will very quickly fill up and I’ll be scrambling to “get stuff done” between 9-3 each day.
But like, whatever about me.
The real thing is going to be the issue of where he is from 9-3. Not just physically, in a school building, but where he is mentally, emotionally. With Iona I didn’t give it a thought. I figured she was a bright enough girl for school, she loved being with friends, and she’d sail along. She wasn’t one of those kids you’d worry about, fearing it’d be “too much, too soon”.  She’d take it all in her stride, and of course every teacher she had would “see” her unique capabilities and love her.
I wasn’t counting on her first teacher being off sick most of the year due to personal issues, a string of supply teachers, and a change of head teacher all in the same year. I also wasn’t expecting her year one teacher to move to Switzerland halfway through the year.
I was determined to not be one of those parents who worried about her education or her standing in the school. I trusted the teachers to be bright enough to notice her and to bring out the best in her, and for awhile I experienced such a teacher the second half of year one. But then year 2 came, with a new teacher again, and out of the blue she was suddenly a child who was “struggling” (her words, not mine….which in itself is like…really??)
It can all be boiled down to perhaps a little girl still tired from her big trip to America being smacked in the face with the realities of year two, more work, more writing, more “if you don’t get it done you’ll miss playtime” on the very first day of the term,  for her confidence to be knocked right out from under her.
So now I have a daughter facing year three who doesn’t think she’s particularly bright and sees herself as someone who “struggles” and isn’t as good as her friends. This is of course the very situation my dear home educating friends fear the most and what often motivates them to keep their kids out of the whole flipping system.
Me…well I’m holding out hope, because I’ve been on both sides of the spectrum…so I’m willing to write it off as a year that was less than ideal with hopes of things improving.
So now it’s Judah’s turn. My beautiful unique boy who’s teacher sent us a scrapbook to personalise during the summer holidays….and deep inside I’m thinking “oh no is this some sort of test for her to see which parents are bothered and which parents are “those parents”???? Ugh.


It’s pretty obvious from this just how much TV has filled the first five years of his life.

So as Iona has faced her difficulties with school with grace, and is slowly recovering from a rough start to last year. My prayer for Judah is this, that he will not lose the song that in his heart.

So on that note, this is what I have to remind myself of:

  • My kids are privileged to go to school
  • We actually have a choice of several good schools.
  • They’re going to come out of the 7 years of primary school learning to read and write and that’s more than most children in the world.
  • I’ve been able to spend nearly five years at home with him pretty much full time.
  • Teachers may come and go, but both of his parents will be here when he comes home every night.
  • He may have a teacher one year who doesn’t get him, but he’s got a family who adores him.
  • He’ll have issues with teachers sometimes, and with friends….but nothing we can’t be there for him through.

I will remember this as he puts on his school uniform and suddenly looks about 10 years old.


Happy Father’s Day to my Dad


Anyone who ever says to the words to me “your dad” can’t help but say it with a mixture of warmth, sentimentality, and a hint of humour. I’m the same. When anyone asks me about my dad, I smile to myself, and can’t quite put into words exactly what I feel. I can be speaking to someone for the first time ever, and when they realize I’m “Spencer’s daughter” it’s as though they immediately warm to me and can’t wait to tell me how much they like him.

My dad has always been a place of safety for me. I used to love to go places with him, to the hardware store, anywhere. I just liked riding in his car, in comfortable silence. It was a neutral zone in my life. Although I’m very grateful for all the health food I was exposed to by my mother, the all natural juices, co-op orders full of whole wheat fruit juice sweetened cereals, and carob flavoured peanut butter cups,  when I was with my dad, there were no rules about food. I could basically choose anything I wanted from the rack of treats at the convenience store on the way home from ballet or anywhere. It was ok. The world was not going to end from me eating a Charleston Chew and drinking something carbonated.

I know it will be the same for me with my own kids. I’ll be busy concocting some healthy version of chocolate chip cookies, while their dad will simply buy them a packet of chocolate buttons…and it will really be ok!

My dad has passed on to me many things including a love of coffee, an ear for music,  the ability to burst into fits of unrestrained laughter over things other people don’t find as funny, a heart to encourage people, and the freedom to just….be. I  have a lot of memories of my dad just….being. For most of my life I remember him enduring a 3 hour commute every day to work, and looking back I’m surprised he had any energy at all to run me to and from anywhere  in the evening. On a hot summer day when everyone was outside, in the water, or getting work done in the garden, my dad would be content sat inside on his computer, or watching a movie. I admire that in him now. In a world that doesn’t stop, in a world that values people only for what they do, in a world where jobs are never quite finished, and there is always something you should be doing, he could quite happily be content..just to be.

As an adult now, and especially as a mother, it’s easy to feel guilty when I’m doing nothing, and temporarily checking out….yet I know my dad would be the last person to judge me, and that’s a great feeling.

These days we live in different worlds. We have many differences of opinion on politics and issues, however, despite that, I believe my dad is an excellent judge of character when it comes to people he knows in real life, and I believe he has great insight into important situations.  I spent much time in prayer over whether or not to come to England when I was in Ireland, yet I was still fairly young, and when I heard my dad vocalize his encouragement to me, I felt overwhelmed with peace. In other times in my life I’ve found myself in sticky situations, or in situations that I’ve been felt extremely vulnerable and afraid to face head on, and somehow my dad has been able to wade in at just the right time with great wisdom and insight.

I remember my dad at bed time when I am with my own kids. He was great at putting me to bed. He always had time for another story, or another game, and he made it fun. He would pretend to give me horse rides from the living room to my bedroom, and in between reading stories, he would tell me stories about when he was a kid. As a mother I find bed time hard to savor, I want to rush it, to skip pages of the story and rush down the stairs to my evening, and I know my kids pick up on my impatience.  Yet I never had that sense from my dad. It always felt like he genuinely enjoyed spending that time with me. I now understand what a gift that was.

Last summer when I was visiting, he took it upon himself to drive me to Milwaukee to meet my older brother, and on the way we went through the drive through at Starbucks and he bought us both a coffee, asking if I wanted anything else…I didn’t but it felt so good to be asked.…like I was his little girl again, feeling so secure, and content. I savored that ride up to Milwaukee with him, chatting easily, drining our coffees, not afraid of any silences. 

Someone recently encouraged me, regarding something coming up in my life I was expressing apprehension about, and they said, “you just need to know that the pressure is off you….God’s already gone ahead of you, so just know that there is no pressure on you” The word was just what I needed for the situation, but later on I thought more about it, and I realised that when I think of my dad, I feel no pressure. Living overseas, naturally I miss him, I feel slightly sad when I realise we haven’t spoken or emailed in awhile, and there are many things about me and my life here in England that he’ll probably never get his head around completely, but despite that,  there is absolutely no pressure felt from him whatsoever, I only feel his love, and his approval and his pride in me, even when he may not be entirely up to speed with every detail of my life…..somehow I just know in my heart that it is unconditional….no matter what happens.

I love you Dad……thank you for just being. In just being, you have actually modelled to me the love of my Heavenly Father better than you imagined.

My take-away from IF Gathering, (The Esther Generation Poem by Ann Voskamp)

Two weekends ago, I got cozy on the couch in front of my laptop and tuned in to the “IF Gathering” live stream. Christian women from around the states gathered in Austin Texas, and in their own front rooms and churches around the country to listen, pray, and explore answers to the question, “If God is Real….then what?”
I may have been the only person in the UK watching…maybe, maybe not. I always said I’d never “go back” to the States, and that I was so relieved to be living out from under the American Christian subculture I had grown up with, that helped to mould and shape me, and that I’ll always have a soft spot for, and call ‘home’, but….that I never really truly settled into. I tried, but It always felt like a shut door. Something I’d moved on from.
Yet here I am now, fascinated by what’s going on. When I tune in,  read their blogs, laugh at their Facebook statuses, I feel so relieved…..that I wasn’t the only one….and that God is doing something so fresh and new yet born out of a beautiful legacy of the previous generation….I don’t think I’ll ever get on their radar or get to meet them or work with with any of them directly, but their heart’s cries are resonating with this heart, possibly because, they are so incredibly in to Jesus…and so am I. I feel a thin thread still links me to them, and I’m drawn to what God is doing among them. I maybe feel a bit of a twinge of sadness that I’m not ‘in it’ with them, that I jumped the ship and found a new one a long time ago….but as I gaze across the (hypothetical) pond….I’m so glad to know they are there…and that they are doing this thing, God bless you Jen Hatmaker, Ann Voskamp, and Jennie Allen, fellow American Christian sisters of my generation….I’m so proud of you…and so thankful you are there doing what you’re doing…being who you’re being.From what I was able to stream that weekend, this poem, transcribed, (not published yet…and as soon as it is officially, I’ll do a proper link to Ann’s page) had me sat on my couch choking up, with tears, streaming. I want to share it with my friends…my friends here in the UK who are doing this life with me here….and those who I left behind….GET in on this!! :) 
 (From IF:Gathering)
 The Esther Generation, BY ANN VOSKAMP 
They say you should travel light
But most of our lives we carry it all on our backs
These days it isn’t our arms that stay weighed down
It’s our minds
We wake up in a panic
Its our thoughts that hyperventilate for fear
Of making mistakes.
For fear of failing or succeeding
Or fear that we’ll never move past our past
That we’ll be exactly who they said we’d be
That we’ll never be more than what was done to us
That we will continue to be taken advantage of
That we should accept shame as a companion to carry with us
That we should let the lies befriend us
The lies
started in a garden
Spoken slyly by a slithering serpent with his syrupy sweet: “Did God really say?”
And we’ve be doubting ever since
Allowing an unwelcome guest to make himself at home in our lives, minds, gardens
Keep us bound with slithering fear
that we are damaged goods
Never going to be good enough
Not enough brains, not enough brawn
Not enough guts to take anything on.
 But there is no time for being soft or weak
That at all times we have to be tough
That We’ll never be perfect that
We’ll never be worth it
That we’ll never be enough
And sometimes we feel God calling us, nudging us
Trying to show us
but somehow we stay trapped
Behind walls of unbelief and unforgiveness
Our arm’s a weary rope caught in a vicious tension
Tug of war between our fear and our calling
Between worry and peace
Comfort and inconvenience
Comparing ourselves to each other
While battling low self esteem 
Do we do what’s practical?
Or follow our dreams?
Do we take care of ourselves?
Or meet others people’s needs?
Should we fight?
Should we please?
Should we hide from who we are to put other people at ease?
And then the lies begin to echo and amplify
Time abuser
Mess producer
Who needs you?
She’s so much better
Just look at her
You actually thought that was a good idea?
Open your mouth and they’ll laugh long enough that you’ll shut your mouth
You aren’t smart enough
You aren’t good enough
You aren’t sharp enough
Who do you think you are?
Fear is our chain and it’s rattling us hard
the poison that deadens our hearts
Fear of failing
Fear of flailing
Fear of the arrows
Fear of the way named narrow
Fear of the shear rock in front of you that begs you sweat and climb
Climb out of that drug dead comforting pit they call status quo
And break right up through the earth and into the life you were born for
In the now of your life while there is still time and hunger in your veins
Turn around and shake off that snake
Because it’s head’s been crushed, no pulverized
So let go of the lie.
Sometimes we imagine that God’s voice is a disappointed hard lined teacher
Who is waiting to whack our knuckles with a ruler for any imperfections
But that isn’t God’s voice at all
That isn’t Gods heart at all
He speaks tenderly
He doesn’t need to raise his voice
He speaks as if He’s right next to us
Because He’s right next to us
Because He goes before us
Because His spirit lives inside us
He starts with love
And not because He is a hopeless romantic
But mostly because
Let go of the fanged lie and bind the wound with dressings of Truth that will heal your bloodied soul
Take that sharp edge of His Word and hack that snake creeping up the back your neck
The words
The only life hack that will hack off the lie of the snake and make your life whole
We fear that the place we think God’s love will run out or dry up
We fear that place where we think God’s love will run out, dry up, fall of the edge
And we’ll be left dangling beyond its reach
We fear that somewhere God’s love ends
 But His love never runs out
His steadfast love surpasses suburbia
Canvases from skyscrapers to street corners from porch to stoop
His love is looking for you.
Who would you be?
What would you do?
If you weren’t afraid
Could be that you’ve always wanted to come up through the ground
in some desolate place that needed a tree
To bear some fruit for someone with their tongue stuck to the dry roof of their parched mouth
To be a limb that held some baby abandoned
To be a limb that someone could used to swing over the fence and free
We were made from dust
A bit of earth kissed by heaven
made to be groundbreakers
And peacemakers
And freedom shakers
So you can take your glossy Vogue covers and use them for washing windows
Because we’ve always thought the most beautiful women have dirt under their fingernails
And could shake a bit of the very earth out of their warn and pioneering shoes
And lets redefine comfort zone because wherever He takes you
You are with the comforter
Wherever He calls you
You are always in his comfort zone
So live all your present moments in His presence
To keep company with Christ
To get in on the best
There’s a whole Esther generation right here and now and it is us.
Who come broken
Who are done being defeated by fear and worry and stress
Because it advertises the unreliability of God
 Who want hard and Holy things because we want more than hallow lives
A life more than self focus and cell phones
More than iPhones, iTunes and iLove
Who want a life of loving the least, the lonely, and the lost
There is a whole Esther generation rising right here and now and it is us
Who are done with easy
Who know that being like Christ and caring for the poor in body and soul
Means more than just caring about easing our consciences
It means living real sacrifice
There is a whole Esther generation rising right here and now and it is us
Who say now is the time for the faith brave
To sky dive and fly
To remember that we don’t have to strive to be anyone
To stop taking issue with what God made
To accept that our perfect God makes no mistakes
There’s a whole Esther generation rising right here and now and it is us
To take the weight we carry on our backs
And offer it back to the savior who already carried the weight of the world on his shoulders
Who surrender
Who lay out alabaster hopes and dreams at the feet of our Savior
There is a whole Esther generation rising right here and now and it is us
Who will no longer look for peace in opinions
But to find our solid ground in the truth
There are many tomorrows to face
But today, lets open our hearts and our wounds and our stories
To the great story teller
That our lives may be chiseled by His pen
That we may
and LOVE
and PRAY
and REST
and LIVE!

The Big Church Day out 2013

I’m avoiding getting into my car. I spilled milk in it last week and it stinks and having been away all weekend, I have not had a chance to scrub it. Today it’s raining, so I’m in the house, doing laundry,and just going over some of the great music I heard, discovered, and soaked in over the weekend at The Big Church Day Out.

The kids were little troopers. There was plenty for them to do, but as well as all of that, we dragged them to all the bands we wanted to see, including an 11:30 PM campfire with the Rend Collective where they both fell fast asleep on the ground in their pj’s and wellies. We all caught the sun, and my face looks like I had a terrible accident with fake tan.

You know that family with two parents, two children, all kitted out in waterproofs? The family who puts sunscreen on in the morning? The family who remembered to bring tissues? The family with the immaculate camping space? That wasn’t us. They were our neighbours. I didn’t even bring a rain jacket. I managed the weekend with no shower and one pair of jeans that sort of got trashed the first day.

Despite having a horrid cold, and a very cold and rainy first day, we all survived the weekend in one piece. What is it about camping? The extreme out of your comfort zone experience combined with experiences you just could not replicate anywhere else? I was so thankful to the random South African guy who helped Jon put the tent up in the pouring rain while the kids and I shivered in the car.

The weekend can be summed up in two things. Me welling up a lot, and my heart resonating.  Musically there were a lot sentimental moments, (I saw Amy Grant all 3 times she was on, and got to sit on the front row in the tea tent for her long acoustic set Saturday evening!!!) many truly worshipful moments, some moments of pure beauty, and just some WOW moments.

I loved that although the weekend was about celebration, family time, relaxation, and just pure fun, all the things you want from a good day out, there was an undercurrent of outworking as well. Christians Against Poverty were the main sponsors of the event, an incredible organization that helps people out of debt. Costa Coffee donated their coffee, (and their branding), for them to sell. Nothing like a proper Hazelnut Americano when you’re camping! Not only did the family get a free hovercraft ride, but we found out about this great organization that delivers medical aid (via hovercraft) to people in Madagascar! I discovered Global Seesaw, who sell gorgeous clothes and various bit and pieces fair trade/anti trafficking etc. Missions was just…like everywhere around the event. From the Tear Fund tea tent to the marketplace where there was one display after another.

The main resonating moment came from The Rend Collective at the campfire. We were about five feet away from them and I could see they were very much a typical group of Irish musicians who loved to rip on each other and banter.  They passionately spoke about how Christianity is not something to be packaged and sold like Starbucks sells coffee. So many people try to “Brand” church, feeling they have to make God appealing, that they have to somehow sell the gospel so people  will be interested. So. not. where. I’m. at. They also talked about being raised in church and youth group and getting to their 20’s and suddenly struggling and realizing it’s not so black and white…and so much of their music is a reflection of them coming out the other side of that…and is very much where I’m at and probably not only why I love their style, but their lyrics so much. A lot of stuff resonated. I also loved hearing from Peter Greig from Prayer 24/7 (another formative influence during my time in the UK).

The event ended with Chai and Hot Chocolate, cuddles on the side of the hill, worshipping with Matt Redman, and concluded with singing 10,000 reasons with nearly that many people!! Later that night, Jon and I sat in our tent, after putting the kids in their sleeping bags, and listened as they drifted off to sleep singing the songs from the weekend.  Despite having a cold, getting sun burnt, wearing dirty yucky clothes, and not sleeping terribly well. (one night I woke up to Iona crying in her sleep, and could not see Judah anywhere…he was UNDER the air mattress…fast asleep!!!! eek!) It was a brilliant weekend, and a blessing as well as a challenge to our family.

iona carasol



Mother Memories….

I close my eyes sometimes and try to remember my earliest memories. It’s like seeing underwater. The first image that comes to mind is the first home I lived in as a baby. I don’t remember much, but if it’s like I can remember the mood that was there. In the memory I can hear my brother Chris, and almost see him, and I can hear my mother, not really her voice, but just, her. I suppose it’s because as a young baby and child, she was often very close to me. It’s a relaxed memory, and very peaceful.

I then have memories of a move to Michigan. I remember the boat across Lake Michigan, the first night in the new house, sleeping on the floor, and settling in. I remember my sibling’s bedrooms in the basement, and much of the detail of that house like the spiral staircase and the round brick fireplace.  I remember sand. Sand on the beach of Marl Lake and my mom’s brown legs. I remember swimming and playing on the beach for what seemed like hours every day of every summer, while my mother read, chatted to friends, and watched us, and often played with us.

One evening after the other kids had gone home, while it was still warm out, and the sun was starting to sink, she taught me how to swim. She held me in the water and spun me around. I think part of my mother came alive when she was in the water.

She home schooled me. I didn’t appreciated it at the time…I mean, I wanted to ride the school bus! She did not send me off to school to enjoy 5-6 hours of freedom, instead she kept me at home. She read to me every morning, she took me to a friend’s house who was also home schooled and she taught me phonics, and never do I remember feeling nervous or intimidated by learning to read. It just happened. (Spelling was a different matter).

Every year there was a birthday party. Friends were always allowed to come and play, and sleepovers were rarely refused. I mainly remember my mom being so laid back during that period of my life.

One of my favourite things to do with her was to visit the health food shop. Adam’s pantry. I was always allowed a “treat” something like a carob peanut butter cup, or fruit juice sweetened gummy bears. she always bought us pitta breads with stripples (soya bacon), lettuce, and tomato. I could always tell ours apart because her pitta was always overflowing with alfalfa sprouts. I complained about having to eat “healthy” and used to love going to friend’s houses to drink Kool-aid and eat Chips a’hoy cookies, but nowadays I’m so thankful for the 100% All natural juice we drank, the fruit juice sweetened animal biscuits, and everything always being whole wheat.

Later on, after we moved to Illinois, and later Wisconsin, I remember it as being a time of continual transition. We were looking for houses, churches, friends, schools. It took us a long time to really settle. When we finally found our house I remember weekends spent raking and burning leaves in the yard, but usually there was pizza and an old movie to look forward to that evening. Thanks to my mother, I know who Judy Garland, Fred Astair, Gene Cary, and Cary Grant are. During that time I struggled to make friends. I was shy, and could be a real homebody preferring to read a book than to go through the ordeal of making new friends. However my mother was always willing to drive me somewhere. When I found a youth group with some nice kids that I got on really well with, my parents thought nothing of driving me to visit the friends (some of them over 45 minutes away). She valued my having good friendships, and to this day, good friendships mean the world to me, and I will go out of my way to nurture them.

My mom always let me loose in the kitchen. I was probably only 10 years old when I was allowed to bake and cook with hardly any supervision. I am so appreciative of that nowadays. It gave me so much confidence.I always remember this whenever I’m tempted to shoo my kids out from under my feet when they want to help me bake.

Then of course there was the time I came home from a youth convention determined to go on a foreign mission trip. It was a desire so strong in me I thought I was going to explode. Instead of ignoring it, downplaying it, or hoping I’d grow out of it. My mother took me seriously. I didn’t have to “prove I was really serious” about it, and pass some sort of test. She spoke to people from our church, got in touch with missionaries we supported, and arranged to send me to Guatemala on my own for three weeks so I could experience missions.

How easy is it to think we have to have it all together before going into the ministry. We scrutinize others, question their motives, wonder if they’re mature enough, have enough experience, have the right attitude etc. Yet just as Jesus called his disciples who certainly didn’t have all their ducks in a row, and walked with them for three years, and set them loose on the world (while they still had issues), my mother was willing to let me go.  Jesus knew that God was bigger than all their imperfections, and he saw the big picture. My mother didn’t have the insight of Jesus to see into my future…but she risked it anyway.

That one trip changed my life’s trajectory. I was a quiet girl who could never imagine living overseas, and after that summer, I knew overseas was exactly where I belonged. Far away from home, far away from any church or youth group I knew, I had my own personal revelation of how big God was and received a vision for my life that influenced every decision I have made since.

Every summer after that my mother supported me financially, emotionally, and spiritually to travel on short term mission trips.  It was not easy for her. Although we travelled in a bubble, surrounded by excellent leaders, we were travelling to dangerous parts of the world, and anything could have happened to us. When I think of some of the crazy busses we rode on, the narrow country roads, out in the middle of nowhere, nearly kidnapped in Africa once but for God’s grace, and roughing it in a remote village in India, (where a close friend nearly lost her foot due to a poisonous scorpion bite),  my mom had the confidence that you usually only find in missionaries themselves who encourage their children to travel. Never once did I feel she was worried about me. She was just excited for me, and of course she prayed!

My mother’s releasing me during my teenage years to do all that was amazing. She was criticized by people, mostly fellow church members who felt it their place to tell her she should be saving for my college education instead of supporting me to travel.  She was questioned as to whether I was learning any real responsibility out on those mission trips like teenagers who spent the summer working proper jobs at fast food restaurants, and Six Flags Great America.  Now that I’m a parent, I know how annoying it can be to have your parenting choices scorned or disapproved of. I can only imagine what some people thought of her home educating me through high school, letting me travel etc.

My mom (and dad) took me to church every Sunday. We moved a few times, and we moved around a few churches, but we always went, and my mom always went out of her way to make sure I was able to be involved in youth groups etc. When I was five, she sent me to the Baptist church’s Awana club where I learned John 3:16, all the books of the Bible, and several other verses that I can recite to this day.  I know there were some who were convinced I was simply the “good Christian girl” because of her influence, and I don’t deny the home schooling, Sunday school going, Christian sub culture experience…however, I can honestly say that from a very young age…my faith was my own.

I don’t know how she did it, but I was somehow given the space to work it out for myself, within the  environment of her influence and the church’s.  I’m so thankful for that. So even in the later years when tensions inevitably rose in the home, (note to parents: just because your teenagers love God and go on mission trips…they’re still humans) I never questioned my faith or rebelled against it in order to have a go at my mother. It just never entered my mind to.

My mom was the one who pointed me in the direction of Central Bible College when I was so lost and confused about what to do after high school. She paid for my tuition so I never had to worry like other students did, neither did I have the weight of debt around me when I graduated. The decision to go there was my own though. When it got tough there, she was the first one to tell me I didn’t have to stay there.

Through tears she let me go. She let me get on a plane every summer from the age of 13-19, and go into the unknown. She left me on the CBC campus in a fully stocked dorm room at the age of 17, eight hours away from home. At 22 I got on a plane, and she had to let me go Ireland, as an adult, most likely suspecting that I would never really come back permanently.

I was still growing up when I was so far away. I still had so many lessons to learn, and was in need of so much grace. It was a tough time, despite being exciting. She always prayed for me, and although she questioned me at times, and most likely worried for me at times, was there when I rang her in the early hours of the morning in tears at the end of my rope. She was always on my side when it really mattered.

Later on, she let me go again…for good. She took me to the Trafford Centre and bought me a gorgeous dress, we had a lovely meal. I never really needed to describe how I wanted the church decorated for my wedding. She just knew, and she did it with so much joy, and it looked amazing. On the evening of my wedding, with hardly a moment for a proper goodbye, I was whisked away in a total blur of Ceilidh dancing, mad Irish people, and a swarm of New Lifers. (ironically, to get on a plane, and go somewhere overseas…Turkey for our honeymoon)

Packages of baby clothes started to arrive. Prenatal vitamins, and red raspberry leaf tea all came through the post. Nursing tops, (one that she had to buy twice because in a blur of sleep deprivation, I’d damaged it while getting it out of the package), and more baby clothes sent with love. There has been a steady stream of packages ever since….things for her little angels…but always something for me…a top, a package of healthy mac and cheese, or something random I’ve asked for.

My mom’s had to let go. A lot. I’ve been the one running off, growing up so fast. Yet, it’s often myself who still does not want to quite let go. “Mom, I need lemon witch hazel” I say over facebook…no hello, no how are you…just this instinct to ask her, just like my kids burst into the room and ask me for a drink. My mother may have allowed me to have experiences that meant I matured beyond my years quite quickly…but I have never grown up too much to stop being her daughter. I’m afraid she’s stuck with me.

Happy Mother’s Day to you mom….It’s hard to write about distinctive memories….when a mother’s presence is like the air….it’s an environment, that permeates everything. It’s so powerful….and amazing.


Christmas for me is….

Last night I was at a Christmas party, and I noticed my friends lovely Christmas tree. As I glanced up at it from across the far side of the house, it seemed to stand out somehow, and as I looked again as I realized it was a real one. There is really something about a real tree. I actually stood and looked at it for a moment and just let the memories of all the real beautiful trees I had grown up with wash over me.

I do love Christmas…not just the day….the day itself can be so unpredictable…plans vary from year to year….flexibility is a must…..the day itself can sometimes go wrong on a practical level….and so for me, the season itself is what I love. I love the build up, the decorating, the baking, the parties….the music that’s in the air…and just that warm cozy feeling that overtakes us as we settle into winter.

Christmas is different in every family. Some families are bigger on different aspects of Christmas than others. It’s also slightly different depending on where you live, and what the weather is like outside. Over the last nine years of  living overseas, I’ve enjoyed Christmas in Ireland, England, and South Africa and I’ve always tried to bring a bit of my own Christmas tradition wherever I’ve been.

My first Christmas in Ireland I went on a total baking spree. I must have baked a hundred cookies and cakes as I was house sitting on my own for a friend and had a big house to myself. It was a great way of passing the time. Baking was big part of Christmas growing up. It was something I always looked forward to every year. There were cookies that we only had at Christmastime and it wasn’t that they tasted so good, (which they did) it was the fun of making them. My mom always let me help, and as I got older, I did more and more of the baking on my own. She also threw a cookie party for me every year, and I invited friends over to decorate cut out sugar cookies with frosting and tons of different sprinkles. It must have been the Christmas baking every year that encouraged my love of baking to this day.

The thing that struck me about Christmas on this side of the pond, was the way everyone really seemed to slow down. I mean, Christmas in America is big…but after the day itself…things quickly start going back to “normal” and apart from a brief rest on New Year’s day, most people are fully back into the swing of things, where here, it’s not uncommon to be off work for close to two weeks.  My first foreign Christmas was spent with O’Callaghans, who lived out in the middle of no where in County Clare, West Ireland.  It was very cozy. I have memories of drinking mulled wine and going for a walk on St. Steven’s day (Boxing day) and being invited into a random home where they insisted we partake in some very strong Irish Coffee.

Over the years, Christmas has been varied. There was the first Christmas in England, where I tasted the delights of an M&S Christmas Eve. Dinner….and Jason and Beth’s (who I lived with) endless supply of Chocolate that they put out on their coffee table for the month of December. Then there was the first Christmas Jon and I were married and we got a real tree. It felt special. I don’t think Jon had ever had a real tree before, and it felt good to be able to share my Christmas tradition with him.

Growing up, the tree was a huge part of Christmas in our family. Still to this day my nearly 70 year old mother loves decorating for Christmas. There was this exciting feeling I would get when the Christmas boxes would come out. Either up from the basement or from the loft in the roof these huge boxes would appear.  For the next few days the house was overrun with toilet paper and old dress patterns that we used to wrap ornaments in. I used to love plugging in that first set of Christmas lights to test and see if they still worked. It was like the official beginning of Christmas for me. Christmas just seemed to invade the house. The tree was always real and it was always big. Sometimes we went to cut it down from a farm, and other years we bought one from a nursery (Garden Centre). There was always  a bit of drama involved in getting it home and getting it into the house and into the stand and straightened out. The first day it just had to sit in the stand…then the next day we’d put the lights on, and only the day after that could we start to decorate it. We had so many ornaments. A whole variety. Everything from paper ones that we’d made as kids, to expensive ones bought from Christmas boutiques. I think many years it was my job to water the tree. I can still feel the pine needles pricking me as i crawled under the tree spilling water as I poured it into the tree stand.

So as the years have gone on, things have changed a lot. The first Christmas I had Iona, she was only 2 weeks old. My mother and brother who had been visiting actually helped with the tree that year. It all just seemed to happen around me though. It was frustrating as I was in those first few weeks of adjusting to a new baby and my hormones were all over the place. I vividly remember having some sort of melt down on new year’s day as I had to take the tree down and put everything away all with a small hungry baby to take care of. It all just seemed like a bit nuisance. The year after that we were preparing to go to South Africa so I think we may have just managed to put up a string of lights.

The next year we were in South Africa. That was completely different. My parents were visiting and my mom bought us a little tree to put on a table top. Somehow she made it look amazing with very little effort. It was just such a different atmosphere. It was warm. The sun was out. Christmas day we went to the beach. It was just so strange. I must admit I was craving Gingerbread Latte’s from Starbucks, and that warm cozy inside feeling when it’s cold outside. It was a special time though. We had a little girl from the local township living with us and we had lots of fun doing Christmas morning with her and Iona who was two, and only just starting to get her head around opening presents.

So since then we’ve been back in the UK. Last year we quickly bought a “temporary tree” to see us through the year and it’s ended up being our tree this year as well. It’s really fine. My mother says trees always look great once you get the decorations on, not matter what type. (She has long since invested in a quality artificial tree)

So this year, I brought out the Christmas box. We did it the day after Iona’s birthday so that her birthday would not get lost in Christmas. I have some great shots of her unwrapping ornaments and I can only hope she has happy memories  of the Christmas season. One of the reasons I enjoy decorating on the early side is that I think it helps everyone to really enjoy the entire season of Christmas and not just focus on the day itself which is always over too quickly.

So yes, I did sigh a bit as I looked at the lovely real tree…. hopefully next year we’ll get one! The most important thing to me in the season though, aside from remembering the amazing miracle of the birth of Jesus…is creating a lovely warm environment that my children will remember long into adulthood…and seek to replicate, with their own individual twist of course.

An ex-pat’s Thanksgiving

Happiness is….sitting down in a clean house after the carnage of a busy day celebrating. We just finished shifting the furniture back to where it belongs after clearing a space in the conservatory for everyone to sit down and eat Thanksgiving dinner. Celebrating it overseas is not easy. You really have to work hard to make it happen. It’s a lot of fun sharing it with people, and introducing them to the delights of pumpkin pie and green bean casserole….but at the same time, you are in that mode of “making it happen”

I now think my husband gets it. He didn’t before, but after five years of marriage, he is starting to.

First thanksgiving overseas, 2001. Ireland! I was on a total high just by the very fact that I was living there. Missionaries from Cork graciously invite me to theirs for Thanksgiving but I had not been away from the states long enough to really truly appreciate it. Had a lovely time though.

Second Thanksgiving, 2002. Was fully into the swing of not living in America, and was really not bothered about the day. In some ways I was almost doing the “I don’t need to celebrate Thanksgiving, I live in Europe now”. I had a lot of other things going on in my life and it seemed pretty insignificant.

Third Thanksgiving, 2003,  I’d JUST moved to England, as in, I think i’d arrived the week before. Random people I’d only just met decide we should celebrate thanksgiving. Memories are of  not having a car and slogging back from the supermarket on the Saturday with ready made pie crust and ingredients for a green bean casserole. I also remember it being a huge massive ordeal getting the tinned pumpkin of the internet. Anyway, we did the meal, I hardly knew the people, and to top it off….someone put a steaming pot of mashed potatoes on the coffee table and ruined the French polish. I was totally mortified! Nice way to impress my hosts!

Thanksgiving 2004…not too bothered this year, but my mom was actually visiting, so she cooked up a Thanksgiving meal for Jon and I, and his family which was really sweet. Also, we went to Ex-pat party in Liverpool on the Saturday and ate lots of pumpkin pie.

Thanksgiving 2005. This was the year it really hit me. I had just gotten married, and four years of “I’m not homesick in the least” caught up with me. I missed everyone as they had all recently been over for my wedding. Marianne to the rescue with Chinese take-away and everything remotely American she could find flying through Tesco at 7:00 PM. So family was far away but friends were near to cheer.

Thanksgiving 2006. Not so bothered this year as I was 9 months pregnant. However Marianne organized baby shower/thanksgiving party at her’s for me….no pumpkin pie or anything but a lovely thought and a nice night.

Thanksgiving 2007…AMERICA at last!!! Very excited. Jon experiences it for the first time, complete with Black Friday shopping. We go to my Aunt’s house whom I consider an expert at warm fuzzy Thanksgiving tradition. There are tons of people, two tables, mismatched chairs…all that. Somehow I managed to end up with a piece of store bought pumpkin pie, however the whole week was great…lots of Starbucks coffee.

Thanksgiving 2008…South Africa!!! With the help of friends who are totally up for it and raring to go, we have a storming Thanskgiving. We invite loads of people to our small house and the the neighbours totally kick in and help. Everyone brings a traditional recipe that I’ve assigned them,  and we have a massive feast. They all vow to keep the tradition going and can’t get over how much fun it is. Jon finally turns to me and says “ok I get it now….thanks for this!!!” I vow after this to make it special for our family in years to come.

Thanksgiving 2009….back in England…just had Judah, living in Sandbach..not in the best of spirits…I am completely fine with not celebrating this year but committed to celebrating in future. However good friends John and Rebecca have us over on the Saturday and I made some of the traditional recipes and we mark it nonetheless.

So that brings us to this year. Jon actually booked the day off work! Iona is old enough this year to start to really get it and appreciate it. I start planning a menu and making plans and inviting people. I was excited to be doing it on the day itself. However, a week before, our oven element breaks!! We order a new one but are uncertain of when it’s going to arrive! The day before I get all emotional and cry and say how stupid it is to try and be celebrating it..I’m stressed about the oven…etc. The day itself arrives and I have a back up plan sorted out…but then at the last minute the oven part arrives and all is well. We celebrate that evening and it’s all nearly perfect. The only thing missing is overnight guests…will have to work on that for next year. In many ways, this Thanksgiving was a great reflection on this year for us…it’s been a huge year of drama….and more highs and lows than ever..but we now have so much to be thankful to God for. A stronger marriage, a beautiful new home, a sense of finally putting some roots down and being settled, and of course good friends.

I think next year I’d like to find some stray ex pats to include in the celebrating…I love introducing new people to the holiday but it’s also great to share it with people who share the memories and for whom it means something to. I know to some extent I am always going to the one having to “make it happen” over here…it’s just one of the consequences of being overseas. I can either get all sad on the day and bemoan how it’s “not the same” as it is back home, (which it isn’t, no matter how well I do at it, it won’t ever be quite the same) or I can put myself out there and make the effort. It feels a little bit foolish…but, it’s worth it, especially for the kids..and for those who get to experience pumpkin pie for the first time!

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