July has been a whir of activity (relatively speaking). My health seems to have significantly picked up in June and July after a five-month-long relapse, and I have been celebrating!
Picnic: One highlight was going out for a teddy bear’s picnic to celebrate another year of the boy being alive. I stressed at the weather reports, and then on the day itself the sun shone brilliantly, and the boy climbed on a huge rock that he insisted on calling ‘play equipment’, and I lay in the sun while people sat and chatted or played some form of non-stop cricket with lots of children and approximate rules.
Jon’s Art: Two years ago, Jon discovered that he was married to a writer, which was a surprise to us both. But now he has returned the favour: this month I discovered I was married to an artist. All the gallery visits and reading about the history of art for his sabbatical clearly had an impact, and when urged by my parents to try a bit of acrylic, he just went for it, and hasn’t looked back. He’s claimed the desk in my day room as his painting table, and now he can paint while I write. It’s pretty fantastic, really. Check out his Pinterest board with all the art.
Wedding: I went to church for the first time in 2.5 years. A dear friend invited me to her wedding, and for the first time in over four years, I was able to say ‘yes’ to a wedding invitation, because it was near enough for a quick trip in the car, and my health was good enough to allow me to sit up for an hour and a half in a busy environment. I was only able to go to the service rather than the reception, but Jon videoed the speeches for me, which was fab.
I wore a new dress. The bride came down the aisle, and she looked utterly, utterly radiant, as only brides can, and the groom looked so nervous and happy, and I was reflecting on the long journey that had led them together and the precious gift of love but really, it was the hymn that undid me. The band played “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, the King of creation”, and I sang – I was well enough to sing! – and I suddenly realised that it had been two and a half years since I had worshipped with a family of believers. I sat, while everyone stood, and the sun was shining through the high windows, the music filling my heart, and somewhere around ‘For He is thy health and salvation’ I choked up and couldn’t go on, and my eyeliner was ruined. Jon gave me his handkerchief, and I dabbed at my eyes frantically while the minister stood, and distracted myself by trying to ensure the boy was not too fidgety.
Jon had prepped the boy before the service by explaining what would happen: white dress, songs, vows, rings, and that there was a part in the service where the whole congregation would join in. “When the minister asks, ‘will you, the friends and family support them…’ that’s when you say ‘we will’, as loudly as possible,” he told the boy. These proved to be fateful instructions.
The church was a cross-shape, and we were sitting in one of the wings of the cross, to the side of the minister, right at the front of that section, just a few metres away from the bride and groom. The boy leaned forward on his seat, watching, fascinated as the minister began the first vows, “Will you [groom], take [bride], to have and to hold”, and I held the camera to surreptitiously video this crucial moment. The church was silent, everyone watching with expectation. The groom darted his eyes at the bride, smiled, paused, and said, “I will”. A mere second later, I heard a little voice beside me, “We will!” People started shuffling in their seats, trying to work out where the interruption had come from, and even as my inner monologue was articulating the words “NOOOO! Not now!”, the voice came again, full volume, for the avoidance of all doubt, “WE WILL!” I have a video of the moment, and it captures the eruption of hilarity across the whole church, and the best man completely creasing up in laughter, but the camera work isn’t great, because I was also shaking with laughter. The minister murmured something to the bride along the lines of ‘looks like you have another offer’, and when the bride said her vows, she added, ‘to you’ at the end, just to clarify that she really was going to marry her husband rather than my three-year old, despite his enthusiasm.
It was an altogether splendid occasion, and though the payback came two days later in the form of complete exhaustion and muscle pain, it was very worth it.
Sister: I also saw my sister for the first time in six years! We hung out in the garden on a sunny morning, and she met the boy, who was delighted to show her his various skills. July was a full month, in all the best kinds of ways.
I have been eating up books since I have spent less time online. (NB This contains Amazon affiliate links – if you click through to Amazon from my page and buy anything, then you support this site, at no extra cost to you.)
- Bel Canto – Ann Patchett. This is the kind of book that I want to describe only using superlatives. It is about a hostage situation: terrorists burst into a prestigious birthday party for a Japanese CEO, intending to kidnap the president. Unfortunately, he stayed at home that night to watch his favourite soap opera, so they have to settle for a group of international business men, and a world-famous opera singer. The book is about the complex relationships that form between the hostages and the kidnappers, and artfully creates sympathy for all the characters involved.
Opera is woven throughout, and the whole book felt to me like a ‘Bel Canto’, a beautiful aria that you never want to end. Every sentence felt like a wonderful melody. I thought a book about hostages might be brutal, but it was tragic rather than traumatic, like a good Puccini opera. The ending was both expected and unexpected, and so exquisitely crafted. I now want to read all of her other books.
A sample of her wordcraft:
“The house seemed to rise up like a boat caught inside the wide arm of a wave and flip onto its side. Silverware flew into the air, the tines of forks twisting against knife blades, vases smashed into walls. People slipped, fell, ran, but only for an instant, only until their eyes readjusted to the light and they saw the utter uselessness of their fight.”
- Murder Offstage (A Posie Parker Mystery) – L.B. Hathaway. I recently reconnected with a school friend. At lunchtimes, back when we were teenagers, we used to sit beside each other and write fiction. Hers was always considerably better than mine, so it is no surprise that her debut novel is such a joy to read.
This book is the ultimate in comfort-reading: an intelligently written, lightly-flowing murder mystery, set in the 1920’s. It’s a cross between an Agatha Christie and a Nancy Drew novel: a female sleuth solving mysteries in the underworld of 1920s London, assisted by her cat and a potential love interest. I devoured it in two days, and can’t wait for the next in the series. If you’re looking for a fun murder mystery with an eminently likeable heroine in the stylish world of 1920s London, then this is the book for you.
An example of her witty prose:
“‘Rufus!’ she called brightly. Tucking her enormous carpet bag under her arm, she hitched up her pencil skirt and stepped calmly over the headless body, judging it correctly as the quickest way to get to her old friend. She made for the crowded Grand Staircase, floating upwards on a cloud of parma violet.”
- Ordinary Mum, Extraordinary Mission – Anna France-Williams and Joy French. “I wanted to change the world, but I couldn’t find a babysitter.”
This book has been on my ‘to read’ list for an embarrassingly long time, made all the more embarrassing because I am in this book (I am one of the first case studies, under a pseudonym to protect my son’s and my friend’s identity.) This book is written for mums who want to play an active part in the mission of God, who were perhaps formerly active members of their local church, or doing amazing things for God in the public sphere, and making a difference in their community, and now find themselves covered in baby sick and battling sleepless nights, knowing that parenthood in itself is meaningful, but longing still to be doing more than just mopping up pureed carrot and changing the sixth dirty nappy of the day. I loved Anna France-Williams’ first book, Soul Food for Mums, and I recommend it to every new mother I know. So why the delay in reading this?
I hesitated for so long about reading this book, because I feared that it would be a guilt trip, (‘think you’re busy with motherhood? You should get on with saving the world as well!’) but I needn’t have feared, nor hesitated. because it is emphatically not a guilt trip. Its premise is that mission can be done in the everyday, and that a spiritually and emotionally healthy family can be missional in itself. Therefore, all mission springs from ensuring that you yourself are adequately supported. I’m really passionate about this, because I think in our church culture today, mothers are often languishing on the edge of things, battling with sleep deprivation, hidden emotional or physical struggles, and feeling they cannot complain or ask for help, because they are the ones who should be providing for their children, not receiving help.
This book gives really creative, practical suggestions of how to support yourself and your family, to be fed spiritually and emotionally, so that you have a well to draw from. It is about including children in a missional life, not waiting for them to grow up so that you can get back to your calling. It contains a refreshing variety of mothers and family situations, and I loved the way that it emphasised mission even in the midst of brokenness, and the ways that God’s grace is evident in messy situations. Where this book really shines is in the variety of testimonies, and the gentle ways it presents creative and radical ideas for involvement in community life and changing the world.
There is some real gold in the practical ideas it provides (I really want to get me a Life Village now), and I also found it affirming of little things that I was already doing, that could be described as missional. If you are a mother (although really, it would probably benefit both parents) who wants to live your life distinctively, feeling guilty that you’re not ‘doing anything’ for the gospel or kingdom other than looking after your children, and feeling left behind when others talk about the amazing things they’re doing for God, then this is the book for you. Get it from Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com.
- Earth and Sky: A Beautiful Collision of Grace and Grief – Guy Delcambre. Guy has been a guest on my blog and wrote this magnificent post about dealing with grief in the aftermath of his wife’s sudden death from a long-term illness, leaving him a widower and single parent of three small girls.
“In loss, we must see higher than earth. We have to look past the emotion and tragedy to the sky and eternity. We must spy God in the details and believe He is beautifully redeeming even the most damnable pain.”
“Grief doesn’t adhere to a practical or sensible order or time. Life becomes disjointed and askew. Grief is an organic undoing, a loss and enduring absence of someone or something loved…an imposed metamorphosis.”
It is hard to capture the genre of this book: not quite memoir in the usual sense, because although there is some storytelling, his story is not at the heart of it; and definitely not self-help (though the epilogue giving advice of how to process through grief through using a grief journal does look incredibly helpful). It’s more like C.S. Lewis’ A Grief Observed, with his story of his life together with his wife and her sudden death from a long-term illness as a backdrop and the processing of deep emotions in the foreground. Though it is about grief, it is not so much the narrative of grief as it is the geography of grief, its contours and valleys. He sifts through deep theological questions with a light and tender touch, and arrives at a place not where he has found God, but God has found him. It is fragmented and messy, as indeed grief is, but artfully and beautifully written, so one comes away with the sense of having viewed a stunning mosaic. It is honest enough, and gentle enough, I believe, to give to someone who is still drowning in the midst of grief, not just those who have emerged from the other side. Get it from Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com.
- Lorde – Heroine. This is a stellar album. Everyone who hears it asks about it, including my Dad in his sixties, and my pre-schooler son. It is wonderful. The sound is a little a little edgier and darker than Ellie Goulding’s Bright Lights, and less dark than Lana Rey. She sings about being disaffected and not being in the cool gang in such a cool way that you end up wanting to be in HER gang instead. You’ll probably already have heard a couple of the tracks – Royal and Tennis Courts are the ones to listen to to get a sense of the whole. This is a must-buy, and at much cheapness. Seriously. You won’t regret it. Get it from Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com.
- A Fine Frenzy – Bomb in a Birdcage. I love this album – quirky singer-songwriter, more upbeat than her previous album, which I also really enjoyed. Get it from Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com.
- Regina Spektor – Begin to Hope. You will already know many of these songs and her distinctive too-cute voice, even without having bought the album. I’m really enjoying this – with echoes of Kate Bush and even Bjork, she is a very distinctive songwriter. The catchiness of some of the songs can be a double-edged sword – I have lines about orca whales going round my head for days. Get it from Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com
- Ellie Goulding – Halcyon Days. Depending on which version you get, there is either one album’s worth of songs, or two. I got the extended version, but preferred the initial songs to the slightly more aggressively techno (if that’s the right term?) tone of the later ones. I may have to listen to it a few times to get into it, but I’m a little disappointed, because I loved Bright Lights, and this doesn’t quite have the charm of her debut album. Get it from Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com
- Tori Amos – Little Earthquakes. I’m in a real singer-songwriter mood, and there’s no question, Tori Amos is one of the all-time greats. This is my favourite of her albums, and still as good as when it captivated me as a twelve-year-old. Get it from Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com
- Lady Antebellum – Need you now. I bought this album because I wanted something that sounded like Gunner’s band (from Nashville), and this, I was reliably informed, was as near as I could get to it. I like the harmonies, but not the cheesy electric guitar, which grates on me a bit, and dates it a little. But if you’re into country (bluegrass?), you’ll probably love it. Get it from Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com
- Kelly Clarkson – Breakaway. This is the one with the songs that most people know, and although I already knew most of them as singles, I really enjoyed this whole album. It’s good for a bit of girl-power energy. That girl sure has pipes. Get it from Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com
I did not enjoy the World Cup (biting, anyone??), and thoroughly enjoyed Wimbledon, particularly the Men’s Final, which was a classic match between Federer and Djokovic. I don’t have a bucket list, but I just decided that if I did, watching a men’s final at Wimbledon would go on it. (Why can’t footballers behave more like tennis players?)
- The honourable woman – timely drama about the Palestine/Israeli conflict, starring Maggie Gyllenhaal.
- Gilmore Girls. Happiness is = finding two early Gilmore Girls episodes that you’ve NEVER SEEN BEFORE.
Blogs – I’ll publish another post tomorrow with the best of the blogs.
Over to you:
- What were you into last month?