stop and smell the roses

IMG_1125The Jamie journey has lost a bit of steam recently I am sad to say. The first couple of weeks of 2013 have passed at a full and furious pace, leaving little time to stop and smell the roses … or cook nice meals just because. This sad state of affairs has got me thinking though…

A week ago I started getting sick and while I continued trying to keep ‘business as usual’, I found fighting the virus irritating, like trying to run 400m sprint with a 20Kg rucksack on my back! Then the snow came, along with some friendly advice to take a bit of a rest … leading to me working from home on Friday. As the weekend has unfolded, the reality of the snow and its impact on our move-ability has settled and I have found it in myself to slow down, go with the flow, let my body heal and life happen.

All this has got me thinking about why I work so hard. Why I often don’t allow myself to enjoy life, but rather feel myself bowed under the weight of many things, often pushing my soul and body their limits. My housemates and I watched ‘The Kid’ last night, a movie in which Russ Duritz, played by Bruce Willis, is forced to get in touch with his childhood and as a result becomes more of the man he was always made to be. I have recently embarked on a series of counselling sessions which is enabling me to go on a similar journey. I have to say I am really looking forward to discovering the things ‘little me’ wants me to know and learn, and I have a sneaking suspicion that I will enjoy life (and work) a lot more as a result … and probably cook more Jamie meals!

Its three weeks since the last one we had. It was lamb with a vegetable platter, chanti graIMG_1123vy and mint sauce followed by the most refreshing Eton mess I have every had the pleasure of experiencing!! We had the meal on the last Sunday of the year, as our house Christmas meal, Anika had arrived home from Aus about 24hours before, so this was the meal during which we all exchanged presents. The whole process of these meals is special, from the household deciding which one to do, to the shopping, then Anika reads out the instructions as I bumble along following them while we chat. Then there’s laying the table, lighting the candles, gathering everyone who is eating, taking the pics and finally, enjoying a meal with friends. Oh yeah, its nice!

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three days alive

The task was to locate and articulate the dream that would take us through the next 2 decades. After a pilgrimage of training, mission and reflection in the summer, followed a couple of months later by a week of ‘Foundations for life and mission’, we had three days together. We weren’t harnessing just any dream, not only was it be ‘ours’ but it was to be a dream for an entire nation.

working on the dream...

working on the dream…

Those three days with the Brazilianteam were the most exciting I have spent for a few years. We were so alive as we went on the journey together. They drilled down to find the gems, the finger prints of God in the history and people of Brazil, getting greater clarity as they shared with me and each other. ‘I’m not usually patriotic’ exclaimed one after a few hours of this work ‘but I LOVE my country!’ . We looked at the areas where God’s glory and presence was most absent in the nation today, and the conviction and call to mission between them took root. It wasn’t long before they came up with a vision for their work and lives in Brazil to take them into the next 20 years.

I felt so alive during those three days. To be part of a gr

oup of people who became friends… brothers and sisters on a mission, was like basking in the healing sun and letting the sea breeze blow away the staleness of ill health. As I look back on my life I have been incredibly blessed at several points to be part of a group like this; in Leicester, at Trinity in Poatina, in South Africa during 2009 and again in 2011.

Last week I visited a school in Cambridge with a friend who’s great, great, great grandfather was the founder. We went to the whole school chapel service and as the place filled up with junior and high school kids, I remembered the excitement of working and walking with teenagers who were on the frontier of discovery of life (and sometimes knowledge!).  Although there is something deeper for me about working with young adults and teenagers, there was this similar theme of being with friends on a mission, sharing life as we move into the future together. it is something I aspire to and for which my heart longs.

The Brazilians went away with a plan and strategy for the next few months, and they continue to meet and pray over skype, I am looking forward to catching up with them and sharing life with them again. One  thing is for sure, although they are separated by many miles from each other, they are alive and moving forward together.

team Brazil..

team Brazil..

Budgies, aerodynamics and organisational health…

Growing up with my younger brother’s love and fascination with the natural world, meant that our home was usually a mini menagerie. I remember at least one summer holiday camping in the Peak District of England, with Judy, our gentle giant of a German shepherd, ‘Pip’ our tabby cat, and the budgie – in her cage! Whatever gerbils or hamsters we had at the time must have been farmed out to school friends, the fish would have been given one of those slow release food blocks and the stick insects ample supply of privet stalks in a jar of water. Such was our household!

Earlier today I remembered one particular budgie we had who became quite tame. When budgies get stressed they pull out their wing feathers, I have no idea why, but that’s what they do. And this particular one did. The vet prescribed lots of company and handling for the stressed bird. It worked a treat. After school every day we would come home, make sure all the windows and outside doors were shut and take the budgie out. She would perch on one’s shoulder happy as Larry as you went about chores, she took to gently nibbling your ear when she was particularly content. Eventually her wing feathers grew back, which actually led to her demise as one sad day she flew out of an open window and never found her way back home. Before that though, while her wing feathers were still growing back, there was a period of a couple of weeks when she would launch off one’s shoulder aiming for a book shelf, or picture rail. It didn’t matter how hard she flapped her wings, she would end up flying in a circle whilst losing height at rapid rate, landing in a most undignified manner on the floor, wings out wide! She had only pulled out the feathers on one wing. Always a bit perturbed by the unexpected outcome of her efforts, she would sit especially close to one’s neck after being scooped up and returned to the safety of a shoulder. It was the cutest, funniest, most pathetic thing to watch!!

The memory came to me earlier today as I was reflecting on a conversation I had with a friend yesterday about healthy teams, departments and organizations. We were saying how crucial it is to have both excellent management and excellent leadership whilst having just either or, eventually leads to a dead end. There are many things in life that work best when in tandem with something else. A left wing and a right wing, Justice and Mercy, exercise and rest, music and silence, company and time alone, work and play, preparation and execution…. Management and Leadership.

 

Four years ago at the airport.

The last time I saw my dad was in August 2007. It was the second time I had been in Nigeria that year. The first was in June as part of a crazy three week West African die hard training marathon. We did a week long Foundations course in Ghana, then flew to Nigeria to do the same, then Sarah and myself returned to Ghana to deliver a course in Community Development Education. That middle week in Nigeria was the first time I had been there since I left at the age of 7.

We used to live in Ile-Ife, a university town near Ibadan which in turn is just north of Lagos. My childhood memories are of wide open spaces, large houses and gardens, a giant mango tree next door, busy highways, bustling market places. I think much of the scale in my memory is a factor of my relative size at age 7! Both my parents were faculty members at the university – my father was dean of the medical faculty and professor of paediatric surgery, while my mother was part of the faculty of public health – also a medical doctor. Life was comfortable but the marriage was tense, which effected things. I do remember having Muscovy ducks and geese – my mother cared for them all, the gander was particularly attached to mum! Some times when she was sad, mum would go and sit at the gate to their enclosure and the gander would come and rest his head on her shoulder. I recall holding one of the first batch of eggs that was about to hatch. We only had chickens at the time and their nesting conditions are too dry for duck eggs to hatch. So when the ducklings are ready they can break the shell but they need some help with the inside membrane. I held the egg ever so carefully as mum cut through the membrane with a pair of nail scissors. And in my hands a small duckling emerged and was welcomed into the world. It was a beautiful moment.

Mum also grew sweet corn and pineapples and we had banana trees, and I recall mum’s pride and joy, the avocado tree that bore its first fruit the year before we left. Our gruff old next door neighbour who we nick named the grizzly bear, had a massive mango tree in his garden that he let us climb and pick the fruit off from time to time. I loved hanging out with my big brother Richard – he and his friends had chopper bicycles that they spent hours riding around on! Occasionally we had a family outing to the zoo and we played hunt the thimble – the zoo was set in a bamboo forest with seats and shelters dotted around made of bamboo – very handy for hiding things like thimbles!

When I was seven we left Nigeria so that mum could have the medical care she needed as she gave birth to my younger brother Chris. Within a year the marriage had broken down and Dad left, that was in 1980. I saw Dad three or four times over the next 27 years. The last time was at Lagos airport, when I spent a couple of hours with him before catching my plane home to the UK. I don’t recall what we talked about, but it was special to meet as adults, each with our own story, life and choices. I remember going through security and having a cordial interaction with the customs officer who thought it was great that I had two Nigerian names on my British passport! I got on my plane and haven’t heard from Dad since, my brothers say he’s OK.

Braais, Bon Fires and Fire Engines

A few weeks ago I was at a ‘Community Bring and Braai’ put on by the Fusion Athlone team in a community they work in regularly. It was a beautiful day and the kids were out enjoying festival activities with the team. I stood with Derrick for a while as he worked the Braai (or Bar-B-Q if you are not South African!). It was an old metal drum with wood burning in the bottom and a grill balanced over the top, that was full of sausages. All was going well until the grill dismantled and a chunk of meat fell into the smouldering ashes below! A couple of the team who are particularly passionate about their food, came to the rescue and fished the meat out, coated in charcoal, and back it went into the grill after a little dusting. Later on we enjoyed all the meat, charred and all!
Derrick and I fell to reminiscing about childhood BBQ meals. Neither of us experienced a particularly affluent childhood, so life was simple, healthy, hard work and fun. I remembered how we used to have bon fires in our back garden where i used to live in Croydon, Surrey. The bon fires themselves were often huge, but once they had died down mum would bring out one of the shelves from the oven, place it over the smouldering coals and ashes, and we’d cook sausages on it. Potatoes in their jackets, would go straight into the red hot ashes to cook. An hour later we were enjoying flame grilled sausage and steaming hot potatoes baked in their jackets with butter and seasoned with salt. Our hands would be black from the outside of the potatoes! The sausages were crispy on the outside and succulent inside. Funnily enough i don’t recall ever doing this when we went camping, we always used a gas stove out in the wilderness of the Peak Districts or Lakes, where we would spend our summer holidays!

One particular bon fire was quite memorable, the church we were part of at the time held their ‘bon fire’ night at our place. (For those not familiar with ‘bon fire’ night, it happens round about Guy Fawks night on the 5th of November to commemorate his failed attempt at blowing up parliament house or his subsequent burning at the stake as punishment, depending how you want to look at it!) Two of the church elders came over the day before the event and constructed a MASSIVE fire that reached about 10 feet tall. When lit the next day, the flames went high above and singed the leaves on the nearby fir trees, 20 feet above the ground! It was awesome to stand around the fire, the heat was incredible!

We didn’t need the fire brigade’s services that time, but another year we did! This time it was mid to late November and winter was already biting hard, there was a bit of wood to be burnt and we decided to try our luck with lighting a fire even though there was a thick frost covering everything. We built this one at the end of the garden, there were more trees in the area but it was incredibly cold. Surprisingly the fire lit! Everything, though frozen was apparently very dry!!! A slight breeze sent a spark into some near by brush and another spark leapt into one of the trees. The fire began to look like it might take on a life of its own, we called the fire brigade and began beating the rogue flames with a spade! The engine arrived within a few minutes and our nice little bon fire was snuffed out within seconds. No flam grilled sausages or char skinned potato for us that time, sadly, but hey we made a memory!!