Chocolate and Carbonara

This weekend I had the chance to cook a meal with my goddaughter.  Earlier this year I gave her a copy of Jamie’s 15minute meals and since then we have two family dinner dates. She choses the recipe then we set about shopping and cooking together then the whole family gather round the table in the kitchen to enjoy the results. Don’t be fooled by the 15 minutes (or the 30 minutes for that matter!) but I don’t think that’s Jamie’s point. I really appreciate his emphasis on enjoying the cooking and eating experience and of that being in the context of family and community…. and it’s precisely that which means that they take longer than 15 minutes! In fact I would suggest that if it takes the prescribed length of time it means that you haven’t spent by far the required time in laughter or talking that’s needed to make the meal a truly fabulous experience!

It’s the end of the roller hockey season (for a few weeks at least) which meant that we had more time to kill and spent a happy 40 minutes or so sipping hot chocolate (unthinkable to have one without cream on top!) at Costa. Our supermarket bags beside us, we whiled away the time chatting about school and GCSEs and pranks to play on teachers – nothing much changes from generation to generation I feel! Then back home and still a bit of time to kill we giggled through the first half hour of Jonny English (I have to say that I did most of the laughing!) before heading off to the kitchen. On the menu was Chorizo Carbonara and salad followed by Jamie’s cinnamon peaches with custard and crushed shortbread crumble. Half the fun is improvising and making stuff up as you go along – like how much squeezy lemon constitutes the juice of half a lemon, guessing together and hoping for the best.

Last time we made hamburgers with a snazzy coleslaw salad followed by Jamie’s Eton Mess, also a heap of fun. But I hope you get it, what makes the food so good and enjoyable is the fun and chatter and spending time with friends in the whole process. I have been out of the country for most of my goddaughter’s life and so I am really enjoying being around a bit more and creating the space to get to know her. I love that God made food, and he made making it and eating it so enjoyable, he made it about celebration in its simplest and purest sense – a celebration of life, of friends, of tastes and colour, of God’s creativity, and the creativity of men and women made in his image; a celebration of time spent with each other. Thanks for your help Jamie!

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Down to the last drop

It seems that there are some really important truths that can only be experienced in a place of weakness and frailty. Frankly that sucks, but there it is. I have been recently experiencing what feels like some early signs of burn out. Whatever it is I have come to a place where I feel utterly spent and empty. There have been days recently when the only way I have managed to get myself up and going in the morning was by telling myself that I’d be back in bed at the end of the day!

The other day I opened up my home for friends to stay the night and others to join us for the day. I place a high value on the people in my life, my relationships are my main source of motivation. However, as an introvert, interacting with people takes energy, and right now I don’t have much! Usually I would enjoy buzzing round and getting things ready and chit-chatting with my guests. This time I couldn’t do any of it. I felt guilty and ashamed. Yet like an orange being squeezed beyond its last drop of juice, I was almost in pain having a house full of guests. I know it sounds ridiculous, but there it is! My guests had no clue, they probably just thought I was having an off day and not being so hospitable. To get through the day it took a phone call and texts from a close friend who knew what was going on and was praying.

Later as I processed all this with God, I remembered the widow’s mite. My hospitality may not have measured up to my standards, and to others it may well have seemed nonexistent. But like the widow, I am pretty sure I gave everything I had in that moment and I am begining to realise that’s what Jesus looks for and notices. I am experiencing a new aspect of grace that challenges me not to see my offering as inadequate but as precious, complete and welcomed by the Father.

Sometimes we can do good things really well and look pretty impressive in all the right ways, but there are other moments when we give absolutely everything we have and something eternal takes place. I had forgotten that when we are down to our last drop, things often don’t look polished and complete, in fact they can look pretty frail… and that’s OK.

one thing i hate with a passion

The last two days i have been with the UK team doing some training together in preparation for a course we are running next week. It was a really special time together, everything from great meals, workshops, devotionals bible studies and even a 21st birthday celebration that had us each bringing a song or recital to the group. I shared the very profound Gnu song by Flanders and Swan, people were visibly moved… if you’re not sure what i am referring to, check out this clip. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=afdsL23fa5s

Often during these training days and courses, i have a moment where something comes into sharp focus for me and i see things freshly and am challenged. For me it was during a devotional bible study of hospitality. We read the incredible story of Elijah and the widow, in which during a harsh famine, Elijah asks her for hospitality as she makes the last meal for herself and her son, expecting then to die of hunger. Miraculously, as she gives the prophet food and lodging, the three are able to eat for several weeks until the famine breaks.

As i read that story it wasn’t the widow that challenged me but Elijah. I realised that i absolutely hate asking for hospitality. I don’t have too much trouble receiving it if someone offers – i will usually want to double check, but actually taking the initiative and asking…… aaaargh!! Even as i write i can feel a ball of tension form in my stomach. I have a deep aversion to the possibility that i might be asking too much of someone. This is a bit of my journey, believing that it is in fact true that there are people who are willing and pleased to help and show me hospitality when i ask.

This weekend i am staying at Pete and Titi’s and i am so grateful.

Reaching Out

Most mornings this week I have struggled to get out of bed and meet the day; the thought of all the tasks and people who inevitably will demand my careful and attention has been a little overwhelming. There have been times when my carefully planned time has been fractured by interruptions which have, well, interrupted my plans!! I have felt frustrated and indignant that people have chosen this moment of this day to have a crisis to which I have to attend. I have born the brunt of another person’s anger and frustration – not really directed at me, I just happened to be there in the moment. I have seen others reeling from the impact of unexpected hostility. And so when the next morning comes, I really would rather stay in bed!!

This week I had the chance to journey through Henri Nouwen’s book, ‘Reaching Out’ with the certificate four students. The book is one of the most helpful books I have read; my copy is well worn, underlined and scribbled in through out! It’s Nouwen’s guide to Christian spirituality and forms the basis of my organisation’s youth work practice. I think Nouwen must have been on to something because each time I read it, I find it speaks to and challenges specific situations I am facing.

Nouwen talks about our spiritual journey as an ongoing vacillation between two polar opposites in three areas of our existence. One of these polar pairs is hostility and hospitality. We watched 15 minutes from the movie ‘the secret life of bees’ in which the main characters are taken in by a lady who expresses a profound level of hospitality not just to her new guests but to the rest of her family. The class and I were challenged and inspired by this character’s ability to be a solid presence – somehow you knew where you stood with her – and yet create space for others to be free around her.

This week I have had to face the part of me that would rather keep you at arms length (or avoid you entirely) and subtly control you so that I am not disturbed too much by your existence. Not only have I had to face it, but I have once again needed to learn to accept this part of who I am. I think it was Karl Jung who said that the pathway to completion is through the doorway of self acceptance. As I accept my own hostility and realize that Jesus knew it all along and so find grace in the shadow of the cross, I find I can welcome you with your pains and fears that sometimes make you appear hostile. I can welcome you by my own choosing; not in my own strength, but in the grace that I myself have received.