Category Archives: Family

Celebration of Sisters

Sisters

It’s funny, but as children, my sisters and I used to fight like the proverbial cats and dogs. There are four of us and we were born between 1946 and 1951. Do the maths: four of us in five years. So we were very close in age, and our poor mother was permanently exhausted.

Being the eldest, I always felt the pressure of them breathing down my neck, so to speak. I had to work hard to stay out in front. I was the first to ride a bike, roller-skate, get a paper round, go to secondary school, and I was quite competitive, fearing that one of them would creep up on me and bag first place. We were noisy, energetic, often quarrelsome, but also fiercely loyal. When I left home, I missed my sisters like crazy.

By the mid seventies we were all married and beginning to have families of our own. Those were very busy years of course, for all of us, and we lived long distances apart. None of us was well off, so time, distance and resources meant that we rarely saw each other. Literally a couple of years could go by without any of us meeting. But as our children grew and became independent, we became able to make plans to meet more often.

Ten years ago, I resolved that whatever happened, one of the ways I would celebrate my 60th birthday was to have some time with my sisters. Accordingly, we met at my home, (in Hove as it was then) and had such a wonderful uproarious few days together that we decided we must make it a regular occurrence.

This year we decided to meet in a cottage near the Brecon Beacons in South Wales. “March will be lovely,” we thought, envisaging daffodils frothing the roadsides, primroses in the hedgerows, lambs skipping in the fields, while larks sang in the blue sunny skies over head.

Wales

Well, as we know, winter has been uncommonly mild, but then bitter wet weather set in. We eventually arrived at the converted barn, which had a high-ceilinged main room with a wood burning stove, which though decorative, did not effectively dispel the chill in the air. Two of us had sat for hours on the M4 as heavy traffic straggled through road works, fog and accidents. However we greeted each other joyously as we emerged from our cars clutching bags of food, bottles of wine and bundles of “swaps”, i.e. books, clothes and jewellery which we put in a heap and pick over like vultures. I usually take a large bagful, but somehow manage to come home with more than I took!

Of course, we talked endlessly, catching up on news of our families: who is having another grandchild,(mine are endlessly arriving, but this year 3 of us are looking forward to more grandkids), what’s happening in the churches we are part of, where we have travelled to, and the state of health of our husbands. We sisters are amazingly healthy, it’s the husbands who get sick!

It was glorious. We ate lots, drank wine and champagne, sang (did I mention there was a piano in this cottage?) and went out for an extremely muddy walk. The hills of South Wales are totally saturated, so that even on high ground we were wading through caking mud. We returned filthy, but happy.

But Thursday was the best day. When we awoke it was to see the sun streaming through the windows! We made a picnic and drove out up to the higher hills. The view was breathtaking over moors and valleys with snow capped mountains not so far away. The wind had dropped to a breeze, and though it was cold it was wonderfully invigorating. We walked for 2 or 3 hours, revelling in the beauty, the sunshine and the song of larks overhead. Later, we drove down to a small picturesque town, and it was warm enough to sit outside and eat our sandwiches in a park by a small ruined castle. Later we had a great meal in a nearby pub, culminating in a hilarious game of darts, which as none of us is exactly expert was also fairly dangerous.

It seemed so natural when we got back to begin singing some of the familiar old hymns which were such an important part of our shared childhood. Jo played the piano, just as our mother would have done 60 years ago: hymns from the Golden Bells hymn book, Hymns of Faith, Redemption Hymnal. But it wasn’t just nostalgia. The truths we sang have sustained us over many years and we sang them with joy and sincerity.

We also sang worship songs from the intervening years: Graham Kendrick, Chris Bowater, Noel Richards, Dave Fellingham. Then nearer to present day Stuart Townend, Tim Hughes, Matt Redman.

Worship became prayer; prayer turned into communion.

As we bowed together before the One who has kept us, sustained and nurtured us through the many and varied experiences of life, love flowed out and filled us with deep love for one another and for Him who has been with us all the time. What joy he has given us, and what a priceless gift of sisterhood.

 

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Sold!

A big ‘Sold’ sign is adorning the front of our house! Yes, it has finally happened. The ‘For sale’ sign went up in January, and I naively imagined people would be flocking to buy our very desirable home. We would have to fight them off, and having made huge wads of money, could choose a new home in a leisurely fashion.  In fact we were already pretty sure which house it was going to be. It had been on the market since June of 2010, but as it was so suitable, God would keep it for us!

How wrong can you be? A few people trickled by to view our property, and then everything went deathly quiet for weeks. “Never mind,” said our agents, “The market always picks up at Easter!” Perhaps you remember Easter this year? In the UK, it turned out to be our summer. It was so hot that everyone was out having picnics, and sunbathing, and generally behaving as if it wasn’t Easter. They forgot about house hunting.

So we kept praying. “OK Lord, we understand that you want us to stay in Brighton for the last Together On A Mission conference. It really helps to be on the spot, not least because we have family coming and going; But when its over, please send someone to buy our house!”

The agents said, “No one buys in August. It’s the flattest month”.

To cut a long and boring story short, all of a sudden people were coming to view. We “sold” to one party from Dubai, but eventually that fell through and we now have buyers who have a family and live nearby, which is simpler.

The house we were so sure was the one God had for us was sold to someone else! No! Despair! “God must be testing our faith! We must pray them out. They haven’t got a mortgage, and we don’t need one, so we’ll pray they don’t get it”.  So we did, and they didn’t for ages; but eventually they did.

OK. We must look for another house. Sigh. More going and looking at properties that look wonderful in the photos online, but which turn out to be horrible in reality. So we had an exhausting, tedious day looking at useless houses. Terry and I never fight, but that day we nearly came to blows. At the end of the day the agent produced particulars of one more. It looked OK on paper, but then they always do.

Mustering our strength for one last assault we went…and saw… and loved it! Yes!

Surprise, surprise! It is much nicer than the one we thought we were going to get!

So we are buying it!

So now we are trawling through all our possessions, madly dumping loads of papers and books and old photos and ornaments; shedding beds and bedding, and generally trying to reduce the furniture of a six bedroomed house to the needs of a three  bedroomed.

As anyone knows who has been through this process, it is stressful and frustrating and really tests your faith. We thought our journey was unusually prolonged and difficult, until we heard other people’s stories and realised that actually it hasn’t been as bad as some. It has been both tedious and tense; exhausting and exasperating. We have prayed our way through it, believing that God has initiated this change in our lives. In the end, he is in control of all the details.

But the process of dismantling a home  is strange.  Going through dawers of old photos, finding beautiful letters from old friends, rediscovering memories long forgotten: these evoke emotions of  wistful sadness and joy at the same time.

Yesterday I found a bundle of mother’s day cards from all my children. As I read again the loving words each had written year after year, a surge of thankfulness engulfed me. I also found photos and letters from my own parents. I realised afresh that we are links in a chain. God invented homes and families. When we seek to build them his way they bring stability  and continuity into our lives as well as great joy.

God gave us a beautiful house in which to raise our family and in which to pray, eat, laugh and cry, with countless people who have passed through. If these walls could talk! In the eternal scheme of things it is only bricks and mortar, non-permanent. But it has been the context for conversations, events and decisions which, amazingly, will continue to affect lives, stretching into eternity.

Yes, I will leave with some sadness; but the overriding emotion is thankfulness to God for such a rich thirty years in it, and  the excitement at having the privilege to  do it again, differently, in another house.

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Sisters

I am the eldest of four sisters.  My father and mother had been married for just 6 weeks when he sailed with the Welch Regiment toIndia.  He returned in 1945 and I was born in 1946, in Kingston on Thames. Soon 3 others were born, and we spent most of our childhood in Maidstone Kent.

Looking back, I can see now that post war England was bleak and austere in comparison with today. But we didn’t know that, and we were happy.

In those days, Maidstone was a small rural town, surrounded by hop fields and apple orchards and the North Downs.  We had a long garden in which my father grew most of our vegetables and we kept chickens and ducks, which afforded us a lot of amusement as well as a steady supply of eggs. Behind the house, the ground sloped away over allotments down toward the river Medway. On the opposite side was a church with a tall spire and often on a summer evening we could hear the sound of bells floating over the valley. However, we came from Brethren stock and walked the mile or so down the hill, over the bridge and round by the high walls of the prison to the plain little meeting hall, designed by my father. It’s still there, but now called an Evangelical Free church. Being Christian was central to our family identity.

When we get together now, my sisters and I recall those far off days with a mixture of nostalgic affection and amazement at our quite narrow and naïve upbringing; but also with huge thankfulness. Our parents were quite strict but we always knew we were loved. We had little in the way of material possessions; my clothes were hand me downs from my cousins, and by the time they reached my sisters were fairly worn out! My mother was a gifted woman in lots of ways, but needle work was not one of them and I think she was often at her wit’s end to know how to keep us adequately clothed. Consequently we had not the vaguest clue about dress sense. But as we lived in jeans most of the time, it didn’t matter. We lived on roller skates and bikes, mucked out the chicken house, and got roped in by Dad to help when he wanted to change the wheels on the car. I also helped him build a garage. Femininity? I don’t think I encountered the word until I was about 14!

But we were always laughing. Yes, we did a fair bit of crying too I suppose. A houseful of girls is never going to be a place devoid of emotion! We had huge arguments and fights, and competed noisily and energetically, as we made up games, and slipped into being different persona for hours. We could be horrible to each other, but then if someone outside dared to criticise or hurt one of us we would close ranks and vigorously defend each other.

When I left home to go to college in London, I missed my sisters like crazy. One by one we left, went on to further training, got married and had children.  We had had our rebellious moments, but we all married Christians and have all stayed with our husbands. Nearly all of us have reached our 40th anniversary!

Now we are all grandma’s.. When I turned sixty, we got together for a weekend and enjoyed it so much we have been doing it ever since.  We love meeting, exchanging news about our families, books, and sometimes shoes and clothes and jewellery. We shop, go for walks, eat too much, drink loads of tea and coffee, watch DVD’s and drink champagne! This last weekend, we were at Sue’s house in Ashford, and we went to France on a day trip. It was raining, but when has that ever been a problem for 4 women in a shopping mall? I can highly recommend Le Citie Europe inCalais. Also the retail outlet in Ashford is awesome!

As the news broke last week about the riots and looting in some of our major cities, I was so thankful for parents who loved God, loved each other, and loved their daughters. We were given boundaries and yet had freedom; we were poor yet rich by today’s moral standards; we were smacked when naughty but knew we were loved. Now we are all parents, and grandparents, but our families have all been raised with similar values, and much prayer.

God invented family; “he is the Father from whom every family on earth derives its name” Ephesians 3v14. I think it pleases him a lot when our families love each other and perpetuate that love from one generation to another. Strong Christian families are the glue which can hold society together, and the sad state of our nation has a lot to do with the fragmentation of family life.

Don’t under estimate the power of a loving, God fearing family.

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