Emma Tanner

A Work in Progress

Dreams Rediscovered: The Importance of ‘Us Time’

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We found this card in the brilliant ‘Daisy Chain’ Gift Shop in Stratford and I just had to buy it for my daughters! The design is by Leigh Standley.

The last couple of days have been, quite simply, wonderful. In a previous post I talked a bit about priorities and how God had reminded me that my marriage needs to come first; this week I ‘got away from it all’ with my lovely husband in Stratford-upon-Avon. This much-needed ‘us time’ nearly didn’t happen. Apart from having numerous clashing events for these particular few days (events which we had turned down, at first involuntarily- again, I refer you to my previous post!- and then once we’d finally been made to see sense, voluntarily), our break was preceded by a few days of some quite impressively monumental arguments. Tired, grumpy, frazzled people do not a happy marriage make.

So we found ourselves en route to Stratford, on an impossibly beautiful spring morning, having jettisoned feline dependents at the cattery and human ones at the grandparents. As the miles clocked up, and the responsibilities receded, I could almost feel the tension starting to melt away too. At the beginning of the journey we were still a bit tense and snippy with one another; as we drew into the hotel car park we were joking around.

We didn’t do anything particularly earth-shattering in the 48 hours we were away. We went for a walk along the river, explored some fantastically quirky shops, drove through sleepy Cotswold countryside full of lambs and blossom and rapeseed, ate too much, drank too much. But we talked. And not just about the mundane stuff that by necessity dominates our conversation at home, such as what time the under 6 football starts, or whether we’ve paid the window cleaner, or whose turn it is to clean the litter tray out. No, without the distractions of a hectic work and family life we were free to concentrate on one another; for once, to make each other the centre of our attentions. We could talk about our hopes and plans for the future. We could put the world to rights. We could think big. God has consistently used these little oases of tranquility to recharge our batteries in every way, and it is times such as this that have birthed many of our dreams. I know that not all of these dreams will come true, but if we don’t allow ourselves to have them, and pursue them, then none of them will.

We’ve tried to get away on our own like this every year since we’ve had our children. Where we’ve been, and for how long, has varied along with our finances! We are so blessed to have two sets of wonderfully supportive parents who look after our munchkins for us, and make sure that they have at least as good a time as we do. I know that isn’t true for everyone. But even if it’s not for long, even if it’s just finding a friend to provide reciprocal babysitting so that you can spend an evening with your partner and focus on each other, to be Mr and Mrs instead of Mum and Dad; even if it’s just going for a drink for an hour or so, or going for a walk around the block together- whatever works for you-  it will be a vitally important investment in your marriage, and your family.

Below are a few pictures of our time away…

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Handsome swan

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The church where William Shakespeare is buried

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Cotswold thatched cottage

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Coffee break at the RSC cafe

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Old market at Chipping Campden

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Time for a beer…!

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Beautiful Stratford

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You’ve got a Friend

 

The last few weeks have been rather strange ones for me. A tumble down the stairs whilst on holiday (note to self: rushing down a polished wooden staircase wearing a onesie with fleecy feet is not a good idea) resulted in what was thought to be a rather painful broken toe. At a routine follow-up appointment a flustered registrar informed me that it wasn’t actually broken, but there was a growth in the bone. They thought it was probably benign, but  weren’t sure. I was dispatched to the MRI department with a green slip of paper requesting an appointment, which reassuringly contained the words ‘Benign?? Malignant?? ***URGENT***’ !!! The scan was arranged with impressive speed, and then I had a 10-day wait for the results.

And that was what I found tricky. A little knowledge is very definitely a dangerous thing, and I inevitably extrapolated from animals (I’m a vet by profession) to people. Bone tumours in dogs and cats are generally bad news. Dr Google informed me that bone tumours in humans are not usually anything to worry about, but I guess that message didn’t quite get through to my subconscious. Rationally, I knew the probability was that all would be well. I knew that God was with me no matter what, and could and would use my circumstances for His glory if I allowed him to,  whatever those circumstances were. I was still reading my Bible, still praying, still just about keeping everything ticking over at home and work but that was about it. I am used to tackling life with enthusiasm and driving things forward, being proactive; now I was only doing what really needed to be done, and struggling even to do that.

And that’s where my friends came in.

I can often find it difficult to ask for help, but this time my hand was somewhat forced. I was unable to walk the children to school the first two weeks after my tumble as I couldn’t put any weight on my foot, so two lovely friends stepped in to walk them there and back for me. People kept kindly enquiring after my broken toe and so I told them what was going on. I was overwhelmed by people’s response. Words of support and offers of help at the school gate. Text messages reassuring me of people’s prayers. Bible verses offering encouragement and reassurance.

As so often is the case, my daily Bible reading seemed very topical and timely. Having worked through the book of Colossians, I had come to the final verses:

Tychicus will tell you all the news about me. He is a dear brother, a faithful minister and fellow servant in the Lord. I am sending him to you for the express purpose that you may know about our circumstances and that he may encourage your hearts. He is coming with Onesimus, our faithful and dear brother, who is one of you. They will tell you everything that is happening here.

My fellow prisoner Aristarchus sends you his greetings, as does Mark, the cousin of Barnabas. (You have received instructions about him; if he comes to you, welcome him.) Jesus, who is called Justus, also sends greetings. These are the only Jews among my fellow workers for the kingdom of God, and they have proved a comfort to me. Epaphras, who is one of you and a servant of Christ Jesus, sends greetings. He is always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured. I vouch for him that he is working hard for you and for those at Laodicea and Hierapolis. Our dear friend Luke, the doctor, and Demas send greetings. Give my greetings to the brothers at Laodicea, and to Nympha and  the church in her house.

After this letter has been read to you, see that it is also read in the church of the Laodiceans and that you in turn read the letter from Laodicea.

Tell Archippus: “See to it that you complete the work you have received in the Lord.”

I, Paul, write this greeting in my own hand. Remember my chains. Grace be with you.

Colossians 4:7-18

I found it striking the amount of time and space Paul devotes in this letter to personal greetings and news of his friends. We often associate Paul with dense and weighty theology, or view him as a lone visionary and evangelist and think of his ministry and mission as being a one-man affair. But more down-to-earth sections like this one from Colossians remind us how far from the truth this picture is. Paul was very much a team player. Yes, he was the one with the apostolic calling and often the one with the vision, but he makes it clear time and time again that he could not do it alone. He had a close relationship with God, but needed the support and encouragement of his friends as he journeyed through life.

And if that was true for Paul, one of the most influential people of all time, responsible for the spread of the Christian gospel out of the Middle East and into Europe and Asia, how much more is it true for all of us? For me?

We are not designed to live in isolation, as individual islands as the river of life flows around us. We are designed to live in community, in relationship with one another. To laugh with each other, cry with each other, love and support one another in good times and bad. These kinds of relationships require a degree of vulnerability that some of us find more difficult than others, but are essential to our wellbeing.

I found out on Monday that the lesion is indeed a benign one, and so nothing to worry about. A weight has been lifted from my mind that I wasn’t even aware I was carrying. Looking back I can see that the last few weeks have taught me many valuable lessons. That in all things, God works for the good of those who love him (Romans 8:28). That I can’t always do it on my own, and that I shouldn’t  be trying to. That the good health usually enjoyed by me and my family is something to be extremely thankful for, and not taken for granted. And most of all, that I am blessed with many wonderful friends. If any of you are reading this, know that I am thanking God for your presence in my life.

 

 

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Lighten Up! The power of laughter

 

When my husband Graham and I were first married, life was quite stressful. In the space of 3 months I’d done my finals, moved house twice, got married, and started work as a newly qualified vet. Looking back on that time, I think there was one thing that helped (rescued?) our marriage more than anything else- Graham’s ‘melting’ skills.

Let me explain.

Wife comes home from work, exhausted, overwrought, near to tears, looking for an argument. Husband tells inappropriate joke, diffuses situation, perseveres with downright silliness until aforementioned wife cannot help herself but to smile (despite all her best efforts). Husband then continues until laughter ensues. Followed by hugs. Situation redeemed.

“Melted my wife!” he says triumphantly.

My husband is great at not taking himself too seriously. He is very good at seeing the funny side, especially if I am struggling to. Although this has bordered on irreverence at times (I never quite recovered from being made to watch his take on ‘liturgical dancing’ following a demonstration at church), it has led to lots and lots of shared laughter over the years.

And now he not only has one girl to melt, he has three. Our small munchkin doesn’t usually need much encouragement to find life funny- she usually starts us all off- but the larger munchkin has inherited her mummy’s tendency to take herself a little seriously at times, so is a much more satisfying subject for the practising of one’s melting techniques. If he can get through the frustrated

“DADDY! You’re SO ANNOYING!!!”

the wonderful giggle that he can coax out is well worth the effort.

All of this has started to rub off on me. I try not to take myself as seriously as I used to. Shared silliness has started to become the norm in our house. As Graham remarked a little wistfully when I told him I was writing this post,

“I don’t need to melt you as often as I used to…”

Seeing the funny side can prevent us from being crippled by that most British of fears- looking silly. If we’re not afraid to look ridiculous, if we can laugh at ourselves, then we often find that we worry less about what other people think of us. And perversely, if we are laughing at ourselves, it is much less likely other people will laugh at us anyway. People with an overinflated view of their own gravitas and importance and who aren’t prepared to join in with the joke are a much more tempting target.

If we’re jumping around the kitchen singing along to One Direction with our children using wooden spoons as microphones, all having fun together, who cares what other people think? We’re making memories, and that’s what counts. (What, you don’t do that?! It’s only us?!) The sound of my children’s laughter must be my favourite sound in all the world.

And it’s not only our homes and families that benefit from a healthy dose of laughter- our churches do, too. All too often Christians are stereotyped as being killjoys, miserable, anti-fun- and definitely as people who take ourselves too seriously. We absolutely must take God seriously- but not ourselves. As Jesus said,

I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

John 10:10

That seems to me to be a call to enjoy the lives we have been given.

The Psalmist writes

We were filled with laughter, and we sang for joy. And the other nations said, “What amazing things the Lord has done for them.
Psalm 126:2
Wouldn’t it be amazing if those outside our churches could look at us and think the same.
So my challenge to you today is to make someone laugh. Smile at a stranger. ‘Melt’ your partner even when it would be more tempting to shout at them. Smiling and laughing are incredibly contagious- let’s start spreading some silliness, lighten up a bit, and who knows what may happen.
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