princessemmablog

A Work in Progress: Walking with Jesus

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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Marriage Matters: A Question of Priorities

I was reminded of something crucially important this week. That whatever else is going on in my life, however significant or momentous they may appear to be, there are few things more important to me than my relationship with my husband Graham. So much hinges on it; it is vital both to my own wellbeing (and, I hope, his!) and that of our children. It is the bedrock on which all of our work, ministry and family life  is built.

Like so many things which are a constant in our lives, it is easy to take this relationship for granted. I confess that this week I think I have done just that, and that it has taken a nudge (or rather a painful poke) from God to make me realise it. I am currently applying for funding on behalf of the charity of which I am the founder and CEO, The Princess Project. My friend Jen and I had applied for the opportunity to present to an audience of Christian philanthropists up in London in April, and had put a lot of time and effort into our application. Unfortunately, seeing as organised chaos is my preferred way of working I had omitted to put the date of the event into our family calendar.

One evening last week, Graham looked up from the laptop where he’d been researching a long-planned short break for the two of us. This has turned into an annual tradition, a couple of precious days of ‘us time’ without the children, and something we both look forward to for months. I knew he was planning it for April, but as this year he was taking the reins in terms of the research and booking, in my typical scatty way I hadn’t paid much attention to the dates.

“This hotel looks good, but they don’t have much room left. Shall I book it?”

“Good idea. When are we going again?”

He told me and I had an awful sinking feeling in my stomach. I checked the website of the organisation we had applied to for funding, although I didn’t really need to. I knew that they were taking place at the same time.

“I can’t go then! I need to keep it free in case we’re short-listed for the funding forum…”

There was a long silence.

“Well that’s that then,” he said. I knew he was upset and disappointed.

“We can find another time, surely?”

But I knew how pressured our diaries were. How it had been nigh on impossible to find a time when we could both take time off and find someone to look after the children. I felt really bad about it, but I am ashamed to admit that I was still thinking the funding thing was more important than the weekend away. This was what God wanted me to be doing, wasn’t it? How could I take the charity forward without the funding?

We were due to find out at the beginning of this week whether we had been chosen to attend the event in London. We still haven’t heard anything, and I’m not surprised. I think I knew that the answer was going to be no. And in the last few days I have realised that it really doesn’t matter, not even a tiny bit. There will be other opportunities, other sources of revenue. If God wants it to move forward and go ahead, the money will be there. He has been so faithful every step of the way, and I just need to keep trusting and not get impatient (yes, STILL working on that one!)

My husband, on the other hand, is totally irreplaceable. He supports me, inspires me, makes me laugh. He has taught me so much about integrity, patience, and forgiveness. He loves God, loves me, loves my girls. What more could I ask for?

So today, I told him that our marriage is more important than any ministry, however worthy it may be. That God will never want me to do anything that comes between the two of us. And I said I was sorry for taking him for granted. There followed a BIG hug that ensured the girls both went to school in fits of giggles at the parental display of affection.

Tonight we’re going to book our little break. We’re both really excited about it. I don’t know what the future holds for the Princess Project, or which of my dreams and hopes will come into being, but I know one thing- Graham will be right at the centre of it, because without him, none of it would be possible.

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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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