stories of grace, hope and life beyond cancer

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Countryfile, chocolate coins and ‘the busiest profession at Christmas’

Confession time… This evening I watched Countryfile (for those of you outside of the UK, it is a generally fairly dull show about rural Britain)… In my defence I didn’t watch the whole thing but as I turned on the TV I was drawn in by scenes of the beautiful city of Bath (a city that I will always love as it is where we lived when we were first married). I was enjoying the scenes of the Christmas market and wishing my local market in Kingston was more like this when the segment ended and a new segment about ‘the busiest profession at Christmas time’ began.

It was about, you guessed it, being a vicar (and specifically a rural vicar), and what that was like at Christmas.

As a vicar’s wife (albeit not in a rural area), I watched with interest, to see how this life, ‘the busiest profession at Christmas’ and the church more broadly would be portrayed…

Although the vicar in the programme was lovely, and obviously works hard in a large benefice of 12 churches and is well-loved by his parishioners, as the segment finished I couldn’t help but feel a bit sad.

It seemed that the focus of the segment was only on how much the vicar had to do, and with that there were lots of shots of him driving around in his car, running just a little late for services. It painted a fairly bleak picture of church life and cited stats of the declining church in the UK, and the presenter kept saying things like, “You must be so pleased when this busy Christmas season is over!” (Kudos to the vicar, who responded that he actually quite enjoyed the Christmas period!)

To me, the focus of the whole piece was only on how busy it is to be a vicar at Christmas (which is entirely true! Crazy times!), but what a sad thing to have as the sole focus! It was as if services and parish life were just something to be endured, (and thank goodness when they are over!!), rather than wonderful opportunities for communities to come together and to celebrate and give thanks for what God has done!

I suppose I was left feeling like the segment had somehow missed the point of Christmas and just focussed on the busyness of the season and on getting through it.

But, as I thought about it more, I realised that part of why I felt sad about it was that I recognised something of my own tendency to do this too. I know I can be so guilty of getting so caught up in the mad Christmas schedule and trying to get everything done (perfectly) in time for the big day, that the real reason for Christmas can become a little bit lost.

At the beginning of December I made Jonty an advent calendar (here’s the blog post on how I did it). I put a little something that tells part of the Christmas story as well as a chocolate coin in each pocket. He has loved it and every day asks me if he can open another pocket (and then after he has he asks me if he can open just one more, “Please Mummy, just one more teeny tiny pocket!”)

Today he got a pair of googly eyes and when he got it out he said, “What part of the Mary and Joseph story does this tell me about Mummy?” (I had to check because who knows what googly eyes represents in the Christmas story!!) Even though he also gets a chocolate coin, every day the Christmas story trinket trumps the shiny, delicious (yet much less interesting) chocolate coin and he rushes to put it in his treasure box with pride.

This has been such a lovely thing for me to observe but it has also challenged me on what I, as an adult, focus on at Christmas time.

Both Countryfile and Jonty’s advent calendar are such a challenge to me this Christmas. They both have reminded me not simply to focus on being busy and on making everything perfect and beautiful. The stable definitely wasn’t perfect or picturesque. It was probably dirty and smelly and simple and full of farm animals, yet it was the place where everything changed, where Jesus was born and where hope entered the world.

Both Countryfile and Jonty remind me and challenge me to remember the true meaning of Christmas, the hope brought by a tiny baby into the world!

My prayer for us all this Christmas is that our Christmases are less like Countryfile and more like little Jonty – far less about the mad rush, chocolate coins, sparkle, stuff and perfection and far more about the advent trinket, Christ, joy and hope!

Happy Christmas!



Strength for the journey when the road is… unspectacular

Sometimes life is hard and sometimes it is amazing, but a lot of the time it can just feel kind of unspectacular and life just seems to roll along in an unspectacular fashion. Regardless of where we are on life’s mountain range it is pretty much always too busy and there are never enough hours in the day to fit everything in. There always seems to be laundry waiting to be folded, dishes to be packed away, emails to catch up on and the floor could always do with a hoover (or is that just in my house!)

So what a joy and what a gift it is when in the unspectacular mess of everyday life we can find moments of rest, moments of grace and others to share them with, and how much sweeter is this joy when these moments are unexpected!

On Thursday I had the privilege of spending the evening with four other ladies, only one of whom I knew. I turned up clutching a plate of brownies, ready to make small talk and hoping they would like me!

So it came as something of a surprise that this evening spent with strangers turned out to be one of these evenings of rest and grace and connection and at its end I came away from it reluctantly, feeling encouraged and uplifted and knowing that I had been in a safe place with amazing people.

What a gift!

What a gift it was to be able to share something of our stories together, real stories that mean something, that go beyond the pleasantries of normal conversation. What a gift it was to speak and to really feel heard, and to be able to offer that in return. What a gift it was to be quiet with others, to enjoy the warmth of the fire and the flickering of candles and the sweet presence of the Lord.


What a treasure this is. What a spectacular evening.

As I have been thinking about that time, the phrase “strength for the journey” keeps coming back to me. And I think that this is what time being real with others and sharing something of ourselves, brings. Strength for our journeys. Strength and encouragement for our everyday, normal, unspectacular lives. Encouragement to keep going, strength to keep seeking God and courage to see the spectacular in seemingly unspectacular circumstances.

I think that this is what fellowship is really about. Being real and honest and sharing ourselves and in so doing giving others strength on their journeys and in turn receiving strength for our own.

What a spectacular gift!