I confess that this week; the most important week in the Christian calendar and the one neck-and-neck with Christmas in the Vicar-stakes, has somehow crept upon us. What’s worse, it has appeared at such an alarming speed that it seems to have knocked me sideways, somewhat. See, after weeks of adrenaline-fuelled horn-grabbing; smashing this mother-of-three thing and more; I seem to have hit a wall. A mental, emotional and even physical, wall.
Last Sarurday, I had what turned out to be my first migraine. The kids were in the bath, Tiny was on my lap, and Husband was typing away furiously in the office; attempting to prepare for this mammoth week ahead with little sleep, too much caffeine and thankfully, a whole lot of Jesus. Determined to leave him to it, I pushed through the numbness, tingling, and blurred vision- just praying it wasn’t a stroke!– before finally caving in when the kids started underwater wrestling and the room span out of focus.
“I’m having a bit of a turn…” I called to Husband, describing the symptoms as best as I could. Dutifully, he took hold of Tiny, took charge of the others, and sent me off to recover.
Unfortunate timing, to say the least. Whilst I’d like to consider myself an asset one day, I’m afraid I feel more like his cross to bear this week!
That said, of course, there are times when it seems his role is mine. For example…
“I’m afraid I won’t be around for bedtime this week,” He informs me, casually.
“What? Every night?”
“Yeah, we have prayer walks at seven, and as it was my idea I should get there early-”
“Hang on… It was your idea to hold a prayer walk in the middle of bedtime every night for a week?!”
“Yeah… Well, my idea prompted by God, so … Y’know…”
“Oh my… Did you really just use that with me?!”
Married to a Vicar, strike one. ‘It’s not my fault; it was God. We apologise for any inconvenience caused!’
‘I am the property of two churches; so, by extension, are you.’
“You know you’re going to have to come to St Looless soon? They keep asking when they’ll meet the new arrival.”
“I know, I know, but come on… I’ve only just started driving. I’ve barely made it to my church yet, and besides… They’ve got no toilet!”
“Ok… I know, why don’t you come on Palm Sunday? There’s a special service, with lunch, and they’re hiring a toilet especially for it?”
“Ok. Fine. Deal. But only if there’s a loo. ”
“Great! Yes. There will be. Thank you.”
And thus it begins …
Change Tiny, feed Tiny, put on Toddler’s shoes; wind Tiny, feed Tiny, put on Toddler’s shoes; fasten Tinker’s coat, check the nappy bag, put on Toddler’s shoes; check Tinker, stock the snacks, put on Toddler’s shoes; feed Tiny, wind Tiny, put her in the car; ask Tinker to climb in and fasten her in too. Carry Toddler to the car, and don’t forget his shoes. Grab my coat, lock the door. Open it, grab the nappy bag, lock the door again. Everyone in? Drive the car, arrive fifteen minutes late.
Good effort, considering.
Everyone is outside… Wait…. Is that what he meant by a loo?!
A skinny, grey workman’s tardis stands outside of the church, facing the community which surrounds. I begin to wonder how we’d all fit in- and, more inevitably– who’ll be walking past when I’m pants-down and the kids try to get out?!
Decide not to drink tea today.
Wait… Now the congregation are on the move. They’re wafting palm crosses by the port-o-loo… I wonder something rude.
Inside, there’s a kids club at the back. They’re making perfume and Tinker is engaged. Tiny is also asleep; I’m less worried about the day.
Until he spots it.
The party lunch is set up right next to the kids; and lower down, at Toddler height, stands one giant, frosted CAKE.
You have got to be kidding me.
Now, I confess I’m a notorious baker; I can’t call the kettle black. But in true church form there’s cake everywhere, and Toddler cannot understand why it’s not for now. “Just looking!” He insists, nose on the table, fingerering the display; and as I work hard to distract him, barely five minutes in, I’m no longer confident about the day.
An hour later, throw in breastfeeding, rogue Haribo, and an apparent fourth child to supervise; I decide enough is enough. Shoo the kids out onto the grass, so they can run some of this madness off. When the sun eventually goes behind a cloud, it’s time to get back inside. But as we do I’m thankful to see that by now, everyone is standing in lines.
“How much longer?” I whisper to Husband, who is lurking at the back.
“About five minutes of this… Then a few hymns… Then communion after that-“
“What?! This isn’t communion? Then what’s with all the queueing?!”
“Oh wow,” he laughs, “you’re still not on board with all this Anglican stuff yet, are you?!”
Husband is being blessed at the Cathedral, whilst we have Tiny’s 6 week check; a jaunt at the park, a pop in the shop, and a meeting to attend. However, with worms to rescue, shadow willies to waggle and silly walks to try out; our ten minute journey from the doctors takes approximately three hours.
And do you know what?
By two o’clock the sun is beaming, as these brilliant, imaginative kids pile up sticks for a campfire. I finally accept we’ll never make this meeting by three… And that I’ve got no desire to either. See, we are yet to make playgroup as punters, never mind being ‘on team‘. My brain has no space for mission plans, but mainly… I think my time belongs here.
I text to send my apologies; can’t quite remember what I said.
Pick up a stick, sit on the grass and toast a marshmallow instead.
Bible-Study-meets-soft-play. Toddler is two- I mean he’s always two- but he’s very two today!
We talk about Easter and what it means to us, and someone reflects on the emotional journey. How most of the year we perhaps think and discuss, but at Easter, we feel the story. And I know she’s right, I just haven’t managed to emotionally connect with it yet. I mean, there’s joy and sorrow, anticipation and guilt … But that’s just an average morning inside of my head! And as I fail to negotiate with an unbribe-able Toddler, I wonder if this is why I’m not ‘in the zone’? Each day is unpredictable and my hormones are raging… I’m juggling enough emotions of my own!
It’s Church Plant evening, which the kids absolutely love. So much so that leaving is always difficult, as they never want to go home. But.. the car is loaded successfully, all strapped in and ready to go; when Husband says, “just a minute”, and runs back in to get his coat. Five minutes pass and Tiny is grizzling; ten and she’s started to cry. Fifteen and she’s screaming.. I’ve circled the car park. One minute longer and I swear I’ll just drive.
“Sorry!” He says as he climbs back in.
“Where on earth was your coat?!” I ask.
“Someone asked me a question… It happens!” He shrugs.
Strike three: The unplanned pastoral chat.
I’m completely distracted by logistics today, wondering how best to celebrate. We could steal an hour with him here? Some lunch with him there? Or just move it to a different day? I mean, it’s a little bit awkward really, trying to make him feel special and important. You know, on the day that he’s washing other people’s feet to show that he’s a servant!
Husband is busy with back-to-back services; we’ll see him briefly for tea. I hold no hope for the old silent reflections this year, so take in some theatre with the kids. And do you know, it’s a lovely day, with all three of them on good form. We see a dramatised story of Jesus and talk about it all the way home. For tea, we get some bread and juice, along with fish and cheese. We enjoy a kind of family communion, telling Husband about all we have seen. And it’s in this lovely moment that I wonder if I’ve finally found ‘the zone’? And in the search for more emotion, wonder…
Is The Passion of the Christ the kind of film you can curl up to on a Friday night, with ice cream, and watch alone?!
Later, Husband comes home to find me falling asleep in front of said film. Which makes the scene with the sleeping disciples feel an awful lot more real.
Could you not even watch for one hour?
I confess to Husband I’m struggling this year to grasp the cross, the resurrection, and its power. He looks surprised, because for him it’s been the most reflective and exciting Passiontide ever.
Strike four: The curate is so exposed to things that exercise his faith- both heart and mind- that in going to everything, on his own, he leaves his spouse lagging behind.
Feeling rough as toast.
Husband heads out to set up his giant community Easter party; making sure he stokes up the kids before he goes. We then have four hours to kill, my patience is thin and one-too-many acts of Toddler defiance cause me to explode.
“I’ve warned you over and over again- this time I mean it- that’s it! I’m calling Daddy to come and get Tinker. You can stay home with me, you little -“
“Don’t do it!”
“Are you going to behave then?” I backtrack- again– for the fiftieth time this week.
He smirks, he laughs, he takes off his pants and then slaps his baby sister across the cheek.
“Husband, please come and get Tinker. There’s no way Toddler can go!”
“I’ve got too much to do-”
“But you’ve got the car too!”
“I’m sorry… The answer is no.”
I slam down the phone in frustration, (or I would, if it wasn’t handheld!). Angry at him, and myself, for the whole situation; triggering yet another dizzy spell. I’m constantly threatening things I don’t do; I’m a teacher, I should know better! But I can’t punish Tinker for her brother’s stage of life… She’s been excited since twenty to seven! In the end I load them both in the pram: a sorry, bitter defeat. I mutter and spit and cry as I walk, pounding the pavement with fire in my feet.
At the time, of course, it didn’t compute … Who else expects back up when their partner’s at work?!
But that’s ‘married to a Vicar’, strike five, you see: the lines get awfully blurred.
Now normally, at these events, I’m a total Martha; I’ll find twenty different ways to serve. But when the sign up sheet came, I withheld my name; my capacity is full of motherhood, I discerned. Well today, I’m certainly failing at that, I tell myself as I walk. And whilst I can be a notorious Mary too; today… I don’t want to talk. No, I’m no Martha nor Mary, and even no Mother; in fact ‘Mardy’ is probably more apt! But as I enter the church and see two hundred new faces, I figure it’s time to clean up my act. See, it’s no good shooting daggers at your husband, when you’re the Vicar’s wife. And it’s no good wearing a face like a slapped arse, when you’re apparently living new life in Christ!
“He is Risen!” The banners all say, and I pray I might forgive and be forgiven. For Mardy and Moody and Bad Mother too… For forgetting the new life we’ve been given!
All done and dusted, the event is an enormous success. The volunteers are buzzing- both ‘Christian’ and non- as we stay back and clean up the mess. And, most important- despite a fight with a car seat- Husband and I drive home as friends!
Husband sets an alarm for half past five, to go and lead a sunrise reflection. I swear Toddler is mocking as, for the first time in a year, he doesn’t rise until ten to seven! Tinker comes in after that-
“Jesus is alive!” She chants.
Toddler responds, “Munmy, when I grow up… I’m not going to wear any pants!”
We trek half an hour to arrive at church with two minutes to spare. Tiny has pooed through each layer of her clothes and I’ve got sick all over my hair. The kids want to retreat to the back room already, we barely join in one song. I’ve lost my voice anyway, so colouring it is- we could have done this at home!
But, you know, despite all of this as I reflect on the week, I can’t help but give joyful praise. For this up and down pattern of love, sin and doubt- distant, yet devout- is a very real picture of faith.
See, Jesus surrounded himself with flawed human beings; disciples who slept on the job. Men who later gave up their lives denied knowing Him; in cowardice, they ran from their God. Even Paul, whose own pen is all we have to go on, admitted a thorn in the flesh. He couldn’t always do the good that he wanted, and often found sin instead.
See, despite whether or not I’m ‘in the zone’ today, Jesus still hung on the cross.
He still suffered for my sin
-And declared, “it is finished!”-
Whether I’m resisting or not.
Yes, I might not be winning each day,
But Jesus still went to grave.
I might be fighting the same old flaws,
But the stone was still rolled away.
I know fear and anger and doubt
Are things we’ll work out
Because my Saviour was raised.
For now He lives within me,
Because that, my friends, is what you call Grace.