Those who followed the Lockdown Diaries may remember a whole series of events through which God challenged my felt uselessness with an instruction to ‘be available.’ As a project-driven extrovert, I found many of our bubble-restricted days in limited locations difficult, and thought ‘availability’, aka loitering without intent, a sorry excuse for a vocation! Then came the phone calls I was able to answer, the angry ice cream order, the Jesus-hungry window cleaner, and, my favourite, the captives waiting to be freed from the Church-shaped prison they’d managed to lock themselves into. I get the message, I had laughed, reading Isaiah 58. Just be open and available. God will do His thing.
Fast forward to September, a couple of weeks ago, and I found myself with the opposite problem. The Youngest had started preschool for fifteen hours a week and all social restrictions had been lifted. Our Church and community groups had all started up again and I’d unintentionally, perhaps out of sheer excitement, turned into a bit of a yes monster. “Oh, I’ve got 15 hours free now, I can do that!”
To. Almost. Everything.
Until one evening, Husband came home from another late night meeting to find me overwhelmed and upset, again, with a big piece of paper, attempting to map out my life.
“I need your help!” I said rather pathetically, as he put down his bags and poured a strong coffee. “My life is too full. I’ve committed to too many things and I don’t know what to cut out. Basically, I need to know what you want me to do with my time? You’re my Vicar and my husband. (Though not necessarily in that order…) Do you need a volunteer workforce or a housewife? Because I’m really struggling to do both!”
He raised his eyebrows and poured another coffee. It was a long PCC and now I looked deranged.
“Look.” I said, holding out my frantic diagram. “There’s 2 sessions a week of playgroup, there’s The Alpha Course, there’s small group, there’s 2 sets of children’s Church, the church plant and then this new schools’ ministry that God seems to be blessing and everyone is excited about. It’s not even started yet but there’s so much admin setting it up! Then there’s all the pastoral stuff that isn’t timetabled but often just happens and takes up hours. Then there’s keeping this place clean and tidy, and you know, shopping. And then there’s the stuff I actually just want to do, like make photo books and write and you know, see friends… but honestly… those things just seem too trivial to include compared to everything else? Fifteen hours really sounded so much longer on paper!”
“OK… Well, firstly scrap the food shopping ‘cos you’re crap at it.” He says with absolutely no irony whatsoever.
“You have other gifts.” He softens the blow. “And I like shopping. Now, what’s this?” He points to my ‘Stepford Wife’ corner.
“Oh that is where my old conservative mentor with the 4 home schooled kids would tell me I ought to be spending ALL of my time.” I inform him. “Cooking, cleaning, playing house. ‘Women glorify God in the home, serving their husbands and children.” I quote. “Honestly, she once blamed a man’s adultery on the fact that his wife had a dance ministry on the side. ‘If she’d been attentive in the home, he wouldn’t have strayed’. (Insert scream emoji here). I mean, obviously she’s bonkers on that one, but it would certainly make life a whole lot simpler, wouldn’t it?!”
He makes a face.
“Right, well then, she can go for a start!” He takes a pen to Mrs Stepford and scribbles her to death. “I couldn’t give a toss about the house and I’m certainly not about to go nailing other women because you’re too busy telling people about Jesus! For goodness’ sake. We share the basic house stuff and we always have. That’s good enough for me. If you want it cleaner than basic then that’s on you. (I do). Fine. But don’t go putting that under some false idea of serving me, because I really couldn’t give a…”
At this point there’s a kind of stunned but impressed silence during which I think we both silently agree to wrap this up soon and do something far more interesting.
“Well, OK then…”
“So, Church stuff,” he continues. “Again, no pressure from me, but I would argue that you enjoy most of this stuff anyway. You like talking to people and people like talking to you. You proved that in the summer when you started chatting up homeless people at someone else’s church! None of this is out of shape or character or even interest. So … I guess the main question is, what does God say?”
Regrettable eye roll.
“God?! Well God just says ‘be available’ doesn’t He?!” I slap my diagram in exasperation. “But that can’t possibly be for now can it?! I haven’t got time to be available!”
“Then we need to pray for that then don’t we?” Husband shrugs.
So he does. He prays that God would make Himself known, and show me how to ‘be available’ in this busier season of life, without the frazzled sense of over-commitment.
And the next day I felt tons better.
I dropped the kids off at school and planned to spend the short morning blitzing the house (which, to be fair, is currently home to 9 people), before collecting the Youngest from preschool and setting up for Toddler group.
At the school gates, I was introduced to a new parent. Her daughter had just joined the Eldest’s class that week and they had not stopped talking about one another since. According to the Eldest, and now confirmed by the Mum, they’d moved to town barely a week ago from the other end of the country. They knew no one and nowhere and were still living out of boxes.
We walked the same route home and, as we approached her street, she said, “well, that’s my house, so if you are ever free for a cup of tea…?”
I paused, smiling. And I thought about my hoover and my laundry and my husband and my to-do list and my God, before I said, “… well, I’m available right now?”
And I don’t think she was expecting that!
So there was some banter about the mess and the boxes, before she let me in to her new home. And we talked and laughed and discovered that we both shared the same faith and she said, “Oh it’s always good to meet another sister in the Lord!” In such a Nigerian Pentecostal manner that I thought, “Oh shit, she’s gonna rumble me soon…”
And then her teen daughters came downstairs and I asked why they weren’t in school? And she said there were no school places available, and they were praying and panicking but so far, they still had nowhere to go. And so I put down my cup of tea and I said, with characteristic urgency, we need to pray about this! And so we did. We prayed hard, together. We prayed that God would do “immeasurably more than all we could ask or imagine”, and that those girls would have places not just at any school but at the Church school, by… “should I pray next week? Or is next month more realistic?”
“Immeasurably more, sister!” She laughed. “Next week, next week, please God!”
So I said, “Ok! God please, in the Name of Jesus, hear our united prayer and bless those girls with school places by the end of next week! Amen?”
I left with only an hour to spare until preschool pick up, but was so energised by the encounter that I ran home, hung out the washing, steamed the carpet and cleaned the oven! I then called Husband and asked him to call the Church school. He warned me that the place was oversubscribed, but sent a text to the Head Teacher anyway and asked him to look at the girls’ applications. We prayed hard when he replied that he would do so this afternoon. The following day, swearing that nothing untoward had taken place, it transpired that the school had two places come available that week and that those places were indeed, the correct year groups for those girls.
So. Not by next month, nor even by the next week, but by 5pm the following day our prayers were answered and my new friend’s two daughters had been offered places at the Christian high school. Which was, without doubt, immeasurably more than all we had asked or imagined- both for the girls’ education and for my availability issues!
Later that week we walked past their house, knocked on for a chat and ended up staying until bedtime. Their middle boy then told his whole class that the Vicar came to his house for tea and now everyone wants one. Such is his celebrity status amongst nine year olds.
In the weeks that followed, there have been some very heavy pastoral situations surrounding our home, but the sense of stress and hurry has actually decreased. I’ve enjoyed deep and rich conversations with atheists, agnostics and prayer-requesters alike at toddler group, learned alot at Alpha, steam cleaned my kitchen while talking to the window cleaner and secured funding and volunteers for the schools’ ministry. (Whilst also accepting that it won’t get off the ground this term… a blessing in thinly veiled disguise, I realise!) More amazingly, though, it appears I’ve also now written two blogs, made one photo album, and spent a few mornings doing absolutely nothing… I mean, who even knows where that time came from?!
Basically, what I’m trying to say, is that the external to-do list hasn’t changed very much at all, but the inward attitude has. For I have found that, when you do “seek first the kingdom of God”, then all of these other things really are “added to you as well.”
I didn’t think all of these things were possible without stress and hurry to boot. But… It turns out that there is a peace and even an energy that comes from the assurance that you are exactly where God wants you to be- whatever you are doing, and however full or empty that looks to other people. If God ordains it, you can claim it – with confidence, which is pretty new for me!
And so I pray it all upon you too.
God bless you.
“Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.” (Ephesians 3:20)
Much love, thanks for reading. Xxxx