28 Nov 2013

The day I had lunch with some nuns

Today I was lucky enough to take a retreat day. 

Every term my work (XLP) gives me a day to take as a personal retreat day. If you don't know what one of those is...it's kind of like a day where you can do whatever you want to seek God and try to hear what he is saying to you - to get re-focused. 

So this time I decided I would do something a little bit different and I went to a Christian Retreat Centre not too far away from where I live called The Emmaus Centre

It's about a half hour drive from my house and so I turned up about 10 and was shown to a room where I spent the majority of my day reading and reflecting. 

I had decided that I wanted to read the book of 1 Kings from the Bible and just see what God was saying to me throughout the day. So I set up and got reading and thinking. Lots happens in this part of Bible as it's the history part - its a book of narrative about God's people and what happens to them after King David's death. I was really struck by how there is repetition all the way through of:

  • God tells his people how to live and what to do to retain his favour
  • The Israelites do this for a while
  • Then they get infiltrated by other nations and follow different gods
  • God warns them 
  • They don't listen
  • Something bad happens
  • People call out to God
  • God restores things
I have always said that I want to be someone who follows God and who lives for him with my whole being. But I know I am just like the Israelites - I know what God has asked me to do, but do I do it...generally no. Well at least not at first. 

It's been a challenge. 

Then at lunch time I ate with the Emmaus Community which includes 3 sisters and the Chaplain. They live next door to another community who join them for meals everyday so it was a good vibe. What I found fascinating was that these ladies had been nuns for a long time. Two of them had signed up straight after school and another when she was in her twenties. They were so not what I had expected!

My general thoughts around nuns are probably all gleaned from Sister Act if I am totally honest. These nuns didn't wear habits and weren't confined to a convent - they were active and had various jobs that they were doing helping the community. It was really great to be able to learn from them. One in particular was talking to me about silent retreats and the benefits of them. If you have read my blog for a while you will know that the whole concept of silence is one I have been looking into. I'm tempted to do a silent retreat sometime. 

Anyway, as well as reading my Bible and having a think, I also went for a walk in some beautiful countryside

It has been a fruitful day where I feel like God has said some really clear things to me.

27 Nov 2013

The day I was the goalie

This last weekend I was in NEED of a break. I had been working for 2 weeks straight was feeling pretty wiped. 

Generally when I feel like this I need to get out of London and breathe some fresh countryside air. So that's what I decided to do. I drove to the other side of the M25 and stomped around in relative countryside. Had a pub lunch with a friend and then went to drop her at her hockey match...


I ended up staying to play. Now I haven't played hockey since I was about 15 at school. It was never one of the sports I felt particularly passionate about as I didn't have huge amounts of coordination. But the team my friend was playing for was already a few players down and so they weren't going to play with a goalie...

I had already seen the other team (with their subs) and so didn't think that was a particularly good idea. So I volunteered. I had nothing with me so just put on the goalie kit over my jeans and hoodie - looked a bit like this 

and I had SO much fun! Like not only is being goalie fun because you are so padded up you feel a bit fearless and so dive all over the place; but also I love team sports and the whole camaraderie that comes with it. 

While our team did still lose, I did make some pretty decent saves - one where I practically did the splits (something I didn't even realise I could do!) 

Not sure I can commit to playing on a regular basis but it has made me think about how much I love sport and being part of a sports team. So watch this space! 

18 Nov 2013

Macaroni Woods

For those of you who read this regularly you will know I work for a charity called XLP and this weekend I took a group of young people from one of the estates I work on away. 

We went to a place called Macaroni Woods in Gloucestershire and had a winner of a time. It's a residential home in the middle of woodland which is pretty epic. The house has a number of bedrooms as well as a games room, huge living room and great kitchen where we let the kids show us their culinary skills. 

So the whole aim of the weekend was to give these kids a chance to get out of London and to try something new. We took 10 young people from Deptford. Most of them hadn't been out of London in the last year, 2 hadn't ever been outside of London. 1 hadn't ever learnt to ride a bike, 5 had never been ice-skating, 8 and never seen a live pig and 10 had never seen a live turkey. So it was a weekend of new experiences. 

(Emily from my team holding a chick)
We spent a lot of time outside enjoying the woodland, cycling around on bikes that the place had and around a campfire.  

What struck me most about the weekend was having conversations with the kids and understanding a bit more about what life is like growing up on the estate. I think I have totally taken for granted that I grew up in privilege. 

One guy I was talking to told me that he knew his friends were bad influences on him and could get him into trouble, but what was he going to do. He sees them every day on his estate - if he doesn't talk to them he'll get beaten up or worse. He told me that the best he could do was to stay on the edge and not get involved in any of the more serious stuff. 

It was an eye opener for me. So much of the time we have simplistic answers - If you have bad friends, ditch them and make new ones. Some people aren't that lucky. That isn't an option for them. However, in the midst of huge challenges that guy is at college studying hard with a career in mind. There is hope. 

Macaroni Woods was an adventure and I'm returning in March with another group of kids so I'll let you know how that goes too. 

14 Nov 2013

A Social, A Ceremony and A Birthday

This last week has been a bit mental work wise. Nothing new there - but it has included some epic highlights that I wanted to share.

On Tuesday evening my team gathered together for some quality time at the pub. Now you might be thinking, the pub, as responsible youth-workers really? But honestly it was a great evening because of the chat and jokes. I was surprised at the lack of alcohol that was consumed!
Half of my crazy team
The creative side of my team was coming out and it has been great to see people coming out of their shells and just being themselves.

On Wednesday night I took two boys from Lewisham over to the Jack Petchey Award Ceremony in Camden to celebrate that they had been given awards for their contributions and achievements at XLP projects they attend. It was a brilliant evening. If I'm honest more to do with the other XLP staff and young people who were there than the ceremony itself, but it was an evening of real celebration and joy at people's achievements. 

What I loved was that our group of young people getting awards was the last group (after about 25 other groups) and even though we'd been clapping and cheering for the last hour we let rip and brought the house down when our kids went onto the stage. Was really special and great to see my boys being really proud of themselves. 

Today has been our first team birthday of the year. As a team we were already booked into go and have dinner with a couple from XLP, so we turned it into a team birthday meal too. It was also the first time our team has had to complete the £1 birthday gift challenge. Essentially buying a gift that the recipient will potentially like/find funny for no more than £1 (including card). Pretty sure this was the winner this time

Not 100% happy with how my team see me! Ha. It's been a great evening being able to laugh at each other and generally enjoy being together. 

Tomorrow I take kids away for the weekend...don't expect another post anytime soon...I'll need some solid recovery time first!

11 Nov 2013


Recently I have been struck by how much I have missed reading. Or more to the point learning. I used to read ALL the time! When I was younger my parents had to take the bulb out of my bedside table so I wouldn't read late into the night. 

There is something about reading that I love. Maybe it's the fact that I rarely read these days because I find it difficult to find time to stop and sit with a book, so when I do it's truly cherished time. Or maybe it's because taking in new information and mulling it over is what my brain has been made to do. I love thinking about things, learning new things, having my own ideas challenged, seeing things from different angles. I want to make more time for reading because whenever I do I enjoy it big time. 

This is a picture of part of my bookshelf with a number of books I've read recently or want to read in the near future. I'm going to throw out a few I've enjoyed reading in the hope I might inspire you.

I'm in the middle of reading "Half The Sky" by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl Wudunn. It's a book about the treatment of women around the world and how they are exploited, degraded and treated as lesser citizens. Yet it's about hope and how women have overcome incredible obstacles to change communities. Its hard hitting stuff but good to be exposed to the realities for so many women universally. 

About a year ago I read "Finding Sanctuary" by Abbot Christopher Jamison. It was part of my delving into the exploration of silence phase. It came as a resource to read along with a DVD serious called "The Big Silence" which I watched last year too. It's been a really insightful book into looking at how reflection helps self awareness and through that your relationship with God. 

I think I bought "Stop Dating the Church" by Joshua Harris because of the title. But its a pretty decent book advocating real commitment to Church. The current culture is to never be satisfied so that you always want the next best thing...well Church doesn't work like that. This book talks about what being part of a Church is about and how to do it well.

"Thinking, Loving, Doing" by an amalgamation of people, is a book I bought at New Wine this last year. It's been a really challenging book on how each of us is inclined to either be people who are really intellectual with our faith, and can potentially become legalistic; or we love people a lot, which can mean we don't hold them to any standards; or we are do-ers, people of activity, which can mean we sometimes might miss what God is saying in all the activity. We all have a natural leaning but the book is about how to ensure our strengths don't become our weaknesses and how to be people of balance. Some amazing chapters which I'm thinking of blogging about at another date.

I was given "Mere Christianity" by C.S. Lewis quite recently as a late birthday gift. I surprised myself that I hadn't read it already as I've managed to get through a number of C.S Lewis publications (mainly The Chronicles of Narnia). But reading this has helped me to get back to some basics of what faith is about. It's a bit of a tougher read in that you have to be concentrating to take in all the richness on the page, but its worth it. 

I have yet to read "The Naked Christian" by Craig Borlase but it's up there on my to-read list...purely for the comedy title. 

If you would like to borrow any of these or want to know anything further just get in touch. 

1 Nov 2013

Pumpkin Cake/Bread

You may or may not know that I am half American. It explains my general optimism and self-confidence. It also explains my love for foods like:
  • Fluff
  • Oreos
  • Peanutbutter and Jam Sandwiches
  • General sweet things...

Most people are a bit suspicious about pumpkin, like its good to carve but to eat no way!
I love Pumpkin Pie, Pumpkin Soup...and Pumpkin Cake/Bread. Now the confusion over whether it is a cake or a bread is basically because I don't know what the difference is. Banana Bread...is a cake?! Just because you can bake something in a loaf tin doesn't mean it can't be baked in a cake tin!

So anyway, this blog is going to teach you how to make a tasty Pumpkin Cake (well actually 2 cakes, so if you only want one try to half the ingredients.

You will need:
Either - 2 loaf tins (9x5") or 2 cake tins (medium size)
A mixing bowl
A set of cups (or a small-ish mug)
A set of measuring spoons
A grater
An electric whisk

Ingredients-wise you will need:
  • 3.5 Cups of Plain Flour
  • 2 tsp. Bicarbonate of Soda
  • 1.5 tsp Salt
  • 3 tsp. Cinnamon
  • 2 tsp. Nutmeg
  • 3 Cups Caster Sugar
  • 4 Eggs Beaten
  • 2 Cups Fresh Pumpkin OR 16 Ounces if using tinned Pumpkin
  • 1/2 Cup of Water if Pumpkin is fresh OR 2/3 Cup of Water if Pumpkin is tinned
  • 1 Cup Vegetable Oil
  • 1 Cup Chopped Pecans (Optional)
It's incredibly easy to make.
  1. Preheat your oven to 350F/180C and make sure tins are greased
  2. Combine (Mix with a spoon) the dry ingredients (Flour, Bicarbonate of Soda, Salt, Cinnamon, Nutmeg, Caster Sugar)
    3.  If using fresh pumpkin, chop into easy to hold pieces, peel (with a peeler) the orange            skin off and then grate the rest until you have 2 Cups worth. 

     4.  Add the wet ingredients (Beaten eggs, water, oil and of course the pumpkin) 

    5.  Stir until blended (if adding pecans, add them at this point and mix well)

   6.  Pour into tins and bake for 1 hour

Hopefully you will get something that looks a bit like this! I would recommend taking it out after an hour whether you think it's done or not - then leave it to cool still in the tin and so it will continue cooking a little bit then. You want the middle to be pretty moist so don't want to over-bake it.

You might be wondering what happened to the other cake...well I forgot to take a photo when I took them out of the oven and then I only brought one back to London with me. The other one looked just as good. 

Anyway - let me know how you get on.