Sunday, March 25, 2012

A Pause in Lent - Humility (following the events in Toulouse)

There is so much to be said on the subject of humility, but today it's on my mind because of the events that we people of Toulouse and district have suffered over the last few weeks. Seemingly random shootings culminated in terrible deaths at a school gate, and a frightening siege which ended with the gunman's death. Family, bloggers and other friends have sent me emails, left comments and made calls - I told our pastor, who lives near the gunman's flat, that people around the world have been praying for us all - thank you so much. And please keep praying, because it isn't all over, despite the death of the killer.
Humility came to mind because of the varied reactions people have expressed about the whole situation. Politicians knew they had to be humble when faced with the death of innocents. The presidential candidates seemed dignified and human, as they put aside their squabbles and recognised that the grief of families and communities had to come first.
Once the worst was over, the politicians slipped back a little - I'm afraid it's only to be expected. But Facebook was also a bit scary, with lots of ordinary Toulousains getting pretty hot under the collar about how things should have been handled better.
The religious communities seemed to be more able to speak peace at this point. I copied the most simple, heartfelt prayer from a local French friend on my Thursday post, below. I've been looking now for some of the beautiful, noble words that were said at the time of the killings at the Jewish school - Jews and Muslims both spoke so simply and with such humanity. But here's the strange thing: the news articles where I read those words have mainly been deleted. Plenty of articles in English and French about the events and their repercussions, but the gentle thoughts of leaders and ordinary people aren't on the web any more. Humble thoughts and good news don't last as long as grouching and political analysis, perhaps.
One thing I do know is that people who spend more time forgiving the little things are better practiced at forgiving the big things. This is what the poor vicar whose family was torn apart in the vicarage attack back in the 80s said - I'll never forget it. He said something like: "Forgiveness had become a daily habit, so that when I needed to forgive this huge wrong, it still came naturally". His daughter, who was raped in the attack, has also said: "It's not whether you can or can't forgive, it's whether you will or won't". She went on: "Of course, sometimes I thought it might be quite nice to be full of hatred and revenge. But I think it creates a barrier and you're the one who gets damaged in the end. So, although it makes you vulnerable, forgiving is actually a release. I don't think I'd be here today without my Christian faith. That's what got me through."
I recognise a desire for humility and forgiveness in people responding to the Toulouse killings - of course they don't have to be Christian to value those virtues. But I also recognise in myself something that Nancy said in response to my last post: "It is so difficult to be strong; and to be stronger than darkness is only possible with The Light."

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Another little break...

Hi friends, I've scheduled a post for the Pause in Lent, but otherwise, I guess we're all feeling slightly bruised here around Toulouse, and I've also spent far too much time glued to screens trying to follow what was happening. All in all, this calls for another blogging break! I won't be visiting my blog or yours for a week - see you next Saturday!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

God Bless Toulouse

The killings and the siege are over. I can't put it better than a French friend did on Facebook:
"I pray for the families that have suffered great loss and for the family of this young guy too. May people help each other to forgive and be stronger than hatred and judgement."

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Springtime... most of the time!

Today it's dull, windy and rainy, but we've had some lovely weather too, recently.
I love it when I can get these cooler colours into the house again - in the winter I love red, orange and pink, to keep us warm, but when light comes into our dark house and the colours outside echo the blues and greens inside, we know spring has come.
I'm making the change-over slowly. You can see the Chinese bowls I showed yesterday in the mirror here!
I don't mind if a bit of orange or red stays on a bit longer - the slow transition is quite fun!
I wish I had more news to give you about the gunman who has now been under siege in Toulouse for about 16 hours. We are so glad that they have cornered him, but it is anxious, waiting. He can't get to us, now, but we have friends from church all around the area where he is holed-up, and of course we fear for the police too. Your prayers are still very much appreciated, for the bereaved (the funerals have taken place today, as I expect you saw) and for a peaceful transition from siege into custody now.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Chinese influence...

... maybe because we watched Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon with the boys on Saturday night!In fact, my mother collected Chinese embroidery, and I hardly display it at the moment, so this is a good opportunity to bring some out.I think my grandpa brought the soup bowls, plates and spoons back from his naval escapades in the Far East - they've been languishing in a box for far too long, and I really like having their spring-like colours on display.
They go well with the usual European vintage and hand made selection too!
Thank you so much for your comments and prayers about the killings and ongoing threat in Toulouse. Security around the schools has been really stepped-up and everyone is talking about it, but in fact when I had to drive to two different businesses in Toulouse for work today I wasn't affected by road blocks or anything, which I'd feared. We're being warned that the killer is likely to strike again, and I guess we can only pray that he is thwarted and caught before he can do any more harm. We aren't terribly scared - perhaps we should be, but life has to go on and we can't be crippled by terror, just cautious and prayerful.

Monday, March 19, 2012

A Pause in Lent - please pray for Toulouse

I'm back from my blogging break and had some ideas about the Cardinal Virtues but I feel that today the only thing I should blog about is the tragic shootings in Toulouse.
We live in a market town outside the city but we go to a metropolitan church right in the city centre, not far from where the first shooting (of an off-duty soldier) occured two Sundays ago. Last week three uniformed soldiers were shot and this morning a teacher and three children have been killed outside a Jewish school.We don't really fear for ourselves but the tragedy in our own home area is hard to accept. I've already forwarded one kind, prayerful email (sent by a blogging friend in the USA) to our pastor, as he and his wife will definitely be more affected by all this than we are. Schools and religious buildings are being urged to increase security. The soldiers who died were all of North African or Caribbean ancestry and the latest victims, Jewish. It's impossible to tell if there is a racist, 'religious' or other type of motive, or even if the latest killings are connected to the earlier ones. But shootings like this are not really known in France and we are sad, confused, alarmed and disturbed.

Monday, March 12, 2012

A Brief Break

Hello friends, I'm taking one of my little blogging holidays! I'll be back on Sunday (or possibly Monday) for a Pause in Lent, but between now and then I won't be visiting your blog or mine. Feel free to email me if you'd like to get hold of me, though, and do have a browse through my posts (recent or otherwise) for a taste of what life here in the South of France holds for a British family...

A Handmade Life 4

On Sundays we occasionally relax our lunchtime routine - we like to eat together as a family at weekends, but sometimes, if church has been too intense for our privacy-loving Son 1, or too staid for our activity-loving Son 2, everyone needs a bit of time to themselves before returning to the bosom of the family, as it were...On those occasions we set up the table with bread, cheese etc, give the boys a plastic plate each, and let them load up and go and eat wherever they want. This time, they didn't spread out very far...Son 1 bagged the Cath Kidston picnic rug, and started doing some homework while he munched.Son 2 got the shelter out of the shed, and set it up next to the black watch tartan blanket. He got out his Lego Creationary game and sorted the pieces before he ate.By this point there was some smoke in the air, affecting the photos and causing me to make a run for my dry washing - Serge next door had lit a bonfire, and the effects show in our photos!Ben's away in the UK, visiting his parents for the weekend before working with some British clients this week.So I sat at the table in the middle, listened to Spanish poem recitals, admired Lego creations, and sipped tea whilst reading Homes and Antiques. A very pleasant, if unconventional, lunch!

My Thrill of What You Already Have post is below - please do scroll down and have a look at what I've done with the beautiful colours of the railway poster.

The Thrill of What You Already Have - March

When I looked at the rippling waters of the River Tweed, all I could think of was glimmering beads!I also wanted to do a 'Thrill' post that didn't involve ornaments, because I really take Betty's point that not everyone has too many 'gee-gaws' (my MIL's word) about the place.I also thing that Ang's post about bead necklaces influenced me...So this month's thrill of what you already have is a coil of Chinese necklaces (all but one of them jade) on a plain French plate. I am appropriately thrilled with them!

Sunday, March 11, 2012

A Pause in Lent - Notes on Liberality

Hello friends - welcome to this week's Pause in Lent. Other bloggers who are joining in (not necessarily on the subject of Liberality) are listed in my sidebar. It's fantastic reading through the different posts, and seeing themes which run through the very different posts we all produce.
At first, as Ang suggested to me when we hatched this plan, 'Liberality' seemed to be the hardest Cardinal Virtue to understand. And then when I started looking the word up it seemed so similar to generosity, which is in itself similar to kindness (?) that I wondered how I could do three different posts on three such similar Virtues. But this week things I've been reading and reflecting on for a while seem to have gelled into a series of thoughts which could be (perhaps) collected under the title of Liberality. So here goes:
noun pl. liberalities
1. the quality or state of being liberal; specif., willingness to give or share freely; generosity
2. absence of narrowness or prejudice in thinking; broad-mindedness
My thoughts are on the second definition, as otherwise I'm not going to have anything to say about generosity!
At first glance it seems there are two ways to react to any challenge to Christian faith - a crumbling sort of openess ('Oh yes, this belief is just what works for me, something else might work for someone else') or a narrow, militant certainty ('There is only one Truth and I will proclaim it in the face of all opposition, certain that disagreement is persecution for my faith'), to caricature the two positions.
However, both of those positions seem to me to be based on fear - firstly fear that someone else will be offended by my beliefs, or, for the second way, fear that someone else's beliefs might challenge my own if I ever gave in and listened to them.
It strikes me now that there is a Third Way (apologies to T. Blair) and that this is surely the way of 'perfect love which drives out all fear'. It is about having confidence and faith in our loving God which allows us to be open to ideas and suggestions, to research and experiences, without in any way diminishing our Lord or our faith in him.
God is too eternal, too real, to be harmed by some of the things we try to defend him from. Defending God? Really, friends, I don't think he needs our help. Surely we're really only defending our own positions or our own, inevitably limited, faith, when we get into a row about creation vs evolution (don't even get me started on this - I think it's a false battle) or about exactly who is Saved, or about any other cherished but, let's face it, human understanding of God and His Word. As Fiona quoted in her Pause last week, what God wants from us is that we, "Act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with our God" - Micah 6:8. When I stop being frightened of challenges and instead open up to the "wideness in God's mercy", I catch glimpses of how incredibly big God is, and how human fear only holds us back from him.
"For the love of God is broader
Than the measure of our mind;
And the heart of the Eternal
Is most wonderfully kind.
But we make His love too narrow
By false limits of our own;
And we magnify His strictness
With a zeal He will not own."
I had to show you a photo of the chap who wrote that hymn. Don't you think it's wonderful that this somewhat stuffy looking man was so full of what you've just got to recognise as God's grace, shown through Liberality? Find out more about him here:

Friday, March 9, 2012

A Handmade Life 3

The hand is mine, but the hand-making is Ben's!He makes all the jam in our house, although Son 1 enjoys getting in on the act when he can (usually Ben makes jam at night - strange...)Last summer Ben noticed that his Le Parfait jars were getting chipped - daily opening and closing isn't what they're designed for, and shortens their life. He asked me if I could find him any serving pots for jam. Just the kind of thing we used to laugh at when his mum used them - and finally we see the point! Don't you love the little Canadian maple leaf pot I found in an Edinburgh charity shop?The second two pots were Christmas presents from my dad. He and I found them on my mum's shelves, and he certainly won't use them, so they made a really wonderful gift for the Son in Law Who Has Everything. This one above, in Bloomsbury style, must have really pleased my mum when she found it. I think it's possible she actually bought it NEW! Rare event...The appropriately Scottish one is actually from Brixton Pottery.Together they make a cheery sight on our breakfast tray, and they are certainly prolonging the lives of our Le Parfait jars. As you can see, we could do with one more - what a nice challenge for a future charity shopping trip!

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

A Handmade Life 2

Son 1, fourteen-and-a-half and still to be found lying on the floor creating ever-more complex wooden cities. He waxed lyrical on the subject of Old and New Shanghai when I asked him about this very modern city.
The results of Son 2's beadwork (so far!). He's making loads of little key rings with the aim of selling them at the town Vide Grenier...
Son 1's tin can handicraft, to be sold at the same event.
Can you guess what it is yet?

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Waste not, want not...

(Really) stale bread...
eggs from my friend's chickens...
just enough butter in the frying pan...

= eggy bread!
We have loads of other ways of using up stale bread too - but what are your favourites?

Monday, March 5, 2012

The Thrill of What You Already Have - March Picture

Welcome to the third month of the Thrill of What You Already Have!Here is this month's inspiration (from my Scottish Railway Posters calendar):I love the bright, spring colours, and every time I pass the calendar I'm drawn by the glittering, rushing water. I can't wait to see how everyone is inspired by it to enjoy something(s) they already have!

Sunday, March 4, 2012

A Pause in Lent - Notes on Kindness

Welcome to this week's Pause in Lent. You'll find the other people joining in on the list to your left. We're thinking about the Cardinal Virtues for Lent 2012 - even in the first week this provided scope for a huge variety of ideas, but also some over-arching themes - I wonder what everyone else has been thinking about this week?
For me the virtue which seemed to be most 'flagged up' this week was kindness. Here is Charley Harper's stylish and charming 'Cardinal Courtship' to illustrate the idea:
This week my Lent readings mentioned kindness, and my life required it. This morning Christophe, one of our preachers, preached on Paul's letter to the Ephesians, Chapter 4. He was very interesting, and very relevant, and so for my Lent pause I'm going to write for you the things I scribbled down in my notebook during the sermon. Some of the thoughts come directly from the Bible reading (translated from the French I heard). Others are Christophe's (also translated!) and some are mine:
'Integrity means wholeness. If we do not have integrity in our lives, our lives are in danger of cracking.'
It's in my nature to be kind to a lot of people. I am naturally kind to dyslexic learners struggling to understand (it's my profession!). I am kind to people, anywhere in the world, who are struggling against difficult odds.
'Who can pretend to have attained the goal?'
It's in my nature to be unkind to a lot of people. I can't stand whiners. I don't like people who won't make an effort. I am naturally unkind with people who appear to have it all but still don't appear to make anything of it. This means I am unkind to myself (remember what Jane wrote last week?) and to my family too - we have so much, what are we whining about? I feel we could do anything, and shouldn't fail..!
"Put off your old nature."
The natural kindness of Floss is a good start. But it's imperfect and of limited understanding. Put off the limits to my human kindness. Take on the unlimited Loving Kindness of God, beginning with me, beginning with my family.
'God does not abandon us. It is he who gives us the power to change.'
'His Loving Kindness is recreated in us by the Holy Spirit.'

Friday, March 2, 2012

Celebrating a handmade life...

with Josie Crafter, all though March - see my sidebar for details!Son 2,... and Son 1.
Over the last two evenings...

Thursday, March 1, 2012


Underneath the cedar trees
stands a ramshackle collection of buildings.
A shed/garage and an out-house toilet,and a teeny, tiny, ramshackle house.Ben dreams of buying the land and building on to the tiny house,my dream is more realistic in the short-term:to make a photographic record of the wild flowers that flourish around the house each spring.There's not much here to photograph, yet,But we walk past it on that little path many times a week, so I think this is an attainable challenge for the coming Spring!