Every eighteen months or so, our church organises a weekend away. It’s a chance to get away from the hustle and bustle of daily life, time to reflect on our faith and to build friendship. For the girls, it was mostly about having time to do crafts and to have fun outdoors and getting to be with our extended church family.
Charney Manor is a Quaker conference centre and retreat. The building dates back to the 13th century and is set in three acres of grounds. It is the perfect place for a church weekend – peaceful and tranquil, with plenty of space for a large group to meet together for worship, crafts or just chat together over tea and coffee.
After the Saturday morning worship, the rest of the day was free for us to do what we wished. There were craft activities and a jigsaw puzzle set up in one of the rooms, and suggestions for walks in the local area or places to visit further afield. As it was just me and the girls (hubby was in Paris working on an event) I wasn’t sure that a longer walk would be manageable on my own so we stayed on site and enjoyed doing drawing and crafts. In between our craft activities though, we would pop out for walks in the beautiful grounds. Sometimes one of my church friends would take the girls out for a while so I could have a little time for myself. It was blissful.
Out in the grounds there was plenty for the girls to explore. Lots of pretty-coloured leaves falling from the trees – piles of leaves on the ground to run through, or kick, or jump in. One of the bushes had giant leaves which the girls were quite fascinated by.
There were steps to run up and down, little walls to hide behind, grassy slopes to run down. There were apple trees laden with ripe apples – and quite a few on the ground for the local wildlife to enjoy!
Sophie was quite taken by the cat who came to say hello. He was mostly occupied with trying to scratch his back on Jessica’s “campfire” (the pile of sticks that Jessica had collected) but allowed the girls to stroke him gently before he headed off again.
Our walks in the grounds rarely lasted more than about twenty minutes or so – just long enough to wander about and explore then coming back in for some more crafts. Being somewhere where we could just come in and out at will and have such a lovely area to explore was lovely. It felt like we took ourselves out of the real world and got back to nature and listening to God.
Later that evening, as we gathered in the small chapel for evening devotions, our minister read a story about how the beauty of nature is a prayer in itself. The whispers of the wind, the way the trees raise their branches to the sky, the babbling of a brook. As he read the story, Jessica climbed into my lap for a snuggle. In that moment, I realised again how truly fortunate I was to be there with her and with Sophie, and was reminded once again of the journey we have had so far and the journey yet to come. I held her close and cherished that snuggle, thanking God for being able to do so.
It’s in the stillness and the quiet that my heart is most open to God and what He has to say to me. All too often, the noise and the stress and the distraction of daily life takes my attention away. In the same way, it also takes my focus away from the beauty of the little moments of parenthood. In the stillness and the quiet, I see my children more clearly and I am theirs more fully. These are the moments when life falls into place and the stresses of the outside world just melt away.