Almost three days off work - just the kids' club on Friday night, which turned out to be less fraught than usual. It has been really good to do the kind of things that my 'normal' friends do over a weekend, and dare I actually confess to being in a supermarket on a Sunday...? Well I was, but more of that later.
Being part of a large, at least by 21st century standards, extended family means Christmas is a large task. Being a minister of a small church, who happens to take Christmas seriously, means that if you don't get the shopping done early, it doesn't happen. Maybe I'm just very sad, but I actually enjoyed spending most of two days choosing, buying and wrapping gifts for my family and friends. It was good to make, and take, the time to put myself into their shoes and think what they would enjoy receiving; I do give a lot of money gifts to the older nephews/nieces and Godsons, but I honestly think that is what they prefer - better than some ghastly item I might choose anyway. I also enjoy selecting the wrapping paper and creating the surprises. A long job, but worthwhile - just have to make all the practical arrangements for deliveries anywhere between Cheshire and Cambridgeshire and to fit around police, hospital, college and warehousing schedules...
I also spent two evenings writing Christmas cards - unusally the list was slightly shorter this year due to elderly relatives dying - but again I enjoyed choosing and writing cards for friends, colleagues past and present, and of even the 'duty' ones for church! Some folk I only ever contact at Christmas, and I do wonder if we'd even know each other if me met, having last seen each other as much as 20 years ago (scary!) but there is a sense of connection and continuity as we exchange these greetings which, for me anyway, are more than habit. Happy memories come to mind of 'my' girls now grown up with children (scary again), of jobs well done, of customers satisfied, of challenges completed, of laughter shared; even of difficult moments survived.
It was also a chance to spend some time in the kitchen. I'm not exactly a keen cook, but one of the things I miss since leaving the 'real world' is the opportunities to bake mince pies for work! In my last employment it was something of a tradition - one I took over from another (female) colleague - that we had homemade mince pies at Christmas. No one 'expected' it to be done, it was something we enjoyed, part of the office camraderie that went along with Team Leaders (of which I was one) taking their staff out for drinks and the retired (and gone-to-be-ministers) staff coming back for the office Christmas lunch (I still get invited back even now...). There are good reasons why I don't bake for church, but I'm not bad at pastry and I miss doing it... so today was the first batch of mince pies in years, and they turned out not too bad considering and will feed my Advent pray-ers in the next little while.
Oh, and why was I in the supermarket today? I had managed to melt the flex on my slow cooker yesterday evening (don't ask!) and needed a replacement in time to make soup for Advent prayers which start in just over a week. Yes, I could have waited until next shopping trip, but it was pouring with rain so a walk was out of the question and there was nothing I wanted to see at the cinema... I also remember something about Sabbath being for people, not vice versa - my day spent baking and writing cards was space to be, to reflect on the blessings in my life, and I'm pretty sure God was OK with it.
Simple pleasures, for sure, but having been told by a well meaning friend this week that she worrried about my 'empty life' (by which she meant it was endlessly full of church stuff and not a lot else) it has been good to be reminded of what gives me pleasure and what gives value out of all the busyness. As far as I can tell, all ministers in small churches (and probably most in big churches too) end up on some kind of treadmill. As I reflected on what my friend said, I concluded that it isn't just that I'm a workaholic churchaholic, but that actually, it is church and work I talk about because that seems more important, or is more what we have in common, than other stuff. So, if you've been generous enough to read this far, now you know that I find pleasure in very simple things ... and I'll email you a virtual mince pie if you ask nicely!