Friday, 27 November 2015

Dirty Treasures

Jonah went to school with a pocket full of 'important stuff' this morning.  Those of you with little boys will know that this oh so vital 'stuff' consists of elastic bands, fossils, cool looking stones, marbles, football cards and even occasionally dried out worms.  It is always in their pockets (and now in my pockets and bag too) and they love to impress their friends with it.  

I love this about little boys.  His 'stuff' now spreads across his bedroom in various little pots and bags.  All important but none of it looks like much to our untrained eye.

Cycling to school this morning (whilst I was half running behind him), he spotted yet another item for pocket-filling.

A dirty, almost squished ball-bearing.

I hadn't even seen it but as we crossed a busy road, he wanted to stop and pick it up.  

'Mum! Stop!' He shouted at me.
'We can't stop here, it's too busy.' I shouted back (I wasn't cross, honest, the traffic was loud.)
'But there's something really special down there, didn't you see it?'
'No, I was actually concentrating on crossing the road.'

But it was important to him.  So important that he couldn't simply leave it there.  He excitedly talked of the treasure all the way to school and, using his incredible powers of negotiation, persuaded me to collect it on my way home, giving me detailed instructions.

'I don't think it was dog poo, mum, but touch it before you pick it up. If it's squishy, then it's dog poo so don't pick it up.'

As if I I would.

I hoped against hope that I wouldn't be able to find this treasure as I walked home again but sure enough, there it lay on the side of the road, covered in gunk and oil.  It was barely glistening.  The roads were busy and I tried to look normal as I picked up this tiny treasure from the gutter and quickly deposited it into my pocket before anyone called the police on this weirdo mother.

Jonah thought about this treasure all day, wondering if I had found it.  And when he arrived home he took time to clean and polish it.

And I realised something as I looked at this dirty treasure from the gutter.  There is a boy who stopped in the middle of the road and, had I not been there, would have got down onto his hands and knees into the dirt to pick up this precious item that others hadn't even noticed.  He would have covered himself in the oil and grit from the road, just to hold it in his hands.  It didn't matter that it was filthy.  He saw past the grime and saw what was underneath - a bright, strong, shining ball-bearing.  It had purpose.  It wasn't meant to be left on the side of the road.

We need to stop for each other.  We all have grime.  We all make mistakes, shout at our kids (who, me?!), get relationships wrong, judge others wrongly, speak untruths and idolise other things instead of God.  We need to look behind the dirt and call out the best in each other.  

Just like Jonah (and most other eight year old boys) saw the slimy ball-bearing as a treasure, so we need to see the treasures in each other.  Let's not leave each other on the side of the road to rot away.  Let's encourage each other and 'polish' each other so that we can be the best we were meant to be.

Let's fill our friendship pockets with encouragements, faithful friendship, seeing the best in each other and treasuring our relationships with one another.

Friday, 20 November 2015

In our pain-ridden world, how can we think about Christmas?

The slaughter of young children.
A tyrannical, paranoid leader.
Families fleeing to cling onto a remnant of safety.
Fear and corruption.
Violence and extremism.

Sound familiar?

Into this world, so similar to today, a baby was born in a little town in the Middle East called Bethlehem.    The power-crazed leader, so jealous for his throne, set his soldiers the bloodthirsty task of slaughtering every boy under two years old.  To save their son's life, the family fled to Egypt where they lived until the reign of terror ended when King Herod the 'Great' died.

Jesus was a refugee.  When I see the photographs of desperate parents, arms wrapped as tight as they can be around their young ones, I look into their traumatised eyes and imagine the eyes of his mother, Mary.   Jesus was born into a world of fear and he grew up under Roman rule as an 'outsider'. It wasn't like the Christmas carols tell us.  It was a violent world, full of war, death and terror.

It was like our world.  

And Jesus came into that world to love the ones nobody else loved.  He arrived on the scene to point terrified people to a peace that they could find even when war was raging around them.  He touched the diseased, dirty ones that others walked past, holding their noses.  He brought hope into the lives of the ones who never even knew hope existed for people like themselves.  He shocked by teaching his followers to love the very people who hate them.  He talked of a different way to live - a way that brought life even though death was a reality.  He brought freedom to a world trapped in dictatorships and persecution.  He called the children to him.  He spoke out against the hypocrites.  He loved the fraudsters and the sex workers into a new dignity.  

And who are we, his church?  We are his body.  That means that what he did when he walked the dusty roads and talked such radical sense is what we are meant to be doing now.  

We can't turn a blind eye or pretend none of this is happening.  We can't pick and choose who we love.  We can't sit back and hope that 'someone else' sorts it out.  We can't wait.

If we follow Jesus, then we do what he did.

It's quite simple. This is who we are.

And this is our response to Christmas.  It's more than decorations, presents and even time with family. It's being who we're meant to be.

Thursday, 5 November 2015

Whispered Words

I never knew my Grandad properly.  Oh yes, we'd had fun together and made memories.  But at eighteen you don't think you need to ask anything from an old man.  You think you already know everything there is to know about the world.  It never occurs to you that they have lived a whole life before you came along.  You never ask them how they did life.

And so today, as I remember my Grandad with a mischievous twinkle in his eye and a fierce faith in his heart, I wonder what he would say to us today with the challenges we face.  In the busy-ness of our lives full of heartache and joy, how I wish I could sit down with him now and pluck the wisdom that must have been oozing from his very being.  

Then I think of the words of a hymn we sung at his funeral.  And I realise these are the exact words he would be saying to us now, his grandchildren, his heritage.

Fight the good fight with all thy might!
Christ is thy strength and Christ thy right;
Lay hold on life, and it shall be
Thy joy and crown eternally.

Run the straight race through God's good grace,
Lift up thine eyes and seek His face;
Life with its way before us lies
Christ is the path and Christ the prize.

Cast care aside, lean on thy Guide;
His boundless mercy will provide;
Trust, and thy trusting soul shall prove
Christ is it's life and Christ it's love.

Faint not, nor fear, His arms are near,
He changeth not, and thou art dear;
Only believe and thou shalt see
That Christ is all in all to thee.

And these words, whispered to me as though he is sitting right in my kitchen, throw me back into the arms of the One I lean on.  My Grandad is celebrating now.  His fight is over.  But ours continues and so we trust, we lean, we lift up our eyes and we run our race surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses cheering us on with the hope of our prize before us.

Thursday, 24 September 2015

The Dark Days of Post Natal Depression

Can't you just smile and put your worries to the back of your mind?  
Or maybe you should just drag yourself out of bed and you will feel better?  
Or just pray more.  That should do the trick.  
Haven't you got enough faith?  
It's a choice, surely?  

Mental illness is still so misunderstood and such a taboo so I have decided to write about my experiences and even include some telling photographs.  Pictures explain more than words ever could.  My memories are raw but I want people to know that this is real.  We can't shut it away.  There are women in our communities suffering right now.    

Almost 14 years ago, my beautiful boy was born after a traumatic emergency caesarean and my first words on seeing him were 'is that mine?'  This baby was like an alien to me and I was a disappointment.

No amount of antenatal classes or well meaning advice could have prepared me for the weeks and months of darkness that followed.  Post natal depression took over as irrational and scarily angry thoughts swirled through my mind.  I resented the intrusion of this screaming baby who never slept.  I cared for his daily needs but I didn't feel this mythical surge of love for him I was meant to feel.  I watched other new mums cooing over their babies and felt jealous.  Instead of nursery rhymes, I sung songs of destruction over him and thought about how to escape.  

Some days I raged and cried.  Some days I numbly got on with the tasks in hand.  I knew I had already failed and he was only months old.  I was never going to be the mum he needed, so what was the point in trying?  Actually, he would be better off without me.

Support came from my health visitor and a few friends, but no amount of cups of tea and putting on brave smiles ever removed the emptiness, anger, guilt and sense of failure I felt.  

It was only after a dramatic sleepless night where my anger spilled over to my precious baby that my kind and patient husband marched me to the GP who prescribed anti depressants and counselling.  By that point I was so numb and so desperate that I followed like a sheep.  

And slowly, slowly, over time, the days began to be less dark.  I discovered I could find joy in small things again.  I could sing songs of hope and faith over him.  I began to fall in love with my little boy.  And, instead of finding me rocking in a dark corner after his return from work, my faithful husband would see I had made the tea or hung the washing out.

I began to heal.

Post natal depression is an illness.  
It is not a choice. 
It is not simply tiredness (although sleep deprivation certainly doesn't help).  
It is not difficulty adjusting.  
It is not a lack of faith.  
It is not laziness.  
It is not failure.  

And there is hope.  

My boy, almost 14, stands taller than me.  His grin makes my heart melt inside.  He sleeps.  He makes me laugh.  He makes me so proud I want to shout to the world about him.  He hugs me with his long gangly arms at just the right moments.  Despite my failings and my illness, he has exceeded all my expectations.  

And that surge of love isn't mythical anymore.  It happens every day.

If you are suffering post natal depression, get some help from your GP.  Take someone else with you to the appointment so they can help you to explain what is happening.  You are not a failure.  Hold on tight.  It's not going to last forever, I promise.

Thursday, 10 September 2015

Setting Sail

Our holiday this year was eventful.  Camping in Dorset on the site with the UK's most unhygienic toilets (I will not go into detail, suffice to say we nicknamed them the '$#€¥holes'.). We experienced beauty, hot sunshine, relaxing beaches, drenching rain and the occasional breathtaking sunset.

Without a doubt, my favourite excursion was to visit a lighthouse on Portland.  Jutting out on a cliff edge, this lighthouse is still in use and we (much to the boys delight - 'this is boring mum, why can't we just explore it ourselves?') took a guided tour to the very giddy top. The view was extravagant.  Open, glittering seas.  Bright blue skies.  Endless possibilities.

As we made our way round, singing a well know Rend Collective song just to embarrass our teenage son, we found this poster.

This tickled all my bones of adventure so I immediately snapped a photograph and lodged the quote at the back of my mind to ponder.

Speaking a few days later to some friends who have spent years working on boats across the world, I discovered an interesting fact:

If a boat is moored in the harbour for too long, it rots away.  Not only is a boat not built for staying safe at the shore, if it hangs around longer than necessary it is detrimental to the very workings of the boat. My learned friends went even further and explained to me that the Captains they knew would choose to 'island hop' with their boat rather than keep it in one place for too long because of the negative effects to both the boat and the crew.


I'm sure you can see where I'm going with this.

As followers of Jesus and as a church, we are not called to stay safe in the harbour.  We are called to go.  Our lives are not supposed to be 'safe' but we have the opportunity to partner with a God who takes us on the most thrilling adventure we could ever go on.  

I know that, for me, when I stay still for too long I begin to rot.  I become introspective.  I find myself becoming anxious about circumstances beyond my control.  I trip up over small obstacles.  I begin to think rotten thoughts which in turn start coming out of my mouth.  I feel dragged down by an anchor that holds me back rather than being set free by the wind in my sails.

But when I look out to sea from the heights of the lighthouse, I see adventure waiting.  I see the unknown beckoning it's finger to me and calling me to set sail.  I see the potential for storms and for calm waters.  

see a whole, broken, bleeding world and I know that I cannot stay safe in the harbour anymore.

Thursday, 16 July 2015

A Million Years

I thought I had it cracked.  

When they were younger, I had a million years before they were going to grow up so encouraging independence and letting go felt easy.

I was really proud of myself when, at ten years old, Toby could do his own laundry.

What was all the fuss about?  Surely our whole role as parents was to encourage our children to take steps further away from us?

But as we make more memories and they begin to turn into young men who are good company, hugging me when they think I need a hug and laughing at the same things as me, I have found myself clinging on ever more tightly.

It's not a million years away anymore.  I feel like I'm standing on a train track with a high speed train rushing towards me.

And tonight as Toby goes to his middle school leavers prom, shocking me with his deep voice and tall, muscular body dressed handsomely in a suit,  I find myself desperately holding on to this young man who seems so familiar and yet so alien to me.

Why was I so foolish to think this 'letting go' thing was so easy?  Why didn't anyone tell me that each time they take a tiptoe away from me my heart would be ripped up just a little bit more?  How could I have wasted their years of holding my hand as we walked along the road and playing pirates by pushing them into independence?

And so I realise all over again that I didn't ever have this thing cracked.  My boy who towers over me, helps me lift heavy things and tells me to 'stop fussing' brings me so much joy mixed with so much pain that he will never know about.

I never, ever realised the million years would go quite so quickly and would be quite so much fun.

I'm not sure I want to let go anymore.  I'm beginning to quite like them now.

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

What a difference two weeks makes....

Two weeks ago we moved house.

It's been a cardboard-box-filling-and-emptying, new-job-starting, house-moving, husband-away-for-ten-days, cleaning-everything kind of two weeks.

I don't like being over busy, and this has certainly been way too much for me.  Right now though, with blocked toilets and jumanji-like gardens filling my head, I look back over the last few weeks in awe of our friends and family. 

We have a community around us like none we have ever experienced before and we are overwhelming grateful for their support and practical help. 

Over the last few weeks I have kept a list of all the ways people have helped us...

Cooked meals
Had boys for the day so we could pack
Fixed grouting
Fixed hole in ceiling
Cleaned through old house on moving day
Put up beds
Looked after cat
Collected Jonah from school and delivered to new house
Lent car for the day
Lent microwave for a few months
Sewed button on trousers
Unloaded outdoor equipment into shed
Fixed sinks
Plumbed in washing machine
Taken apart wardrobe, carried it into different room, put it back together again
Brought cakes
Fixed washing machine
Sealed up bathroom
Checked broken oven
Made beautiful box
Made beautiful sign for the front door
Brought chocolate
Cleared a path to washing line in garden
Unblocked toilet
Offered a shoulder to cry on
Sent encouraging texts
Made us laugh

So, you see, we are surrounded by this incredible bunch of people who have walked this journey with us so far. 

Thank you.