Thursday, 18 December 2014

When children become gods

A few weeks ago my very astute and surprisingly wise middle son made this remark to me: 

Mum, I think some people turn their children into gods.

It hit me like a nerf bullet in the stomach.

Questioning a future that was entirely different to the one I had expected, including a possible move to another nation at the 'wrong time' in our boys' education, I realised that perhaps I was doing exactly that.

This particular (middle) son is also known in our house for his 'not now' phrase.  

"Max, go and clean you teeth."
"Not now."
"Max, empty the bins please."
"Not now."
"Max, time for a shower."
"Not now."

You get the drift.

And in my "not now" of disobedience I had put my boys before God.  I had put their (perceived by me) needs before my obedience to the One who knows their needs so much better than me.

"Not now God," I had said " Toby is a teenager!"
"Not now God, Jonah is settled in his school!"
"Not now God, Max is difficult enough to cope with in this country let alone another one!"
"Not now God,  Toby wants to go to his end of year prom!"

And in my disobedience, I had made my children my gods.

Opening my Bible, I read about another young man,  Daniel.  Taken from his home and his culture, Daniel ended up in the courts of the Babylonian King.  Despite the pressures to conform, Daniel resolved in his heart that he wouldn't 'defile himself' by eating food that was unclean and he decided to just eat vegetables instead of all the rich foods offered to him.  Explaining this to the palace official was not easy.  The official argued that Daniel would be under nourished and far worse off on this restricted diet.

So, Daniel made a deal with him and he was able to try this diet for ten days.  Of course, after ten days he was far more healthy and better nourished than the other men in the palace and so Daniel was allowed to continue with his strange food habits.

As I read this story, I realised three things:

1. Daniel was resolved.
2. He made a choice which others didn't understand.  He had decided to follow his God and, even if he was worse off, he chose to trust God for his health.
3. The risk paid off and following God, despite the sacrifices, was actually better for him than if he had to continue to just fit in and do what everyone else was doing.

Daniel was known for his unswerving faith.  He gave up 'good things' because he chose to live a radical life of obedience to his God and in the end it was better for him.  The 'good' was replaced by the 'even better'.

And so whilst I had all these good plans and ideas for my boys and their futures, I realised that more than anything else I wanted them to live a life like Daniel - resolved, trusting God and being obedient to Him.  I couldn't make them and their futures my god anymore and yet again I had to put them back into the very safe palm of God's hands, wherever that would take them.

No more 'not nows'.  When God says 'do', I want to be able to 'do' instead of thinking of all my (very good) excuses.  My children are not my gods.  They are with us on the mission and as I keep putting them back into God's hands, I am excited about the 'even better' that He has planned for them.

Saturday, 13 December 2014

All is calm, all is bright?

The films and adverts depict beautiful scenes of smiling families (one boy, one girl) laughing together as they decorate their Christmas tree. You can feel the love emanating from the screen. It's what Christmas is all about, isn't it? Precious family time, bringing peace and good cheer.

You'd think.

I'm guessing then that fighting over who will put the star on the tree, taking it off again when somebody else has put it on and then rolling across the floor howling isn't what normal families experience. 

And what about the putting together of the (bargain, and still going strong) fake tree? Do the pieces get thrown on the floor in a strop because the person 'fluffing up the branches' can't do it properly? I've never seen that on a Christmas film.

Do the tangled Christmas tree lights cause tears of frustration on the adverts? So knotted up, they are just asking to be thrown across the room, surely. And once around the tree, the person who will remain nameless, suddenly remembers it's a good idea to check they work first. They don't. 

To encourage the festive cheer, one child plays 'frosty the snowman' loudly from you tube. Unfortunately it is so loud that we have to shout at each other to be heard. Causing more of a frosty atmosphere than the snowman would have liked.  Just stay quiet, Frosty, you're not helping.

'No-one's letting me do anything!' Shouts the youngest, flopping to the floor in tears before running upstairs to his bedroom.

'I'm not sure I can live with that for the next three weeks' whispers the parent looking at the star lights randomly stuck over the window in no particular order.  The boy who'd huffed and puffed over the star lights heard the whispered comment, shook his head and stomped up the stairs leaving the parent feeling guilty.  I've never seen that in the Christmas Downton.

And the tinsel fights? 'He's got more tinsel in his room than me! MUM!! Will you tell him?!!!' 

And so, expectations of a joyous family activity lead to raised blood pressure and stress levels that could reach Santa's sleigh.

Maybe tomorrow we can be the family on the telly.

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Protective Parenting?

Sometimes we've been misunderstood in our parenting.  Criticised, even, by people who don't quite see where we are coming from.  

Because we've never been the type to hover over our children while they are on climbing frames.  When they have wanted to leap over a stream, and we can see they probably won't make it, we've never stopped them.  (I think our washing machine might wish we had).  When it was time to learn to cross roads, we taught them to do it themselves rather than keeping a tight hold of their hands.  When the tree has been swaying because they are sitting in the topmost branches, we have cheered them on in their climbing accomplishments. 

And when God tells us to take them on a plane and visit a country totally alien to them, we share it with them and they jump into it with the gusto they use to jump the streams.

India's not a normal holiday destination, that's for sure.  There was no way we could shield them from the pleading eyes of the ragged girl tapping on the car window, begging for money.  We couldn't ask them to look the other direction when we passed the strips of material on the side of the road that served as family homes.  We couldn't put ear plugs in their ears when we listened to the stories of young girls who had been sexually exploited and trafficked.  There was no way we could leave them behind when we climbed onto the crowded bus full of street children and spent the day washing them, feeding them and helping them learn.  Our boys were there and together our hearts were broken several times over.

We couldn't protect them from the horrors and injustices of the world.  

Do I regret it?  Was it a mistake to expose them to such heart-ripping sadness?

Oh no.  Rather than wounding them, their hearts have grown immeasurably.  They have seen and heard so much more than so many of their friends at school and their compassion comes from a knowing.  They talk from experience now and when they pray for other nations, they pray with a maturity that surprises me.  When we talk about giving to others, they are generous with their time, money and possessions.  This Christmas, when the extravagant worship of money and consumerism threatens to take over, they have spent each day thinking of others and choosing ways to give.  And we are in this together.  

Our family adventure is a shared one.  And I love sharing this gift with them because I know, without a doubt, that it will better for them than if we had tried to keep them closeted.  Ultimately, we can't protect them but we trust them into the hands of our God and we know that whatever He asks of us as a family, they are fully protected there.

Thursday, 4 December 2014

A Story of Surprises

This year has surprised me.

Some years whizz by.  When you look back you can't remember anything other than school runs, busy workdays, even busier weekends, grumpy children, smiling children and toilets that need cleaning again the second after you just finished cleaning them.

Other years seem to be pivotal.  You get married.  You have a baby.  You graduate.  You move house.  Those years are like the foundational stones in the story of your life.

But, for me, this year has been surprising.

My prayer for this year has been this:

Be the author of my story. 

Perhaps because I am a writer, this feels more poignant to me.  I know that when I write a story, I can create characters exactly the way I want them to be.  I can send them wherever I choose.  I can give them obstacles to overcome.  I hold the pen and I breath life into them.

And letting go of the penmanship of my life has brought changes and events that have, quite honestly, sometimes shocked me.

There have been fast-paced times, full of action and adventure which have taken my breath away. 

There have been slower, careful times which have brought pause, rest and nourishment.

There have been twists and turns which have caused me to lean deeper into the only One who is steady and hold on tight. 

There have been weeks and months of heavy, thick and confusing fog where I couldn't see the next step and didn't know how we would reach any kind of goal. The Author didn't have writers block but sometimes it felt that way and so I had to lean in harder, trust more and keep giving back the pen instead of snatching back into my little hands.

And there have been times when my heart has been so wrecked, so sore and so pained by the events I have witnessed around me that all I could do was lie flat on my face and sob whilst the heart of the Author has been breathed into mine and I have felt His compassion, His anger at injustice and His love.

And now this year is coming to a close, I can see how it all fits together.  All year, it has felt like separate chapters, not merging and sometimes even from a completely different story.  But now, looking backwards and forwards into the next year, I am surprised at the intricate weaving of a story which never started with me, and won't finish with me.

Because it's not my story.  It's His, and I am overwhelmingly grateful to be a part of it.

Thursday, 20 November 2014

What the Parenting Books don't tell you.

Parenting books.  The bookshops are flooded with them.  And I was an avid and naive reader of them until I realised one thing.  They weren't about my child.

Here are the things parenting books don't tell you:

1. When you have tried the controlled crying, the 'shhh pat' method (yes, it really exists and yes, I really did try it), co-sleeping, rapid return, gradual withdrawal and all sorts of other ways of making your baby sleep at night and NONE of them work, you have not failed.  

2. Sometimes ignoring a toddler's tantrum involves allowing them to follow you around the house screaming for hours on end.  Wear ear plugs.

3. You cannot force a baby to open their mouth when you are trying to feed them mushed up, snot-looking puréed broccoli.  It just goes all over their face instead and adds to the smeared bogey already on their cheek.

4. Some babies hate lying on their stomachs for 'tummy time'.  They will still be able to sit, talk, walk and do their GCSE's.  

5. I have never met a child who likes to stay still on the 'naughty step'.  Instead the battle then becomes 'stay on the naughty step or you will have to sit on the naughty step'. What?  Exactly.

6. Despite trying all the advice given to you, sometimes you will still feel like the worst mother in the world and you will want to run, screaming and flinging your arms around, out of the house.  In those moments, lock yourself in the bathroom.  If you haven't got a lock on your bathroom door for safety's sake, get one for your own safety.

7. When you leave your children to learn negotiation skills during an argument, expect to have to physically pull them apart seconds later when they are punching and kicking each other.  

8. I'm all for consequences, but make sure the consequences you give aren't more of a punishment for you.  Never, for example, ban screen time while you are making the tea.

9. Expect to be an expert on all alien body parts.  You will need to know how to answer statements such as 'Mum, my penis is keeping me awake.'

10. Spending 'quality time' with your children is very important.  But don't expect this to affect their behaviour.  They will continue to moan and cry at you, despite the fact that you have spent hours following intricate Lego instructions with them.  

11.  Some days your parenting brainwaves will work, and some days they will not.  All you can do is pick yourself up, dust off the insults hurled and the broken promises, and carry on.  

And I've only done 13 years.  After all this, the next 13 are going to be a breeze, surely? 

Saturday, 15 November 2014

Christmas adverts - sneaky marketing or Christmas spirit?

Since when was Christmas about sentimental adverts?  

Don't get me wrong, I love Christmas.  I enjoy spending time with family.  I love the excited squeals as my boys open their presents.  I enjoy the chocolate.  And the rest of the food, of course.

But these adverts?  They are a bizarre phenomenon to me.  Sneaking their way into Christmas tradition with their clever marketing, they somehow have become part of our modern day advent.  We all know Christmas is on the way when we see the soppy adverts populating our screens.

And do we really think that the big companies are just making these adverts so that we can enjoy Christmas more?  Are they simply to add to the excitement of Christmas?  Call me cynical, but they are out to make more money.  They make these adverts to change the way we think about their products, so that we suddenly can't have Christmas without them despite the fact that we have managed pretty well without them for the rest of our lives.  

We can all have a little smile and sigh at Monty the penguin, and we can feel nice on the inside about enemies playing football together, but I refuse to be sucked into their attempts to make themselves at home in my Christmas.  They are what they are - adverts to encourage us to spend our money.  No more, no less.  And they may be sweetly perfumed, but to me they smell of the ugly whiff of consumerism which gobbles it's greedy way through our Christmases.  

But that's just me.  

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

The Missing Child

Eleven years ago, around this time, we would have been meeting our very own little firework.  Anticipated with excitement, this child was given to us and then, just as a firework disappears into a thin mist, was taken away again.


A cruel word that somehow denotes failure on the part of the mother.  Did I carry the child wrongly?  Did I make a mistake?

It's not a word that can ever convey the stomach punching, gasping for air shock when the sonographer looks at you over the top of her glasses and tells you that your baby has died.  

It's not a word that explains the raw pain, like pouring vinegar on an open wound, as you come to terms with the fact that your child, safe and protected inside you is no longer safe.

It can never explain the sudden emptiness inside as you contemplate the fact that this life, once growing, has now gone.

This word cannot be weighted with the sadness that comes from knowing you will never hold your child, never rock them to sleep, never kiss the graze on their knee, never despair with their homework and never watch them grow taller than you.

It doesn't warn you of the sadness which lingers, years afterwards or of the confusion as you have other children and think of the 'what ifs'.  

It doesn't tell of the empty space in your family, and it doesn't give you permission to include in your number of children another one you've never met. 

The word doesn't alert you to the anxiety you will feel in subsequent pregnancies, obsessively checking to make sure this one is a keeper.

It doesn't allow you to grieve as you would for a child you had held, despite the fact that you already had given your heart in love to this tiny soul growing inside.  Your private grief cannot be shared because no-one else loved your child yet.

This one word, used so often and sometimes so flippantly, will never sum up the devastating anguish which rips apart your world.

And yet, as time moves on in its frenetic way, the tenderness of the pain passes, becoming a sadness and then simply a hollowness.  There is a space in our family and in my heart for this child, and I miss them.  

And so, as I watch the fireworks I remember our other child, the one who is missing, and I am grateful.  I'm thankful for all that has passed and for our boys, given to us in the here and now, for us to love, train and make happy memories with.