Monday, 27 October 2014

Dear Teenage Girl

Dear Teenage Girl,

I was you, once. 

I understand how it feels to need the world to affirm you. I know what it is to want to fit in and look the part.  I understand that the world around you sometimes dictates the way you dress and behave. And these days that pressure weighs far more heavily on your skinny shoulders than it did on mine. Everything surrounding you is screaming at you to look like a fake woman, and the screaming never stops. It reaches into your heart and twists, hard, so that eventually you give in. And you try. You try so hard. I can see that.

But, sweet girl, here's the truth. Beneath the sultry pout and the 'messed up bed hair' Facebook profile picture lies a strong, beautiful woman. Under your layers of foundation and heavy eye make-up there is a naked and raw intelligence that our world needs. Inside the body that you stare at in front of the mirror for so long, desperately trying to squeeze and tuck those gorgeous curves away, there is a confident young lady who is stretching out of her crysallis.  Under the 'I want my hair to look like I've just had sex' messy hairstyle lies a brain that is crying out to be used for good purposes.

And guess what? Young men aren't actually looking for a fake woman. 

Young men love your smile. It brings hope and warmth. They're not bothered about whether you can achieve the perfect pout.

The young men I know are searching for a girl they can cherish, just for who she is.

Young men are looking for a girl they can put the world to rights with not a poster girl.

Young men are looking for a girl who is beautiful in her vulnerability and strong in her resolution.

Young men are not looking for a girl who can't leave the house without make-up. Rather, they want to love a girl for her naked confidence.

Young men are looking for a girl who can throw her head back and laugh with abandonment, unconcerned about the whiteness of her teeth.

Young men love your curves. They're not interested in whether your bum squishes out or whether you have draped your half -naked body across a screen in an attempt to find favour.

Young men want to hold your hand and love your heart. They see beyond the mask you paint over yourself and they are in awe of who you really are.

And if they don't want all these things,  are they really the ones you want to give your heart and your body to?

So, beautiful girl, you can give up trying. Just stop.  
Breathe a sigh of relief.  

All you need to be is the courageous, clever, funny and beautiful girl you were made to be. 

And then wait. 

Wait for the one you don't have to try for.

He's worth the wait, I promise.

XXX







Thursday, 16 October 2014

The Good Samaritan?

It seems we have a 'good Samaritan' in our family.  One who simply cannot walk past injustice.  A courageous boy who has to help others, despite any dangers to himself.  A young man who, seeing the world in black and white, launches himself passionately to rescue others.

All of this is to be nurtured and celebrated.  In fact, it's exciting to know that if we do support him and help him to shape his passion for justice then he can, in his own way, be a part of the fight against injustice across the world.  Who knows what this could lead to?  I don't.

But at the moment he is 10 years old and the injustices that are in front of him are the ones on the playground.  Always impulsive, when he sees someone being hurt he intervenes.  And he intervenes physically.  He hasn't developed mentally enough yet to know that it's not always a good idea to throw someone to the ground at school but he's certainly strong enough to hurt them.  In that split-second moment of anger at the injustice in front of him, he forgets about the fact that he might get into trouble with the teachers and he doesn't care about the beating he might get from the other children.  He just throws himself in to rescue the 'victim'.

Then he finds himself in a detention for fighting, and rightly so.  Consequences are important.

And so we find ourselves walking this difficult line of encouraging his inbuilt passion for justice but helping him to find other ways of outworking it.  Of course its not acceptable for him to punch someone simply because they punched someone else.  But in his black and white world of retribution and vengeance, he is only doing the right thing.

I wonder about the good Samaritan in the story Jesus told.  This was a man who also couldn't walk past, unlike the Pharisees.  He helped someone he was supposed to hate.  Like our boy, he put aside any thoughts of danger to himself and he went out of his way to save this man's life.  But I wonder what he would have done if he'd come across the man a few hours earlier, when he was being beaten almost to death by the robbers.  Would this Samaritan man have risked his life to save someone else?  Of course, it's only a story and we don't know the answer to this hypothetical question but I do know that some people are made to fight injustice.  They can't look away.  And our boy is one of them.

So we have no choice but to continue shaping and whittling away at this boy, one of our three arrows.  Sometimes we have no idea what to do or say that will help him to learn to use his passions for good.  We will not force him to squash them down or hide them away.  We will encourage him to be the young man he was made to be.  As parents, this is our job and not to be delegated to anyone else.  But it's not an easy tightrope for us to walk across and mistakes, of which there will be plenty,   can have scary consequences.

We know this boy is most definitely a challenge but, mercifully, we love a challenge and we love him.


Tuesday, 14 October 2014

When blindness is the only way forwards.

Perhaps I was a strange child (and that would explain a lot about my boys), but when I was younger I used to enjoy walking around the house with my eyes closed, pretending to be blind.  I enjoyed the feeling of not quite knowing what was coming up next.  It was vulnerable.  I knew the layout, of course.

But sometimes, in my minds eye, I would imagine that a step or a piece of furniture was closer than it was in reality.  I would move my legs and prepare myself for it only to have a surprise when I realised I hadn't quite reached it yet.  Anyone else experienced this or is it just strange old me?

The thing is, the piece of furniture was still there.  I just had a few more steps to take before I reached it.  It hadn't disappeared.

It's the same with the dreams that have been planted, some very long ago, in my heart.  

When you can't see what's in front of you and you walk by faith alone, sometimes you imagine things are closer than they really are.  They feel close enough to reach out and touch, because your heart tells you that you simply cannot continue without knowing they are finally at your fingertips.  Surely it's time to grasp hold of all that has been weighing heavy in your heart.  

And when this happens to me, I begin to prepare myself for a different movement, excited that this is the time.  

And then it isn't.  And I'm surprised and confused.

And I have to do something with the dreams and promises that refuse to be pushed down any longer. I have to stop trying to peek out of the corner of my eye and remember that walking by faith is just that. It's not by sight.  You can't see ahead, and you're not supposed to.

All I know is that there are some more steps to be taken.  I can't jump from here to there.  I have to walk it.  

And I have to keep tight hold of those dreams for a while longer.  They are still there, just like that piece of furniture, solid and waiting for me.  I haven't made a mistake or got the wrong end of the stick.  They hang there, over my days, like a banner calling me towards them.  I can't turn around and head back now.

So, I keep my eyes closed and plod ahead, tentatively sometimes, grateful that my God knows the layout and will direct my steps.  I keep learning to walk by faith, without peeking out through scrunched up eyes.  Like my childhood game, it's vulnerable but it's the only way.


Wednesday, 1 October 2014

The Honour

This very special badge has found it's way into our family this week.


And even better is that the Deputy Headboy is his best buddy and partner in crime.  The pair of them will be a force to be reckoned with.  We are very proud.

But are we more proud of him now than we were before he had this badge pinned onto his blazer?  Absolutely not.

This boy has worked hard consistently.  He has shown leadership skills and managed responsibility well since he was very little.  It's what he's good at and so we have encouraged him to be all he was made to be.

But there are some words of warning too.

Our job is not only to encourage him in his strengths, but also to warn him of the dangers.  Power brings responsibility.  It can be used to bring great joy but also to cause enormous damage.  As parents, we need to steer him and teach him to be the best he can be, but to continue in humility and looking to serve others before himself.  This new role will be full of opportunities for him to learn these important lessons and this, more than anything else, is why I am excited he has been chosen.  A year-long learning curve for my boy.

We also need to remember that within a family, each person has their own strengths.  As the first child, Toby is not setting any standard for which the others must aim.  He is being himself.  The others will not have any expectation from us to follow in his footsteps, but simply to be all they were made to be too.  Everyone is brilliant at something.  Our job as parents is to find that 'something' in each of our children and draw it out of them so they can excel and grow.  And whilst we have one very strong leader who is gifted academically, we also have a boy who is fearless, brimming with compassion and ready to fight the injustices of the world.  The little one is more persistent than a dripping tap, curious about the world around him and full of fun.  Each one is beautifully individual.  Each one walks a different path.  Each one requires a different hand on the shoulder.

So, Headboy or not, our parenting privilege of shaping and guiding continues.  What an honour.

Saturday, 20 September 2014

Approaching Adventure

I observed such a fascinating thing today.  And it summed up all three of my boys so precisely that I couldn't help but write about it.

We needed some fresh air today.  We were craving the wild spaces.  The boys needed to be able to shout and holler.  They needed to make wolf cries and throw sticks.  They needed to lift heavy logs and climb trees.  Their bodies had to slip and slide down muddy hills, doing stunts and landing upside down.  Sometimes there is nothing else that will do.  So, despite the drizzle, we headed out to the nearby hills.  

We found beauty in wet, glistening cobwebs.  We laughed at knobbly bits on trees that looked rude.  We threw sticks up into chestnut trees to make the conkers fall down.  We stamped, rolled, lifted and climbed.  Oh, how we needed the freedom.

And then we found this 'awesome' tree which was asking to be climbed.



With a leg up, all three boys managed to climb and explore.  They breathed in the high up air, which is so much more liberating than the air on the ground.  They pulled each other up and congratulated one another.

And then it was time to move on and get down.

Toby, the cautious risk taker, assessed the situation searching for the best way down.  "What do you think, Dad?  Is it about 2.5 metres?" he asked as he peered over the branches.

Max laughed and launched himself out from behind Toby. "What do you mean 2.5 metres?  I'm just gonna jump!" he hollered as he landed and rolled across the wet leaves.

Meanwhile Jonah had found a 'throne' in the tree and sat quietly, watching his brother's responses and trying to gauge his own.  "I'm not getting down." He declared. "I'm going to live here."

Eventually, after much huffing and puffing, Toby made it down the tree by holding on carefully and sliding down.

Jonah was the last climber left.  "Dad!  Will you catch me?"  He found a safe place to jump from, but not onto the far away ground like his brother.  He would only jump when he could see his Dad's arms were ready and strong enough to catch him.  When he was satisfied, he leapt into the safety of his father's arms.

I have never witnessed such a truer representation of the way my boys approach risk-taking and it made me understand that we must teach them differently and treat them individually when we are faced with larger risks than an enormous tree.  

It doesn't mean we must never take the risks, it means that our job as parents is to help them approach the adventure they were made for in the way that is best for them.

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

A little potted history and why we don't have to be super.

Growing up, I devoured biographies about missionaries.  I was so inspired by the likes of Jackie Pullinger, Jim Elliot, Hudson Taylor, William Carey and so many more.

As a student, my bedroom was decorated with an enormous world map and the walls were littered with quotes from missionaries who had given up everything to serve God in another nation.  I woke every morning to this prayer next to my bed:

'I give up all my own plans and purposes, all my own desires and hopes, and accept your will for my life.  I give myself, my life, my all, utterly to You to be Yours forever.  Fill me and seal me with your Holy Spirit.  Use me as you want, send me where you want, work out your whole will in my life at any cost, now and forever.'

This prayer was written by Betty Scott Stam, who served as a missionary in China and was marched naked through the streets and then murdered in 1934 shortly after hiding her baby daughter to protect her life.

I lived and breathed these incredible stories of courage and sacrifice.  

For me, following Jesus meant there was no other way to live.

Despite having 'settled' with three children for the last 13 years, these stories have continued to gnaw their uncomfortable teeth into the relative comfort of my world and they still make up a fundamental part of who I am.

That honest and powerful prayer is still written at the front of my bible.  There have been times when I have chosen to ignore it, but deep down I am still that girl who yearns to just be obedient to her God whenever and wherever he calls her.  That strand, woven into me so young, has wound it's way around the rest of my life and has made me the woman I am today.

But here's the problem.  When I look again at those tough, sacrificial people who spent years in remote jungles with no Facebook or Skype; when I read again about women living on their own in the middle of huge drug dens; when I remember stories of diseases rampaging and eight week boat journeys I wonder if those people are some kind of 'super-Christians'.

How can any normal person attempt anything like that?  How can I, so flawed and often so lacking in faith, say 'yes' to the call to something so far removed from any comfort zone I have ever known?  I'm no 'super-Christian'.  I shout at my children (shhh). I get cross with people who leave dog poo on the pavement.  I like to be comfortable.  I don't like spicy food.  I get tired and irritable.  I don't like camping in a tent for a week so I'd never be able to live in a mud hut for endless years.  I'm not super.  I'm just me!

And then I realised I don't have to be super.  In fact, there's no such thing as a 'super-Christian'.  All those people I read about were normal too, but they were following a super-God.  I don't have to be super.  I don't have to perform or look like I'm a very holy and sacrificial person to others.  I just have to love and follow my super God who was more than enough for those people who left everything to answer his call and He will be more than enough for me too.

He's enough.  And that's all that matters.  

So when He calls us to do something scary, whether it's boarding a plane to a far off country or showing kindness to a neighbour, we can say 'yes'.  It's not about us, it's about Him.  He's the one who gives us all we need and He's the one to receive the credit.

And, of course, a blog about my favourite missionaries wouldn't be right if I didn't end with one of my favourite quotes.  William Carey, a normal shoemaker turned Baptist missionary, lived in India for 41 years.  Often referred to as God's plodder, there were no big stages and bright lights for him but he loved faithfully adventuring with his God.  He said this:

'Attempt great things for God.  Expect great things from God.'

Let's live attempting great things knowing we don't have to be perfect, because we know the perfect One will give us all we need and more.




Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Tell me what makes a man....

During one of our long car journeys this summer, we managed to have a family philosophical conversation instead of the usual whining, arguing, 'are we there yet's and wee stops. It was so refreshing.  

Interested in the culture of muscles and brute (and with the old Take That song singing inside my head) I asked the boys this question:

What do you think makes someone manly?

Their answers surprised me.

1. A man can burp over 100 decibels. (Ok, that one didn't surprise me.)
2. A man is strong enough to cry.
3. A man is not bothered by what other people think.
4. A man is courageous.
5. A man is sacrificial.
6. A man knows he is weak but knows the God of all strength.
7. A man has a good friendship with God.
8. A man is able to walk away from a fight.
9. A man works hard and finishes a job he has started.
10. A man is wise like Jesus.
11. A man is humble enough not to win every argument and puts others first.
12. A man can pop his pecs. 

What a list!  In all their boyish fun about farts (and lighting said farts), burps and boobies, they shocked me with their wisdom.  

What would you add to the list?