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.

Tuesday, 2 June 2015

How I'm learning to celebrate my 'different' child...

Last week I was surprised to be asked about advice for raising a child who is 'different'.  The last 11 years of parenting have taken me on quite a learning curve as I have battled with questions, fear of being judged by others and anxiety over the future of my boy who does not always meet the expectations of society.

As he left the house this morning with bright green sunglasses (despite the rain) to comments from his friends ('Max, you don't need sunglasses today.' 'I don't care, I like them'.) I smiled to myself and thought it might be helpful to write down some of the things I have learnt.  I know I'm not alone in this and I there are many parents who know far more than me and who inspire me with the way they celebrate their child.

My boy does not have a diagnosis of adhd, autism, aspergers or anything else.  I have questioned this so many times (especially after watching programmes about other children who seem to be so similar), and have even asked friends and teachers for their honest opinions countless times.  I am more than happy for him to be diagnosed if it was necessary and he needed any extra support.  But I have come to realise that Max is Max.  He is not a label or a diagnosis.  He is just different.  And different is good.

So, in celebrating his uniqueness, these are some of the things I have had to embrace:

1.  Being different is fabulous.  How boring would it be if everyone saw the world from the same perspective?  I notice the things that make Max different and (try to) find the positives.  There are often lots.

2. Choose battles wisely.  We often deal with Max in a way that other parents may not choose.  This has meant that I have had to battle through my fears of other people's opinions of me as a mother.  Some parents might not, for example, encourage their children to climb very high in trees or other equipment but I know that for Max this is the place he feels the safest.  He needs to climb and he needs high spots to sit - they help him to be calm. 

3. Teachers need educating.  We have had some amazing, inspirational teachers and some who expect every child to fit inside their box.  When you happen to have a child who doesn't even touch the box let alone sit inside it, you have some battles on your hands.  Nobody else is going to fight for your child except you and sometimes schools need some coaching on how to handle children who can't sit at their desks writing and listening.  I have had to overcome my fear of teachers (yes, honestly, I was!) and speak up for my boy.  And mostly it has worked.

4.  Allow off-the-scale creativity.  I consider myself a pretty creative person but for every idea I generate, Max has one I had never even thought about.  When he was little I encouraged him to play with toys by imagining different purposes for them.  This meant a messy house and garden but oh so much fun.  These days he often has unique solutions or insight into fixing problems.

5.  Change expectations.  For me, having an oldest son who ticks every conventional box possible, I found my expectations being challenged with Max.  He's disorganised (although trying to improve on that one - this morning he even closed the front door behind him when he left for school), messy, loud, funny and extremely passionate.  I had to wipe the expectation whiteboard clean and create new ones with Max.  And, unsurprisingly, he exceeds them constantly. 

6.  Laugh with him.  Oh how this boy makes us laugh!  Sometimes his humour makes me cry too.  And sometimes I have to tell him to stop joking.  But we love laughing with him as he mimics Jim Carey or pulls a crazy face at just the right moment. 

7.  Affirm him.  Being unconventional in a world where every child is expected to conform is not easy.  One of the things we have had to learn to do is give Max courage to be himself.  He has so much to offer the world around him but it's easy for him to be dragged down by the expectations of others.  So we hug him lots, feed him lots (food is his love language) and tell him how fab we think he is.

8.  Teach him that when he has to conform, he has to conform.  There are some things in life that he just has to do.  He has to wear a tie to school.  He had to do sats.  He has to help around the house.  It's all very well allowing a child to be free, but they also need to learn obedience and respect for others.  Some things have to be taught, and this is one of them.

9.  Validate his passions.  My Max is one passionate boy.  It might be about the green olives he is about to consume or it might be about the kid who was being beaten up on the way home from school.  Whatever is floating his boat at the time, rather than rail against it we have learnt to validate it.  We let him be passionate and we teach him how to handle his very extreme emotions.

I know from talking to other parents how hard some of this is.  I know that I haven't got it all sorted yet either.  I fail as a mother all the time.  But one thing I want to do is celebrate each child as a unique person.  I want them to be the young men they were created to be and my role as a Mum is to encourage this at every turn.  I will not squash my Max into a tight, harsh fitting box and expect him to squeeze in and be quiet.  As his mum, I take the box from him and give him the freedom to be himself.  It's my way of loving him.

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Conferences - Why Bother?

I'm not a conference junkie.

I'm not a big fan of camping, either.

There is a British cynic inside me who struggles with the big 'celebrities' on the stage and the lights and loud music.  I look around the thousands with their hands in the air and wonder what's going on in their hearts.

The effort to squeeze the whole house into the car, set up a tent (in the rain) and live under canvas for a few days with the mud, the wee bucket being missed in the middle of the night and the cold that seeps into my bones at 4am makes me question whether it's worth it.

And then I remember.

I remember my childhood of 'Downs Bible week' and in my mind's eye I see pictures of my friends and I, face down, worshipping our God.  I remember having my first word of knowledge during a kid's meeting and someone was healed.  I remember the gunge and the leaders who (sacrificially, although I didn't think of this at the time) so inspired me.  I remember Katy Caterpillar the puppet who brought bible stories to life. 

I remember my teenage years at 'Stoneleigh Bible week'.  I remember racing to be the first in the queue outside the 'cowshed' and running in with a horde of teens to get the best spot on the floor.  I remember feeling like I had a part to play in bringing God's kingdom to our world.  I remember very late nights, star gazing with boys.  I remember seeing hundreds of people healed.  I remember the cool kids, worshipping God as though He was the only important One.  I remember lying, prostrate on the ground, as God broke my heart for the nations.  I remember holy moments where I felt like I had to take off my shoes.  I remember listening to inspirational people who had been there and done that.  I remember unspeakable joy.  I remember watching thousands of teenagers yielding their hearts to their God.

I remember the last two years of the Catalyst Festival.  So different as a parent.  So much harder in so many ways.  And yet I remember Max being healed of tonsillitis and of a stomach condition.  I remember Jonah beaming as he danced his heart out.  I remember standing together as a family as people we had never met before prophesied over us about loving the broken, adding people to our family and going on an adventure.  I remember surrendering my everything all over again, but this time including my own precious boys.  I remember a lady I didn't know telling me God was going to use me to restore broken women.  I remember Toby, inspired to start a youth alpha at school.  I remember weeping from the very depths of my soul as God gave me permission to be myself again after long years of trying to be someone different.  I remember watching as my friend was healed of deep-rooted OCD.  I remember feeling like God was breathing life over me again.

And so how can I even question whether this is worth it? 
How can I deprive my family of all that I was given as a child and young person? 
How can I stay away when I know God is going to be there, doing his cool stuff?

The changes that these precious times have brought to my life outweigh the mud, the cold and the effort every single time. 

I can't wait.  I wonder what God has up his magnificent sleeves for us this year.

N.B - That last phrase was stolen from someone else, but it's so good that I can't replace it with anything else!

Friday, 8 May 2015

Being A Voice

The results of this landmark election have led me back to Isaiah 58.  

‘Shout it aloud, do not hold back.  Raise your voice like a trumpet.

Declare to my people their rebellion and to the descendants of Jacob their sins. 

For day after day they seek me out; they seem eager to know my ways, as if they were a nation that does what is right and has not forsaken the commands of its God.  

They ask me for just decisions and seem eager for God to come near them. “Why have we fasted,” they say,“and you have not seen it?  Why have we humbled ourselves,and you have not noticed?”

Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please and exploit all your workers. Your fasting ends in quarrelling and strife, and in striking each other with wicked fists.

You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high. 

Is this the kind of fast I have chosen, only a day for people to humble themselves?Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed and for lying in sackcloth and ashes?Is that what you call a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord? 

Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? 

Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter –when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? Then your light will break forth like the dawn,and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you,and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard. 

Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;you will cry for help, and he will say: here am I.

If you do away with the yoke of oppression,with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves on behalf of the hungryand satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness,and your night will become like the noonday. 

The Lord will guide you always;he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame.You will be like a well-watered garden,like a spring whose waters never fail. 

Your people will rebuild the ancient ruinsand will raise up the age-old foundations;you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls,Restorer of Streets with Dwellings. 

If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbathand from doing as you please on my holy day,if you call the Sabbath a delightand the Lord’s holy day honourable,and if you honour it by not going your own way and not doing as you please or speaking idle words, then you will find your joy in the Lord, and I will cause you to ride in triumph on the heights of the landand to feast on the inheritance of your father Jacob.’  For the mouth of the Lord has spoken. 

I am praying for our nation. And I am preparing to raise my voice even louder.

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

The day I nearly got myself arrested...

Last Saturday we set out in the sunshine for a family day out.  Stratford was our destination and we told the boys we weren't doing any packing but were just going to have a fun day.  

Little did we know the kind of fun we were going to have.

After an epic stall of the motor boat we had hired, causing us to call the rescue services of the lifeguard and embarrass us in front of all Stratford's public, we nipped to the shops to buy some sweeties.  

Outside the shop was a lady sitting on the pavement with a cap full of loose change in front of her.  I left the boys to their complex sweetie choosing and sat down next to her.

The town was busy and it felt like hundreds of feet walked past us as we chatted.  I ignored the looks of disgust and concentrated on the face of this precious woman.

"What does it feel like to be sitting here?" I asked her.

"I hate it." She replied. "I never wanted to be sat here and I hate having to scrounge off people.  Sometimes people kick me when they walk past and sometimes they spit on me.  It makes me feel like a real down and out.  I feel ashamed."

She then went on to explain how she ended up sitting there that day in the sunshine as the rest of the world enjoyed their ice creams and boat trips.  Leaving an abusive relationship left her homeless and waiting for a place in a hostel in the next town.  

'We're all only one step away', I thought to myself as I sat next to my new friend who began to pour her heart out to me.

As we were in mid-flow of conversation about kids and pregnancy (it's what us women like to talk about, whether we are homeless or not), a policeman rode up to us on his bike and shouted.


No chatting.  No preamble.  No attempt to see us as real people.  

No compassion.

We stood up and continued to chat.  My new friend had difficulty standing as her legs had become numb from sitting on the concrete.  I gave the policeman my best disgruntled look.

"GO ON!" He continued bellowing. "MOVE!!"

In my bravest voice (for in truth my legs were a little shakey by this point as we had drawn a crowd and I wasn't sure what was going to happen) I explained to the policeman I was merely waiting for my family and chatting to this lady.

"If I see you here again, I'll pull you in!" He warned me as he mounted his bike and rode away.

Outraged at the way we had been treated, I explained everything to Jared when he eventually found me.  

Seeing the policeman cycling past, Jared stood in front of him and stopped him in his tracks.

"Excuse me," he interrupted him, "But I hear you have just spoken very rudely to two young ladies."

The policeman smiled in a way that didn't reach his eyes. "Oh yes, and what evidence do you have for that then?"

"One of them was my wife."

And the policeman's face dropped.  

When I eventually joined them and explained to him what I had been doing he transformed instantly from harsh, rude and draconian to smiles and apologies.

But deep down, I knew that what had just happened wasn't out of the ordinary.

The so called 'undeserving poor' are despised in our country by the very people who should be protecting them.  I had faced the injustice that they face every single day, and it wasn't a good feeling.  My new friend never wanted to sit on a cold, hard pavement asking for people's spare change.   She did not choose to live a life that causes people to spit on her and kick her.  

There are people in our society who need our compassion, our understanding and our support.  They need a hand up not a slap in the face.  They need to be treated like the precious human beings that they were made to be.

Call me naive if you like, but I know where Jesus would have been sitting.  And it wouldn't have been on the policeman's bike.


Monday, 20 April 2015

Be Still My Soul

This morning I read about the Israelites' first few months in their Promised Land.  

Joshua had led them courageously across the Jordan river, watching it part before their eyes so they could walk across on dry land.  He had been commissioned by the 'Commander of the Lord's armies' and promised help from the armies of heaven.  He had marched the Israelite army around Jericho obediently for a week until, on last day, they shouted and watched in triumph and the walls simply collapsed in front of them.  

And then the good feeling went.  

The Israelites lost a battle and everything suddenly seemed to be going wrong.

And, despite all the miracles he had witnessed, Joshua got on his face before God and cried:

"If only we had been content to stay on the other side of the Jordan!"

And as I read those words I realised that I say them too.  Even today.  Despite the absolutely miraculous provision of our last few weeks, when the owner of our new house told us he wants to wait yet another six weeks before we complete and can move in I have cried "Why couldn't we just have stayed where we are and not tried to do this Hope House thing?"

How often am I content to stay in my safe, secure comfort zone?

How often am I content to stay where I am instead of taking big risks which will lead to seeing the faithfulness, might and power of God?

How often does my fear of taking those risks cause me to pretend to myself that I am content?

Going across the Jordan in my own life is a risk and, like Joshua, sometimes the good feeling goes.  My battle is to find my contentment in the God I have chosen to follow and not in my surroundings and circumstances.  So, despite the situation, I can choose to be content because of the hope and the promises that are before me.

When I am content in Him, my soul becomes still and I can face crossing the Jordan, even if I can't see what is on the other side.

So, I take a deep breath and I make my choice.