Saturday, 9 April 2016

Better Is One Day....

There are many times as a mum when I would rather be somewhere else. 

When a toddler is screaming in the middle of the supermarket, for example. 

Or perhaps when the teacher calls 'Can I have a word?' at home-time and points in your direction. 

Or when everyone wants to watch yet another action film full of banging and shooting.

Or when you can't even lock yourself in the bathroom without a little hand working its way underneath the door.

Or when the arguments and bickering never seem to stop.

Or when you find yourself playing musical beds in the middle of the night (often with vomit involved).

Sometimes, anywhere is better than the present. 

And over the years I have used this verse as mantra to get me through the difficult days and the long nights:

"Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere." Psalm 84 v 10

I have held on to the hope-filled promise that being in God's presence is always better.  In those moments of desperation when I have wanted to run away (ok, I have actually escaped several times only to realise that I'd run from the ones who loved me), I have clung on tightly to the promise of one day being in a place where there are no tears or pain.  When depression has threatened to pull me beneath swirling waters, this verse has been my last gulp of air. 

And then last week, I lay on a beautiful beach under blue skies having slept well and enjoyed a lazy morning and I realised this was what I had been longing for.  It was peaceful (when I blocked out the noise of the arguments over SAND) and I felt happy.

 
And I suddenly became aware that even my best, most joy-filled, peaceful and perfect moments do not even compare to being in the presence of God.  It eclipses them every single time. 

Perhaps this is not a shocker of a revelation to you.  Perhaps this has always been obvious.  But for me, realising the depth of God's goodness, grace and love for me in allowing me to hang out with him was a game-changer. 

I don't just need to cling to this verse on dark days.  It's not just a promise for better days to come, it's an invitation for the now.  It's an invitation to do life, every-day-good-and-bad-life, in God's presence.  It's knowing that everything I do now, comes out of being in the refreshing courts of God.  It's being replenished so that I can keep giving.  I don't have to 'hang on in there' for God's presence.  Jesus made a way for me to walk straight in - the doors are opened and there are welcome signs everywhere.

I'm heading straight through that open door.  Want to join me?

Thursday, 17 March 2016

When giving seems impossible....

A few weeks ago I found myself visiting the '2pm club' at the local Baptist church.  Members of this club are well beyond retirement age and they enjoy a speaker, a cuppa and a cake.  I was asked to speak about our house and human trafficking.  Not quite knowing how to pitch my talk, I explained what we are doing and why it is so important.  I was pleased to have engaged them (only one person fell asleep).  During the question time at the end, one lady spoke up and told me she had been thinking of a story in the Old Testament that she thought was relevant for us.

Elijah, one of the prophets of Israel and seemingly an all round nutcase, visited a very poor widow.  He asked her for something to eat.

"I haven't got anything left," she replied.  "I'm just making one more meal for myself and my son before we starve."

"Give me what you have," Elijah promised, "and you will never run out again."

And guess what?  She gave Elijah her very last meal.  This hungry widow who felt death by starvation tapping her on the shoulder.  She just gave. 

And she never ran out.  The flour and the jar of oil always had more in them.

At the time I was feeling emotionally dry.  I felt like I had nothing left to give.  I thought it an encouragement to keep going.  Little did I know what was really meant by it...

The very next day, looking at our finances, Jared explained to me that we wouldn't be able to give our usual monthly amount because by doing so we would have nothing left two weeks into the month.  Nothing to live on to feed our constantly hungry boys or to pay the bills.  We had also paid out a huge amount of money to fix the many leaks in the house over the last few months.  We were at the very end in every possible way.  I remembered the story of the widow and, after thinking and praying it through, we decided to give anyway and trust God to provide for us to scrape through to the end of the month. 

And for two weeks the anxiety built.  I tried not to panic.  Each bill we paid brought us closer to zero.  So, we told our boys and we stood together in the kitchen, reminding God of his promises to provide for us.  I think at that point the boys had more faith than me.

Two days later, we had a deposit in our bank account of £50. 
Three days later, we had a deposit in our bank account of £250. 
Six days later, we came downstairs in the morning to find an envelope filled with £300 on our doormat.
Ten days later, we had a payment for £368.
Eleven days later, we had a knock at the door at breakfast and someone handing us £250 and then a deposit of £450 in our bank account later that day.

This is more than scraping through!

Every single time, we have thanked our faithful God and asked him to bless those who have given to us.  He has given back to us more than six times the amount we gave at the beginning of the month.  It has truly been an awesome rollercoaster of trust.  Not only has he provided for us, but he is depositing enormous faith in the hearts of my boys.  Their foundations will not be shaken for they have seen with their very own eyes the real answers to their prayers.

Faith exists in the realms of the impossible and we are certainly living in those realms.  There is nothing in what we are doing with our home that we can do by relying on our own strength or abilities.  It is impossible but we choose to live this way because we serve a God for whom nothing is impossible.  And it's a pretty exciting way to live too!

The '2pm club' gave me far more than I gave to them on that chilly Wednesday afternoon a few weeks ago.  And I am more grateful than the words my fingers can type.

And our story continues....

Thursday, 25 February 2016

The View From Here (Teenage Boy Tales)

If I had a sticker chart, I should deserve a little prize by now.  Just to keep me going.  I have now been the parent of a teenage boy for 18 months.  Yes, feel free to applaud.  It's a definite achievement.

It's also been one steep, long upward climb of a learning curve (and I can't even see the top yet).  But I thought I'd share the view with you, so these are some of the things I have learnt in my mothering a teenage boy journey so far.

1.  One day, you will walk into their bedroom and you will find yourself gagging on the smell.  Even a clean boy, it seems, can create this stench.  With window firmly shut and curtains closed, the whiff has plenty of time to become a stuffy, 'hold-your-breath-or-you-will-pass-out' stink, occasionally masked by the over the top spraying of Lynx.  I have no idea where this smell comes from, but it certainly lingers. 

2.  It's not ok to use the same jargon as your teenage son.  Ever.  So, you will find yourself using it more and more just to have a little giggle with yourself.  I know, right.  I'm so down with the kids blud.

3.  As his crackly voice wavers up and down, you must resist the temptation to copy.  And do not, under any circumstances, encourage his younger brothers to copy too.  This can have devastating consequences. 

4.  Talking of his voice, here's a small note (can't resist) of interest.  The deeper it becomes, the less able he seems to be of controlling his volume.  You thought babies were loud?  Expect booming and you won't be disappointed.

5.  Food.  Make sure your cupboards do not become like Old Mother Hubbard's.  A hungry teenage boy is a grumpy one.  And he is hungry every five minutes or so.

6.  You will long for the days of the 7pm bedtime.  Evenings are no longer your own.  The remote control is no longer your own.  Peace and quiet is no longer your own.  Not in the evenings anyway.  That big booming voice will reverberate around the house for HOURS until you plead with him to put away his phone, his tablet, his homework, his music and his x-box (all at the same time - who said men can't multi-task?) and go to bed.  (Actually its not this bad in my house, but I shudder at the thought of how it would be if we had no boundaries).

7.  Grunts and noises.  There will be times when you have concerns that your boy is losing his ability to speak.  Your once little chatterbox of a boy will sometimes be totally unable to speak in human language.  You need to be able to interpret the grunts.  Failing that, ask him to speak properly.  (I let the gruffalo noises go unchallenged in the mornings but later on in the day he needs to use the language we all understand.)

8.  He actually becomes quite useful.  In physical terms, he can now do lots of things that an adult can do.  So, when heavy baskets of wood need collecting in or bathrooms need cleaning or little brothers need looking after, you have another pair of hands.  Sometimes that pair of hands might need a small amount of encouragement, but the basics are there and ready to be manipulated helpful.

9.  He is fun to be around.  The jokes and banter are actually enjoyable.  He is good company and you can laugh together about the same jokes rather than pretending you find armpit farts hilarious. (Anyone else have to do that?  Or just me?)


10.  He still needs a mum.  There may be lots of friends and even girls to contend with, but at the end of each day (or even during the day) he needs to be able to snuggle up to his mum.  If you keep the physical affection going and don't let them stop (see my previous post on the wisdom of friends for this http://letboysbeboys2.blogspot.co.uk/2013/08/the-wisdom-of-friends.html), you will find that the hugs become even more precious.  And when you are having a bad day and they pick just the right time to give you a hug and say 'its going to be ok mum'?  That is the absolute best.


One day, when I have survived three teenage boys, I may be able to dole out wisdom.  Until then, I just have to laugh.

Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Sackcloth and ashes for lent?

It's all about the 'giving up'. People are giving up chocolate, social media, sugar and anything else they think is a bad addition to their lives.  

I've always struggled a bit with lent. Apart from the fact that giving up chocolate would not work for me (or my family), I've always wondered just what the point of it is. I know it's about stripping back and preparing our hearts for Easter. It's about making room and repenting.

But I wonder why I need to do this only in the 40 days run up to Easter. My heart is pretty ugly most of the year round. And I am constantly in need of God's mercy. It all seems a bit 'woe is me' and in our individualistic society it feels like we are being told that if we give up Facebook for 40 days then God can forgive us.  Maybe it's the new sackcloth and ashes.

Surely that defeats the whole point of Easter.  The truth is that we can't do anything to earn God's forgiveness. Even giving up sugar - and that is hard! Jesus died so WE DON'T HAVE TO. There is nothing we can give up for lent that will change this.

And so as I ponder lent this year, my heart is drawn to the type of fasting that God himself recommends. You'll find it in Isaiah 58. This kind of fasting isn't centred on one person giving stuff up. This kind of fasting requires action on our parts to think about the world around us. It involves a heart response that leads us to actively loving those around us. And,
amazingly, it comes with awesome promises.

So, this lent I'm going to enjoy my chocolate knowing that God doesn't mind. He's more interested in my heart.

Monday, 18 January 2016

Dog Attack!

Apologies to all you dog lovers out there, but I am not one of you.  I do not like dogs and I find the fascination with them completely unfathomable.  I'm also a teensie bit scared.

Walking to school a few weeks ago I was leapt upon and viciously attacked by a fearsome wolf.  Ok, it was an Alsatian who jumped at me and bit my coat.  Had I not used my well practised super-ninja-mother-of-boys-moves, those sharp teeth would have sunk their way into my leg.  I was shaken up and arrived home to have a good sob on Toby's shoulders.  (It was one of those rare moments when you see a glimpse of the man they are becoming.  It was a good glimpse.)

Time travel forwards a few weeks (you mean you don't time travel?) and you will find a puffed out me half running behind Jonah on his new bike.  Just beyond us on our path is another Alsatian.  

Jonah looks at me as I wonder how to navigate this drooling obstacle.  I decide to be brave and keep walking.

But my sweet and thoughtful boy surprises me by climbing off his bike and pushing it so that he is between me and the dog.

"I'm protecting you, Mum." He explains as my heart melts just a little bit more.
"Well thank you," I reply. "But really I should be protecting you."
"Oh no," he smiles at me, "if the dog is going to bite someone's leg off then I would rather it was mine than yours."
"I don't think it is going to bite anyone's leg off, but if it does then really I would rather it was mine." I know I'm right - that's what a good mother should do.
"Yes but if your leg is bitten off then you won't be able to cook my tea or make me snacks or do my washing or any of the other jobs you do."

Ah.  Now we get to the crux of the matter.  He wasn't protecting me, after all!  

Eight year old boy logic at it's very best.

And this, dear readers, is one of the many reasons I love boys.

Saturday, 9 January 2016

Food and Friends - A Story of Hope


This sign hangs over our new (ok, we've been here 6 months but it's still new to us) dining room.


And last night the room was full of 15 people, eating and celebrating.  Friends who have known each other for years and some brand new ones too.  

We had a reason to celebrate too (although this isn't always necessary, as those of you who have been in my kitchen when one of my 'tunes' comes on will know).  Last night we were celebrating the journey of two friends who have been on an incredible journey of finding beauty in ashes and hope in the midst of despair.  We'll call my friends Beauty and The Chef.  Oh yes, food is important!  

And to tell their story, I need to start with a confession of my own.  I used to be scared of Beauty and The Chef.  I often saw them walking to school at the same time as me.  Their children were in the same school as mine.  I didn't know them.  I didn't know how thoughtful, generous and downright fun they were.  So I was scared.  Too scared to even say hello.

But one day they arrived with their five children at our church gathering, having been invited by someone else.  And slowly but surely I overcame my fear and got to know them.  What a treat I had been missing!

This last year has been a tough one for our friends.  Drugs, fear, financial difficulties and anxiety have threatened to overcome them.  Last August, after the drugs had attempted one last kick of death, The Chef made the incredibly brave decision to go into rehab.  It would mean leaving Beauty and all the children for up to one year,  sometimes with no contact at all.  It was a now or never moment and I had enormous admiration for them both at the courage they displayed.  

Five months later, The Chef is not only drug free but is also off all his medication.  Beauty has had her own triumphs in single handedly parenting the children.  And we have watched them blossom.  We have witnessed their love for one another grow and have stood to the side cheering them on as they have claimed each small victory.  We have seen their hearts soften and watched God bring immeasurable healing as he has gently loved them, spoken to them and treasured them.  We have watched their eyes being opened to how awesome their Father God really is.  We have seen them become part of our family.  And we will continue to walk with them as they carry on the long road ahead.  

The Chef now comes home at weekends and sometimes even stays overnight.  So, last night, we filled our home with people who love Beauty and The Chef.  We ate  We laughed.  We told stories.  We celebrated.

And I looked around, at my dining room full of friends and food, standing in awe of our God who truly redeems situations, transforms lives and gives beauty instead of ashes.  Beauty and The Chef are trophies of God's grace and the privilege was all ours to host a celebration of changed hearts and lives.

Hope House was full to the brim of hope.  And it gave me shivers for what is to come.

Friday, 1 January 2016

The Nitty Gritty of Faith

I'm not a big fan of the New Year celebrations.  Despite the never ending unknowns in our family life and the resulting excitement when the next step is (finally) made clear, I happen to dislike not knowing what is going to happen next.  I'm a planner and when I don't know the plan it makes me feel uncomfortable which occasionally edges it's way into panic.  This year the unanswered questions (these are my worst kind of 'unknowns' - the ones where you know there has to be an answer but you have no idea what it will be) have dragged at my heels, threatening to floor me.

What will happen to my job once the funding runs out in March? 
How will I find a new job which fits in with our family?
Am I even meant to find a new job or am I supposed to be more available for other things?
How are we going to afford to fix the many things that need fixing in this house?
What have we let ourselves in for with this house?
How are we going to find a model that works and is replicable with all that we want to do in this house?
How on earth did we think this was going to actually work with a family to think about?
How will we even pay the mortgage if I don't have a job?
When are we going to have our first lodger?
How will our family adjust to said lodger?
Have we made a massive mistake?

You see.  My mind is unkind to me sometimes.  Especially in the middle of the night.

But last night, I woke up and looked at my clock.  The time was 3:33am.  And in our house, we have a saying about those numbers.  '333 is God's phone number' because in Jeremiah 33:3 it says this:

Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.

And there are so many things I do not know.  I have no answers.  But I used that phone number in the middle of the night and I called out to the One who has all the answers.  He knows all the things I don't know.

This is where faith gets down and dirty.  It's easy to have faith when everything drops in your lap.  It's easy to believe when you can see how it's all going to pan out.  But what about when you can't see and you don't know the answers or even have the resources?  That's the nitty gritty of faith.  A faith which can't see but trusts the One who can.  A faith that battles to keep it's gaze on the One who holds the resources in his hands instead of on the water leaking through the ceiling.  A faith that gives the little of what we have and trusts for it to be multiplied.  

The questions aren't silenced.  The nights are still the battleground of anxiety.  The unknowns are still looming somewhere ahead.  But faith chooses to keep walking forwards when all I can see is fog.  Faith chooses to remember all that has gone before.  Faith chooses to fight the anxiety with truth.

Faith is never an easy option.  Faith is a choice and, this year, it's what I'm choosing.